A sporting life fueled by tea
By Maria Uspenski
, Founder and CEO of The Tea Spot
We are greeted every few weeks or so with new information about the health benefits associated with drinking tea. But what does all of this research mean for the athlete of today? The most direct benefits for athletes arise from tea's amazingly rich antioxidant content. Many studies have demonstrated that intense or prolonged exercise generates considerable amounts of reactive oxygen species (oxidants) within the human body. These reactive oxygen species can produce oxidative stress, i.e. damage to fats, proteins, nucleic acids and - ultimately - muscle cells. Such oxidative stress has naturally been linked with fatigue and overtraining, and it has been suggested that the human body's natural oxidant-defense system is not powerful enough to prevent the oxidative stress associated with rugged exercise. Thus, the argument goes, athletes need to accelerate their intakes of foods which are rich in antioxidants. Tea would thus be a sought-after beverage, since it may rank ahead of all others in terms of antioxidant potency. Observers of the athletic scene sometimes wonder if it is more than a coincidence that the best endurance athletes in the world - Kenyan runners - sip tea throughout the day.
So is tea a near-perfect sports drink? If a couple of cups of tea are consumed about an hour before exercise, the caffeine content is likely to enhance performance in high-intensity athletic events. When tea is consumed post-exercise, its rich antioxidant content may well boost recovery and limit oxidative stress to muscles. If you add generous amounts of milk (either soy or cow) and sugar to the tea (as the Kenyans do), it can stimulate protein synthesis and glycogen storage in muscles.
It's true that more research is needed in this area, but it is hard to find fault with the idea that tea is an attractive drink for athletes. In fact, our present state of knowledge suggests that green, oolong, and black varieties of the beverage all suit athletes to a T.
I recently had the supreme pleasure of indulging myself in a week-long biking challenge, Ride The Rockies
– this year, reputedly the toughest and longest route – about 540 miles and 27,000 feet of climbing in 7 days! What made this event most meaningful was the company and support of my brother, sister-in-law, and fiancé, not to mention our spectacular Colorado scenery and terrain. And what made it possible was several months (maybe even a lifetime?) of training, and good nutritional choices along the way.
I’ve been a big fan of electrolyte-replacement fluids, carbohydrate drinks, and recovery drinks both during and after endurance events. But in the weeks leading up to this ride, I was getting tired of consuming as much sugar as our 150-200-mile training weeks had me drinking. It was the only sugar I was consuming in my diet at this point, and it made me feel like flossing and giving my dental hygienist a call every time I got off the bike. So I decided to put my money where my mouth is and transition to freshly brewed tea.
Since keeping your digestion under control while consuming 4000+ calories per day is key, the teas we chose to have me cold brew overnight to use to rehydrate during my rides were Hojicha
, ThinMint Green
(both roasted green teas, with moderate doses of caffeine, 20-35 mg per 16-ounce bottle), andOrganic Rooibos
(caffeine-free). All three of these teas are extremely low in tannins and super easy on the stomach – no sugar, great flavor, and a robust sense of nourishment. I carried one bottle of pure water and one bottle of tea with me for my rides, which ranged from 46 to 92 miles. At my pace, this took anywhere from 4 to 8 hours in the saddle, depending on the grade and the weather conditions.
(Afrikaans for “red bush”) tea contains no sugars, dyes, or additives; it’s a natural substance, containing naturally occurring levels of sodium and potassium electrolytes, and the minerals calcium, copper, manganese, magnesium, and zinc. Due to its composition, rooibos has become a popular fluid replacement for athletes in South Africa, where it’s grown. And we’ve noticed here in Boulder, Colorado that many climbers like to rehydrate with our Red Rocks
, which is red rooibos blended with vanilla and almonds. Because they’re high in antioxidants and flavonoids, rooibos extracts are used in shampoos and skin-care products as well.
There haven’t been many studies done on tea versus sports drinks, and it’s clear that you’re not going to get any carbohydrate replacement from steeping your leaves – a very necessary step in keeping your body fueled for multi-hour events. Maybe next year I’ll try grinding them and munching, or else mixing tea with whey protein powder…and we haven’t done a detailed chemical analysis of our rooibos teas, having only tested for caffeine (none) and polyphenol antioxidants (as high as our green teas).
So my experience is purely anecdotal, and consists of a sample size of only one tea-loving body…but it was extremely positive. I started out every morning with freshly steeped organic Pu’erh
– brought the bricks, easy for travel, and of course, my Tuffy Steeper
. The teas for the road were simply steeped in a 32-ounce jar overnight, then strained into my plastic bike bottles through the Tuffy. I alternated between the three, and chose depending on the difficulty of the climbs (when I wanted the caffeine lift!) and the length and heat of the rides.
The green teas gave me just enough of a boost when I needed it, and their flavor and aroma were uplifting and refreshing. I’m so thankful to have brought these along for the big climbs – we had two days with over 7000 feet of vertical! And rooibos, you’re my BFF in the desert climes – I now really see why Red Rocks is our most popular iced tea among the Boulder crowd. (It used to be my warm calming cup, in the evening, with cream). The red tea was restorative and rehydrating, without any of the artificial feeling in your mouth or between your teeth. I didn’t have to wait in the long sport drink lines at the aid stations, and I rode faster than most of the folks who did, as did my lovely colleague at The Tea Spot, Andrea Doenges, seen here in our striking Tea Spot jersey
By the way, KarateCoaching visitors can receive a 15% discount with this promo code: karatecoach13
Many thanks to our friends from the tea spot