What are the benefits of dates in bodybuilding?

Dates are a popular dried fruit in bodybuilding diets due to their high carbohydrate content and certain nutrients (potassium, vitamin A, polyphenols...). Dates can be a convenient and easy-to-digest source of fuel for athletes as well as fitness-conscious individuals. Indeed, their sugar content can be judicious at the time of a pre-effort snack, but also during and after the effort. Moreover, the polyphenols, carotenoids and flavonoids they contain help to fight against oxidative stress, which causes inconveniences on muscle recovery in particular. Nevertheless, it is important to consume them in moderation to avoid certain transit disorders during the sports session. This article therefore takes up all the current knowledge with the benefits of dates in sport, and particularly in bodybuilding.

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A fast energy source

The main reason why Dates have benefits in sports is because they are rich in simple sugars. Indeed, the body needs to have very high glycogen reserves during exercise in order to optimize its performance. For this, the nutritional strategy is based in particular on the intake of foods with a high glycemic index just before exercise (30 minutes - 1 hour). These simple sugars are quickly assimilated by the body. This makes it possible to have glucose circulating in the bloodstream from the beginning of the activity, and thus produce energy from it. This thus delays the breakdown of glycogen stores to produce energy.

Because of this, it is often advisable to bring certain types of food before a physical effort to optimize its performance: cereal bars, fruit pastes, dried fruits, waiting drink. In this context, dates are considered interesting dried fruits to consume in a pre-effort snack. Nevertheless, it is important to note that Dates must be part of a complete nutritional strategy (pre-exercise, during exercise and post-exercise) for them to be of interest in the context of sports practice.

During a long effort (more than 3:30 hours), dates provide a solid source of simple carbohydrates, which avoids drawing on glycogen reserves. In addition, they can be part of a post-exercise nutritional strategy because they can quickly replenish glycogen and certain minerals. Indeed, dates are foods with a very interesting content of potassium, which is a mineral that is highly used and eliminated by sweating during exercise.

Fight against oxidative stress

Oxidative stress is an imbalance between pro-oxidant and antioxidant molecules. It induces venous insufficiency causing muscle pain, cramps and injuries. Sport is a strong source of free radical production given the high oxygen consumption. This leads to a decrease in sports performance and disrupts recovery. It is therefore important to provide antioxidants in the daily diet and in recovery, to limit its impact on the body. In this context, Dates have interesting levels of antioxidants such as polyphenols, carotenoids and flavonoids, which can help protect cells from oxidative damage caused by physical activity.

In addition, studies have shown that eating Dates regularly can increase antioxidant levels in the blood, and help protect cells from oxidative damage. A 2011 study showed that eating Dates every day for 4 weeks significantly increased antioxidant levels in participants' blood. Another recent study from 2020 showed that eating Dates was associated with a reduction in oxidative stress markers in the blood.

It is important to note that these studies are mostly in vitro or intervention studies with small samples. Therefore, the results should be taken with caution. In addition, further studies are needed to better understand the effects of Dates on oxidative stress in the body. In addition, it is important to remember that a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle are important to optimize muscle recovery and rebuilding after physical exertion.

Attention to transit

The intestines receive very little blood flow during physical activity in order to get as much blood as possible to the muscles. As a result, the intestines may have difficulty digesting dates, which can cause digestive problems. This is because Dates are foods that are quite high in fiber, fructose and sorbitol, which are nutrients that can cause digestive upset in excess. Excessive consumption of Dates before and during exercise can thus be the cause of transit disorders such as bloating, flatulence, or even diarrhea.

It is therefore important to consume dates in moderation before and during an effort, in order to give the body time to digest them and avoid digestive disorders.

Tips for use

  • It is recommended to consume a handful of dates per day, i.e. about 45 g. It is possible to consume them alone or to integrate them in the following preparations: energy balls, cereal bars, muesli, pancakes, dishes, mixed with other fruits, dairy products, dessert.
  • As a pre-exercise snack, it is recommended to eat dates between 30 minutes and 1 hour before the activity so that the sugar is in the bloodstream at the beginning of the event.
  • In excess, dates can induce digestive disorders (diarrhea, bloating, flatulence...) and dental caries.
  • To optimize the effects of dates against oxidative stress, it is recommended to consume foods rich in antioxidants as a post-exercise snack (colored fruits and vegetables, spices, herbs).
  • It is recommended that diabetics consume dates at the end of their meals and in moderation. On the other hand, it is not recommended to consume them in an isolated way, and particularly if the treatment is not adapted.
  • People sensitive to fructose and sorbitol should consume Dates in moderation. Also, people with hereditary fructose intolerance (HFI) should strictly not consume Dates.
  • A cross-allergy between grass pollens and Dates has already been identified. Although the hazards and risks are extremely low, as well as the non-severe consequences, Dates can eternalize rhinitis if allergic.
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