August 8, 2013 posted by

Whole Foods, Watermelon, and Cycling Performance

Whole Foods, Watermelon, and Cycling Performance

Today’s seemingly non-sequitor titled post is on a Spanish study showing the watermelon could improve cycling performance. According to Chemistry & Engineering News (yes, I have some geek tendencies),

Before taking a long bike ride on a hot summer day, have some watermelon: The juicy fruit may ward off muscle pains. Researchers report that people who drank watermelon juice before exercising felt less sore the next day than those who drank a pink placebo beverage (J. Agric. Food Chem. 2013).

I knew there was a reason watermelon juice tasted so good during a ride, thought it stands to reason if your taste buds are trained properly. The key ingredient seemed to be L-citrulline, an amino acid that the article states “until recently, hasn’t gotten a lot of attention.” Also being an athlete, I’m going to have to disagree with that statement since it’s a mainstay in many NO supplements that have been flooding the market for a decade. The article seems to agree, too, as it transition to “Scientists now recognize that L-citrulline has antioxidant properties and may enhance athletic performance…studies have shown that L-citrulline in supplement form accelerates removal of lactic acid from muscles, allowing for more intense training and faster recovery.” Dammit, Jim, I’m a doctor not journalist!


Anyway, we’re splitting hairs because the real nugget uncovered in the research was this:

They found that cells bathed in the unpasteurized watermelon juice had absorbed 19% of the L-citrulline, while absorption from pasteurized juice and spiked water never got above 13% and 12%, respectively. Better absorption should lead to a more potent benefit, Aguayo says.

Translation, natural watermelon had greater bioavailability than isolated L-citrulline. In other words, nature still kicks ass on science. Sorry geeks.

The story wraps with Spock-like logic that would drive our favorite doctor into a froth because we don’t really need to study to conclude that less sore = better performance.

The take-home message from this study, according to Thomas Swensen of Ithaca College, is that it’s better to drink unpasteurized watermelon juice than to take an L-citrulline supplement. Swensen says the next step would be to see if drinking the juice helps athletes perform better the next day because they are less sore.


It’s also not exactly a leap of logic to assume it would improve performance in other sports as well.

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