Spirulina is a cyanobacterium (blue-green micro-algae) that produces energy via the process of photosynthesis. Spirulina is nutrient- dense and rich in proteins, amino acids, vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, polysaccharides, and phytochemicals including antioxidants. It has traditionally been used as a food, but is now mostly used as a supplement in powder format. Spirulina is particularly high in essential amino acids and essential fats including omega-3 and 6.
Beneits of Spirulina
Spirulina’s rich antioxidant content has been shown to help reduce inflammation. Spirulina has also been shown to have a cholesterol and blood glucose lowering effect. It may also increase nitric oxide production, helping improve blood vessel vasodilation. This action can help improve nutrient delivery and prevent fatigue during exercise. This fatigue-resistant action has been shown to be the main benefit for athletes looking for a competitive advantage.
Increases Time To Exhaustion
In a recent study, spirulina was shown to reduce time to exhaustion during strenuous exercise in untrained subjects. The study put subjects through all-out exertion on a treadmill and showed that supplementation with spirulina delayed time to exhaustion during short-term intense intervals and reduced skeletal muscle damage based on lactate dehydrogenase levels. In another study designed to examine spirulina’s effects on exhaustion from strenuous exercise, moderately trained subjects were put through a long and demanding treadmill running test. This study also showed that spirulina can reduce and delay exhaustion during exercise, even based on short-term use.
Physical and Mental Fatigue Resistance in Athletes
After these two short-term studies were done, another study was conducted to determine if spirulina could have further long-term benefits, and if these benefits translate to active individuals as compared to previous studies on less active individuals. The study was completed on 18 healthy males between the ages of 20 and 43 recruited at Ohio State University that were physically active performing activities such as strenuous aerobic exertion, moderate weight training, and/or strenuous labor. Supplementation was given as 3 grams of spirulina per day as six 500 milligram tablets, or six gelatin capsules in the placebo group. Subjects were instructed to take the dose all at one time with a fat-containing meal. Testing involved an aerobic exercise test, a mathematical-based mental fatigue test, and a subject self-evaluation of current daily fatigue. Subjects were tested at the beginning of the trial and eight weeks later. After just one week of supplementation, spirulina showed a statistically significant increase from baseline in exercise output for 30 minutes on a cross trainer machine. It also showed a significant improvement in mental fatigue both after just four hours of use and after eight weeks of supplementation, while the placebo subjects showed a statistically significant regression from pre-supplement values. This study demonstrates that spirulina produces a substantial improvement and can alter not just physical, but mental fatigue in both short-term and long-term use. Based on this evidence, spirulina is considered an effective anti-fatigue, energizing supplement, with additional benefits such as reducing inflammation and improving nitric oxide production. Spirulina can be found on its own, but is also commonly found in greens products in combination with other phytonutrients.