Want a better workout? Don’t take resveratrol

There are many myths about resveratrol as a supposed “magic bullet”

for everything that ails you. One of the most ludicrous fantasies is that this nutrient  can somehow “turbo charge” your workouts to make you more physically fit. It’s even possible to purchase resveratrol supplements marketed as “exercise mimics.”

But the only real mimics are the media outlets repeating the press releases handed to them by marketers in the supplement industry. These mindless, breathless media people promulgate the PR about resveratrol as a complement to exercise and to enhance physical performance.

Not only is that an attempt to pile one gimmick on top of another, but a recent study reveals that it’s not even true. In fact, this new research shows resveratrol may actually negate the benefits that come from exercising.1

The opposite of a “magic bullet”

Here’s what study author Dr. Brendon Gurd said: “The efficacy of resveratrol at improving metabolic and cardiovascular functions is not as profound as was once thought.”

That’s putting it politely.

More pointedly, Dr. Gurd added, “The easiest way to experience the benefits of physical activity is to be physically active.”

Dr. Gurd and his colleagues evaluated 16 men who did less than three hours of aerobic exercise per week. During the four-week study, the men increased their exercise levels and also added high-intensity interval training (such as sprinting followed by walking) three times a week. In addition, the men took either 150 mg of resveratrol a day or a placebo pill.

At the end of the study, the placebo group was more physically fit than when they started. But the resveratrol group had no improvements.

That’s right—they worked out at a high level for four weeks but had nothing to show for it.

That just reinforces what I’ve said before: There is no pill that can replace a healthy diet, and there is certainly no pill that can replace exercise.

The resveratrol fable

So why does resveratrol, which occurs naturally in the skin of red grapes, get so much hype?

One reason is that resveratrol has long been associated with the healthy Mediterranean diet. But there is a lot of sleight of hand in this assumption. Many studies have identified olive oil, fish and seafood, vegetables, fruits, and nuts as the Mediterranean diet’s healthiest foods. Not grape skins—and, thus, not resveratrol.

Of course, red and pink wines are made with red grape skins. And there are health benefits associated with moderate consumption of red wine (which contains some resveratrol). But there are also benefits from moderate consumption of other alcoholic beverages that don’t contain any resveratrol, including white wine, beer, and vodka. (The latter is especially healthy with orange, cranberry, or tomato juices.)

And yet, red wine gets all the health hype simply because there are more studies on it compared to other alcoholic beverages. That’s what happens when something is the pet theory of nutritional statisticians. And red wine is considered more politically correct among the elitist, ivory-tower academics who dominate research (at least compared to beer or liquor; although it’s a little surprising they passed up the Chardonnay).

But, finally, the rest of the moderate drinkers have caught up. In this era of stress-related chronic diseases, I believe the health benefits of alcoholic beverages can be traced to the obvious relaxation and stress reduction that results from moderate drinking—not from any resveratrol “magic bullet.”

Resveratrol’s little-known rival offers real, science-backed benefits

Frankly, a major benefit of a supposed magic bullet is that it makes it easier for researchers without imagination to design and conduct the same old kinds of studies—regardless of whether the results actually mean anything for real human biology, nutrition and health.

As I reported in my Daily Dispatch e-letter back in July (“Forget about resveratrol, as I’ve said before”*), much of the research showing the benefits of resveratrol was proven to be outright  fraud by one irresponsible researcher. But as Mark Antony said in Julius Caesar’s funeral oration (after his friends, Romans and countrymen had lent him their ears), “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.”

But make no bones about one supplement that really can enhance your exercise regimen—South African rooibos, otherwise known as red bush. While I won’t go so far as to call it, or anything else, a “magic bullet,” rooibos does offer a myriad of benefits because it provides healthy hydration at the cellular level. In turn, it helps your muscles use carbs better, and lowers blood sugar. It also inhibits cells from storing extra fat, which helps keep your weight down.

Rooibos is available as a powdered extract that can be added to the water you drink while exercising, or any other hot or cold beverage. Or you can take rooibos as a supplement in combination with dandelion. This dynamic duo has been shown to enhance physical performance  and support vitality.


1 Scribbans TD, et al. Resveratrol supplementation does not augment performance adaptations or fibre-type–specific responses to high-intensity interval training in humans. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 2014, 39(11): 1305-1313, 10.1139/apnm-2014-0070.