Fruit for Sport

New Zealand blackcurrants get the gold medal for sports performance

Whether you are an Olympic competitor, take part in community fun runs or play the odd casual tennis match for your local club, the quality of your diet or fuel is essential to enable you to do your best. That is why the latest research shedding more light on the potential role of New Zealand blackcurrant (NZBC) on optimal sports performance is exciting. Read on and find out why this tiny purple berry is destined for gold.

Sports scientists, as well as many branches of medicine, are on a mission to understanding how the human body works and how to help it to become fitter, stronger, faster, more powerful and agile.

Millions of hours and billions of dollars spent on the quest to find out which training regimes, nutrients, psychological traits and more, can cut a few seconds off an elite athlete’s personal best. The great thing is that this research benefits everyone; the more we know about how the body and mind work the more every human may be able to improve their health. So even if you are not a sports fanatic, this blog could benefit you or someone you know.

How do New Zealand blackcurrants help our sports stars?

The health benefits of blackcurrants, particularly New Zealand grown varieties, has been well documented through both international and Kiwi research studies. It seems that the reason these power-packed fruits are so potent is that they contain a high number of antioxidants, particularly anthocyanins. These compounds give blackcurrants their black-red colour and seem to be the essential bioactive compound.

The great thing is that the New Zealand blackcurrant has about 1.5 times more of this antioxidant capacity than blackcurrants from other parts of the world. One branch of research involving blackcurrants is that focusing on improving sports performance and recovery of athletes of all ages and skill level. Plenty of headway is being made discovering what changes occur in the body and what is it about these anthocyanins that bring about so many positive effects on the body (and mind).

The New Zealand Institute of Plant and Food Research who is involved in extensive blackcurrant research indicate that NZBC may enhance athletic performance by;
  • Controlling oxidative stress
  • Modulating inflammation
  • Reducing muscle damage
  • Assisting immunity
And there is plenty of evidence to show this, with the latest findings summarised below.

Blackcurrant intake enhances exercise performance and endurance

Published research carried out in the sports and exercise departments of two top UK universities in 2017 indicate that New Zealand blackcurrant intake may improve sports endurance.

The study measured the effects of NZBC intake on several indicators that show enhanced physical performance – from cardiovascular (heart and blood vessel) changes, tissue oxygen saturation (how much oxygen is carried around the body), muscle activity and the diameter of the major leg (femoral) artery. The participants (healthy males), ingested NZBC extract for seven days and were then asked to undertake exercise which produced quadricep leg muscle contractions while measuring the indicators at the same time.

The results concluded that the primary finding was an increase in femoral artery diameter, leading to various other cardiovascular changes, increased blood flow and improved sports performance.

So, what makes blackcurrants so effective?

Past international research has indicated that blackcurrants alter cardiovascular function, and improved cycling endurance and running performance. However, the mechanisms have not been entirely figured out. The effects on cardiovascular function, shown in this research, are thought to occur due to the chemicals (metabolites) formed when anthocyanins break down through digestion. These metabolites influence the dilation and relaxation of our arteries by increasing the chemical nitric oxide which in turn increases blood flow.

Nitric oxide is essential to keep our blood vessels in perfect shape and reduce their stiffness and integral in delivering blood and nutrients around the body. Read more information about this research

High doses of blackcurrants improve fat conversion to fuel in elite athletes

Although carbohydrates are the main fuel source for sports, the use of fats to produce energy through a process called fat oxidation is also important, especially during high-intensity exercise. It is this move to use fats as energy in endurance or long-distance racing that can make the difference between first and second place. However, a rate-limiting step in improved performance is the speed the body can convert the fat to fuel.

That is why the study by Professor Cook and his team, exploring dose effects of NZBC on physiological responses is important. It shows that at high doses of more than 600 mg of NZBC a day significantly increased fat oxidation of endurance-trained athletes during a 120-minute cycle.

In past research, this has not been proven, but these scientists found that by trebling the dose of blackcurrants used in previous studies their findings were fruitful! It seems that once again the anthocyanins in our New Zealand blackcurrants are responsible. These antioxidants induce increased blood flow, leading to the release of fatty acids from the blood and increased fat oxidation for fuel. 

