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Flavo-What Now? Why You Should Care About Flavonoids

BY PATTY HODAPP

You count your macros and micros religiously, and for good reason. Any serious endurance athlete knows how crappy nutrient deprivation can feel when bagging a trail run, HIIT workout or OCR event. (Think: fatigue, cramping, gut rot, lightheadedness, slow reaction time and poor performance.)

But while ample protein, carbs, healthy fat, vitamins and minerals are foundational to a solid nutrition training program, they’re not all that’s important. Flavonoids, though perhaps foreign to you, matter, too. Here’s why‚ and how amping up your diet with flavonoid-rich foods or integrating a flavonoid supplement into your daily routine could be the performance game-changer you’re looking for.

What Are Flavonoids?

health benefits of flavonoids

Flavonoids are polyphenols, a large group of plant chemicals that create a stimulus response in the body to prepare it for exertion, and support recovery afterward. They’re technically a nonessential nutrient (as opposed to micros and macros), which simply means the body can absorb flavonoids without having to derive them from food sources. In other words, supplements do the trick, and in short, healthy levels of flavonoids (about 500 mg per day) lead to better output and speedier bounce-back.

Quercetin, kaempferol and epigallocatechin are three of the most well-known flavonoids, and even though they're not common household names (don’t worry, we can’t pronounce them either), they’re found in many supplements and food sources. You can increase your flavonoid intake by steering clear of processed junk and eating fruits, veggies and whole foods, according to Jackie Womble, MS, RDM, LD, EP. Especially, aim for tart cherries, berries, legumes, dark chocolate, nuts, seeds, black and oolong teas, and (if you’re indulging) red wine, she recommends.

How Flavonoids Impact Performance & Recovery

Chances are, if you eat healthy, you’re getting some flavonoids already. However, mindfully watching your intake to ensure you’re getting enough may just be the key to maximize your performance.

1. They Increase Your Power Output

study in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine found that citrus flavonoid supplementation showed increased power output in weight lifting and improved exercise performance overall. Ever taken a beet-juice shot before a race or big training session? Well, this is a similar concept, Womble says. “Citrus flavonoids have been shown to improve performance through more efficient energy pathways,” she says. “This allows energy to get to muscles more effectively and improve power output. It’s very similar to research done on the benefits of beets and nitric oxide for athletes.”

2. They Help You Recover Faster

Similarly, flavonoids are powerful antioxidants that harness free radicals and metallic ions in the body to support its natural inflammatory response for faster healing, post workout. “During exercise, we break down our muscles and the restoration process is what makes them stronger,” says Womble. “Inflammation is your body’s response to heal itself, and flavonoids can help decrease that response so you can recover faster. When you have proper levels of flavonoids in your system, soreness, fatigue and tissue damage becomes less of an issue.”

3. They Boost Your Focus & Mental Game

Flavonoids also play a key role in cognitive function, particularly when it comes staying sharp while working out. A study in the Journal of Frontiers in Nutrition found that not only do cacao-sourced flavonoids help support cardiovascular exertion, but also show improved cognitive function for processing speed, attention span and working memory. Of course, these are all good things when you’re hauling over roots and rocks, taking turns at trail intersections, and pushing your heart muscle to keep up with you.

Get Your Daily Flavo-Dose

Health Benefits of Flavonoids

Beyond whole foods rich in flavonoids, supplements (if taken at the same time each day, with a meal, according to Womble) are also a solid go-to.

Opt for capsules that contain around 250 mg of flavonoids to support the flavonoid-rich foods you’re already eating, or to give you a boost in situations (like backwoods backpacking trips) where fruit and veggies are scarce.

Just  be careful not to overdo it, Womble warns, as science is still soft on flavonoid overdosage and anything over 1,000 mg per day, overtime, may introduce risk of cell or liver toxicity.

PATTY HODAPP

 Patty Hodapp is a nationally-renowned journalist reporting from the intersection of fitness and adventure. She writes for Outside magazine, Travel Channel, and VICE among other publications. She's based in Vail, Colorado, and when she's not fly fishing, snowboarding, or trail running, you can find her writing abroad or planning her next trip. Get in touch or learn more at HodappMedia.com