Food

Why Runners Should Add This Berry to Their Diet

Give blackcurrants a try to boost your recovery and potentially your endurance, too.

Berries are a popular superfood, chock-full of antioxidants and delicious to boot. And while most of us know strawberries and blueberries are good for us, there’s a new (old) berry that’s being lauded by researchers as a super fruit for running–the blackcurrant.

In the early 1900s, growing blackcurrant was banned in most of the United States because of its alleged ability to spread a disease deadly to pine trees. It was about 100 years later that the laws were overturned; using more advanced farming techniques and the latest science, farmers are now able to grow variations that are resistant to the once-feared plant disease, giving Americans an opportunity to enjoy a fruit that is favored in other parts of the world. 

A recent review of nearly 40 studies found that New Zealand blackcurrants, specifically, may have some benefit to sprinters by reducing the time to fatigue. Although, that evidence wasn’t overwhelming. “It would be interesting for them to continue to study it, which I’m sure that they will,” says Dawn Holmes, a sports dietitian at OhioHealth.  

What’s clearer about blackcurrant is its potential as a recovery food. Blackcurrants have almost double the amount of anthocyanins than blueberries. Anthocyanin is the compound responsible for the antioxidant effect in blue, red, and purple pigmented fruits. 

“We know that anthocyanins are a specific phytochemical, or nutrient, that is in fruits and vegetables, and these anthocyanins are specifically antioxidants and anti-inflammatory. So any time that we eat these blues and purples and reds and orange fruits and vegetables, it helps us to reduce that inflammation and reduce stress in the body,” says Holmes. 

Blackcurrants may be the new super fruit.
Photo: Getty

Past research has shown how anthocyanins in other popular fruits aid in recovery too, like raspberries, tart cherries, blueberries, and strawberries, but it’s important to get an assortment.

“Just like with running, where you’re doing different workouts in order to train your body— like you’re doing a long slow run or you’re doing some tempo or you’re doing some interval type training—it’s the same thing with your foods,” says Holmes. “You don’t want to just go, ‘Well, I know blueberries are good for me, so I’m just going to eat blueberries.’ You want to get that variety in because it’s sort of drilling down even more.”

As for blackcurrants, since they haven’t been as widely studied as other fruits in our diet, it’s unclear what the recommended dose would be to experience the full effects that are seen in these studies. The doses in the studies themselves vary widely and the form of blackcurrant (juices, powders, supplements, concentrates) is inconsistent throughout. 

Even if dietitians are unable to pinpoint the best form or dose for you to experience significant performance or recovery enhancement, it couldn’t hurt to throw some blackcurrants into your diet. 

According to Jim Riddle, co-owner of Blue Fruit Farm, blackcurrants “have a bold flavor, with smoky and musky tones, kind of like cabernet wine.” Their complex flavor profile makes them perfect to pair with sweet or savory dishes. They are more flavorful than blueberries, but also four times as high in vitamin C, making them more tart when eaten raw. 

Since so few farmers grow blackcurrant, they can be hard to find. There are a handful of farms in northern states like Michigan, Oregon, New York, and Minnesota (where Blue Fruit Farm is located) where you can buy fresh blackcurrant. If you’re lucky enough to get some of this unique fruit fresh or frozen, try them in smoothies, in jam on toast, or in your oatmeal to add an antioxidant boost. Riddle also recommends them as a side dish for dinner with poultry or pork. Or try them dried in a salad or homemade trail mix.

Juices and concentrates are also an efficient way to add berries to your diet. Holmes recommends the R.W. Knudsen line of single fruit juices. They are available in just about every type of anthocyanin-rich fruit (tart cherry, blackcurrant, blueberry, cranberry) and aren’t mixed with additives or other fruits.