TO SAY YOU SHOULD skip the Gatorade and pass the cabernet might be an overstatement, but only slightly. Wine has some surprising health benefits, particularly for heart health. And these may translate to better athletic performance.
For starters, wine is a good source of polyphenols; these compounds give the red varieties their ruby hue. A review of research from the University of Auckland in New Zealand find that polyphenols—particularly one called quercetin, which accumulates as grapes soak up the sun—have properties that are particularly useful for athletes.
“Polyphenols may increase performance at the cellular level by improving mitochondria function—the powerhouse of human cells that is responsible for energy function,” explains study author Vaughan Somerville. They could also help your heart and improve blood flow, adding to your cardio capacity during hard exercise. Plus, they’re an anti-inflammatory.
A glass of red contains about a quarter of the polyphenols you need in a day, so feel free to have a pour most nights as well as nosh on blueberries, spinach, and dark chocolate, and sip green tea, all of which contain the compound. (No surprise that too much alcohol hurts your athleticism—and the rest of your health.)
Not into wine? It seems that alcohol in general can help your heart. A study from the New England Journal of Medicine that followed 50,000 healthy men for 12 years found that those who had at least three adult beverages a week lowered their heart attack risk, probably due to ethanol, a main component of alcohol.
It’s best to lay off the booze the night before a big race, but it’s now safe to call steak and red wine a recovery meal.