Wednesday, November 9, 2016

In Pro O-Lifters, Pomegranate Juice Boosts Training Volume + Max. Weight, Reduces DOMS, RPE, as Well as Markers of Muscle Damage + CNS Stress and Speeds Up 48h Recovery

Regular POMj did the ergogenic trick.
Pomegranate is one out of a dozen of purported "superfoods" that actually has research backing up its efficacy. With the publication of a recent study by scientists from the University of Sfax and the Otto-von-Guericke-University Magdeburg in Germany (Ammar. 2016).

What makes the study at hand more interesting than most of the previously published studies is that the authors investigated the effect of natural Pomegranate juice supplementation on performance and acute and delayed responses of muscle soreness and biomarkers of muscle damage not in response to endurance training, but rather in response to a weightlifting training session.
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For their study, Ammar et al. recruited 9 elite weightlifters [age: 21 ± 0.5 years, body mass: 80 ± 9.5 kg, height 175 ± 8.1 cm (mean ± SD)]. The inclusion criteria were:
  • subjects trained at least five sessions per week (between 15h:30 and 17h:30) with 90 to 120 min per session,
  • subjects had an experience of more than 3 years in Olympic weightlifting and 
  • subjects didn’t have any injuries and they didn’t use any antioxidant (e.g., vitamin E, A, C etc.) or anti-inflammatory drugs during the experimental period and one month before. 
As you can see in Figure 1 the study used only two acute (+ follow up) response tests in form of Olympic-Weightlifting-sessions after either placebo (PLA) or natural pomegranate juice (POMj) supplementation.
Figure 1: Experimental design. NB: the pre-sessions 1 and 2 values correspond to values of 48-h recovery; Weightlifting performance was calculated during both test sessions; Acute (RPE) and delayed (DOMS) perceived muscle fatigue and soreness were assessed respectively 3min and 48 after both test sessions (Ammar. 2016).
After an initial 1-RM strength test, the subjects performed their habitual training programs (training session includes three Olympic-Weightlifting exercises: snatch, clean and jerk, and squat) on two separate days (3 weeks apart) while using either a placebo (PLA) and/or a pomegranate juice (POMj) supplement in the 48h recovery period:
"Supplements (1500 ml) of PLA or POMj were taken three times daily in the 48h that proceeded respectively these two training sessions (i.e. 250ml × 6 times with 8-h intervals between it). Moreover, 1h before the training sessions, participants consumed an additional 500 ml of PLA and 500 ml of POMj, respectively" (Amman. 2016).
To assess the recovery kinetic of the biological parameters, blood sample, temperature, HR and SBP were collected at resting state (i.e., after 10 days of recovery, blood sample 6) and before, immediately (3min) and 48h after the training session.
In their 2014 study, Machin et al. saw no benefit of doubling the dose of pomegranate juice concentrate and thus the antioxidant load (from 650 mg GAE/d to 1300 mg GAE/d).
A note on POMj dosing: Unfortunately, the full text contains contradictory information on the total dosage, but after reading the respective paragraphs thrice, I believe that the 1250ml that are also mentioned in the FT were consumed only on the workout day, with 500ml "extra" being consumed right before the workout. That's quite a significant amount of pomegranate juice and not cheap - at least if-if you are contemplating using it year-round (I guess I don't have to tell you that it would also be necessary to confirm that this was an effective strategy).

