Astaxanthin has received attention as nutritional supplement for its ability to:
- reduce oxidative stress
- decrease inflammation
- improve fat metabolism
- improve exercise performance
…in animal studies.
The effectiveness of Astaxanthin on human exercise performance is not well studied, but a recent study in International journal of sports medicine shows promising results.
Astaxanthin is a carotenoid naturally found in red colored foods such as shrimps and salmon.
Astaxanthin has shown to improve fatty acid translocase and carnitine palmitoyltransferase I in mice skeletal muscle. These two enzymes are involved in fat oxidation; the burning fat for energy. In theory, increases in these enzymes can improve performance in exercise bouts of longer duration where body fat is the primary fuel for exercise.
Twenty one male competitive cyclists where recruited for the study. They were randomly divided into two groups:
- One group recieved 4 mg/d of astaxanthin
- The other group recieved a placebo
The took the supplements for four weeks.
The test day consisted of a 2h fasted pre-exhaustion ride, followed immediately by a 20km time trial.
The goal of this fasted pre-exhaustion ride was minimize the contribution of carbohydrates on energy provision during the time trial. Hence, this would increase the reliance on fat as energy source and make performance improvements via improved lipid metabolism more apparent.
The researchers found a significant improvement in 20 km time trial performance in the astaxanthin group, but not in the placebo group.
However, they found no effect of astaxanthin on carbohydrate or fat oxidation.
Thus, in contrast to earlier animal studies, this human study is did not find evidence for preferential use of fat during exercise with astaxanthin supplementation.
They researchers conclude that despite their inability to identify a mechanism of action, their study suggest that astaxanthin is an effective supplement to improve exercise performance.
But the researchers note that the exercise protocol they tested does not reflect a usual competitive race and that astaxanthin supplementation should also be tested under more real world conditions.