Spirulina is a blue green-algae that can protect the brain, reduce liver fat and even help you exercise better. Though I will admit that my impression of the typical spirulina consumer is one of a granola-eatin’ tree-hugger who’d prefer walking barefoot in the woods munching on nuts and berries than lounging in a beach cabana being served caviar and sushi, the stuff has a lot to recommend it. In fact, this amazing superfood has something for everybody.
For those who would rather go to a strip club with a nun than eat spirulina, you may want to rethink your position. This blue-green algae has been consumed since ancient times—perhaps because other protein-containing foods were in short supply—and even the Chinese Olympic teams have been known to use it. It is roughly 60 percent protein and supposedly contains all the essential amino acids.
Recent work published in some rather obscure Indian journal found that supplementation with spirulina increased muscular strength and endurance. The subjects who got two grams of spirulina daily for eight weeks experienced an ergogenic effect.
Another study followed nine trained males who were given either six grams of spirulina or a placebo daily for four weeks.1 Each subject ran on a treadmill at 75 percent of his max for two hours and then at 95 percent of max to exhaustion. Time to fatigue after the two-hour run was significantly longer in the subjects who supplemented with spirulina; also, consuming spirulina significantly decreased the carbohydrate oxidation rate by 10.3 percent and increased the fat oxidation rate by 10.9 percent during the two-hour run. So this stuff apparently helps you burn fat.
Another cool effect is spirulina’s impact on the immune system. Scientists tested the effectiveness and tolerability of spirulina for treating patients with allergic rhinitis (you know, a runny nose)2. Spirulina consumption significantly improved the symptoms, including nasal discharge, sneezing, nasal congestion and itching, when compared with a placebo. So, instead of Nyquil, perhaps eating some spirulina might be what this doctor orders.
According to Examine.com (an awesome Web site that summarizes scientific information), you need to take in about one to three grams of spirulina daily. Getting 10 grams daily may be even better. Spirulina is about 20 percent C-phycocyanin by weight and 1 percent phycocyanobilin, which appear to be the main bioactives in this yummy algae.
—Jose Antonio, Ph.D.
Editor’s note: Jose Antonio, Ph.D., is an assistant professor at Nova Southeastern University in sunny South Florida and a cofounder of the coolest sports nutrition society ever, the ISSN.
1 Kalafati, M., et al. (2010). Ergogenic and antioxidant effects of spirulina supplementation in humans. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 42:142-151.
2 Cingi, C., et al. (2008). The effects of spirulina on allergic rhinitis. Eur Arch Otorhinolaryngol. 265:1219-1223.