There have been ten different human clinical trials demonstrating a variety of benefits specifically applicable for athletes. One of the most exciting studies was sponsored by Gatorade, the world’s leading company in the field of sports drinks. Along with these ten human clinical trials are 25 supporting preclinical trials done in mammals and in vitro. Owing to space constraints, we’ll limit our discussion to some of the most promising human clinical studies; readers wishing a more in-depth understanding of this subject should contact the authors directly.
Muscle Inflammation and Recuperation in Elite Soccer Players: Soccer is the world’s sport — the most closely followed competitive team game in most countries around the globe. This study looked at the effect of astaxanthin supplementation on 40 young elite soccer players in Europe.
The study was randomised and placebo controlled; it spanned 90 days of supplementation with 4mg of astaxanthin per day for the treatment group. Results showed significant improvements in those taking astaxanthin in inflammation levels, immune system function and, most importantly for athletes, muscle recuperation.
The researchers concluded that astaxanthin “attenuates muscle damage, thus preventing inflammation induced by rigorous physical training.” They hypothesised that the mechanism of action may be that astaxanthin “protects the cell membranes against free radicals generated during heavy exercise, thus preserving the functionality of muscle cells.”1
Increased Strength and Endurance Improvement in Healthy, Young Men: Natural astaxanthin is the power generator that allows salmon to make their heroic upstream swim. Astaxanthin is found at the highest concentration in the animal world in salmon, and within the salmon, the astaxanthin concentrates in the muscles to allow it to swim up raging rivers for more than a week. This is the greatest endurance feat in all of nature, and it’s fuelled by natural astaxanthin.
Based on this fact, researchers in Sweden did a 6-month clinical trial on young, healthy, late teenage students to see whether astaxanthin would have the same effect in humans that it did in salmon. The men were required to do deep knee bends to exhaustion after a warm-up period.
Again, the study featured a very low dose of astaxanthin — only 4mg per day — but, fortunately, the study lasted 6 months, so the astaxanthin had time to concentrate throughout the treatment group’s bodies. Results showed that astaxanthin increased strength and endurance by 62% in 6 months. The placebo group also showed an improvement of 22%, which is normal for young people who are participating in sports for a 6-month period. But, it’s the relation between the two groups that really counts; strength and endurance increased three times faster in the young men taking astaxanthin compared with the group taking the placebo.2
Gatorade Sponsored Study Finds Competitive Cyclists Made Faster with Higher Power Output by Astaxanthin: Aware of the study above, Gatorade wanted to see if natural astaxanthin could make competitive cyclists faster and stronger. This study lasted only 4 weeks, a relatively short time for astaxanthin to concentrate in the bodies of the athletes and improve their race times.
It also was done at the very minimum dose generally recommended by astaxanthin experts: 4mg per day. The researchers tested the cyclists in a 20km time trial before the supplementation began and again at the end of 4 weeks of supplementation. We must keep in mind that these were not average people, but highly trained, competitive cyclists; even marginal improvement from a supplement regimen after just 4 weeks would be an excellent result in this particular group of subjects.
At the end of 4 weeks, the placebo group showed no improvement in their cycling times. However, the cyclists taking natural astaxanthin were on average 5% faster. In addition, their power output increased by 15%.3
In just 4 weeks and at a relatively low dosage, natural astaxanthin made these competitive cyclists significantly faster and stronger. Any athlete would love to have these fantastic results from just taking one small capsule each day. To really understand how much of a difference astaxanthin can make to athletes, we’d like to see more research in this area, but with a longer study duration and at a higher dosage of 12mg or more per day.
Recovery from Exercise and Muscle Fatigue: A randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled crossover study in Japan measured recovery from exercise in healthy volunteers. Both the placebo and the astaxanthin groups did progressively greater loads in a stepwise exercise.
Again, the dosage was low (5mg per day) and, remarkably, the study duration was extremely short (2 weeks). Examination was done on respiratory–circulatory function and blood analysis. They also measured sympathetic nervous activities during exercise and parasympathetic nervous activity during recovery.
All parameters tested showed significant improvements in the treatment group taking natural astaxanthin. Metabolism during exercise became more efficient, respiratory–circulatory ability improved and antifatigue and antioxidant profiles were augmented. These results led the researchers to conclude that recovery ability from exercise stress may be improved by taking astaxanthin.
Additional benefits from blood analyses were also found: the astaxanthin group had significantly less LDL cholesterol in their bloodstream and significantly higher creatine phosphokinase.4
Increased Strength in Patients Suffering from Tendonitis: The Swedish Malmsten study we reviewed above was done on healthy young men. This next study was done in a group of people that were not healthy; these people were suffering from tennis elbow, a form of tendonitis that affects the arms.
