The Tokyo Olympic Games are well underway with teams from all over the world vying for medals. Some scientists from South Africa are watching the games with a keen eye. They’ve been investigating to what extent the natural benefits of Rooibos could enhance athletes’ physical performance.
New Studies on Rooibos
New studies show that Rooibos has a number of performance-enhancing benefits that make it especially beneficial for athletes. A team of local scientists recently completed the second set of exercise trials at the Sports Performance Lab in Cape Town, South Africa. They say the Rooibos may override burning muscles and the onset of fatigue.
Where does Rooibos tea come from?
Rooibos tea is grown and processed in South Africa. According to Quartz.com, “Rooibos tea” has become the first food in Africa to receive approval for registration under the status of international protection from the European Union. This now places Rooibos in the same league as Champagne, Feta, Irish Whiskey, and Porto, among other products already existing in the register.”
Researching the health benefits of Rooibos
Prof Simeon Davies is the Head of Sports Management at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT). He says Rooibos tea is by and large still an unappreciated beverage in sports considering its health benefits.
“Rooibos contains bio-active compounds known as polyphenols and flavonoids that are powerful antioxidants that could decrease oxidative stress, inflammation, muscular damage, fatigue and soreness – all factors that impact athletic functioning,” he says.
Research assesses how Rooibos can improve exercise output
The most recent trial investigated Rooibos’ role in minimising some or perhaps all of these factors. They also analyzed to what extent Rooibos could improve exercise output parameters and recovery.
Forty athletes, aged between 18 and 60, who were considered healthy and physical fit participated in the experiment. Depending on which leg of the trial they were in they would either ingest 375 ml of Rooibos (with 340 mg total polyphenol content) or 375 ml of the placebo drink, which tasted and looked the same as Rooibos.
How the study is being conducted
Participants were asked to slightly restrict flavonoids in their diet and to keep a record of their daily dietary intake. Either the Rooibos beverage or placebo drink was consumed with a standardised breakfast snack, 90 minutes before participating in a modified sub-maximal test (used to predict maximal aerobic capacity) on a Watt bike (stationary bike). This was then followed by ten sets of 10-sec sprints. During tests, participants had a breath-by-breath analysis done to measure respiratory gas. Blood samples were also taken during each exercise bout to measure various makers.
“In broad terms, the study measured for inflammatory response, muscular damage, fatigue and soreness,” says Prof Davies. “To do so, we looked at antioxidant content and related capacity indicators; redox status (balance between oxidants and antioxidants); oxidative lipid and protein damage; inflammatory markers; muscle damage and liver and kidney function. From an exertion perspective, we rated exercise output; power to weight ratio; energy expenditure; average and peak power output; final distance achieved and heart rate.“
Rooibos fights inflammation
“While the data is presently being subjected to an independent statistical analysis, the preliminary findings indicate that Rooibos is a beneficial intervention that may improve exercise performance. Also reduce oxidative stress, inflammation, and muscle damage.”
“Due to the findings, the scope of the study will be extended to include the OMICS approach. This basically means we will utilise a holistic methodology looking at metabolites that are intermediate or end-products of cellular metabolism that play a crucial role in energy production, storage, cell signalling, apoptosis and provide information on the physiological state of the participant. The analysis of metabolites present will offer an opportunity to enhance and better understand physiological responses to internal and external stimuli/ stressor, such as exercise.”
The potential for enhanced exercise performance
“This will give us guidance on Rooibos supplementation for potential enhanced exercise performance based on a clearer understanding of redox status of both elite and non-elite athletes, and the impact of genetic variability,” remarks Prof Davies.
“Rooibos offers a degree of protection against heart disease and diabetes by reducing inflammation in the body. If you frequently drink the tea, you’re most likely going to reap a ton of other health benefits as well. It’s also an affordable sports tonic and is widely available. Rooibos is easy to make and can be consumed in large quantities without any side effects. I’d recommend that Team SA drink at least a cupful every day,” he insists.
Some elite SA athletes who are already reaping the benefits of incorporating Rooibos into their training regime include the likes of AJ Calitz and Hannele Steyn.
Calitz (pictured in the main photo) is an ultra-trail running champion. He still kick-starts each day with a big mug of Rooibos, milk and honey as he did as a boy. “I drink it throughout the day, at work and after a run. It helps with rehydration, and it’s the one thing I never leave home without when competing in overseas races.”
His achievements include;
- Two Guinness World Records – one for The Greatest Vertical Height Gained in 12 hours (10 257 m) and 24 hours (19 376 m) on Table Mountain
- The 100 km record for the Fish River Canyon
- Winner of the 100km Verdon Canyon Challenge in France (2013)
- Four-time Red Bull Lionheart winner and the SA Ultra Trail Champion (2016)
Uber-athlete and owner of her own company, Passion4Wholeness, Hannele Steyn usually starts her day with a hot cup of Rooibos and has another before bedtime. She drinks about five cups a day (at minimum) and makes a chilled brew for when she’s training.
After 35 years of competitive racing, her CV includes:
- National colours in 5 different sports
- a 7th World ranking in the Elite Triathlon series
- Triathlon World Champion title in 1994
- The only woman, and 1 of 4 people who have done all 16 Cape Epic races to date. She won it in 2005.
Steyn began experimenting with natural supplements years ago. She was concerned about the high sugar content, vegetable fat and artificial sweeteners, flavouring agents and colourants in many energy drinks.
“Putting these into your body on a sustained basis, particularly if you are constantly pushing your limits, isn’t a good idea”.
Instead of relying entirely on supplements, she went back to basics, experimenting with natural products, which are easily digested.
“Rooibos is natural, easily digested and packed with antioxidants, so is really healthy. I usually mix Rooibos with a little bit of honey, for fast energy and milk/milk alternative to provide fats and protein. This makes for a tasty, healthy and natural energy drink.
“I usually carry a bottle of Rooibos in addition to my energy supplement during races.”