Lychees are a symbol of love in China, where they originated.Other than lychee martinis, Americans encounter few lychees (here usually available canned) though lychees are eaten fresh in tropical countries. But new research on potential benefits of this brightly colored, pale-fleshed fruit may have health-conscious consumers increasing lychee demand.

Preliminary research out of Japan found that lychee extract inhibited inflammatory responses during a two-month training program for elite distance runners. Twenty young male runners (average age 21) received either placebo or lychee polyphenol extracts twice daily for two months of training, which totaled 600 miles of various-intensity running. Blood markers associated with inflammation and tissue stress were evaluated before (pre-training), during (mid-training) and after (post-training). Compared with the placebo group, a marker of inflammation, interleukin-6, was 25% lower (less inflammation; mid-training period) in the lychee extract group, while a growth factor (thought to affect muscle cell growth) was 50% higher in the lychee group at the end of the training period.

Other reasons to love your lychees include the fact that one cup provides over 200% vitamin C (high levels of which inversely correlate with CRP, another inflammation marker). You don’t need to load up on lychees alone to get the athletic enhancement offered by a variety of other more commonly available fruit and vegetables. Apples are a top source of quercetin, which helped bikers ride longer in one study. Beets may also boost stamina, improving aerobic efficiency nearly 20% in one study. Spinach provides phytosteroids which may support muscle growth. Opt for whole foods over supplements, which could negate some of the metabolic benefits of exercise.

Bonus: Incorporate more ginger into your diet to alleviate muscle soreness post-workout. The pungent root was found to reduce soreness by 24% in one study.
Published September 1, 2011