Pomegranate Juice and Muscular Strength

Glass of pomegranate juice and wooden spoon with pomegranate seed on wooden tray
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Messy to eat and a favorite juice to drink, the pomegranate has become well-known as a rich source of antioxidants. These powerful antioxidants are shown to provide general health benefits, which is why many are now drinking pomegranate juice regularly. Other research has indicated additional benefits for active adults and athletes through improved athletic performance.

In order to understand how pomegranate juice may improve workouts and our muscle, we will break open the shell of this labor-intensive fruit for some answers.

Pomegranate Facts

Pomegranate (Punica granatum) is a nutrient-dense fruit with numerous medicinal properties. The fruit has been cultivated for thousands of years. Ancient China, India, and societies surrounding the Mediterranean gave pomegranate a prominent symbolic role in history. It appears ancient history already understood the power of the pomegranate. Each part of this unique fruit from root to seed contains valuable nutrients and antioxidants.

The following is a list of antioxidants and phytonutrients (active compounds found in plants) specific to each part of the pomegranate:

  • Juice: Anthocyanins, ellagic acid, gallic acid, catechins, quercetin, vitamin C
  • Seeds: Conjugated linolenic acid (CLA), linolenic acid, oleic acid, punicic acid
  • Peel and pulp: Quercetin, gallagic acid, kaempferol, punicalagin
  • Roots and bark: Gallic acid, punicotannic acid, mannite, pelletierine, n-methylisopelletierine
  • Flower: Oleanolic acid, gallic acid, ursolic acid, anthocyanins

The outer parts of the pomegranate are consumed typically as extracts, while the inner seeds and juice are what we eat and drink. The inner seeds and juice of the pomegranate have been the focus of most research, which has shown them to provide significant health and athletic benefits.

The antioxidants found in pomegranate juice work in different ways to improve our health and athletic performance. Regarding our workouts and pomegranate juice, we should first understand the exercise-induced stress on the body and how antioxidants can help.

What Happens to Our Muscles During Exercise?

Exercise is great for improved health, but it does place stress on our body. Our muscle tissue, cells, and central nervous system (CNS) undergo varying degrees of stress depending on workout intensity. Exercise-induced stress or oxidative stress is a normal and oftentimes uncomfortable response to exercise.

Oxidative stress means there is an imbalance between the body's antioxidant system to fight off free radicals in the body to prevent bodily damage. Normal body reactions can include a release of inflammatory chemicals, increased lactic acid levels, exercise discomfort, and decreased energy. Active adults and athletes want to be able to train with less fatigue and discomfort and are using the benefits of pomegranate juice to improve their workouts.

How Does Pomegranate Juice Help?

Pomegranate juice contains powerful antioxidants shown to improve our health and enhance athletic performance. The abundance of polyphenols and quercetin found in pomegranate are shown to specifically improve exercise performance and muscular strength.

Polyphenols are phytochemicals with antioxidant properties found in plant food sources. Polyphenols are also known as phenolics and give fruits like pomegranate their vibrant color. Phenolics provide numerous health benefits including reduced inflammation and protection of our cardiovascular system. Gallic acid is one of the polyphenols in pomegranate juice shown to improve muscle recovery and strength.

Quercetin is a naturally occurring bioflavonoid found in a variety of plant food sources. Bioflavonoids or flavonoids represent a large class of antioxidants shown to reduce inflammation, remove toxins, and decrease cellular damage in the body. Pomegranate juice is a rich source of quercetin shown to help with muscle recovery and improved exercise performance.

Pomegranates are indicated to be rich in nitrates which, according to research, improve athletic performance. Nitrates are chemicals naturally occurring in a variety of plant foods, and convert to nitric oxide in our body when consumed. Nitric oxide works by dilating our blood vessels to increase oxygen delivery to working muscles. This process is shown to increase cardiorespiratory performance and improve muscle function.

The Research

A study was conducted on elite weightlifters to examine the effects of pomegranate juice on muscle recovery. Olympic weightlifting is intense exercise typically followed by several days of weakness and soreness. This type of exhaustive training is shown to decrease strength, increase muscle damage, oxidative stress, and inflammation. Exercise-induced stress and the discomfort that follows cause many of us to discontinue our training programs.

Volunteers for the research trial included nine young men who were elite weightlifters. The men were required to have at least three years of training experience and participate in weightlifting at least five times per week at 90-120 minutes per session. They were in good health, injury-free, and not taking antioxidants or anti-inflammatory drugs during or one month prior to the testing period.

