Bioactive components in almonds, grapes and cranberries may improve peak fitness

Mixed nuts HEALTH

Almonds and some dried fruits could help maintain peak fitness in elite athletes – and UniSA researchers are putting the theory to the test.

In a study being undertaken by UniSA’s Alliance for Research in Exercise, Nutrition and Activity (ARENA), a new trial is giving volunteers the chance to take part in an elite cycling training program while testing dried fruits and almonds as part of a sports diet.

Lead researcher Professor Jon Buckley says bioactive components in almonds and certain dried fruits may play an important role in maintaining peak fitness in elite athletes.

“We are running a study of cyclists, examining whether bioactive components in foods can improve cycling performance and recovery,” Prof Buckley says.

“Almonds are a rich source of arginine and antioxidants, while grapes and cranberries are also rich in antioxidants and nitrates. Studies show dietary nitrates and antioxidants improve endurance exercise performance by improving muscle blood flow and reducing exercise-induced damage to muscle.”

Prof Buckley’s team is 12 months into the study and is currently looking for SA-based cyclists who would like to be involved in the next research phase – a five-week trial designed to examine the increased benefits of combining almonds, grapes and cranberries.

Cyclists volunteering for the trial will be put through an elite cycle training program designed by the ARENA team, while being provided a daily dose of either mixed raw unsalted almonds, dried grapes and dried cranberries – known as AGC mix – or nut-free muesli bars.

“There is emerging evidence that the consumption of almonds and grapes may improve exercise performance, but there is a lack of information regarding any benefits of cranberries or the combination of all three foods,” Prof Buckley says.

“We feel like this is a fantastic opportunity for people to be involved in research that has the potential to make a real impact on exercise performance in a simple, natural way, while providing them with information on their cycling fitness through the measurement of parameters such as VO2 max that are often only available to elite level cyclists.”

The current study is limited to male cyclists because part of the mechanism the team is investigating are the components of the foods that reduce muscle damage – and estrogen is protective against muscle damage.

Prof Buckley says that to remove any impact of estrogen on the research outcomes, the first study involves men. If it is successful, the team will run a subsequent study in females.

In order to be eligible for the study, you need to be a male cyclist or triathlete, 18-50 years old, registered with a club or competing in professional, amateur or recreational races, or performing cycling training two or more times a week.

Anyone interested in participating in the study can email Prof Buckley at