If you find it difficult to pronounce astaxanthin, fear not. Although it isn’t part of the general American lexicon, it should be. You are probably consuming this amazing carotenoid and not even realizing it.
Astaxanthin is that reddish pigment found in food like salmon, shrimp, and seaweed. Chemists say that it is structurally similar to beta-carotene (which gives carrots its orange color). Astaxanthin has some interesting properties that many in the sports world are not aware of, but should be. For instance, scientists examined the effect of astaxanthin supplementation on muscle enzymes as indirect markers of muscle damage, oxidative stress markers and antioxidant response in elite young soccer players. They took 32 elite male soccer players and had them randomly assigned to an astaxanthin and placebo (P) group. After the 90 days of supplementation, the athletes performed a 2 hour bout of exercise. They discovered that supplementing with astaxanthin may prevent the exercise induced production of free radicals and depletion of non-enzymatic antioxidant defense in these young soccer players. Animal studies of shown an improvement of endurance and a loss of fat as well. Furthermore, astaxanthin can lessen exercise-induced damage in mouse skeletal muscle and heart and promote an increase in utilization of fatty acids as an energy source during exercise.
In perhaps the most intriguing study, scientists examined the effects of astaxanthin on substrate metabolism (i.e. what fuel source you use) and cycling time trial (TT) performance by randomly assigning 21 competitive cyclists to 28 days of encapsulated astaxanthin (4 mg/day) or placebo supplementation. Testing included a VO2max test (i.e. the classic test of cardiovascular fitness) and on a separate day a 2-hour constant intensity pre-exhaustion ride, after a 10 hour fast followed 5 minutes later by a 20 km TT. That’s quite a bit of exercise! The results were fascinating to say the least. They observed significant improvements in 20 km TT performance in the astaxanthin group (121 seconds faster), but not in the placebo (they were only 19 seconds faster). The astaxanthin group significantly increased power output as well whereas the placebo group did not.At such a small dose (4 mg/day), astaxanthin is a supplement that all active individuals should consume. Couple this amazing carotenoid with omega 3 fats and you have a dynamic duo that will definitely do the body good.