Say it with us: ass-ta-zan-thin. Maybe you recognize the name but never knew how to pronounce it. Or maybe you’ve heard it pronounced but just never knew what it was. Regardless, here’s what you need to know about this mouthful of a supplement.
Astaxanthin is a powerful antioxidant supplement that has a host of health benefits. Yet newer research shows that it has a few more tricks up its sleeve that make it more appealing to those interested in boosting performance in the gym or on the field, as well as sculpting a better body.
Astaxanthin is a carotenoid, similar to beta-carotene. Like beta-carotene, astaxanthin is an antioxidant that imparts a reddish color, though while beta-carotene is responsible for the color of carrots and sweet potatoes, astaxanthin is the chemical that makes salmon, shrimp and krill reddish pink. It’s also used as a food coloring in animal feed. As you may have guessed, seafood is the major source of astaxanthin, and that’s precisely why you’re likely not getting adequate amounts in your diet. It would take a lot of salmon to deliver significant quantities of astaxanthin.
To Your Health
Thanks to astaxanthin’s powerful antioxidant properties, it provides a laundry list of health benefits, such as boosting immune function, improving cardiovascular health, reducing the risk of many cancers, protecting the brain from dementia and Alzheimer’s, reducing inflammation, protecting the skin from sun damage, improving sperm count and quality, protecting cells and DNA from oxidative damage, reducing the risk of diabetes, and protecting your eyes from cataracts, macular degeneration and blindness. One study from Washington State University reported that subjects receiving astaxanthin supplements for eight weeks had significant reductions in DNA damage and levels of C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation associated with heart disease. Plus, those subjects experienced a large boost in the function of important immune cells. Japanese researchers supported astaxanthin’s heart-health benefits when they reported that subjects supplementing with astaxanthin for 12 weeks had a 25 percent decrease in blood triglyceride levels and a 15 percent increase in HDL (good) cholesterol levels. And Lithuanian researchers even reported that when subjects with indigestion took a high dose of astaxanthin (40 milligrams per day) for four weeks, they had reduced symptoms of indigestion and heartburn.
While health benefits are fine and dandy, we know what you’re looking for when it comes to deciding what supplements to stock in your cabinet — they first need to provide a real boost to your training and your physique. Astaxanthin delivers there, too. Whether it’s in the weight room or on your favorite cardio machine, having more muscle endurance means you can train harder for longer. With weight training, that leads to more muscle strength and more muscle mass down the road. With cardio, it means greater fat burning and better cardiovascular health. Astaxanthin has been found to boost muscle endurance by 150 percent.
Researchers from Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology found that mice given astaxanthin for five weeks were able to swim with 10 percent of their bodyweight strapped to them for five minutes before reaching exhaustion. Those getting a placebo, on the other hand, were only able to go for two minutes. And while you probably won’t be swimming with 20 pounds strapped to your back, astaxanthin can keep you from drowning in the gym. Swimming with extra weight attached is more representative of weightlifting than typical cardio, so these findings imply that you’ll be able to bench-press a given weight for more reps or run longer at an all-out pace.
In addition to indirectly building more muscle and burning more fat by allowing you to train harder for longer, astaxanthin has been shown to directly increase fat loss. Another team of Japanese researchers reported in a 2008 study that mice that were given astaxanthin while following an exercise program for four weeks had accelerated fat burning, greater fat loss and enhanced endurance when compared to mice that simply exercised.
The researchers reported that astaxanthin protects the system that transports fat into the mitochondria of muscle cells, where it is burned away for fuel. By protecting this transport system, the body can burn more fat. That not only leads to a leaner, meaner body but also further boosts your endurance by sparing muscle glycogen.
Dosing Out Astaxanthin
Not many supplements can provide all the health benefits astaxanthin offers, in addition to the benefits it provides your training and your physique. The best way to take advantage of these benefits is to take about 4 milligrams of astaxanthin with food once or twice per day, with one dose taken with your preworkout meal. If you also want to take it to reduce indigestion and heartburn, go with about 20 milligrams twice per day with meals.