According to Chinese tea lore, the story of this ancient beverage begins in 2737 B.C. on a blustery afternoon. Emperor Shen Nung was unwinding under a wild tea tree when a few leaves drifted down into his cup of warm water. He found the outcome to his liking. Fast-forward to present day and drinking green tea has become a worldwide phenomenon spurred by a burgeoning number of studies proving that it’s at the top of the functional beverage heap, warmly promoting wellness thanks to a wallop of beneficial compounds. Compounds that you can now find in a neat little package called green-tea extract.
Green-tea extract is gleaned from the Camellia sinensis plant and is chockablock with a number of polyphenols, particularly epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) — a potent antioxidant responsible for green tea’s rise to beverage stardom. “EGCG has an antioxidant activity about 25 to 100 times greater than vitamins C and E,” says Shawn Talbott, Ph.D., a nutritional biochemist and research director for SupplementWatch.
Sure, sexier supplements like creatine and whey protein may seem a little more manly, but here are four big reasons why you should keep a green mindset when considering physique-friendly supplements.
Trim Your Waistline and Work Out Harder
In recent years, green tea has been studied extensively for its potential for helping shed body fat, with EGCG highlighted as a key fat burner. “It appears that EGCG ramps up thermogenesis by inhibiting an enzyme called catechol-O-methyltransferase, which is responsible for the breakdown of the neurotransmitter norepinephrine,” Talbott says. He adds that higher norepinephrine levels can accelerate metabolism and perhaps speed up the release of fat from fat cells. Other theories bantered around regarding green-tea extract’s fat-fighting prowess includes the ability to inhibit fat-cell development and reduce fat absorption.
Research clearly demonstrates the effects, whatever the cause. A 2010 European Journal of Clinical Nutrition study reported that overweight individuals who were administered a daily dose of 300 milligrams of EGCG for three days increased their fat oxidation two hours after a meal by 33 percent compared to when a placebo was taken. When the male subjects were given a combination of EGCG and caffeine, fat oxidation increased by almost 50 percent. Of further interest to physique-minded individuals, a meta-analysis conducted by Dutch researchers in the International Journal of Obesity concluded that green-tea extract has a positive effect on weight loss and weight maintenance. In addition to helping with the quest for a six-pack, other studies suggest that green-tea extract can increase exercise capacity by allowing for a greater use of fatty acids during exercise, which serve as a source of energy when undertaking intense workouts. Green-tea extract also contains some naturally occurring caffeine, which could also make your workouts a little peppier.
Taking green-tea extract postworkout may help maximize your recovery efforts so you can get back to the gym quicker to continue to work out like an animal. A 2010 study by researchers at the University of Oklahoma and Texas’ Baylor University reported that healthy, active males who consumed 1,800 milligrams of EGCG for two weeks experienced less muscle soreness 24 hours following a bout of strenuous negatives on a leg-extension machine. Furthermore, Brazilian scientists discovered that participants who consumed green tea every day for a week had fewer markers of cell damage after performing repeated sets of the bench press. Researchers surmised that by acting as an antioxidant, EGCG can help temper muscle-cell oxidative damage initiated by a workout. EGCG may also lessen joint pain associated with hard training by reducing inflammation.
Because norepinephrine levels in humans are associated with alertness, mental focus, attention and overall mood, Talbott says maintaining higher levels of this important neurotransmitter through green-tea-extract supplementation may have benefits for improving mood and maintaining mental function. Green-tea extract also contains theanine, an amino acid that crosses the blood-brain barrier, where it can enhance mood, alertness and the ability to handle life’s stressors.
Researchers have credited the polyphenols found in green-tea extract with helping combat a number of diseases almost biblical in scope: heart disease; a variety of cancers, including prostate, oral, lung and breast; eye disease such as glaucoma; diabetes; osteoporosis; and mental decline.In fact, a recent Japanese study concluded that green-tea consumption is protective against all-cause mortality, proving it is a virtual panacea. “Because the active compounds in [green-tea extract] are known to possess strong antioxidant activity, they may provide many beneficial health effects by protecting the body from the damaging effects of oxidative damage initiated by free radicals,” Talbott says. Researchers have even suggested that green-tea-extract polyphenols may inhibit the action of oral bacteria linked to the development of periodontal disease and that they may also prevent the formation of painful-as-hell kidney stones.
To reap the fat-burning, performance and health benefits of green-tea extract, Talbott recommends taking at least 250 to 500 milligrams per day of a supplement that is standardized to a minimum of 40 percent polyphenols, roughly equivalent to five to 10 cups of brewed green tea. Stacking it with caffeine can also be beneficial for fat-loss efforts. Purdue University researchers discovered that ascorbic acid, such as that found abundantly in citrus fruits, can significantly increase the body’s absorption of EGCG. So take green-tea extract with a meal or snack that contains citrus fruit like oranges, grapefruit or lemons.
As an adjunct to supplementation, consider brewing up two or more cups of green tea daily. You’ll get the most benefit out of brewed tea that has steeped for three to five minutes, a process that helps bring out more of the antioxidants. And don’t do decaf. “Processes that remove caffeine from tea and [green-tea-extract] supplements will also remove the theanine,” Talbott says. “This is one reason I prefer a [green-tea extract] that is not decaffeinated because they contain the family of polyphenols, theanine and a small amount of naturally occurring caffeine, which is thought to be needed for maximal thermogenesis in conjunction with EGCG.”
White tea, which is even less processed than green tea, may contain more EGCG than its green counterpart. And while black tea often gets the cold shoulder by tea aficionados, Japanese scientists discovered that theaflavins and thearubigins, unique polyphenols in black tea, may prevent belly rolls by hindering intestinal fat absorption.
Matthew Kadey, MS, RD, is a nutrition writer and dietitian. Find him at wellfedman.com or mattkadey.ca.