Sunday, March 25, 2012

Food Facts Friday/Saturday: Phytochemicals, what's new?

Lifestyle and diet can really impact an athlete's performance. In fact, I would hedge to bet anyone would agree that if you are active, whether an elite or an amateur athlete, you need to make sure you have the proper amount of sleep, fluids and nutrition to maximize your competitive edge and minimize injury. When it comes to sleep, although there is no magic number, the general recommendation is between 7-8hours of sleep per night. Regarding beverages, the general recommendation is 64oz of fluids per day, but depending on temperature, humidity and activity level, this amount may need to be increased. As soon as we turn our attention to fluids supplying nutrients, such as carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals, electrolytes or phytochemicals, like food, the debates start and research reports are made!
That's because, overall, nutrition is a very young science.
Just a babe, that nutrition stuff!
And clinical studies of plant-derived chemical compounds, such as phytochemicals, 
are really in their infancy. 

Now, when we talk about how long phytochemicals have been studied as supplements to improve athletic performance, we are even taking that one step further than infancy! Fetal-like!
Phytochemicals, improving athletic performance?
Now that's a really young science!
So although, there has been some new, cool research on phytochemicals and their anti-inflammatory and aerobic-inducing benefits, much more research needs to be conducted before phytochemicals standards are established and supplement doses to enhance athletic performance are recommended.

Nonetheless, some new research has been reported and heck, if your gonna eat food - why not choose foods that offer some competitive athletic advantages?

In the January-March American College of Sports Medicine Certified News issue, three phytochemicals, curcumin, quercitin and resveratrol, were highlighted for having been studied for their applications in improving athletic performance.

Curcumin is a component of the herb, turmeric.

Curcumin is responsible for the yellow color in turmeric, which is used in making mustard and curry. Recently, curcumin has gained a great deal of popularity amongst endurance athletes, especially the more mature endurance athletes (quite like myself) due to its anti-inflammatory properties and its ability to help improve muscle recovery. In fact, the Arthritis Foundation suggests that curcumin can prevent and reduce joint inflammation!

Quercitin is a flavonoid, which is a subclass of the phytochemicals. 

It is found in onions, scallions, kale, broccoli, capers, chamomile and green tea. Quercitin can also be found in dark fruit, like apples or grapes, blueberries, blackberries and cherries. Recently, quercitin has gained popularity and is even now found in some commercial sports beverages because it has been linked to improving the endurance performance of our cells by improving how our cells produce energy. According to the American Cancer Society, quercitin is also an anti-oxidant and acts as a natural anti-inflammatory, working to prevent certain illnesses, such as cancer and arthritis.

Resveratrol is a stilbene, another subclass of phytochemical. 

The primary food source of resveratrol is the skin of grapes or wine. Recent research shows that like quercitin, resveratrol can improve endurance performance, aerobic capacity and increase time to fatigue. According to the Department of Agriculture, resveratrol can also help lower cholesterol fight cancer and reduce inflammation.

Phytochemicals are plant substances that help plants fight off diseases and infections. Once consumed, these plant substances can help us fight off disease, infection and improve sports performance. Unlike vitamins and minerals, though, there are no recommended daily intake (RDI) amounts established for phytochemicals. Until more placebo-controlled, randomized, controlled double-blind research is completed and an RDI supplement is established, I think I'll stick with the food sources.
Mmm, mmm good!
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