In the age where illegal performance-enhancing drugs have threatened the health of the professional sports industry, it appears every athlete is looking for the ‘silver bullet’ to sporting success.
In South Africa, scientists have found an unlikely plant which could well become a more sought-after natural performance supplement.
From Ancient Plant to Modern Superfood
The history of rooibos (Aspalathus linearis) consumption dates back thousands of years to when it was first discovered and used for its medicinal properties in the Cederberg, the only place in the world where rooibos grows.
Rooibos, now listed as one of the top 50 superfoods of all time, has become a popular ingredient in consumables, from moisturisers to beverages. This humble plant, and one of South Africa’s finest exports, has grown far beyond a much-loved cup of tea.
The list of health benefits of rooibos is exhaustive; it is naturally caffeine-free, contains high levels of beneficial antioxidants and is rich in many essential minerals the body needs such as iron, calcium, potassium, copper, manganese, zinc, magnesium and alpha hydroxy acid. With its strong history of medicinal benefits, it’s no wonder sport scientists have begun to focus their attention on the possible links between rooibos and sport performance.
Does the Science back the Hype?
Research to date from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) and the Prime Human Performance Institute in Durban have concluded that rooibos plays a preventative role in exercise-induced oxidative stress. This means that rooibos’s concentration of antioxidants works in unison to resist cell damage caused by intense bouts of exercise. CPUT Professor Simeon Davies explained that their studies have shown that rooibos can actually enhance exercise performance.
“Rooibos contains components referred to as polyphenols exhibiting certain bio-activities suggested to include the modulation of oxidative stress, the inflammatory response, muscular damage and fatigue. These responses, if not controlled, can all result in declining performance during exercise. Recent research provides evidence that rooibos may minimise some of, perhaps all of these factors, with a resultant enhanced exercise performance.
The findings support the hypothesis that when an athlete or sportsperson trains, especially during repeated bouts of high intensity exercise such as repeated sprints and also for resistance training when exercise includes repeated repetitions requiring near maximal force, using rooibos could help them perform better, which in turn implies they have the potential to perform better in actual competition.
Preliminary findings of their study also conclude that rooibos builds and repairs muscle tissue, reduces physical fatigue and boosts performance by up to 5%. Rooibos also prevents cell damage during high-intensity bursts of exercise while fighting inflammation and boosting circulation.
It contains high levels of magnesium and zinc (aids in testosterone production, which is important for the body’s durability and ability to recover) and has high levels of calcium, magnesium and manganese (vital for bone health). This humble super food also aids iron absorption and enhances oxygen delivery to the muscles, which is critical in endurance racing.
In beverage format, it is an ideal fluid and electrolyte replacement (as it contains critical electrolytes and minerals for sustained performance) and could help to prevent high altitude sickness. While scientists will never stop their search for the elusive ‘silver bullet’ for sporting success, there are some brands which have already capitalised on the growing body of health data linked to rooibos to develop products designed to benefit athletes. BOS Sport is readily available across South Africa, and is safe and legal as a performance enhancing sports drink for any age or level of sporting activity.
Author: Pedro van Gaalen
When he’s not writing about sport or health and fitness, Pedro is probably out training for his next marathon or ultra-marathon. He’s worked as a fitness professional and as a marketing and comms expert. He now combines his passions in his role as managing editor at Fitness magazine.