The Truth Behind Antioxidants & Exercise Induced Muscle Damage


Alyssa Bialowas

Elite athletes are prone to injury and muscle damage, especially those who compete in high contact sports such as rugby. To speed up recovery in these athletes the goal is to get them back training and on the field as quickly as possible. Previous research has looked at the effects of high antioxidant and anti-inflammatory foods on recovery kinetics, but has found conflicting results. While some research has found a positive effect of the consumption of cherries and berries high in polyphenols, others have not found such significant effects.

Polyphenols are compounds found in plants that help fight disease and benefit the body. Curcumin has a high polyphenol content, as well as anti-inflammatory and antioxidant abilities, however has low bioavailability (it’s difficult to enter the circulation of the body and so doesn’t have a great active effect). Piperine, the active component in black pepper also has antioxidant properties, and has been shown to enhance the bioavailability in curcumin by 2000%. So, when combined together, do the effects of curcumin and piperine supplementation aid in recovery after exercise induced muscle damage?

Related Article: Anti-Inflammatory Foods in Your Diet (and What to Avoid)

The Study

The current study was a randomized cross-over design. On the exercise day, ten elite rugby players consumed either curcumin and piperine supplementation or placebo 48 hours before and following exercise-induced muscle damage. For the entirety of the study, participants in the experimental condition consumed 2g or curcumin and 20 mg of piperine 3 times per day. Participants were divided into 4 groups: 1) dominant leg and curcumin + piperine supplementation, 2) non-dominant leg + curcumin + piperine supplementation 3) dominant leg + placebo, 4) non-dominant leg + placebo.

The exercise inducing muscle damage task was comprised of 25 repetitions over 25 meters of one leg jumps on an 8% downhill slope. Each repetition was separated by 90 seconds. Participants were asked to cover the 25 meters as fast as possible and stop in a pre-defined zone of 3.5 meters at the end of the 25 meter slope.

Immediately after exercise, then at 24 hours, 48 hours, and 72 hours post-exercise, the following were assessed: Concentric and isometric peak torque for the knee extensors, one leg 6 seconds spring performance on a non-motorized treadmill, counter movement jump performance, blood creatine kinase concentration and muscle soreness.

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The Results

The main result of the study showed that 24 hours after exercise, the recovery in sprint power output was moderately faster in the participants that consumed the curcumin and piperine supplementation. However, the supplementation did not have an effect on muscle soreness or blood concentration in creatine kinase.


Curcumin and piperine supplementation before and after exercise can aid some aspects of muscle damage, but not all. Further research should look at a larger sample size of athletes and a different exercised induce muscle damage task to discover if there are further effects of curcumin and piperine supplementation. 

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Delecroix, B., Abaidia, A.E., Leduc, C., Dawson, B., and Dupont, G. (2017). “Curcumin and Piperine Supplementation and Recovery Following Exercise Induced Muscle Damage: A Randomized Controlled Trial”. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, 16, 147-153.

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