Phytochemicals could bolster physical activity performance through improved sleep

By Olivia Haslam

- Last updated on GMT

GettyImages - Tired athlete / GlobalStock
GettyImages - Tired athlete / GlobalStock

Related tags Sleep phytochemicals stress management Physical activity chamomile Resveratrol exercise endurance exercise performance mood

A new review has unveiled the promising effects of phytochemical (PC) supplementation on sleep recovery and daytime fatigue, leading to enhanced physical performance.

The new review has reported that supplementing with PCs enhances the adaptive upregulation of antioxidant enzymes (AEs), which can help to restore circadian rhythm and improve sleep recovery thereby reducing daytime fatigue and elevating mood and motivation to train.

The authors conclude that with the growing recognition of the role of PCs in optimising performance, this research brings new hope for individuals seeking improved sleep quality and increased drive to achieve their fitness goals.

Phytochemicals and physical activity

Recent studies​ have highlighted the significance of phytochemical-rich foods (PC-RFs) in physical activity programs.

Phytochemical intake can influence biochemical pathways​ that enhance endurance during training. 

PC-RFs possess properties that promote safety, comfort, and recovery during exercise, leading to improved motivation, enjoyment, health benefits, and overall performance​.

These foods can enhance oxidative stress enzymes and offer additional benefits such as reducing muscle damage and delayed-onset muscle symptoms, improving joint and tendon health, enhancing muscle and tissue oxygenation, promoting gut health, and reducing the risk of viral illnesses that can disrupt training.

According to authors of the new review, PC-RFs can also contribute to​ restoring circadian rhythm, improving sleep quality, reducing daytime fatigue, and elevating mood and motivation to exercise.

Phytochemicals and sleep improvement​ 

Lack of sleep impacts​ multiple biological pathways, which negatively affects health and well-being, including daytime fatigue, emotional regulation, cognitive performance, and overall quality of life.

What's more, adequate sleep is crucial​ for muscle repair, physical recovery, and the body's adaptive processes after exercise, with important chemicals like human growth hormone being produced during deep sleep.

Studies have shown​ that improved sleep quality reduces the risk of injury and illness in athletes, enhancing their performance and competitive success through increased training. However, other studies​ show that many athletes struggle to get enough sleep due to factors like muscle soreness, competition schedules, stress, and overtraining. 

Research increasingly supports the use of PC-RF​ interventions in reducing secondary inflammation and preventing muscle damage. 

In one study,​ turmeric supplementation in athletes led to a decrease in advanced glycation end-products in muscle tissue, resulting in improved muscle regeneration and long-term performance. In another,​ turmeric capsules reduced inflammation markers and enhanced functional capacity in individuals with exercise-induced muscle damage. 

Another study​ found that pomegranate extract supplementation attenuated weakness and soreness in muscles and facilitated muscle recovery and adherence to intensive training in both recreational and elite weightlifters.

Other PC supplements, including those from blackberries​, blueberries​, tart cherries​, and chamomile​, have also shown promising results in reducing post-exercise muscle pain, highlighting the potential benefits of PCs in enhancing muscle recovery and performance. 

The authors of the review note that it is essential to monitor and intervene to promote proper sleep in individuals engaging in exercise programs, suggesting that one approach is to adopt practical sleep hygiene rules ​that support the body's circadian rhythm​. 

Certain compounds​ like citrus bioflavonoids, resveratrol, and quercetin found in pomegranate have been reported to support the circadian rhythm and aid sleep. 

Chamomile, when combined with resveratrol, can induce a state of calmness and relaxation​, helping reduce negative thoughts at bedtime and improve sleep quality.

Elevating mood​ 

Sleep quality has been found to have a positive impact on mood​, with previous studies showning that sleep deprivation can increase the likelihood of negative mood​. 

According to the authors, challenges arises when individuals with low mood lack motivation​ and enthusiasm to engage in exercise, leading to poor adherence to exercise and rehabilitation programs. 

Various approaches have been explored to encourage exercise participation, including strategies to elevate mood and reduce discomfort during physical activity.

The use of PR supplements has been found to be a convenient method to improve motivation​ and comfort before, during, and after exercise.

Resveratrol and chamomile, in particular, have been identified to synergistically lower stress levels ​and enhance mood, providing individuals with a better mindset for exercise.

Additionally, chamomile extract has demonstrated anxiety-reducing effects​ in young male karate players before competitions.

The authors of the review concluded that concentrating dried PR whole foods into a capsule could be a convenient way to supplement total intake​.

On further research, they noted: “It would be useful that future studies of PC-RF, concentrated whole food supplementation, or possibly extracted phytochemicals address the various mechanisms of potential benefit in supporting exercise regimens, in addition to oxidative pathways​, in their evaluation.”


Journal: Nutraceuticals

“Multiple Biological Mechanisms for the Potential Influence of Phytochemicals on Physical Activity Performance: A Narrative Review”

Authors: Robert Thomas, Madeleine Williams, Jeffrey Aldous, and Kevin Wyld 

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