Choosing & Using Dietary Supplements

Here is an article that I wrote for Competitor Group (publishers of Triathlete magazine and VeloNews) about “how to choose dietary supplements” (because there is a lot of garbage on the market, making it difficult to find a high-quality, clean, and effective supplement).

You can read the full text of the article below – or read it on the Competitor website HERE

As always, let me know your thoughts and comments – and Thanks for reading!

 

Shawn

About the Author: Shawn Talbott holds a PhD in Nutritional Biochemistry (Rutgers) and a MS in Exercise Science (UMass). He trains for iron-distance triathlons and ultra-marathons in Utah – and is always sure to keep himself in biochemical balance and high vigor.

 =============================================

Shawn M. Talbott, Ph.D., CNS, LDN, FACN, FACSM, FAIS

Nutritional Biochemist and Author

www.shawntalbott.com

 

Follow me at:

YouTube

Amazon

Twitter

LinkedIn 

Facebook 

ShareCare 

My books related to stress, cortisol, vigor, and Feeling Your Best:

▪    Vigor Diet – The New Science of Feeling Your Best

▪    The Secret of Vigor – How to Overcome Burnout, Restore Biochemical Balance, and Reclaim Your Natural Energy

▪    Killer at Large – Why Obesity is America’s Greatest Threat – an award-winning documentary film exploring the causes and solutions underlying the American obesity epidemic. FREE versions at  http://www.KilleratLarge.com

▪    The Cortisol Connection – Why Stress Makes You Fat and Ruins Your Health (Hunter House) – FREE text at http://www.cortisolconnection.com/

▪    The Cortisol Connection Diet – The Breakthrough Program to Control Stress and Lose Weight (Hunter House) – FREE text at http://www.cortisolconnectiondiet.com/

▪    Cortisol Control and the Beauty Connection – The All-Natural Inside-Out Approach to Reversing Wrinkles, Preventing Acne, And Improving Skin Tone (Hunter House) – FREE text at http://www.cortisolcontrol.com/

▪    Natural Solutions for Pain-Free Living – Lasting Relief for Flexible Joints, Strong Bones and Ache-Free Muscles (Chronicle Publishers – Currant Books) – http://painfreelivingbook.com/

▪    The Immune Miracle – The All-Natural Approach for Better Health, Increased Energy and Improved Mood (GLH Nutrition, 2012)

▪    The Health Professionals Guide to Dietary Supplements (Lippincott, Williams & Wilkens)

▪    A Guide to Understanding Dietary Supplements – an Outstanding Academic Text of 2004 (Haworth Press)

 

 

How To Choose And Use Supplements — And Why They’re Good For You

By Shawn Talbott, PhD

Published Aug. 1, 2013

 

Supplements come in a variety of forms and brands. Do your homework before buying.

Confused by nutritional supplements? Not for long.

Without a doubt, dietary supplements have widespread usage and appeal — to the tune of more than $25 billion in annual sales in the United States alone. Approximately 85 percent of Americans have used dietary supplements at one time or another, and more than six in 10 members of the population are regular users of supplements (using them on most days of the week). The numbers for supplement use are even higher for athletes.

Despite the large number of people currently buying and using dietary supplements, however, a huge gap often exists between the practice of supplementation and the knowledge behind those choices and usage patterns. For example, many consumers are not careful about recommended dosages for supplements — and the common assumption that “if a little is good, more is better” can pose serious health consequences.

Choosing A Supplement

In choosing dietary supplements, ask the following questions:

  • Is it safe and legal?
  • Do the product’s claims make sense?
  • Do studies exist on the actual finished product (not the individual ingredients), and were those studies conducted in endurance athletes?
  • Was the amount of the supplement in the study the same as the recommended amount on the label?
  • Is it right for you (do you need something for general nutrition or endurance or recovery or nothing at all)?

 

Natural Versus Synthetic Vitamins

In most cases, natural and synthetic vitamins & minerals are handled by the body in exactly the same way. A good example of this is the B-complex vitamins, which can be obtained in supplements as “natural” B vitamins (usually from brewer’s yeast or a similar substance) or as purified chemicals and listed on the product label as thiamin (B-1), riboflavin (B-2), niacin (B-3), and so forth.

When either of these supplemental sources of B vitamins is consumed, the vitamins are absorbed, transported, and utilized by the body in exactly the same way — so we can say with confidence that there is no difference between natural and synthetic when it comes to B vitamins.

Two interesting exceptions to this rule are folic acid, which is better absorbed in the synthetic form (compared to natural forms found in foods), and vitamin E, which is far superior as the natural form (absorbed and retained in the body two to three times better than synthetic vitamin E).

 

Brand Name Or Generic?

This is one of the most common questions I get when it comes to multivitamins. People want to know if they can just buy the “grocery store version” to get their daily nutrients. The ultimate answer is really less about generics vs. brand-name products than it is about choosing between supplements that provide “basic” versus “optimal” levels of particular nutrients. Therefore, the answer to this question will depend on two primary factors: How much money can you afford to spend on a supplement, and are you looking for a basic or an optimal supplement?