The repetitive motion of hitting tennis balls with a racket can manifest as tennis elbow, which causes a loss of grip strength in the hands and pain while gripping objects in the hand. In this study, the treatment group took 12mg per day of natural astaxanthin for 8 weeks, while the other group took an identical placebo.
The results for people supplementing with astaxanthin were outstanding: on average, their grip strength increased by almost double in only 8 weeks. The average increase was 93%, to be exact, and there was also a decrease in the self-assessment of pain in their hands. Dr Spiller concluded that using natural astaxanthin may alleviate pain and increase mobility. “This improvement may greatly improve the standard of living for those who suffer from such joint disorders.”5
Reduced Muscle Fatigue from Lactic Acid Buildup During Exercise: Lactic acid builds up during physical exertion and causes a burning sensation in the muscles and fatigue. A study in Japan involved healthy adult men taking 6mg of astaxanthin daily for 4 weeks. Both the placebo and the astaxanthin group ran 1200m and had their lactic acid levels tested before and after running at the beginning of the study (before supplementation began).
They repeated this at the end of the study and found a statistically significant reduction in exercise-induced lactic acid build-up in the men taking astaxanthin. The result was excellent: a 28.6% reduction in lactic acid on average from taking 6mg of natural astaxanthin per day for a month.6
Reduction of Respiratory Parameters and Improvement of Energy Metabolism: This Japanese double-blind crossover study tested several different parameters after volunteers worked out on a treadmill. The study only lasted 2 weeks, yet improvements in respiratory metabolism and energy metabolism were indicated.7
Reduced Free Radical Production in Elite Soccer Players: The same group of researchers from Europe who did the first study we reviewed on elite soccer players also did two preliminary human clinical trials before starting on their landmark study.
The first of these preliminary studies tested whether astaxanthin can reduce free radical production after a 2-hour period of intense exercise. The treatment group took astaxanthin for 90 days. As expected, the results for astaxanthin were promising. The conclusion stated: “Supplementation with astaxanthin could prevent exercise-induced free radical production and depletion of non-enzymatic antioxidant defense in young soccer players.”8
It’s apparent from the diversity of research related to athletes that natural astaxanthin can provide a real competitive edge. Much of astaxanthin’s activity in this area stems from its strong antioxidant power and its broad-spectrum anti-inflammatory activity. The results show potential improvements in strength, muscle inflammation, recovery, oxidation levels, energy metabolism and lactic acid levels after training.
All of this manifests in improved performance as witnessed in the study sponsored by Gatorade wherein competitive cyclists got 5% faster and experienced a 15% increase in muscle output after taking just 4mg of natural astaxanthin per day for 30 days. For these reasons, the authors conclude that athletes desiring improved performance should strongly consider supplementing with natural astaxanthin on a daily basis.
1. I. Baralic, et al., “Effect of Astaxanthin Supplementation on Salivary IgA, Oxidative Stress, Inflammation in Young Soccer Players,” Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine doi:10.1155/2015/783761 (2015).
2. C. Malmstem and A. Lignell, “Dietary Supplementation with Astaxanthin-Rich Algal Meal Improves Strength Endurance — A Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study on Male Students,” Carotenoid Science 13, 20–29 (2008).
3. C.P. Earnest, et al., “Effect of Astaxanthin on Cycling Time Trial Performance,” International Journal of Sports Medicine 32(11), 882-888 (2011).
4. A. Nagata, T. Tajima and H. Hamamatsu, “Effects of Astaxanthin on Recovery from Whole Fatigue with Three Stepwise Exercises,” Hiro to Kyuyo no Kagaku 18(1), 35–46 (2003).
5. G. Spiller, et al., “Effect of Daily Use of Natural Astaxanthin on Symptoms Associated with Tennis Elbow (Lateral Humeral Epicondylitis),” unpublished study cited in B. Capelli and G. Cysewski, The World’s Best Kept Health Secret: Natural Astaxanthin (2014).
6. K. Sawaki, et al., “Sports Performance Benefits from Taking Natural Astaxanthin Characterized by Visual Acuity and Muscle Fatigue Improvement in Humans,” Journal of Clinical Therapeutics and Medicines 18(9), 1085–1100 (2002).
7. T. Tajima and A. Nagata, “Effects of Astaxanthin Ingestion on Exercise-Induced Physiological Changes,” Health and Behavior Sciences 3(1), 5–10 (2004).
8. B. Djordjevic, et al., “Effect of Astaxanthin Supplementation on Muscle Damage and Oxidative Stress Markers in Elite Young Soccer Players,” Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness 52(4), 382–392 (2012).