Small of stature but mighty of flavour, the chilli pepper has been spicing up food since time immemorial. Now a new study suggests it may have an unlikely health benefit: improving exercise performance.
The research, published in the journal Nutrients, revealed that a compound found in chilli peppers, capsaicin, has anti-fatiguing effects, allowing the eater to run longer without tiring.
The researchers said: ‘The available scientific literature appears to suggest these compounds could be considered as a potential strategy to improve exercise performance.’
How do chilli peppers achieve this? By changing your perception of fatigue. When you eat them, the capsaicin – which gives chillies their spicy taste – activates receptors in the mouth, stomach and blood. The more capsaicin you consume, the more desensitised your pain nerve cells become. And this doesn’t just mean you’ll be better at handling that red Thai curry; you’ll also become less sensitive to other types of pain, including exercise fatigue.
Similar to when building your mileage, it pays to take a patient approach to upping your spice tolerance. Start with poblanos and cubanelles before move to jalapenos and serranos; keep spicy salsas and sauces on the side, so you can control how much you eat; ensure you have some coolants – water or milk – at hand; and don’t force it – not everyone’s stomach can handle spicy foods.
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