When I was a kid, I thought pomegranates were about the most exotic fruit I’d ever seen. Maybe that’s because my mom never added them to the family grocery list. Thus, my first exposure to pomegranates was in seeing my neighborhood peers eating them. I still vividly recall my childhood buddy peeling one open to grab fingers full of those hand-staining red seeds for happy mastication.
Forty years later, I still don’t eat pomegranates. But man, do I ever love me a serving of pomegranate juice. Take a jar of the organic kind and mix it with a richly flavored vanilla protein or meal replacement powder and you’ve got a great combination for a post-workout drink. There’s something about the combination of creamy vanilla flavor and the sweet-tart acidity of the pomegranate juice that’s just awesome.
The juice is a little on the pricey side. Nevertheless, I’ve just about talked myself into going back to drinking daily post-workout servings. That idea is being helped along by new findings suggesting ‘pomegranate juice for muscle building’ is legitimate; it might help make us stronger and more muscular. Let’s investigate THAT.
Pomegranate Juice Strength Study
In order to analyze pomegranate juice for muscle building, let’s look at a study revealing its effects on strength athletes. Tunisian researchers used nine experienced weight lifters for their trial. The researchers had the lifters perform training sessions using heavy weights and low repetitions on two different occasions. On one occasion, the weight lifters drank 500 mL of pomegranate juice, three times per day for two days leading up to the training session. They drank an additional 500 mL one hour before the training session.
Another occasion: The weight lifters drank a placebo that matched the color, aroma, and flavor of real pomegranate juice. The placebo, however, was devoid of pomegranate juice phenols, the active ingredients responsible for the fruit’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.
The athletes were measured in performance of both maximal weight lifted and total volume moved using two Olympic exercises, snatch and clean-and-jerk. After first performing warmup sets, they increased the load until they were unsuccessful with single lifts of max weight on these movements. They then performed five sets of each exercise, 2 of 3 reps with 85% of 1-reps max, 3 of 2 reps with 90% of 1-rep max. There was a passive rest period of 5 minutes between sets.
The aim of the experiment was to discover any effects pomegranate juice might have on weight lifting performance. In addition, the lifter’s perception of muscle fatigue and soreness from training sessions was measured, as were acute and delayed biological responses.
What was the gist of the results?
The sessions preceded by ingestion of PJ improved the volume (+8.3%) and the max weight lifted (+3.26%).
They also resulted in significant reduction in the subjective measures of ‘raiting of perceive exertion’ (RPE). In other words, the weight lifters didn’t feel they’d had to work as hard even though their performances improved.
In addition, PJ appeared to modify both acute and delayed biological responses to the exercise. It reduced immediate increases in heart rate (-4.46%), systolic blood pressure (-1.81%), creatine kinase (-8.75%) and lactate dehydrogenase (-1.64%).
Reminder: Creatine Kinase (CK) and Lactate Dehydrogenase (LDH) are both markers of tissue damage that increase with intense weight training. These, along with Aspartate Aminotransferase (AST) were statistically reduced by the pomegranate juice.
Also reduced was delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). The athletes reported their muscles being less sore 48 hours after the session with the PJ versus the placebo.
The researchers behind the study admit the sample size of just nine lifters was too small to draw conclusions. They use their findings to urge further studies of PJ as an ergogenic aid to strength training.
‘Pomegranate Juice for Muscle Building’: More Benefit
Strength training significantly increases cortisol, the body’s primary stress hormone. Cortisol is also the body’s major catabolic (tissue breakdown) hormone.
Pomegranate juice appears to blunt cortisol. At least that was one finding of a study done on 28 overweight people given half a liter of PJ daily for four weeks. The researchers discovered a third less cortisol in the subject’s urine at the end of the study versus the start. In addition, they found the test subject’s cortisol/cortisone ratio was reduced. This suggests that the mechanism by which PJ lowered cortisol was through reducing the conversion of cortisone to cortisol, probably by inhibiting the enzyme 11-beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 1.
Regardless the mechanism, cortisol control is a significant finding in support of our ‘pomegranate juice for muscle building’ hypothesis. Combined with the effect its anti-inflammatory phenols have on strength and volume performance revealed by the study of weight lifters, it’s shown a powerful food supplement.
Its drawback is its sugar and high calorie content. Thus, when using it personally, I’ve consciously subtracted calories from elsewhere in my daily eating in order to accommodate between 1 and 1.5 liters of juice. Otherwise, the body fat would creep on despite lowered cortisol and higher insulin sensitivity that are often benefits of PJ consumption. Realizing these benefits can reduce body fat.
One way to gain those benefits while circumventing the calorie influx is to use pomegranate juice supplements. When going this route, I’d personally recommend only using products that are 100% pure extract. The positive benefits of PJ might be offset when opting for products with artificially added ellagic acid.
‘Pomegranate Juice for Muscle’: Tip
Whenever adding a dietary supplement to a strength and muscle building regimen, you should first have your training routine optimized. Otherwise, the small advantage provided by the supplement will be easily overridden by your haphazard training. This results in wasted money, along with the wasted energy of emotional investment with no return.
Many don’t realize the importance of this factor. The best way I can illustrate it is with the use of steroids among those who get lackluster results despite using them. You can see that in gyms everywhere. And if the upside effects of powerful drugs can be diluted by training pitfalls, imagine where that puts the vulnerability of effects derived from… pomegranate juice.
Bottom line: If you’re making steady gains before using PJ or any other supplement, keep your training and recuperation routine exactly as is while adding the juice. In contrast, many people see positive results from adding in a supplement, train over-enthusiastically, and proceed to blow the benefits.
- Achraf Ammar, Mouna Turki, Hamdi Chtourou, Omar Hammouda, Khaled Trabelsi, Choumous Kallel, Osama Abdelkarim, Anita Hoekelmann, Mohamed Bouaziz, Fatma Ayadi, Tarak Driss, Nizar Souissi ‘Pomegranate Supplementation Accelerates Recovery of Muscle Damage and Soreness and Inflammatory Markers after a Weightlifting Training Session’ PLOS/One (http: //dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0160305) Oct. 2016
- Catherine Tsang, Nacer F. Smail, S. Almoosawi, I. Davidson, Emad A. S. Al-Dujaili ‘Intake of polyphenol-rich pomegranate pure juice influences urinary glucocorticoids, blood pressure and homeostasis model assessment of insulin resistance in human volunteers’ Journal of Nutritional Science (Vol. 1, e9, page 1 of 9) January 2012