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Move Over, Tart Cherry Juice—Pomegranate’s Stepping Up

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The Power Of Pomegranate

You may be aware of the potential performance benefits associated with tart cherry juice and beetroot supplements. However, these aren’t the only elixirs that may help improve your running. Pomegranate juice has been shown to be another key player in the ergogenic aid space, with research linking it to greater blood flow and muscle recovery.

The polyphenols found in pomegranate juice are well-known for their anti-inflammatory nature and can help counteract free radicals (unstable molecules that can cause damage to our cells and DNA when built up over time) that develop from exercise. Since excessive exercise, stress, smoking and even environmental pollutants can contribute to a buildup of free radicals over time, adding polyphenols to one’s diet is a great way to naturally combat these molecules.

During exercise, the demand for oxygen and energy is higher among working muscles than among muscles at rest. Nitric oxide, a signaling molecule produced in the body, has been shown to help expand the blood vessels, thus allowing for more efficient blood and oxygen flow to the working muscles. Since nitric oxide may also regulate muscle contraction and muscle glucose uptake, it is believed to impart favorable effects on blood flow and exercise capacity.

The polyphenols and antioxidants found in pomegranate juice specifically may help increase the bioavailability of nitric oxide, thus prolonging it and protecting it from oxidative breakdown in the body. This is pertinent to runners because an increased potency of nitric oxide in the body can allow for more efficient oxygen and blood flow to muscles.

What Research Says About Pomegranate Extract

There is a good amount of published research about pomegranate extract and runners. A 2014 randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study assessed the effect of pomegranate extract on exercise performance. Participants were divided into a control group (which ingested pomegranate extract) and a placebo group before performing a maximal oxygen consumption treadmill test to determine their peak velocity. Blood flow was assessed immediately after exercise and 30 minutes after exercise. Results found that, among men and women who ingested pomegranate extract before running, the blood vessel diameter was larger and fatigue was delayed compared with those who ingested a placebo. Additionally, blood flow was significantly augmented 30 minutes after ingestion among those receiving the pomegranate extract.

There exists promising research for muscle strength, too. It is hypothesized that the polyphenols in pomegranate extract improve the recovery of strength in days after eccentric exercise, similar to those in tart cherry juice.  A 2011 study conducted at the University of Texas at Austin found that drinking two servings (about 8 ounces of juice) of pomegranate extract per day for two weeks maintained more post-exercise arm strength when compared with the placebo group in resistance-trained subjects.

What The Data Suggests

Pomegranate juice provides potassium, an essential electrolyte for exercise, and several polyphenols and antioxidants that may help with running and performance. You can expect some future research focusing on whether pomegranate juice can help with reducing post-exercise muscle soreness, but we don’t currently have clear data, and results may vary in trained versus untrained subjects.

In the meantime, it may be prudent to start adding pomegranate juice into your diet to see if you notice any of its positive effects.

Sarah Schlichter, M.P.H., R.D.N., L.D.N., is a registered dietitian and marathon runner based in Charlotte, N.C. She works as a nutrition consultant and in private practice, where she writes the blog, Bucket List Tummy, sharing nutrition posts, healthy recipes, running tips and everything on her bucket list.