Blackcurrants are not a commonly recognised fruit, they are rarely seen in your local supermarket and wouldn’t be the fruit that catches your eye next to those better-known blueberries. However, research into this little-known fruit is showing that they offer a cross-section of potent performance and muscle recovery gains for active people, in particular:
- Improving performance up to 11%
- Increasing blood flow during exercise up to 35%
- Accelerating muscle recovery and reducing soreness
- Increasing fat oxidation (burning) during exercise
- Boosting immunity and supporting general wellness
Anthocyanins (the compound that gives fruit/veg its purple colour) have been talked about in depth in relation to cherries, blueberries and other popular fruit and veg, but blackcurrants rank highest of all the purple foods with an anthocyanin value of 773 – double that of the ever-popular blueberry (386). They stand out because of their unique polyphenol profile that provide antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and circulation-boosting benefits.
Over the past four years, worldwide research has been revealing the increasing number of health and fitness benefits of blackcurrants, with 12 peer-reviewed British published papers to date on the extract for sports performance, with new studies being undertaken every year and over ten universities worldwide involved.
So far, multiple running studies involving differing modalities, intensities and durations have shown that blackcurrants can have a significant effect on performance, with athletes running 11% further (1) and cyclists improving 16-mile time trial performance up to 8.6% (2). This is thought to be due to the berry’s surprising effect on blood flow during exercise (3), reducing fatigue (3) and increasing the body’s reliance on fat as fuel (2,4,5).
The emerging prominence of blackcurrants for sport was underlined in the UK last month, following the release of six New Zealand Blackcurrant extract performance studies at the International Sports and Exercise Conference (ISENC), with two high-impact abstracts winning awards.
Next month will see these Kiwi berries hitting the headlines for achieving a health claim in New Zealand and Australia for reducing exercise-induced oxidative stress, following a $10m research program funded by the New Zealand government. The science, which took almost a decade to complete, unlocks the remarkable recovery and antioxidant functions of the berry and its protective effect on muscle tissue during exercise.
Of the six new British studies, several show that continued daily intake of New Zealand blackcurrant extract increases the body’s fat oxidation and endurance capabilities during exercise and can help prevent exertional gastro-intestinal heat stress (more on that next month in the upcoming issue of Multisport Magazine).
Endurance and team-sport athletes in the UK and New Zealand have been latching onto the benefits in the last few years, including triathletes, ultra-runners and premiership winning football clubs. One athlete to make the headlines was novice rower Kiko Matthews, who became the fastest woman to cross the Atlantic solo by lowering world record by almost a week in June 2018. During the challenge, Kiko used New Zealand blackcurrant extract supplement CurraNZ twice daily and completed the 3,000-mile crossing with hardly any muscle soreness – and attributes blackcurrants, her ‘magic berries’, for enabling her to row for up to 15 hours a day for 49 days.
Marathoner and regular team representative Andy Heyden, 43, is amongst the early Australian endurance athletes to use blackcurrant. Since introducing it to his daily regime in 2017, the Sydney-sider has set several new PBs that had stood for over ten years. Andy says: “PBs don’t come easily but I’ve set several without trying since using CurraNZ. I’d been
running seriously for ten years when I set my 10km PB in 2006 and broke that last year. I also set a new 5km and half-marathon PB and came second in the 100km Championships in June, without having specifically trained for it. I only take one supplement – and that’s the Informed-Sport tested CurraNZ, and it’s made a real difference in many respects, not only my performance, but my recovery is so good now.”
While blackcurrants are grown on a small commercial scale in Tasmania, the Australasian production of this berry fruit is focused on the South Island of New Zealand, where the very cold winters and hot summers provide ideal growing conditions for blackcurrants. Compared to their Northern Hemisphere counterparts, the ‘Downunder’ varieties stand apart, thanks to the strong ultra-violet sunlight which produces fruit with 1.5 times more micronutrients compared to blackcurrants grown elsewhere.
- New Zealand blackcurrant extract improves high-intensity intermittent running, European Journal of Applied Physiology, 2015
- New Zealand blackcurrant extract improves cycling performance and fat oxidation in cyclists, European Journal of Applied Physiology, 2015
- Blackcurrant Alters Physiological Responses and Femoral Artery Diameter during Sustained Isometric Contraction, published in Nutrients, 2017
- New Zealand blackcurrant extract enhances fat oxidation during prolonged cycling in endurance- trained females, published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology, 2018
- Dose Effects of New Zealand Blackcurrant on Substrate Oxidation and Physiological Responses During Prolonged Cycling, European Journal of Applied Physiology, 2017