Systemic elevations in pro-inflammatory cytokines are a marker of non-functional over reaching, and betaine has been shown to reduce the secretion of pro-inflammatory cytokines in vitro. The aim of this study was to investigate the effects of betaine supplementation on tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α), interleukins-1 beta (IL-1β), − 6 (IL-6) and the complete blood cell (CBC) count in professional youth soccer players during a competitive season.
Twenty-nine soccer players (age, 15.5 ± 0.3 years) were randomly divided into two groups based on playing position: betaine group (BG, n = 14, 2 g/day) or placebo group (PG, n = 15). During the 14-week period, training load was matched and well-being indicators were monitored daily. The aforementioned cytokines and CBC were assessed at pre- (P1), mid- (P2), and post- (P3) season.
Significant (p < 0.05) group x time interactions were found for TNF-α, IL-1β, and IL-6. These variables were lower in the BG at P2 and P3 compared to P1, while IL-1β was greater in the PG at P3 compared to P1 (p = 0.033). The CBC count analysis showed there was significant group by time interactions for white blood cells (WBC), red blood cells (RBC), hemoglobin (Hb), and mean corpuscular hemoglobin concentration (MCHC). WBC demonstrated increases at P3 compared to P2 in PG (p = 0.034); RBC was less at P3 compared to P1 in BG (p = 0.020); Hb was greater at P2 compared to P1, whilst it was less at P3 compared to P3 for both groups. MCHC was greater at P3 and P2 compared to P1 in BG, whereas MCHC was significantly lower at P3 compared to P2 in the PG (p = 0.003).
The results confirmed that 14 weeks of betaine supplementation prevented an increase in pro-inflammatory cytokines and WBC counts. It seems that betaine supplementation may be a useful nutritional strategy to regulate the immune response during a fatiguing soccer season.