Green tea has been an Eastern staple for more than 4,000 years. Once considered a favorite beverage of the Samurai warrior class, green tea has remained an integral part of Asian cultures and is enjoyed in those regions in quantities similar to the Western consumption of coffee.
Green, black, and oolong teas are all made from the same species of plant but their chemical compositions differ. This means they aren’t equal in what they have to offer an athlete. Fresh tea leaves contain compounds known as flavonoids, which are a group of polyphenols with antioxidant power. Green tea is made from steaming and drying the fresh leaves, which keeps those polyphenols intact and potent. On the other hand, black and oolong teas undergo fermentation and do not offer the same antioxidant strength.
The most biologically active polyphenol in green tea is epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). While most tea drinkers are aware that green tea naturally contains caffeine, many are surprised to learn that their beverage of choice also offers some minerals and a few free amino acids. Green tea also is available decaffeinated. The process of removing the caffeine can slightly decrease the antioxidant content, but not significantly.
Athletes who train regularly develop bodies that efficiently handle oxidative stress from intense exercise. Consuming a variety of antioxidants from fruits, vegetables, and tea promotes a wellrounded recovery on the cellular level. Oxidation occurs from physical or environmental stressors, so a constant supply of diverse antioxidants will help keep an athlete’s body in top shape. Adding tea to your antioxidant arsenal is a great way to add variety to your healing nutrition regimen.
Recent research suggests that green tea also may exhibit some anti-cancer and blood pressure reducing effects. It also may offer some protection to the cardiovascular system. It’s even possible for green tea to promote weight control by increasing metabolic rate. However, more studies need to be done in order to validate these theories. In addition, drinking tea can help with appetite control if consumed before meals and snacks.
While green tea extracts and isolated EGCG are becoming popular supplements, intact tea will probably offer the most health benefits since the EGCG likely interacts with other catechins and the natural caffeine found in the tea leaves in order to function at peak capacity.
For people who are sensitive to caffeine, make sure to stick to decaffeinated green tea. (Keep in mind that a cup of tea has less caffeine than a cup of coffee.) This is also a good choice for anyone who takes prescription medications that have negative interactions with caffeine. People who take anticoagulants should speak to their doctor before increasing green tea consumption. Green tea also may interfere with iron absorption, so anyone with low blood iron levels should consult with a health professional before increasing intake.