What is Bromelain?
Bromelain refers to a specific group of enzymes that are capable of breaking down proteins (protease). It has been traditionally used for meat tenderisation, but its properties have recently been utilised as a protein powder additive to increase digestibility, as well as muscle recovery.
Where Does Bromelain Come From?
Bromelain comes from the stem of pineapple plants and other plants from the Bromeliaceae family (thus the name bromelain).
Benefits of Bromelain
Benefits of Bromelain to Help Protein Digestion
Bromelain is a very effective and the most commonly used meat tenderiser. Generally, meat is left in a marinade containing bromelain and over time, the meat becomes softer and more palatable. This works because bromelain is able to hydrolyse (break down) the proteins in meat into smaller peptide pieces. When used as an additive for whey protein, it works under the same principle. The large protein molecules of whey can be partly broken into smaller pieces (Qi et al, 2010). The benefit of having shorter proteins is that they can be more rapidly absorbed compared to intact proteins. This is most beneficial post workout, when rapidly absorbed proteins can be incorporated into the repair and synthesis of muscle tissue. This could potentially improve the quality of the protein and hence increase lean gains.
Whey proteins can be broken down into tiny lengths (2 or 3 amino acids long) at the processing step. This produces what is called hydrolysed whey protein or whey protein hydrolysate. This has already been covered in detail in our "Choosing the Best Protein Supplement" article. There, you can find more details about the benefits of shorter proteins.
Benefits of Bromelain for Recovery
Bromelain is reported to have anti-inflammatory properties. Consequently, it has been studied by exercise physiologists for its potential to increase the rate of muscle recovery after exercise. One group of scientists found that supplementing with a combination of bromelain and other proteases was effective in reducing the loss of strength after exercise as a result of reducing inflammation (Buford et al, 2009). This is supported by similar studies which concluded that protease supplementation with compounds such as bromelain may reduce muscle soreness after exercise, as well as speeding up muscle healing and recovery (Miller et al, 2004).
Bromelain Safety and Side Effects
Bromelain is considered to be a safe compound. This should be no surprise considering it is present in edibles such as pineapples as well as being commonly used in food processing and cooking. Animal trials using massive doses of bromelain up to 1.5 g/kg/day (that's the equivalent of 120 g for an 80 kg human) showed no serious health effects (Taussig et al, 1975). Likewise, no side effects have been observed in human clinical trials. However, there has been one report of accelerated heart rates among people suffering from high blood pressure, following high doses of bromelain (Gutfreund et al, 1978). It is therefore recommended that people suffering from high blood pressure limit their bromelain intake. In rare cases, some people also have allergies to bromelain (Nettis et al, 2001). In this instance, products containing bromelain should be avoided.
Bromelain Recommended Doses and Ingredient Timing
The effects of bromelain are dose dependant, that is, higher doses give better results. It has been found that doses of 750 to 1000 mg/day are effective (AMR, 2010).
In many protein powders, bromelain is included in the mixture to increase the digestibility of the protein. Consequently, you will be consuming the bromelain at the same time as the protein powder, often spread throughout the day. This includes times such as between meals, post workout, pre workout, and before bed. This delivery method has been successfully used by scientists during clinical trials.
Bromelain is most commonly found in various types of protein powder. This includes weight gainers, blended protein, fat loss protein, ladies protein, and whey protein isolates (WPI). In these products, bromelain often occurs together with other protease enzymes such as papain that complement the actions of bromelain in breaking down protein for digestion. You can also find bromelain in various multivitamins.
Bromelain works well combined with other proteolytic enzymes. Examples include papain, trypsin, and fungal enzymes. This applies to both using bromelain as a method to improve protein digestibility as well as using bromelain for recovery. It can be stacked with post workout recovery blends such as creatine supplements.
AMR (2010), Bromelain Monograph. Alternative Medicine Review, 15(4) (online)
Buford et al (2009), Protease Supplementation Improves Muscle Function after Eccentric Exercise. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 41: 1908-1914
Gutfreund et al (1978), Effect of oral bromelain on blood pressure and heart rate of hypertensive patients. Hawaii Med J, 37: 143-146
Miller et al (2004), The effects of protease supplementation on skeletal muscle function and DOMS following downhill running. Journal of Sports Science, 22: 368-372
Nettis et al (2001), IgE-mediated allergy to bromelain. Allergy, 3: 257-258
Qi et al (2010), Study on Whey-polypeptide Hydrolysised by Pineapple Juice Syrup Beverage. Food and Fermentation Industries
Taussig et al (1975), Bromelainl: a proteolytic enzyme and its clinical application. Hiroshima J med Sci, 24: 185-193