Cranberries on plate

(Photo by Unsplash+ In collaboration with Olivie Strauss)

MONTREAL — For centuries, athletes have sought out natural ways to enhance their performance, from ancient Greek Olympians feasting on honey and dried figs to modern-day marathoners chugging beet juice. Now, a new study suggests that the humble cranberry may be the latest superfruit to join the ranks of performance-boosting foods.

Cranberries, long-touted for their health benefits, are packed with polyphenols – powerful antioxidants that can help combat oxidative stress in the body. But how can these tart little berries actually improve athletic performance? A team of Canadian researchers set out to answer this question, focusing specifically on the effects of cranberry supplementation on running.

Behind The Cranberry Study: Who, Where & When


Francis Parenteau and Andreas Bergdahl from the Department of Health, Kinesiology and Applied Physiology at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada conducted a study to investigate the effects of cranberry supplementation on running performance. The study, published in the journal Physical Activity and Nutrition in December 2023, took place at a local 200-meter indoor track in Montreal over a period of time.

What They Found

The study found that consuming a cranberry extract supplement for 28 days improved physiological markers of performance in trained runners during both short (400-meter) and long-distance (1500-meter) time trials. Notably, the muscle reoxygenation rate was significantly faster after the 28-day supplementation period compared to baseline for the 1500-meter run. This suggests that cranberry supplementation may help delay the onset of muscle fatigue.

Additionally, the cranberry supplement buffered the post-exercise lactate response (a marker of anaerobic metabolism) for the 400-meter sprint. However, the acute dose of cranberry extract consumed two hours before the trials did not show any significant effects.

Overall, the results suggest that cranberry supplementation may have ergogenic effects, as it improves physiological markers of performance during short- and long-distance running.

Why Cranberries?


Cranberries are known to have the highest polyphenol and antioxidant capacity among fruits and vegetables. Polyphenols, including proanthocyanidins (PACs), anthocyanins, flavonols, and flavonols, are secondary plant compounds that may protect against exercise-induced free radical production. Consequently, the researchers hypothesized that cranberry supplementation could improve running performance.

Methodology

The study utilized a repeated-measures design with 14 trained endurance athletes (8 men and 6 women). The participants performed a 1500-meter time trial followed by a 400-meter time trial under three conditions:

  1. At baseline
  2. 2 hours after consuming an acute dose of cranberry extract (0.7 g/kg of body mass)
  3. After 28 days of daily cranberry extract consumption (0.3 g/kg of body mass)

During each trial, the researchers measured the athlete’s muscle oxygenation changes in the vastus lateralis (a major thigh muscle) using near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS). They also measured blood lactate levels at rest and 1 and 3 minutes after each trial.

Red supplement capsules
Cranberry supplements may help runners improve their overall performance, but scientists say the effect happens over time — not immediately after taking a capsule. (Photo by Supliful – Supplements On Demand on Unsplash)

The Takeaway: Cranberries Can Be A Runner’s Best Friend

For runners looking to gain a competitive edge, incorporating cranberries into their diet may be a natural and effective strategy. The study suggests that consistent consumption of a cranberry extract supplement over several weeks could help improve aerobic performance and delay muscle fatigue during both sprint and endurance running.

“The beauty of this is that it is all natural,” Bergdahl says in a statement. “It is an ergogenic aid, meaning that it is performance-enhancing, but it is not an anabolic steroid. Athletes can get this important boost in their performance just by consuming more cranberries.”

However, don’t expect any miracles from downing a cranberry smoothie right before a race. As noted, a dose of cranberry extract consumed two hours prior to running did not show any significant benefits. It seems that the power of this superfruit lies in its long-term, cumulative effects.

As with any supplement, it’s always best to consult with a healthcare professional before adding something new to your routine. But for those looking to harness the potential of polyphenols, cranberries may be worth considering as a natural performance booster.

So next time you’re stocking up on running fuel, you might want to toss a bag of cranberries into your cart alongside those energy gels and electrolyte drinks. Your muscles just might thank you at the finish line.

StudyFinds Editor Steve Fink contributed to this report.

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StudyFinds sets out to find new research that speaks to mass audiences — without all the scientific jargon. The stories we publish are digestible, summarized versions of research that are intended to inform the reader as well as stir civil, educated debate. StudyFinds Staff articles are AI assisted, but always thoroughly reviewed and edited by a Study Finds staff member. Read our AI Policy for more information.

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