Becoming leaner, building endurance and decreasing body fat while maintaining optimal health has become the goal for many whether you are a weekend warrior or a top athlete.
Sports nutrition is about providing the body with the best fuel at just the right time for the chosen activity type and the performance goals you have set for yourself. Unfortunately, this field is riddled with mis-information, money-making hypes and a preying on an unsuspecting public.
For the most part, eating a diet rich in the colors from fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains and lean proteins form the basics of a healthy sports nutrition diet. Indeed, many of the molecules that enhance performance come directly from the food we eat and it is possible just by changing the way we eat to perform better with greater endurance and energy.
“Everyone is an athlete. The only difference is that some of us are in training, and some are not. “George Sheehan
The ‘glycogen paradigm” is a manner of thought regarding the utilization of the maximum amount of muscle sugar storage as a maximal way to increase training intensity, accelerate recovery, and improve performance. However, there is a direct negative association between glycogen storage and fat burning. Some studies have even shown that exercise done in a glycogen-depleted state may have more benefits for increasing fat loss thus changing body composition.
So, what are the top performing sports supplements today?
1. Nitrates and Nitric Oxide
Nitrates are the conjugate base of nitric oxide which is really the topic of this discussion. Dietary nitrate may be found in various leafy vegetables, especially beets, luncheon meats (not recommended) and drinking water. Nitrite and water are converted in the body to nitric oxide, which could reduce hypertension. Anti-hypertensive diets, such as the DASH diet, typically contain high levels of nitrates, which are first reduced to nitrite in the saliva, as detected in saliva testing, prior to forming nitric oxide.
Research has shown that dietary nitrate supplementation delivers positive results when testing endurance exercise performance. Nitrates are potent vasodilators and regulators of blood flow, particularly to areas of the body with poor oxygenation. Nitrate molecules protect the lining of blood vessels and aides in blood pressure reduction, protection of the kidneys and shows promising pseudovitamin like effects, some important in exercise physiology.
Reduction of fatigue when using continuous muscle control
Increase in cardiovascular health
Increase in anaerobic capacity
Reduction in oxygenation cost of exercise
Sources: Beet root and beet root juice, turnips, spinach, rocket, leafy green citrulline, arginine (caution with this as due to dependence on oxygen decreasing nitric oxide signaling under hypoxic states leading to a state of nitrate tolerance)
Targeted Exercises (examples only): Anaerobic running, hockey, rugby, rowing, CrossFit training, high intensity cycling, 5-30 minute burst activities
.1-.2mmol/kg (6.4 – 12.9 mglkg)
440 mg – 870 mg for weight 150 pounds
580-1160 mg for weight levels of 200 pounds
730-1450 mg for weights greater than 250 pounds
2 g of amaranth can increase nitrates for up to 8 hours
Longer supplementation periods are less effective with trained athletes than those in training.
Optimal nitrate intake can generally be obtained from foodstuffs from a healthy diet for exercise training support shooting for about 8.2 mmol/day.
This amino acid is considered a medical food and is used as such in many metabolic disorders primarily due to its involvement in the urea cycle and the inhibition of the buildup of ammonia. It is also produced in the body – 90% of its production comes from the metabolism of glutamate and 10% from arginine although its use as supplement by itself is common. Citrulline has been found to increase the muscle ATP efficiency similar to those effects observed from nitrous oxide and with arginine supplementation.
Prevents ammonia accumulation thus prolonging exercise endurance
Decreases time muscles are sore and intensity of pain
Reduces fatigue from long exercises/work-outs
Augments release of Growth Hormone
Sources: watermelon, musk melons, bitter melons, squashes, gourds, cucumbers, pumpkins
3 g kg/day
6 gram increases nitric oxide
Glutathione taken in conjunction with L-citrulline more effective at sustaining high levels of nitric oxide than L-citrulline alone.
Considered to be a safe.
3. Betaine Anhydrous (not hydrochloride)
Betaine occurs naturally in the body as a result of the metabolism of choline. It is also useful in the metabolism of homocysteine, a chemical notoriously present in heart disease. Betaine also acts as a methyl donor in the formation of creatine leading to the possibility that it may improve athletic performance, increase tolerance and cardiac function in those with heart failure as well as enhancing oxygen consumption on exertion.
Potential Effective for:
Resistance Training Enhancement
Reduces fatigue in untrained but not trained subjects
Sources: beets, whole grains, spinach, liver, eggs, seafood
2.5 g/day for two weeks with resistance training
4. Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA)
Branched chain amino acids consist of 3 amino acids, leucine, lysine and valine. While BCAA supplementation may be useful for gaining skeletal muscle and look defined are especially helpful for maintaining mass while on a calorie-deficit diet. They're particularly useful for bodybuilding competitors who take their physiques to the lean extreme.
Although dieting down makes you look awesome onstage, on the beach, and to your friends, it can also take a chunk out of your muscle mass.
Preventing muscle breakdown during bed rest or injury recovery
Preventing muscle break down during intense exercise
Sources: BCAA Supplementation
Targeted Exercise; Intense, competitive sports, cycling, skiing
2 g +.5 g arginine may increase maximal oxygen consumption according to some studies
25-65 mg/kg body weight in general
For enhanced performance, .2 g/kg before and .2 g/kg after exercise
Creatine is a well-known, well researched molecule that can rapidly produce energy to support cellular functions. Higher levels of creatine are thought to enhance ATP short energy bursts.
Increase in strength or “power”
Reduction of time to reach peak torque
Increase in muscle weight and hydration
Sources: Supplementation, red lean meat. For every one lb. of red meat 2 grams of creatine can be found.
Target exercise: Muscle building, weight lifting, endurance exercises, sprinting, cycling, power lifting
Dosage: Loading dose protocols usually used.
.3 gm /kg for 5-7 days and then .03 /kg for 3 weeks up to training event
Some take 5 gram daily.
Potential side effects: nausea, vomiting, cramping, diarrhea
Evidence for body composition changes is lacking for most of these supplements and food extracts despite conflicting and contradictory data claims. Evidence for increasing endurance and time to exhaustion look far more promising than do the effects on body composition changes. Also, these studies help us put into perspective that many fitness benefits seen are seen in those athletes who are in training and not already in the trained state thus enhancing motivation to become more fit.
These supplements and food resources look promising as we look ahead to becoming a more “fit” generation while developing the energy to reach those fitness goals. This, indirectly, will change our body composition by increasing muscle mass through exercise and decreasing body fat as we burn excess calories.
McMahon N, Leveritt, M, Pavey. T."The Effect of Dietary Nitrate Supplementation on Endurance Exercise Performance in Healthy Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis" in "Sports Medicine", 2016. doi:10.1007/s40279-016-0617-7
Teta J. Sports Nutrition: In: Pizzorno J, Murray T, eds, Textbook of Natural Medicine, 4th Edition. Elsevier Press; 2012:542-542.
Jones, AM. Dietary nitrate Supplementation and exercise Performance. Sports Med. 2014:44(1); S35-36.
Examine.com. Supplement Goals Reference Guide. 2018. Online subscription.
Beta Anhydrous; Creatine; Natural Medicines for Improving Performance. In: Natural Medicines Database in Dietitians in Integrative and Functional Medicine. Somerville MA: Therapeutic Research center. Accessed 4/1/18. Available from: https://naturalmedicines.therapeutic research.com. Subscription required to view.
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