Turmeric is gaining scientific recognition as having performance enhancing properties. In a recent study on turmeric’s main compound, curcumin, scientists found that it increased the amount of mitochondria in muscle cells (1). Since mitochondria are the powerhouses of the body, turmeric may revolutionize the sports industry, enabling athletes to maximize their performance. Turmeric is highly regarded as being a safe and health-promoting spice that also has the highly sought after effect of increasing mitochondrial density.
Mitochondria are organelles within cells in the body. They are the power plants of the cell, generating energy for the body to use for cellular functions. Mitochondria use oxygen and nutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, and fats) to produce ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate). ATP is a potential energy molecule, similar to money in energy form, that your body ‘spends’ to fuel biological functions like powering the brain, pumping the heart, exchanging oxygen and carbon dioxide, contracting muscles, along with many other processes.
In today’s highly competitive world of sports, elite athletes are focused on maximizing strength, endurance and recovery to get an extra edge, all of which start with the mitochondria. Dietary changes can increase the amount of mitochondria in muscle cells. Increasing cellular mitochondria, referred to as mitochondrial biogenesis, leads to substantial and sustainable performance gains. For years the only known methods to increase mitochondrial density was through chronic endurance and strength training. Boosting the density of mitochondria in muscle cells is similar to upgrading the engine in a car, it increases the rate at which the body converts fuel to usable energy. A surplus of available energy allows increased energy, endurance, strength output, calorie expenditure, and recovery.
In the study, scientists found that curcumin by itself increased mitochondrial density, and when paired with exercise, the benefits were compounded (1). That makes turmeric somewhat of an athletic Holy Grail, especially to an elite athlete like an olympic runner or swimmer, who are focused on shaving hundredths of a second off their time. Given that there are no known toxic levels of turmeric, it combines fundamental and highly sought after performance enhancing properties with unique health-promoting mechanisms that protect athletes from years of intensive training.
Read about some of the health benefits of turmeric in our previous blog post here.
Other benefits associated with increase turmeric intake relevant to athletes (to be covered in later features) are:
- increased strength and endurance
- increased muscle growth and faster recovery (anabolic)
- prevents muscle breakdown (anti-catabolic)
- increased testosterone / decreased estrogen
- increased nitric oxide
- reduced muscle damage and soreness
- raised metabolism
- increased blood flow