Blackcurrant shown to significantly benefit climbing performance

    on May 13, 2020

    IN the first study of its kind, CurraNZ blackcurrant extract has been shown to improve climbing ability and support performance.

    The study tested the effects of the ergogenic aid in climbers and found that seven days’ intake of 600mg New Zealand blackcurrant extract, improved several performance factors in a group of 18 experienced graded climbers of mixed abilities.

    The study showed:

    • 72% of participants showed improvements in hang time by an average 21%
    • Blackcurrant climb duration increased more than 10% rather than placebo, which decreased by over 10%
    • Participants managed to climb for 57 seconds longer with blackcurrant
    • The improvement to performance did not lead to additional pain and swelling to participants’ forearms, commonly known as ‘pump’
    • A trend towards improvement in bent arm hang, an indicator of endurance in the musculature used in climbing

    Researchers found climbers on blackcurrant progressively improved their self-paced performance across the three climbs, demonstrating not only maintenance in performance, but an improvement for each subsequent climb.

    The berry’s effect on blood flow and muscle function is thought to be one of the main mechanisms that improves sports performance. This is the first study to demonstrate that blackcurrant can have an effect in a sport dependent on the small musculature of the forearms.

    Rock climbing creates a high workload on the forearm flexors and increases reliance on blood flow during the short recovery periods.

    Muscle contraction that takes place during climbing leads to reduced blood flow, resulting in rapid fatigue and an accumulation of metabolic by-products. 

    Dr Julia Potter, lead author on the study and Mark Willems, Professor of Exercise Physiology at the University of Chichester, said: “We found that blackcurrant enabled climbers to maintain their ability during climbs, when that ability was going down in the placebo condition.

    “It’s worth emphasizing that the increase in climb duration with blackcurrant is significant.

    “What is really nice with this study is that it seems that blackcurrant could be having a performance-enhancing effect in a situation like climbing, where individuals experience seriously restricted blood flow.”

    Additionally, the improvement did not result in an increase in ‘Pump’ – a condition prevalent in this sport, where the lack of blood supply to muscles during climbing results in pain and swelling in the forearm and leads to decline in climbing performance.

    Another positive observation was that climbers on blackcurrant were able to maintain better climbing but with similar heart rate values.

    “It fits the pattern we’re seeing in our studies that if you do something repeatedly over some time, that blackcurrant seems to be beneficial when you’re supposed to be in a fatigued state - you suffer less from the fatigue.”

    Until now, it has been thought that blackcurrant’s effect on blood flow was the reason for boosting sports performance outcomes. However, this mechanism may not be to be the only reason for improving hang times, because of the intra-muscular tension created by the task that occludes blood flow.

    Mark Willems says: “It’s very interesting, because if we assume there is no or limited blood flow to the muscle then this study would be the first to show that performance can be enhanced.”

    A follow-up mechanistic study is due to be published shortly.


    The study, Effects of New Zealand blackcurrant extract on sport climbing performance, was published online in the European Journal of Applied Physiology in September 2019, DOI number (doi: 10.1007/s00421-019-04226-2).