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Resveratrol: The New Weight-Loss Supplement?

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Experts say that taking resveratrol, an antioxidant in red wine, grapes, and berries, may help boost endurance, prevent weight gain, and improve energy. Are the claims too good to swallow? FITNESS investigates.

Antioxidants in Pill-Form

Stepping, Spinning, Pilates, dance: Rebecca Visconti, 29, is no stranger to staying fit, but soon after she started her current job, her gym time suffered. "My workday begins at 7 a.m., and I stay up longer than I should to see my husband, who comes home late from his job," says Rebecca, an analyst for an Internet technology company in Dallas. "I needed more energy to get back to working out." One day while browsing the Web, she stumbled upon an online news segment about resveratrol. This antioxidant compound, found naturally in wine, grapes, blueberries, cranberries, and peanuts, was now available in a supplement form, said the report, and could boost energy, maintain body weight, and increase muscle endurance.

Intrigued, Rebecca did some more research and eventually ordered a bottle of resveratrol. Once it arrived, she eagerly popped the pill, and one the next day and the next. Within a week of her starting her new morning ritual, her energy improved. "It feels like a caffeine rush," she says. "I'm more alert and awake." Her motivation has skyrocketed too. "I used to be dedicated to my workouts for a week or two, then start to slack off. Since I began taking resveratrol, my drive to exercise has remained much higher." She's also been able to increase the intensity of her workouts without feeling tired.

"I'm definitely in better shape than I was before taking resveratrol," she says. "I have greater muscle tone and endurance." Of course, Rebecca isn't sure whether to credit her power surge to the supplement, the conditioning from her tougher workouts, or the placebo effect. "What I do know is that without this boost in energy, I couldn't handle my new exercise routine," she says.

A Budding Trend

Rebecca is part of a fast-growing group of women who have turned to resveratrol to enhance their already healthy lifestyles. Sales of the recently popularized supplement are estimated to be upwards of $30 million annually, according to the Nutrition Business Journal. Resveratrol is now one of the top five best-selling supplements available at the Vitamin Shoppe, a national chain of health and wellness stores, with purchases having more than doubled between 2008 and 2009. Much of the initial excitement about the supplement revolved around its potential to expand longevity and its promise to lower the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, a variety of cancers, and age-related problems like cataracts and bone loss. Today, however, among the ongoing medical explorations, one of its most immediate possibilities lies in the realm of fitness. "Looking at the research so far, though more is needed, resveratrol has unprecedented promise for improving people's physical endurance and helping them control their weight," says James Smoliga, PhD, assistant professor of exercise physiology at Marywood University in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Resveratrol is a source of high hopes, though much about it remains unknown.

"Even though I'm leery when I hear something described as a panacea, I feel very positive about recommending resveratrol because of the research behind it," says certified trainer Rob Smith, founder of the Body Project, a Minneapolis-area personal-training studio.

Yes, there is a plethora of research, but most of it is on animals. What these studies have shown, however, is encouraging: Resveratrol appears to activate enzymes that help muscles use oxygen more efficiently, a performance enhancement known to runners as higher VO2 max. (In simplified terms, the higher your VO2 max, the lengthier and more intense the workout you can handle.) "When you process energy more efficiently, you increase endurance," Smoliga says. "I take it myself and definitely have more stamina because of it," says Smith, who estimates that 40 of his clients also take the pill. "I can see that they're able to push themselves further than before."

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