Athletes are willing to try almost anything to improve their performance. Bizarre workouts, weird superstitions and high-tech recovery tools have all become common. But what if I told you that becoming a better athlete was as simple as sipping a cup of soup?
Bone broth has been hot lately (no pun intended). It's now often included in the Paleo diet. And Kobe Bryant would use it to combat late-career nagging injuries.
Is bone broth really the super soup its supporters claim, or is this a classic case of exaggerating the benefits of an in-vogue food? We talked to Leslie Bonci, registered dietician and nutrition consultant to the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Dr. Krista Scott-Dixon of Precision Nutrition to get the facts about bone broth.
Bone broth is created by simmering animal bones in water for an extended period of time. Other ingredients, such as meat, beans or vegetables, are frequently added, but the real difference between bone broth and regular old soup is the inclusion of animal bones. A proper bone broth takes time to simmer. How long varies—from as few as eight hours to as many as 24 hours (or even more). Allowing the soup to simmer longer extracts vitamins, minerals and nutrients from the bones and cartilage.
Calcium, magnesium and boron are among the nutrients extracted from the bones, but the most significant nutrient is collagen. Collagen is a protein found in abundance in the bones, joints, cartilage and ligaments of animals. For believers in bone broth, collagen is what confers the most extraordinary benefits: relieving joint pain; reducing inflammation; improving gut health; strengthening the immune system; enhancing bone and skin health; and promoting stronger hair and nails. Bryant told ESPN that he believes bone broth has reduced his inflammation and increased his energy.
Some bone broth fans cite these benefits as gospel, but both Bonci and Scott-Dixon quickly point out that although there's a ton of anecdotal evidence, very little clinical evidence currently supports the claims.
However, that doesn't necessarily mean the benefits are unreal or imagined. Scott-Dixon says, "The absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence. Bone broth very likely does promote health. We can speculate on the mechanisms for this, but we just can't definitely say so yet." She specifically cites bone broth's long global history as a reason why she believes it delivers real benefits. She states, "I've heard about it from various people all over the world, which makes me think there's something to it. I've been told about beef ankle soup in Eastern Europe being used to help joint injuries and broken bones. I've been told about moose nose soup in Northern Ontario. I've been told about Korean pork bone soup and Caribbean oxtail stew. Bone or cartilage broth is made all over the world, and most feel it has health benefits."
Both Scott-Dixon and Bonci agree that as a worst-case scenario, bone broth is a harmless way to ingest extra liquids with a little added protein. Bonci says, "It's a great source of liquid and can provide some protein in the form of collagen. Although there are no good studies to back up the claims right now, there is certainly no harm in consuming it." So if you'd like to give bone broth a shot, go ahead. Just don't be surprised if it isn't everything it's cracked up to be.
"We don't want to say that bone broth is a miracle food just yet—although there's a South American proverb that says 'good bone broth can raise the dead'—but it certainly doesn't hurt," Scott-Dixon says.
If you'd like to give bone broth a try, head over to your local butcher. "Most butchers will give you their bones for free or for very low cost. Making your own is a lot cheaper than buying the trendy, boutique versions," Bonci says.