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Polyphenols as New Key Compounds in Sports Metabolism


by Julian Cases -

The demand for natural solutions in sports nutrition increases while the efficacy of the products has become the must-have in the consumer’s mind. Broadly speaking, there is a huge consensus within dietician, physical conditioner and sporting communities about the importance of a nutritional approach to enhancing physical aptitude: macronutrients, controlled hydration and appropriate supply of essential vitamins and minerals.

Beyond conventional practices, polyphenol-based supplementation is progressively emerging, supported by increasing scientific evidences. These natural bioactives are largely distributed within the plant kingdom as the most abundant secondary metabolites of plants, with more than 45,000 different phenol-based chemical structures currently identified. Extensively studied for their core highly antioxidant capacities for decades, since the early 2000s they have mostly been studied per their individual features: able to—directly or indirectly through the action of their multiple metabolites—regulate a multitude of cellular signalling pathways, mainly involved in both energy metabolism and vascular function, two of the main limiting factors of athletic performance.

  • Polyphenols serving the anaerobic workout for acute outcomes

During high-intensity exercise, when highest peak power outputs are to be achieved, the organism predominately relies on anaerobic metabolism, but performance may rapidly be limited by both fatigability and heart workload. Recent results from a crossover clinical trial demonstrated an acute pre-workout supplementation of different phenolic compounds from the flavan-3-ol family can help achieve an acute decrease in pulse pressure—a strong biomarker for heart workload—during a 30-second high-intensity Wingate exercise. It supports a possible reduction in blood vessel resistance, probably facilitated by polyphenol-based improved flow-mediated dilation; the mechanism might rely on polyphenol capacity in modulating both the release and the stability of nitric oxide. The main outcome reveals a significant increase in power output with no additional fatigue.

  • Sustaining the aerobic aptitude of sportsmen with polyphenols to increase stamina

Improvement of endurance aptitude implicates optimisation of oxidative metabolism of lipids through both an enhanced mobilisation of stored fatty acids and an improved aptitude to use oxygen for aerobic energy production during the workout performed—resulting in postponing the glycogen depletion-caused fatigue. During 8-week aerobic training alongside chronic supplementation with citrus flavanones, recent results from a parallel clinical trial demonstrated a significant improvement of maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max), which, linked with an enhance lipolytic activity from the fat tissue, sustainably supports aerobic energy production for better endurance aptitude.

  • Regain full range of motion faster with polyphenols

Both endurance and high-intensity exercises may provoke delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), a type-I muscle strain injury, whose clinical features include discomfort, pain, loss of strength and limited range of motion. As DOMS usually peaks between 24 and 72h after exercise and can last up to 5 to 7 days, it can majorly impact future training sessions. Since the etiology of DOMS involves both inflammatory and oxidative states, polyphenols appear to be a safe alternative to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Notably, it has recently been demonstrated during a crossover clinical trial a combination of xanthones, anthocyanins and ellagitanins-derivatives significantly decreases high-intensity exercise-induced DOMS, with significant changes as soon as the second day of supplementation. Myocytes are then more efficiently protected from resulting oxidative stress associated to rising inflammation, as supported by a significant decreased release of cytosolic proteins and enzymes from skeletal muscle, mainly explaining the significant faster recovery experienced by volunteers

Dr Cases will disseminate a scientific review of up-to-date information, including the most recent clinical data, on the metabolic benefits of polyphenols for pre-, during, and post-exercise in the Vitafoods Europe 2018 Education Programme. To register to attend and view the whole programme, click here.