Many of the generic or private-label store-brand supplements on the market will do a satisfactory job of helping you meet the basic RDA (recommended daily allowance) levels for essential vitamins and minerals. The primary limitation with these generic products, and even with many brand-name supplements, is that the basic RDA levels of most vitamins and minerals fall far below the levels associated with optimal health and certainly below those needed for optimal endurance performance.

With respect to the B vitamins, there is good scientific evidence to support daily intakes at 200-500 percent of RDA levels for optimal stress response and cortisol control. These levels are two to five times higher than the levels found in most multivitamin products.

Calcium and magnesium are two minerals that are known to help regulate the body’s stress response, yet most generic supplements and one-tablet-a-day-type brand-name supplements provide only a small fraction of the 250–500 milligrams (mg) of calcium and the 125–250 mg of magnesium needed to promote a normal stress response. The primary reason for skimping on the calcium and magnesium in these products is not cost (both are very cheap), but rather space considerations in the capsules and tablets. Both calcium and magnesium are bulky minerals — that is, they take up a lot of space — so an optimal daily dosage requires more than a single capsule each day (and sometimes as many as four capsules, depending on the mineral source).

The bottom line here is that everybody should take at least a basic multi-vitamin/multi-mineral supplement (MVMS) — and virtually any product, generic or brand-name, on the shelf at Wal-Mart, Rite-Aid, or your local grocery store will satisfy the basic RDA-level requirements. However, if you are interested in a supplement that delivers more than the rock-bottom levels of nutrients, and if you can afford to spend a little more on your daily supplement regimen, then you will want to consider a MVMS that provides higher levels of B-complex vitamins, calcium, and magnesium.

 

Herbal Supplements

When it comes to selecting herbal supplements, the situation can quickly become very confusing. Because herbals are really a form of natural medicine, it is crucial that you select the right form of the herb so that you get the safest and most effective product.

Herbal supplements are an area in which generic products are not equivalent to brand-name products. It is vitally important to select either the exact product that has been used in clinical studies, or a product that contains a chemically equivalent form of the herb that has been studied. The easiest way for most consumers to select a safe and effective herb is to select only those extracts that have been “standardized” to provide a uniform level of the key active ingredients in each batch of the product.

The best scenario would be to select only those specific products that have undergone clinical studies of their own and in endurance athletes (rather than selecting products that contain ingredients on which studies have been conducted) — but there are far fewer finished products that have been subjected to clinical testing than there are raw ingredients (cordyceps, rhodiola, glucosamine, etc.) that have been evaluated in such research.

 

Where To Buy Supplements?

The preceding three points should offer enough general guidance to help you weed through the many less desirable supplement products on the market and select products that can make a difference in your overall health. With the explosive growth in the supplement market over the past decade, consumers can now find vitamins, minerals, herbs, and other supplements for sale in a variety of places — including specialty supplement stores, natural foods stores, drugstores, grocery stores, discount department stores, and through direct marketing, infomercials, catalog sales, and the Internet.

Are any of these outlets “better” than the others? Not really — but each has its own particular niche. For example, the least expensive, “bargain” products will be found at supermarkets and discount department stores (e.g., Walmart), but these products may suffer from many of the problems outlined above with regards to basic versus optimal supplementation.

Supplements that are a step above the cheapest and most basic of products can typically be found at drugstores, natural foods markets, and specialty supplement outlets, including running and cycling shops. These are the middle-of-the-road products that do a decent job of balancing high-quality and optimal nutrient levels with moderate prices.

The most expensive products, and those with the widest range in terms of quality, safety, and effectiveness, are typically sold through direct sales channels such as the Internet, catalogs, and independent sales agents. In some cases, these products are designed to deliver optimal levels of all nutrients in the most bio-available forms, but the obvious downside is their high price (you often get what you pay for – so a “high” price relative to a grocery-store brand might very well be worth the cost if the product delivers high-quality nutrients that you need). In other cases, all you get is the high price — without any of the optimal levels of the crucial nutrients.

So how can you differentiate among these premium-priced products? By asking to see the results from their clinical studies. Products in this “premium” category will almost certainly need to justify their high price with strong scientific evidence to support their claims and to show that their product is justified at this price. If the company cannot provide you with scientific evidence to support its premium products, then you are well advised to look elsewhere for your supplement.

 

Using Supplements

After you have selected your supplements with the help of the above information, the following guidelines can help you use those supplements in the proper manner (that is, to optimize both safety and effectiveness):

  • Remember that a dietary supplement is just that — meaning that it is meant to be added to an otherwise healthy diet. It is not meant to substitute for a balanced diet or to make up for a poor diet.
  • Follow the dosage recommendations on the package. The recommended dosage is important for safety and effectiveness — especially for herbals and other supplements that combine multiple ingredients. Don’t assume that if one tablet is recommended per day, two or three will be even better.
  • Keep all dietary supplements in a safe place — away from heat and light that may accelerate their breakdown, and away from children who may accidentally ingest them.

Now that you know how to choose your optimally-formulated, research-proven, endurance-specific supplement based on the broad criteria above, you can put it to its best use by adding it to your otherwise super-charged diet and training regimen (and not hoping that the supplement will act like a magic bullet).