These tiny berries are a power to watch!!! Read more information about this research

Heart health benefits of blackcurrants seen in endurance athletes

Cook and his fellow scientists have been busy. Another piece of their published research indicated that seven-days intake of NZBC’s extract led to positive cardiovascular changes in endurance-trained male cyclists. While anthocyanins have been shown to reduce cardiovascular risk such as heart disease in the general population, particularly those who are ill, this is the first time these effects have been seen in athletes.

Once again it seems that a high dose of over 600 mg day of New Zealand blackcurrant extract is essential – with better results shown at the higher levels tested. Further research would be necessary to see effects in the general population, women and those not training in sports at high levels. Read more information about this research

Recreational footie players reduced sprint fatigue with New Zealand blackcurrant use

It looks like the benefits of blackcurrants are not just for super elite athletes. A recent UK study published in 2017 checked out the effects of NZBC extract on sprint performance and fatigue in trained youths as well as recreational football players.

When the participants were given 600 mg of NZ blackcurrant extract a day for seven days and then put through a sprint test comprising of 6 x 35-meter sprints with 10 seconds recovery between each sprint, the researchers observed that the participants experienced approximately 12% less fatigue. However, they discovered the intake of NZBC was more effective for the trained sprint participants vs the recreational athletes. The reason for this is not clear.

While the positive effects of anthocyanins in blackcurrants on blood is thought to play a part as seen in other studies, the authors of this paper also thought that blackcurrant anthocyanin antioxidant activity was vital. Possible effects of this may include counteracting fatigue, by improving muscle function, neutralising oxidative stress and reducing inflammation during or after exercise. Read more information about this research

Blackcurrants increased cycling time trial performance

A study by a UK team of scientists, headed by Connor Murphy, also indicated that NZBC influence fatigue during short distance trials. This study examined the effect of NZBC extract on the time trial performance of 10 male cyclists. Each cyclist was given 300 mg extract a day for seven days before two, 4 km time trials with 10 minutes recovery between each trial. Heart rate and blood lactate were measured immediately after each trial and 8 minutes into recovery time.

The result measures indicated several participants who had taken the blackcurrant extract had faster total trial times. Again, the effect is thought to be due to the blood flow and antioxidant effects of fatigue mechanisms of high-intensity exercise Read more information about this research Bottom line: Compounds found in blackcurrants improve sports performance and recovery by improving cardiovascular health, increasing blood flow, controlling oxidative stress, modulating inflammation, reducing muscle damage, assisting immunity and more.

Plenty more research is called for to clarify the mechanisms that cause these effects. However, it is clear that New Zealand Blackcurrants get the gold medal for health benefits and are a vital addition to athlete’s diets.

Barker’s and Blackcurrants

Barker’s has been linked with blackcurrants since the early 1980’s when we launched our first blackcurrant juice. Our juice comes from squeezed blackcurrants and not from blackcurrant concentrate -that’s a big difference because squeezed blackcurrants ensure our beverages retain maximum flavour and high levels of antioxidants and all their associated health benefits. 

Additionally, Barker’s Squeezed Blackcurrant syrups great taste can be attributed to a special blend of Canterbury grown Ben Rua and Magnus variety blackcurrants.

Blackcurrants really do have amazing health benefits – they are packed with a range of healthy compounds, including massive doses of the antioxidant, vitamin C – about four times more vitamin C than oranges and 16 times more than blueberries.

The value of vitamin C is already well understood to contribute to the reduction of tiredness, normal immune and psychological and neurological function, protection from free radical damage and more. They also contain high levels of polyphenols, particularly anthocyanins – compounds that give the berries their intense deep purple colour and may underpin many of their beneficial health properties.

The great news is that Barker’s, who are committed to supporting the health of Kiwis only use 100% NZ blackcurrants in our fruit syrups, juices and preserves and we are pleased to say that Barker’s Unsweetened Blackcurrant Juice contains 100% NZ grown squeezed Blackadder blackcurrant.