Eat blueberries and similar antioxidant-rich foods to recover faster from hard training. New research shows that drinking blueberry juice after performing an intense eccentric workout will decrease biomarkers of inflammation and speed recovery of strength.
The new study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition tested the effect of a blueberry drink on muscle damage and soreness in participants after they performed 300 eccentric leg extensions. Participants drank a placebo or a blueberry juice drink before, immediately after exercise, and at 12- and 36-hours post-exercise. Results showed that the blueberry drink accelerated recovery as measured by maximal strength tests.
Compared to a placebo group the blueberry drink group lifted more weight at 12, 36, and 60 hours after the eccentric workout, indicating a faster recovery. The antioxidants in the blueberries were thought to have neutralized oxidative stress markers. We know that blueberries don’t directly enhance protein synthesis, but the extremely high level of antioxidants in blueberries will speed the removal of oxidative stress markers that impede protein synthesis.
Basically, the antioxidants help remove the waste products or “garbage” produced during hard training. Once the waste products are gone, the body is better able repair tissue. This was evident in that creatine kinase and interleukin-6—the two primary markers of oxidative stress and muscle damage—were equally elevated immediately after the eccentric workout, but they were much lower in the blueberry drink group than the placebo group at 36- and 60-hours post-exercise.
Many people are skeptical about the health benefits of antioxidants since no health or recovery benefits have been shown from the classic antioxidants such as vitamin E and A. It’s true that vitamin A and E taken in large quantities may cause health problems. The difference with antioxidant-rich foods is that they provide numerous naturally occurring compounds (called names such as polyphenols, anthocyanins, ellagitannins, and sterols) that will enhance the body’s internal antioxidant system to eliminate oxidative stress markers like the creatine kinase and interleukin-6 that were tested in this study. It’s those same antioxidants that improve the body’s immune system and help you fight of infections.
Similar antioxidant-rich foods that have been shown to decrease oxidative stress and inflammation in human studies include olive oil, dark chocolate, coffee, green tea, pomegranates, cherries, blackberries, and raspberries. Dark green vegetables such as kale, broccoli, bok choy, and collards are also high in antioxidants and can be eaten with abundance.
For best recovery and anti-inflammatory results with blueberries and other antioxidants, avoid eating them with milk because previous studies have suggested that the proteins in milk inhibited the antioxidant activity in the body. Therefore, if you take whey protein, do so first during the “window” of opportunity that the muscles are most sensitive to protein feeding, and then take your antioxidants later once the whey has digested. Or, opt for alternative protein sources such rice or pea protein if you want to take antioxidants in your post-workout drink.
McReay, Y., Barnes, M., et al. Effect of New Zealand Blueberry Consumption on Recovery from Eccentric Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition.2012. 9(19).