If you Googled “Red Wine, Exercise” on September 4, you’d see headlines like this: OMFG: Science Says a Glass of Red Wine May be Equivalent to an Hour at the Gym.
If you Google “Red Wine, Exercise” today, you’ll see headlines like this: Red Wine’s Heralded ingredient — Resveratrol — May Actually Hinder Benefits of Exercise.
Somewhere, a meathead with newly stained teeth just spat out his cabernet and realized he’s going to actually have to schlep it back to the gym.
It took two months for the ambiguous, and readily accepted “science” (and in this reference, I mean the word "science" splashed across bolded headlines and sharable posts, not the well-respected field of study) to completely flip-flop.
How come science can’t make up its mind?
Well, it’s probably not science’s fault. The real culprit is our need for binaries. We either need red wine – or more accurately the resveratrol that’s found in the skin of red grapes – to be a magic elixir that diminishes our need to take an annoying trip to the gym (and also has some pretty pleasant side effects). Or we need it to be an evil substance that will ruin any shot we’ve got at getting in shape.
Turns out, the actual published resveratrol studies are much more nuanced. Take the “wine replaces exercise” study that made the Internet and out of shape sommeliers swill their glasses with excitement. It was published in the Journal of Psychology and titled “Improvements in skeletal muscle strength and cardiac function induced by resveratrol during exercise training contribute to enhanced exercise performance in rats.”
You should know two things about this study. First, the authors never actually say that wine can replace exercise. They do say, “Combining resveratrol supplementation with exercise training augments the beneficial effects of exercise alone.” Wine or no wine, you still have to work out.
Second, the study was conducted on rats. Yes, rats. So if you accidentally spill some discreetly placed Franzia onto the New York City subway tracks, the scurrying rodents might not need to scurry so much. But it’s a giant leap to assume humans will experience the exact same benefits.
Now for the latest study, which was published in the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism. It was conducted on humans, 16 of them in fact. Those humans completed a four-week HIIT program while consuming either a resveratrol supplement or a placebo. Those taking the placebo improved their physical fitness, while the resveratrol takers did not.
Before you run screaming from the vineyards, know that while this study does provide some compelling evidence against resveratrol – and the red wine it deliciously hides in - the sample size was incredibly small and made of only college-aged men, which means it’s hard to generalize the findings out to the entire population.
These studies give us interesting findings. Headline-worthy findings. But perhaps the most compelling advice in either comes from the author of the more recent one, Dr. Brendon Gurd: “The easiest way to experience the benefits of physical activity is to be physically active,” he told Science Daily.
It’s that simple.
And after you come home from the gym and pour a glass of pinot noir, don’t do it just because you think it will get you fitter. Do it because it pairs well with a beautifully seared piece of meat. And do it because it has some rather pleasant side effects.