Cranberries may boost running performance, Canadian study reveals

Beyond their reputation as a Thanksgiving side dish, cranberries are emerging as potential game-changers for athletes seeking a performance boost. A recent study out of Montreal’s Concordia University delved into the impact of cranberry extract on runners’ time-trial performance and lactate response after exercise, with exciting results. Here’s what you need to know.

Cranberries: a superfood for athletes?

Cranberries, often hailed for their vibrant color and tart flavor, pack a powerful punch when it comes to a health-elevating organic compound called polyphenols, and boast the highest levels among fruits and vegetables. For runners, the magic lies in polyphenols’ ability to combat exercise-induced free radicals.

When you engage in vigorous physical activity, your body produces free radicals—unstable molecules that can wreak havoc on cells and tissues. While the free radicals are natural byproducts of exercise, an excess can lead to oxidative stress, potentially impacting performance and recovery.

Polyphenols are renowned for their antioxidant capacity, which raises the question: can cranberries protect against exercise-induced free radicals and, in turn, enhance performance?

The study

A team of researchers conducted a study involving 14 athletes, aged 18–40 years old, who regularly performed at least five hours of endurance training per week, to investigate the effects of cranberry extract (CE) on time-trial performance and lactate response post-exercise.

The participants underwent testing at baseline, two hours after an acute CE dose, and four weeks after daily supplement consumption. Key performance indicators included a 1,500-meter race and a 400-meter race, with scientists measuring oxygen changes in leg muscles using near-infrared spectroscopy (a method that shines light into the body and observes how different tissues respond based on their oxygen levels).

The study revealed that chronic cranberry supplementation over 28 days led to improved aerobic performance during the 1,500-meter time trial. The benefits were not observed after a single dose, emphasizing the significance of consistent consumption. After 28 days of cranberry supplementation, muscle reoxygenation rates were significantly faster compared to baseline, suggesting that the antioxidant properties of cranberries may contribute to enhanced oxygen utilization, a crucial factor in endurance.

The takeaway

The study’s results suggest that cranberry supplementation may have ergogenic effects, particularly in improving physiological markers of performance during both short- and long-distance running. Whether you’re a seasoned runner or a weekend warrior, the cranberry’s potential benefits might just add a delightful twist to your running journey.

posted Tuesday February 20th
by Keeley Milne