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The Importance of Polyphenols in Athletic Performance

The Importance of Polyphenols in Athletic Performance

Posted by Dr. Barry Sears

Nov 7, 2017 10:46:34 AM

Within every cell in our body are ancient bacterial fragments called mitochondria. Essentially, the role of mitochondria is to take the food we eat and turn it into energy (a.k.a ATP). For an athlete, without adequate levels of ATP, muscles can’t contract, nor can they repair the damage done by exercise.  The only way to make enough ATP is to make sure that adequate levels of oxygen are getting to the muscle cell and at the same time making sure the mitochondria in the muscle cells are working at peak efficiency to generate as much ATP as possible.  Anything that increases ATP production will give the athlete a significant advantage over their competitors.

Polyphenols and Sports Performance

 

Within every cell in our body are ancient bacterial fragments called mitochondria. Essentially, the role of mitochondria is to take the food we eat and turn it into energy (a.k.a ATP). For an athlete, without adequate levels of ATP, muscles can’t contract, nor can they repair the damage done by exercise.  The only way to make enough ATP is to make sure that adequate levels of oxygen are getting to the muscle cell and at the same time making sure the mitochondria in the muscle cells are working at peak efficiency to generate as much ATP as possible.  Anything that increases ATP production will give the athlete a significant advantage over their competitors.

Polyphenols and Performance

The role of polyphenols in athletic performance is only now beginning to emerge. Polyphenols operate at several levels including gene activation which leads to increased mitochondrial efficiency and increased blood flow to deliver more oxygen to the mitochondria. In particular, replacing damaged mitochondria while simultaneously replacing them with newly synthesized mitochondria is a key function of polyphenols.  Since mitochondria supply 85-95% of the energy to a muscle cell, the more efficient the mitochondria are, the greater the athletic performance.

 

The Impact of Polyphenols on Recovery Times

Polyphenols are the chemicals that give fruits and vegetables their color.  They are also key components for gut health as they function as the primary guardians of the gut to defend it against pathogenic microbes.  However, small levels of polyphenols can also enter into the blood.  Once in the blood, they can become gene activators (1).  In particular, they activate the gene transcription factors that cause the increased synthesis of specialized proteins.  One of these gene transcription factors is Nrf2 known to increase the expression of anti-oxidative enzymes that are a 1000 times more powerful than standard anti-oxidants such as Vitamin C or Vitamin E in reducing excess free radical production.  This is important for reducing delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).  DOMS is the extended muscle pain and soreness due to injury that reduces strength until the muscle is finally healed.  That takes time, and that is why you need increased recovery times the more intense you workout.

 

The other gene transcription factor activated by polyphenols is AMP kinase.  AMP kinase is the master switch for your metabolism.  In particular, it is the key to replacing damaged mitochondria (mitophagy) and simultaneously replacing them with new ones (biogenesis).  Since the cells in the body need ATP on a constant basis, this is equivalent to changing tires on your car while driving 60 miles an hour.  It is only possible if AMP kinase is working at full efficiency.  Another benefit of adequate levels of polyphenols in the blood is to increase blood flow by increasing nitric oxide (NO) production which increases oxygen transfer to the mitochondria for still greater ATP production (2).  The mechanism of polyphenol-induced vasodilation appears to be via the enhanced conversion of dietary nitrates (primarily found in green leafy vegetables) into NO.  The greater the number of hydroxyl groups on the polyphenol, the more efficient the conversion of dietary nitrate into NO (3).  Thus the benefits of taking nitrate supplements such as beetroot juice (4) can be greatly enhanced in the presence of high levels of polyphenols.

 

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