Blackcurrant extract is the latest fruit-based supplement with performance-boosting benefits, as Anita Bean explains
Blackcurrant extract is a concentrated, powdered form of the fruit, available as capsules.
What are they supposed to do? Since they contain a high concentration of anthocyanins, a sub-class of flavonoids (phytonutrients) that have powerful antioxidant properties and anti-inflammatory effects, blackcurrants are thought to enhance performance and reduce post-exercise inflammation, soreness and muscle damage.
New Zealand-grown blackcurrants have 1.5 times more anthocyanins than those grown in Europe.
What’s the evidence?
Animal studies have shown that anthocyanins act as powerful vasodilators. It is thought that the anthocyanins in blackcurrant extract have the same effect in humans, increasing peripheral blood flow and oxygen delivery to the muscles and thus improving performance.
In 2009, researchers at the New Zealand Institute for Plant and Food Research found that 240mg of blackcurrant extract consumed immediately before and after half an hour of moderate intensity aerobic exercise reduced exercise induced muscle damage compared to a placebo.
More recently, research in 2015 at the University of Chichester found that seven days of supplementation with 300mg of blackcurrant extract improved performance in a series of repeated treadmill sprints (6x19sec) and also improved lactate clearance (ie hastened muscle recovery) after exercise.
A further study two years ago with 14 cyclists showed that blackcurrant supplementation increased fat oxidation by 27% during moderate intensity cycling (65% VO2max) and also improved 16.1km time trial performance by an average 2.4%. Researchers also found that supplements resulted in a higher lactate tolerance during the time trial, which suggests you would be able to exercise better at higher intensities before reaching exhaustion.
Triathletes who consumed blackcurrant extract for seven days had 14% lower levels of blood lactate when cycling at an intensity corresponding to their VO2max and up to 27% at lower exercise intensities.
Do I need it?
To date, only a few smaller studies have been carried out on blackcurrant extract with athletes so it’s not possible to make firm recommendations to take it.
However, the results have been positive and suggest that blackcurrant extract may benefit performance by increasing fat oxidation, reducing muscle soreness and improving recovery. No side effects have been reported.
» Anita Bean is an award-winning registered sport and exercise nutritionist and author of The Complete Guide To Sports Nutrition (Bloomsbury, £18.99) published last month