They’re naturally delicious and packed with nutrition. A handful of blueberries treats your taste buds to a touch of natural sweetness but not enough to cause a rapid rise in blood sugar. In fact, a study found that consuming a cup of blueberries daily was linked with improvements in fructosamine and hemoglobin A1C, markers of metabolic health. and blood sugar control.
Almost everyone can benefit from adding blueberries to their diet, but noshing on this deliciously sweet purple berry may be particularly beneficial if you work out. Let’s look at the benefits blueberries offer if you’re an avid fitness buff.
Boost Muscle Recovery
You’re already familiar with the sore, stiff feeling you get after doing a workout your muscles aren’t accustomed to. The stiffness and discomfort is due to a phenomenon called delayed-onset muscle soreness. (DOMs) When you challenge your muscles in a new way or work your muscles harder than they’re used to, the muscle fibers sustain micro-tears, tiny tears that you can’t see with the naked eye. It’s the inflammatory response that follows that causes the soreness and stiffness that people experience with DOMS. Can blueberries reduce the amount of soreness you feel after a workout?
When researchers in New Zealand exposed skeletal muscle fibers to various fruit extracts, they made an interesting discovery. When they added the blueberry extract to isolated muscle fibers subjected to micro-tears, the muscle fibers experienced less damage in the presence of blueberry extract. Plus, the amount of damage dropped, even more, when they increased the quantity of the extract, meaning the effect was dose-dependent.
How do blueberries reduce muscle damage and the soreness people feel after a workout? Researchers believe polyphenols, natural chemicals with antioxidant properties, in blueberries may explain the finding. Antioxidants reduce damage to cells and limit inflammation. Therefore, it’s not a stretch to think they reduce muscle fiber damage brought on by unaccustomed exercise. Remember that the next time you do a tough workout!
Support for Immune Health
Moderate exercise has a beneficial effect on immune function too, but over-exercising or working out when you’re tired, stressed out, or run down, can weaken your body’s ability to fight off upper respiratory infections. These include the common cold and more serious viral infections too. One vitamin that helps your body fight off infection is vitamin C, an antioxidant vitamin. A half-cup of blueberries contains more vitamin C than many other fruits, including apples, pears, and peaches. Plus, the polyphenols in blueberries have a beneficial effect on immunity.
A 2018 study showed that polyphenols boost immune activity against foreign invaders. If you do exhaustive training, it’s important to get enough vitamin C to support immune health. Some studies show that immune function temporarily drops after a workout, so it’s important to eat a nutritionally dense diet that contains vitamin C. Blueberries are one of nature’s most nutrient-dense foods.
A Healthy Source of Energy
To power up your workouts, your muscles need adequate stores of glycogen, a form of sugar muscle cells use to make energy. Blueberries contain natural sugar that your muscles convert to glycogen and use for energy. Yet blueberries also contain fiber to slow the rise in blood sugar you get after a meal or when you eat a snack. Therefore, blueberries offer sustainable energy without the drawbacks of processed sources of sugar. When you crave something sweet, reach for blueberries instead. Their high water content also helps you rehydrate after a grueling workout. How about a blueberry protein smoothie?
Tips for Choosing Blueberries
You have a few decisions to make when buying blueberries. Should you buy conventional berries or ones grown organically? Frozen or fresh? Also, the frozen section of some supermarkets sell packages of wild blueberries you can pop in the freezer. What’s the best option?
If you’re looking for berries with the highest antioxidant content, wild blueberries are your best bet. Wild blueberries outshine other berries, including conventional and organic blueberries, in terms of antioxidant content. In fact, wild blueberries are one of the best sources of deep-blue pigments called anthocyanins, compounds with significant antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity.
If you can’t find wild blueberries, organic or conventionally grown blueberries are an option. The advantage of organic is they likely contain fewer synthetic pesticide residues, although you’ll pay more. You can also choose frozen blueberries, either conventional or organic. An advantage of frozen is the longer shelf life. You can store frozen blueberries in the freezer for months, whereas fresh ones will only keep a week or two in the fridge.
In fact, frozen blueberries are as nutritious, if not more so, than their fresh counterparts. The reason? Frozen berries are harvested at their peak of freshness and freezing locks in their nutrients. In contrast, fresh berries may travel long distances and sit on store shelves, all the while losing vitamin C and B-vitamins.
The Bottom Line
Berries are a nutritious choice for everyone, but they may be of particular benefit if you work out. There are so many ways to enjoy them too! Add a handful to hot porridge in the morning or stir a serving into yogurt for a balanced source of carbohydrates and protein. Greek yogurt and blueberries is an ideal post-workout snack. In the summer, add blueberries to an ice cube tray with water for blueberry flavored ice cubes. You can even add whole frozen blueberries to a glass of water in place of ice cubes. When you get to the bottom of the glass, spoon out the blueberries, and eat them. They’re tasty in salads too. Enjoy the many health benefits blueberries offer!
- J Immunol Res. 2018; 2018: 1264074. Published online 2018 Apr 12. doi: 10.1155/2018/1264074.
- org. “Vitamin C for Sports & Fitness”
- Current Developments in Nutrition, Volume 4, Issue 4, April 2020, nzaa030.