And if we are already talking about dosing, it may be worth mention that Machin et al. didn't find a dose-response effect in their 2014 study, even when they doubled the amount of pomegranate juice concentrate they administered to their subjects before muscle damaging exercise the muscle soreness was not further reduced and the recovery of muscle strength was not accelerate beyond what the lower dose supplmentation regimen achieved (see Figure on the left).
In conjunction with heart rate and blood pressure data, as well as the recorded weightlifting performance, RPE, and DOMS the blood samples which were analyzed for hematological parameters, muscle damage and C-reactive protein (CRP) served as markers of post-exercise recovery with or without 3x250 ml of natural pomegranate juice:
"The tested quantity of the natural POMj was prepared from a fresh pomegranate fruit 48h before the beginning of the experimentation and was frozen and stored at -4°C. No additional chemical products were added to the natural POMj. Each 500-mL of the tested POMj contained 2.56g of total polyphenol, 1.08g of orthodiphenols, 292.59mg of flavonoids and 46.75mg of flavonols" (Ammar. 2016).
The PLA juice was a pomegranate-flavored commercial drink contained water, citric acid, natural flavor and natural identical flavor (Pomegranate), sweeteners (aspartame × (0.3g/l), acesulfame K (0.16g/l)), stabilizers (Arabic gum) and didn’t contain antioxidants, vitamins nor polyphenols.
Figure 2: Calculated performances with PLA and natural POMj supplementations.
*:Significant differences between PLA and POMj conditions (Ammar. 2016).
As you can see in Figure 2, the pomegranate supplement didn't just produce the desired recovery effects, it also increased the the subjects' physical performance (i.e., the total lifted amount and maximally lifted amount) compared to placebo treatment. Furthermore, the scientists' statistical analysis of the data showed a significant POMj supplementation effect (Figure 2 & 3)...
  • on both performances variables during POMj condition compared to PLA (+8.29±3.8% and +3.26±0.83%, respectively for the total and the maximally lifted amounts), as well as 
  • on RPE and DOMS which were significantly reduced by -4.37±1.45% for RPE and -13.4±3.84% for the knee extensors’ DOMS in the POMj condition.
So, acutely, there were significant benefits of consuming 3x250ml of regular pomegranate juice and an extra 500ml pre-workout.

Figure 3: Deep onset muscle soreness and rate of perceived exertion (Ammar. 2016).
Likewise acute were an augmented increase in the subjects' core temperature (+0.42%) and a lower rate of increase in heart rate (HR) and systolic blood pressure (SBP | -4.46% and -1.81%) the scientists observed in the POMj condition, as well as 20% and 15% reduced creatine kinase and LDH levels (both indicative of reduced muscle damage).

After 48h the improvements in blood pressure and heart rate (indicative of faster recovery of the central nervous system) as well as the reduction in CK and LDH persisted. In addition, the scientists recorded lower levels of the liver enzyme AST, which is likewise an indicator of reduced muscle damage (learn more about AST).
Many other purported superfoods such as walnuts, cacao, and beans, may fail the reality test | learn more.
So what? The ingestion of 3x250ml (+500ml on workout days) of regular (natural) pomegranate juice didn't just improve the 48h exercise-recovery it also reduced the subjects' muscle soreness, their feeling of exertion and that at concomitantly improving performance markers. Even though you could thus argue that their workouts were more intense, the improvements in subjective markers of muscle damage were in line with likewise significant improvements of CK and LDH, which indicate that the subjects muscles were indeed protected from damage during snatching, the clean and jerk, and squatting.

With additional evidence of a less pronounced impact on the central nervous system, and back-up from previous studies by Trombold et al. who found reduced  muscle damage and a faster recovery of arm strength after eccentric exercise in their 2011 study pomegranate juice may in fact be an interesting supplement for resistance training (and probably other) athletes | Comment!
  • Ammar, Achraf, et al. "Pomegranate Supplementation Accelerates Recovery of Muscle Damage and Soreness and Inflammatory Markers after a Weightlifting Training Session." PloS one 11.10 (2016): e0160305.
  • Machin, Daniel R., et al. "Effects of differing dosages of pomegranate juice supplementation after eccentric exercise." Physiology Journal 2014 (2014).
  • Trombold, Justin R., et al. "Ellagitannin consumption improves strength recovery 2–3 d after eccentric exercise." Med Sci Sports Exerc 42.3 (2010): 493-8.
  • Trombold, Justin R., et al. "The effect of pomegranate juice supplementation on strength and soreness after eccentric exercise." The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 25.7 (2011): 1782-1788.