Prior to pomegranate juice supplementation, baseline values were recorded for a one-rep maximum lift for each Olympic movement (snatch, clean and jerk, and squat). Blood samples, blood pressure, and heart rate were also recorded before and after each training session. The participants were tested initially with a placebo followed by separate training using pomegranate juice supplementation.

The participants began drinking 750ml (3 × 250ml/day) of pomegranate juice two days prior and continued throughout the research period. Pomegranate juice supplementation was indicated to significantly improve workout values compared to the placebo. The weightlifters were able to increase workout duration and the amount of weight being lifted. Results also indicated participants experienced decreased muscle soreness and faster recovery. The most significant improvements for decreased delayed muscle soreness were in the quadriceps vs biceps.

The study also indicated improved systolic blood pressure both during and after training. Systolic blood pressure is the top value and measures the pressure in your blood vessels when your heartbeats. Pomegranate juice supplementation appears to have had a positive effect on reduced heart rate and glucose readings as well.

Further results measured the blood serum biomarkers for muscle damage caused by exercise. The blood samples after pomegranate supplementation indicated creatine kinase (CK) and lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) were reduced. CK and LDH are muscle enzymes released during intense exercise and higher serum levels in our blood are indicators of muscle injury. Drinking pomegranate juice appears to significantly lower these values.

Conclusions to the study suggest that drinking pomegranate juice during weight training and 48 hours following improves whole-body muscle strength. Researchers also mentioned that consuming 750ml daily could be the optimum dose to produce a significant anti-inflammatory effect. Overall, improved athletic performance, including muscle strength, resulted from pomegranate juice supplementation. However, because of small sample size, it’s recommended further studies are conducted on a larger scale using athletes of varying sports.

Additional Studies Found

A study was conducted on 45 nonresistance-trained but physically active young men. The purpose of the research was to examine the dosages of pomegranate juice and their effect on isometric strength recovery after eccentric exercise. Eccentric exercise is also known as negative training where you lower a weight slowly against resistance/gravity. This allows the muscle to be pushed past normal points of failure.

The men were divided into groups and drank pomegranate juice once daily (650mg gallic acid), twice daily (1,300 mg gallic acid) or placebo. Both the lower and higher doses of pomegranate juice resulted in significantly improved muscle strength compared to the placebo. Muscle recovery time was also greatly reduced for those drinking either dose of pomegranate juice. According to results, it appears drinking a larger dose of pomegranate juice may not be necessary to achieve improved muscle recovery benefits.

Other research was performed using pomegranate extract on 19 young, highly active men and women. The study examined if nitrate-rich pomegranate extract would improve vessel dilation, blood flow, and exercise performance. Participants were given either 1,000 mg of pomegranate extract, 1,000 mg commercial pomegranate supplement, or placebo 30-minutes prior to exercise. Each volunteer completed three separate treadmill tests to exhaustion. Results indicated that pomegranate extract taken prior to exercise enhanced blood vessel diameter, allowing for better blood flow and oxygen delivery to working muscles. It also showed delayed fatigue and improved athletic performance in highly active individuals.

Other Health Benefits

Pomegranate fruit and juice is shown to improve athletic performance, but its powerful antioxidant properties also provide numerous other health benefits:

  • Fights cancer: Research shows antioxidants found in pomegranate effectively inhibited cancer cell growth and slowed the progression of breast cancer and prostate cancer.
  • Heart health: Studies indicate antioxidants found in pomegranate juice provide a cardioprotective effect. Drinking it regularly is said to reduce the incidence of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), improve blood pressure, and reduce cholesterol levels.
  • Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) alternative: Pomegranate is a rich source of polyphenols or phenolics, a natural phytoestrogen shown to be a safer alternative for hormone replacement therapy (HRT), reducing the risk of breast cancer.

Other Juices Improving Athletic Performance

Discovering the numerous benefits of eating plants has opened doors to significant health improvement and enhanced athletic performance. Fruits and vegetables contain powerful phytochemicals that have changed our understanding and provided a renewed respect for the value of nutrition on our health. Pomegranate juice is only one of the many fruits among the foods shown to improve our health and fitness.

  • Beet juice is a rich source of antioxidants and high in nitrate levels. Nitrate is naturally occurring in a variety of plant foods and converts to nitric oxide when consumed. Nitric oxide is said to improve blood flow and lung function, providing better oxygen delivery to working muscles. Active adults and athletes are supplementing with beet juice for improved athletic performance.
  • Tomato juice contains essential nutrients and is a rich source of lycopene. Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant shown to reduce harmful inflammatory chemical levels released by the body during hard workouts. This antioxidant protection helps reduce oxidative stress caused by exercise and the reason many active adults are drinking tomato juice for improved athletic performance.
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