According to a new study from the United Kingdom, three weeks of supplementation with Chlorella improved the performance of cycling athletes.
When compared to the athletes who received a placebo, a performance improvement was documented in three areas:
• Improvement in both average and peak performance
• Lower average lactate
• Lower heart rate during endurance tests
Lactate is a by-product measured by sport scientists or coaches to evaluate workouts and profile athletes during fitness testing. Lactate is not the cause of fatigue, but does correlate with the decay of work, thus making it a biomarker for performance.
Researchers also determined that supplementing with Chlorella for 21 days was associated with higher hemoglobin levels when compared to placebo. The study was conducted at Kingston University in London, and the findings were published in the Journal of Dietary Supplements in March 2023.
What is Chlorella?
Chlorella is a single-celled alga that was native to Taiwan and Japan, but is now cultivated worldwide. It was amongst the first algae to be cultivated for food supplement purposes. The alga is a rich source of amino acids, minerals, vitamins, dietary fiber, antioxidants and other bioactive substances including Chlorella Growth Factor.
Industrial production of Chlorella began in Japan and the U.S. shortly after the end of World War II. It was further investigated for use as a high-protein food source since the world’s population was exploding.
[Learn more about the history of Chlorella in our earlier article here.]
While plans for a sustainable food did not pan out, the documentation of Chlorella’s outstanding nutritional profile earned it a respectible position in the world of nutritional supplements. It still remains a popular supplement today, and is used in everything from capsules and tablets to green drinks.
While Chlorella is perhaps best known for building and supporting the immune system, it is also known for it’s energy-enhancing properties. This was the impetus for the test on cycling athletes.
The researchers noted that while another popular algae—Spirulina—has been studied substantially in this regards, research on Chlorella was lacking:
“Despite the similar nutritional qualities between Spirulina and Chlorella, Chlorella contains higher concentrations of iron, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin A, riboflavin, iron, magnesium, niacin and zinc. Therefore, it’s worthy to investigate whether Chlorella has analogous function and potential during exercise.”
The study was relatively small, involving just 14 male trained cyclists; however, results can still be considered “gold standard” since it was a double-blinded randomized counter-balanced cross-over design study.
The study period was 21 days, during which the cyclists were provided six grams of Chlorella daily. This was followed by a 14-day washout period before the participants crossed over to the other intervention.
Each participant completed a two-day testing period comprising a one-hour submaximal endurance test at 55% external power output max and a 16.1km time trial, followed by a lactate threshold and repeated sprint performance tests. Heart rate, lactate and glucose, time, power output, and hemoglobin were compared across conditions.
Results showed that Chlorella supplementation significantly lowered average lactate and heart rate during submaximal endurance tests, and average power and peak power were significantly higher during repeated sprint bouts. Test results showed hemoglobin was also significantly increased in comparison to the placebo participants.
While acknowledging “several key limitations” to the study, the researchers noted that their preliminary findings should encourage follow-up research:
“This applied performance data provides further evidence in the possible efficacy of Chlorella supplementation in the sport and exercise nutrition field. Further mechanistic research is warranted to explore the speculations, as currently conclusive interpretation of the results is limited.”
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