Competitive sports organizations often have policies that ban the use of substances that enhance performance. Substances include such well known things as steroids and stimulants, but they also include more esoteric ones such as blood boosters and agents that enhance metabolic efficiency. The granddaddy of doping policing bodies is the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and they have been known to throw just about anything on their list of prohibited substances. It doesn’t have to be a synthetic drug, or even unhealthy – it just has to have the ability (in their interpretation) to offer an unfair advantage . All of this makes me wonder whether newly published information regarding an extremely popular natural anti-aging supplement might not result in it being added to the next update of WADA list of prohibited substances. Furthermore, if it is not added to the list, I would be curious as to why it was not.
The supplement I am referring to is of course resveratrol (it’s in the title – duh). For those of you unfamiliar with resveratrol it is a compound found in many natural plants. It is particularly well known for being present in red wine, and as a consequence many of the purported health benefits of red wine have been attributed to resveratrol. Resveratrol gained particular notoriety due to work by a Harvard University researcher named Dr. David Sinclair in the 2000s. Sinclair was the first to demonstrate life extension benefits of resveratrol, and he also authored a highly publicized paper showing resveratrol dramatically preventing the harmful effects of a high fat diet on the health of mice. As a result of all this, resveratrol sales skyrocketed and it is perhaps the top selling anti-aging supplement ingredient on the market today.
Although there have been some studies with data hinting at the exercise benefits of resveratrol, nobody had done a study specifically designed to explore that in depth – until now. Researchers from University of Alberta explored what effects resveratrol might have on exercise performance in rats. The study was just recently published in Journal of Physiology. In the study they subjected rats to training on a treadmill five days a week for 12 weeks. They used air puffs and electric shock to prod the rats to run and the training was made progressively more difficult over time. The rats ran essentially to exhaustion (where they couldn’t be prodded anymore).
These exercising rats were divided into two groups. The first group received resveratrol in their chow (4g per Kg chow) and the second group just ate a control chow. The resveratrol group experienced a striking 21% increase in exercise performance versus the control group. The force generation in the slow twitch soleus muscle was also enhanced significantly over control. Fatty acid metabolism by muscle was enhanced in the resveratrol group versus control as well. Finally, the efficiency and structural integrity of the heart muscle was improved more so in the resveratrol group.
So it appears that resveratrol at high enough doses can be an effective enhancer of performance (at least as it concerns endurance exercise) and it appears to do this in large part by supporting the efficient utilization of fatty acids for fuel. Resveratrol has a low oral bioavailbility and extrapolating off the top of my head I would think that a human would need at least 2 grams a day of the compound to come close to matching any of these results. A topical formulation may be a good alternative to oral resveratrol due to its ability to avoid first pass liver metabolism as well as providing a sustained release effect ( a great topical resveratrol is Prototypes R-Spray http://www.prototypenutrition.com/ProductDetails.asp?ProductCode=R)
Now back to my original question. Will this be put on a list of prohibited substances? People ingest very small amounts of resveratrol in foods every day, however the amounts that were used in this study were orders of magnitude higher. Might WADA make a rule saying that levels of resveratrol in the urine over a certain low concentration are a violation? I can’t really think of anything stopping them. There is certainly no love lost between WADA and the supplement industry. It will be interesting to see what happens