August is National Watermelon Month — and new research findings provide a fresh reason to celebrate!  Not only does the budget-friendly melon quench post-workout thirst, its juice might prove an effective, delicious remedy to exercise-induced muscle soreness.

In a study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, Spanish scientists followed leads of previous research on watermelon’s potential to enhance athletic performance to investigate whether it might also provide a post-exercise benefit.  They had a group of young male athletes drink either watermelon juice — straight or heat-treated (pasteurized) — an hour before a grueling cycling test.  When surveyed 24 hours later, the watermelon juice drinkers reported significantly less muscle soreness than those who consumed a control beverage.  Interestingly, the benefit was the same for fresh watermelon juice without any artificial concentration of the active ingredients as for a more boosted, fortified beverage, suggesting the natural fruit provides the most effective bioavailable and bioactive sports nutrition.

Watermelon boasts an impressive line-up of nutrition heavyweights — vitamins A and C, amino acid citrulline and carotenoid lycopene.  Indeed, this latter carotenoid is concentrated at nearly twice the levels in watermelon as found in fresh tomatoes, compared gram-for-gram.  In addition to possible heart health, lycopene may also support male fertility,  minimize sunburn damage, and reduce prostate cancer risk. In this particular study, scientists credit the amino acid citrulline, concentrated in the watermelon rind with helping the athletes recover. Previous research found that citrulline may help enhance blood flow by suppressing certain enzymatic activity.  Watermelon supplies tremendous bang for your buck as the cheapest fruit measured by weight.  Since that cost per weight includes the rind, stretch your pennies further by juicing the rind as well.

Published August 1, 2014