Confused about what supplements to take? Will they really help athletic performance? What do certain nutrients actually do? These are common questions my patients ask. There are several nutrients to consider that have proven results for aiding in athletic activities. There are several goals to consider when developing a supplement program including performance and muscle recovery. Several nutrients can aid in these goals and others.
NAC (n-acetyl-l-cysteine) is a derivative of the amino acid L-cysteine. NAC is a precursor of glutathione, which is a potent antioxidant and aids in detoxification. NAC also appears to reduce cellular production of pro-inflammatory chemicals that can cause muscle soreness and increased time to recovery. NAC has been shown to promote a healthy balance of inflammation post-workout and lessen muscle soreness. Muscle recovery is an important factor for any athlete. The faster you recover, the more quickly you’ll be back in the game with less discomfort.
Coenzyme Q-10 (CoQ10) is a vitamin-like compound present in virtually all cells and in especially high concentrations in the heart, liver, kidney, and pancreas. CoQ-10 is thought to improve endurance by reducing fatigue. It is an important cofactor in many metabolic pathways, particularly in the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) in oxidative respiration, which is responsible for energy production. Therefore, it is thought to improve oxidative metabolism, resulting in improved exercise tolerance and decreased fatigue. In a study looking at Finnish top-level cross-country skiers, CoQ10 supported physical performance.
Glutamine is the most abundant free amino acid in the body. It is produced primarily in skeletal muscle and then released into the circulation. Glutamine is essential for protein synthesis, it also aids in our immune function. Blood glutamine is decreased after intense, prolonged exercise. Athletes participating in endurance exercise suffer an increased risk of infection due to a suppressed immunity from the exercise. This may be due to the lower levels of glutamine. It has been shown that glutamine supplementation after exercise decreases the frequency of subsequent infections.
Magnesium is involved with more than 300 enzyme systems. It is essential for numerous processes that affect muscle function including oxygen uptake, energy production and electrolyte balance. There is evidence that it can assist in increasing muscle strength. Adequate magnesium levels will also decrease muscle cramping. Strenuous exercise may increase magnesium requirements by up to 20 percent. Magnesium also enhances sleep quality. We all know the better a person sleeps, the more energy they have the next day. Good sleep is also crucial for muscle recovery and repair.
Zinc is an essential trace mineral and is the second most abundant trace element in the body. It is a cofactor in many biological processes including DNA and protein synthesis. Increased protein synthesis leads to increased muscle strength. Zinc is a great antioxidant and plays a role in immune function and wound healing. Even a mild zinc deficiency will lead to decreased immunity.
Antioxidants are often taken by athletes in an effort to prevent muscle damage and breakdown during exercise. Selenium, vitamin C, and vitamin E are commonly used antioxidants. Pycnogenol is an extract from the bark of the French maritime pine tree. It contains several active flavonoids and phenol compounds with antioxidant activity. Some clinical research shows that taking pycnogenol significantly improves exercise capacity in recreational athletes.
B6 (pyroxidine) is a water-soluble vitamin that is a cofactor for numerous reactions in the body. B6 assists in carbohydrate and fat utilization. It is critical for allowing muscles to use stored energy for fuel during workouts. It also helps with the synthesis of your brain chemistry as well as hemoglobin, which is responsible for getting oxygen to your muscles. B6 is also important for controlling cortisol levels. High cortisol has been shown to impair athletic performance.
Branched-chain amino acids are a group of essential amino acids including leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Branched-chain amino acids are found in dietary protein, such as meat, dairy products, and legumes, and account for 15 percent to 25 percent of the total daily intake of protein. Orally, branched-chain amino acids are used to enhance exercise performance, prevent fatigue, improve concentration, and reduce protein and muscle breakdown during intense exercise.
D-Ribose is a pentose sugar molecule. D-ribose is used to increase muscle function recovery, athletic performance, boost muscle tissue energy, replenish ATP stores, and improve or maintain synthesis in heart and skeletal muscles following high intensity exercise. After intense exercise, muscle ATP is significantly lower. Athletes who take a D-ribose supplement have less ATP depletion following intense exercise.
Remember that these supplements are intended to enhance your nutritional status and should not be used to replace a healthy diet. Please consult with your doctor regarding dosage and it is recommended that athletes who are taking over-the-counter or prescription medications check with their health care provider before taking any supplement. If at any time you notice a side effect from a nutritional supplement, stop taking the supplements and consult with your doctor.
Originally published in July 2011