‘Go for the athlete market with berries,’ says keynote speaker at Berry Health Benefits Symposium

By Adi Menayang

- Last updated on GMT

Getty Images / Luda311
Getty Images / Luda311

Related tags Polyphenols Polyphenol antioxidant exercise Sports nutrition Anthocyanin flavanols

In a conference that focused on a broad spectrum of berry health benefits, from brain health to cardiovascular disease risk reduction, applications for performance and exercise took the spotlight during the keynote speech.

“The athlete market—go for that!”​ said Dr Mary Ann Lila, a professor of food, bioprocessing, and nutrition sciences at North Carolina State University during her keynote speech at the 8th​ Berry Health Benefits Symposium in Portland, OR, which ran May 7-9 2019.

“Athletes are definitely willing to pay a premium, and that’s where you need to go, you really do. It works for them, it works for the athletes,” ​she added.

Her speech was about ‘off-the-wall’ uses of berries, which are seen more as a breakfast or dessert ingredient in the US. “Millennials need to know that berries aren’t just for shortcake,” ​she said.

‘Off-the-wall’ usage for berries

During her speech, she highlighted three possible uses for berries that deserve more exploration. The first was for topical skincare. Berries have been used by many Native American cultures as an ointment to heal wounds, and in vitro ​studies from Dr Lila’s lab have found some evidence that berries may indeed do that.

The last two approaches concerned sports and performance nutrition. One was for processing protein bars, making sure they don’t harden over time, while the other was about how polyphenol intake may promote ketogenesis (so-called ‘fat burning’) and immune support in athletes.

“Berry polyphenols, they used to be considered poorly bioavailable, right? I mean, take a blood draw and you don’t see much,”​ she told the audience.

“But we now know that this phenolic class of compounds really has to go down the colon and get metabolized by the gut microbiota to make phenolic metabolites that then get back into the bloodstream.”

Research Dr Lila has done, together with Dr David Nieman from Appalachian State University, suggest that physical exertion accelerates the uptake of these phenolic metabolites from the gut back into the bloodstream.

“You’ve got to move in order to get those benefits,”​ she said.

Not just a call for good diet and exercise

Dr Lila emphasized that it’s more than just talking about diet and exercise. “I am talking about this really dynamic reciprocity, so the dietary intake and phytoactives, the phytoactive compounds will go down to the gut, to the colon, and will actually change the microflora,”​ she said.

“They’ll change the composition of the gut microbiota. And then the gut microbiota in change, metabolizes those polyphenols and surging these metabolites into the bloodstream.”

But what does this mean? In her clinical trial of trained-athletes who were supplemented with blueberry and green tea polyphenols for 14 days and ran a marathon on a treadmill for three days, the metabolite surged linked to berries also correlated with increased ketogenesis even after exercise as well as immune support. These results have been published in the journals PLoS ONE in 2013​ and Phytotheraphy Research in 2014​.

Later, they explored whether less-intense activity will also get the same benefits. Last year, Dr Lila and Dr Nieman co-authored another study that used a similar model, but this time with brisk walking by individuals who weren’t trained athletes. The results were published November 2018 in the journal Nutrients.

“Everybody walks, right? And walking for 45 minutes is the most common exercise that people do in the US. So brisk walking for 45 minutes, does that help?”​ she said. The researchers compared the metabolite surge among brisk walkers, runners, and stationary study participants.

“We found that the walking did increase polyphenolic surge in the metabolism. Not as much as the runners, but it did increase that surge,”​ she said.

And interestingly, walking by itself even in people who had the placebo still promoted surging. “You know, everybody has some flavanols of some sort in their diet, but even if those that weren’t supplemented got more in their blood stream when they walked than if they stand,”​ she added.

“People who had the flavonoid supplementation and just sat there like a couch potato, no luck.”

Source: PLoS ONE
8(8): e72215. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0072215
“Influence of a Polyphenol-Enriched Protein Powder on Exercise-Induced Inflammation and Oxidative Stress in Athletes: A Randomized Trial Using a Metabolomics Approach”
Authors: D.C. Nieman, N.D. Gillitt, A.M. Knab, R.A. Shanely, K.L. Pappan, F. Jin, M.A. Lila

Source: Phytotherapy Research
December 2014, Volume 28, Number 12, Pages 1829-1836 doi: 10.1002/ptr.5208
“The protective effects of a polyphenol-enriched protein powder on exercise-induced susceptibility to virus infection”
Authors: M. Ahmed, D.A. Henson, M.C. Sanderson, D.C. Nieman, N.D. Gillitt, M.A. Lila

Source: Nutrients
9 November 2018, https://doi.org/10.3390/nu10111718
“Increased Plasma Levels of Gut-Derived Phenolics Linked to Walking and Running Following Two Weeks of Flavonoid Supplementation”
Authors: D. C. Nieman, C. D. Kay, A. S. Rathore, M. H. Grace, R. C. Strauch, E. H. Stephan, C. A. Sakaguchi, M. A. Lila

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