Brazilian researchers at Federal University of Santa Catarina said this could be important for physically active people who need to work the same muscles or perform the same exercises the next day.
Longer term benefits to recovery were not seen but the Mate tea did seem to improve the antioxidant concentration.
Eccentric exercise when the muscle is forcibly lengthened, such as lowering a dumbbell, can result in muscle damage and immediate decline in muscle strength. Recovery of muscle function can take up to several days depending on the extent of damage.
“It has been argued that inflammatory and oxidative stress processes related to the repair of muscle damage, paradoxically, could contribute to additional damage and delayed recovery of muscle strength,” researcher Dr Vilma Panza from the Federal University of Santa Catarina told Nutraingredients.
Dietary strategies involving antioxidants can be useful for sportspeople, and tea made from phenolic rich yerba mate leaves presents another option.
“Mate tea is a beverage made from an infusion of roasted leaves of yerba mate (Ilex paraguariensis). Yerba mate is a plant originally from South America that represents a good source of phytochemicals with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties such as phenolic compounds and saponins,” said Dr Panza.
Previous research has suggested beneficial effects of mate tea for disorders such as diabetes and obesity, but studies on exercise are limited and the unknown effects on muscle function motivated the authors to investigate mate tea as an aid to recovery.
In the randomised cross-over trial, 12 healthy male subjects drank either 200 ml of mate tea or water three times a day for an 11-day treatment period.
On the eighth day subjects performed a damaging eccentric exercise with one arm, and muscle strength was measured at zero, 24, 48 and 72 hours after exercise. Blood samples were also taken at these points to measure antioxidants and oxidative stress.
A second treatment period was carried out testing the other arm after a 17-day washout period. All subjects ate a standardised breakfast two hours before the tests and maintained their usual dietary pattern throughout the study, but were told not to consume additional antioxidant rich beverages such as tea and wine more than three times a week.
Regardless of treatment, muscle strength was reduced after eccentric exercise, but mate tea improved the rate of strength recovery by 8.6% on the first day after exercise. Phenolic compounds in blood were higher with mate tea at all time points, but decreased from 48-72 hours after exercise.
“We intend to conduct further studies to identify specific strategies with other phytochemical-rich foods/beverages to mitigate muscle symptoms associated with eccentric muscle damage. Thus, we can contribute to widen the dietary strategies applied to training.
"Our 'next target' is a Brazilian berry known as 'juçara,' rich in anthocyanins like blueberry and açai berry,” Dr Panza told us.
Additional health benefits
Asked about the findings, co-founder of UK-based company Teapigs Nick Kilby was keen to point out other health benefits of Yerba mate which may also benefit sportspeople.
"Yerba certainly is good for energy boosting, it contains caffeine and also an amino acid called L-theanine which helps to create focus and attention," he told us.
Of its antioxidant potential he said "lots of products claim to be high in antioxidants but Yerba’s certainly right up there".
However he said the company's premium teas were marketed on taste not health.
Source: British Journal of Nutrition
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1017/S000711451600043X
“Effects of mate tea consumption on muscle strength and oxidative stress markers after eccentric exercise”
Authors: V. Pereira Panza et al.