The use of polyphenol supplementation is common in athletes and dedicated fitness enthusiasts alike, but does it enhance performance? Many who are committed to heavy levels of exercise take supplements to not only replace the minerals and nutrients they quickly burn but also to enhance their performance; polyphenol is one of those. However, is there adequate polyphenol research?
Polyphenol is an antioxidant, and antioxidants are a defense against oxidative stress on cells, which can cause chronic diseases as we age. It’s been credited with the prevention of risk factors that cause cardiovascular diseases and cancer and with the control of blood sugar spikes that can lead to diabetes. The most important food sources are fruits and vegetables (especially berries), green tea, black tea, red wine, coffee, chocolate, olives, and extra virgin olive oil. Herbs and spices, nuts and algae are also potentially significant for supplying certain polyphenols. So polyphenol is found in abundance in a healthy diet, but there are other reasons to supplement polyphenol: if you are prone to unhealthy food choices, for example, or if you are concerned about the depletion of nutrients in our natural foods. There are also polyphenol extract supplements you can buy that come from apple, green tea, and grape skins. But as to the question of whether supplementation is advantageous to exercise performance, polyphenol research wavers.
A recent review article analyzed the research on polyphenol supplementation that looked at endurance performance and strength and recovery in individuals performing high-intensity exercise. Regarding endurance performance, three studies showed improvements in those taking the supplement (concentrated in fruit juice); however, those taking the placebo showed similar improvements. The analysis of these and many other studies on polyphenol’s effect on endurance performance concluded the evidence was lacking to support it.
Regarding strength and recovery, one study showed a full recovery within 4 days of the subjects taking the supplement. Those taking the placebo did not experience the same benefits. One study (using a powdered form of the juice concentrate) showed no effect on recovery. The authors concluded the benefit may depend on the form of administration (powdered versus juice concentrate).
When more studies were analyzed, the same varying results were seen, leading the authors to conclude that “of the current publications investigating the potential to have an effect on endurance performance, data in favor of polyphenol supplementation are sparse.” In the area of muscle recovery, however, they concluded “this is a rich avenue for further research.”
The upshot? Polyphenols can be found in many fruits, vegetables, herbs, teas, nuts, red wines, dark chocolates, and other healthy sources. If you have committed yourself to a healthy diet, you are likely already experiencing the benefits of polyphenol. If you also have an intensive exercise routine, you may want to supplement polyphenol to boost your diet. While the studies regarding its effect on muscle recovery are promising, to date they are not strong enough to encourage, or discourage, supplementation to enhance exercise performance.