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Cabarrus Magazine

NCRC to New Zealand, Scientists Ask: Can Polyphenols Get You Fitter Faster?

Mar 04, 2015 11:00AM ● By Jason Huddle
In the Exercise and Sports Science Laboratory at Queens University in Charlotte, two students pedal stationary bicycles rotating between one-minute intervals of heavy exertion and 75 seconds at a slower, resting pace.

These students are just two out of a total of 60 who will endure these workouts three times a week for four weeks to help an unprecedented consortium of scientists answer one question: can polyphenols, which are health-promoting compounds in plants, get you fitter faster?

“Our theory is that taking these polyphenols one hour before exercise will help the students’ bodies adapt to the high-intensity training better,” David Nieman, DrPH, director of the Appalachian State University (ASU) Human Performance Laboratory at the NC Research Campus in Kannapolis (NCRC) explains. “If polyphenols are at high levels in the body while the students train, there could be more stimuli to increase mitochondrial function and get fitter faster. This has never been tested in humans before.”

Nieman is leading the study in collaboration with Queens University and Plant & Food Research, a New Zealand Crown Research Institute that conducts research and development to add value to fruits, vegetables, cereals, marine fishes and native plants as food products and nutritional supplements. The collaboration also involves NC State University Plants for Human Health Institute (PHHI) and Dole Foods, both at the NCRC. Funding from Plant & Food Research and Dole made the study possible.

ASU, Dole and NCSU are frequent NCRC collaborators, most often working with trained athletes. This study employs young, healthy, yet relatively unfit men and women who attend Queens. The first two cohorts of the study trained in the fall of 2014, and the third will train this spring. Each cohort of students trains for four weeks, with fitness testing during the week before and after the training period. They are given blackcurrant polyphenols in a capsule, blueberry powder or placebo as controls.

“There are two arms to the study: blackcurrants and blueberries,” Mary Ann Lila, PhD, PHHI director, explains. “Plant & Food Research is looking at a particular New Zealand blackcurrant extract and a particular anthocyanin (a type of polyphenol). We are looking at whole blueberry freeze-dried into a powder. So the study is not pitting blackcurrants against blueberries.”

The study is combining resources and focusing the efforts of groups with complementary research goals. Plant & Food Research studies polyphenolic content and bioactive compounds and their effect on human performance, as do PHHI and ASU, respectively. The collaborators are looking for results with practical applications. Blackcurrants in New Zealand, like blueberries in the U.S., are a profitable crop with untapped market potential.

But can polyphenols get you fitter faster? The answer will be known after the last cohort of Queens University students completes the study and the data is analyzed later this year.

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