 

Energy Boosting Foods

Here is an interview that I did for an article in the September 2013 issue of Real Simple magazine (it’s on the news stands now)…

The article is about, “What’s Best for Your Health Goals: Diet or Exercise? – and you can read the entire article HERE or download the PDF below.

The article was written by a terrific writer, Karen Asp (you should check out her other articles) and touched on tips for boosting libido, sharpening your mind, reducing heart disease risk, dropping a dress size, and “my” section about increasing energy levels.

Here is the text from that section…

If You Want to Increase Energy

Focus on diet: It’s true that exercise can give you an immediate surge of energy, but smart eating throughout the day will fuel you with a steadier supply. “With proper nutrition and well-timed meals, you’ll keep your blood sugar balanced. This is important, since blood sugar spikes and drops are a leading cause of energy fluctuations,” says Shawn M. Talbott, Ph.D., a nutritional biochemist in Salt Lake City and the author of The Secret of Vigor ($15, amazon.com). You’ll also help to balance your brain’s neurotransmitters, which are chemical substances (including serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine) that keep your mood up and therefore your energy from plummeting.

Take action: To maintain an even blood-sugar level, eat five to six times a day, or about once every three hours. In addition to your main meals, fit in two to three 200-calorie snacks. Ideal snacks contain lean protein, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates—for instance, yogurt with granola, an apple with low-fat cheese, or peanut butter on crackers with a banana. Frequent eating can also help to reduce feelings of anxiety and depression (both of which can influence energy), since low blood sugar can increase your level of the stress hormone cortisol.

Another way to stave off fatigue is to load your diet with foods rich in flavonoids, like blueberries, blackberries, and acai juice. “Our research shows that flavonoids interact with receptors in the brain that lessen the perception of tiredness. So while they’re not necessarily energy-boosting, they are fatigue-reducing,” says Talbott. About half a cup of blueberries will do the trick. Another easy strategy? Drink water throughout the day. The sluggish feeling that you get late in the afternoon, which then drives you to the vending machine, is often your body telling you that it’s low in fluid, says Talbott. The best gauge of hydration is the color of your urine, which should be almost clear if you’re well hydrated. Keep a bottle of water nearby and sip it all day, and drink a large glass of water with every meal or snack.

Please let me know what you think – and thanks for reading!

Shawn

About the Author: Shawn Talbott holds a PhD in Nutritional Biochemistry (Rutgers) and a MS in Exercise Science (UMass). He trains for iron-distance triathlons and ultramarathons in Utah – and is always sure to drink his acai juice to keep his energy high.

Follow me at:

YouTube

Amazon

Twitter

LinkedIn 

Facebook 

ShareCare 

My books related to stress, cortisol, vigor, and Feeling Your Best:

▪                Vigor Diet – The New Science of Feeling Your Best

▪                The Secret of Vigor – How to Overcome Burnout, Restore Biochemical Balance, and Reclaim Your Natural Energy

▪                Killer at Large – Why Obesity is America’s Greatest Threat – an award-winning documentary film exploring the causes and solutions underlying the American obesity epidemic. FREE versions at  http://www.KilleratLarge.com

▪                The Cortisol Connection – Why Stress Makes You Fat and Ruins Your Health (Hunter House) – FREE text at http://www.cortisolconnection.com/

▪                The Cortisol Connection Diet – The Breakthrough Program to Control Stress and Lose Weight (Hunter House) – FREE text at http://www.cortisolconnectiondiet.com/

▪                Cortisol Control and the Beauty Connection – The All-Natural Inside-Out Approach to Reversing Wrinkles, Preventing Acne, And Improving Skin Tone (Hunter House) – FREE text at http://www.cortisolcontrol.com/

Real Simple-Shawn Talbott-09-2013all

 

Tainted Supplements?

With all of the “doping” stories in the news these past few weeks, I thought it might be good to post this article that I wrote awhile back for Competitor Magazine (the same group that publishes Triathlete magazine and VeloNews). You can read the article online HERE.

You’ve probably heard all the hullabaloo over the Major League Baseball players, including the Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez, who were caught using anabolic steroids – and maybe you’ve read a blurb about the two Olympic sprinters (Tyson Gay from the USA and Asafa Powell from Jamaica) who are not at the World Track Championships in Moscow this week because of positive doping tests. There have also been dozens of positive doping tests in Moscow this week – so I’ll be surprised if we don’t see future reports blaming some of these positive results on contaminated supplements. Read about how to protect yourself from contaminated supplements – and still reap the LEGAL benefits of optimal nutrition in the article below.

Speaking of performance enhancing supplements, I tested a new one this past weekend in the Katcina Mosa 100k trail run – probably the most challenging 100k in the country. The run was a long day out – I finished in 15 hours and 40 minutes – good enough for 14th overall (5th Masters and 3rd in my age group of 40-49y). I had a bad patch on the 10-mile section after the high point at Windy Pass (mile 30-ish) – I got dehydrated and bonked, so I was feeling pretty low when I reached Little Valley (mile 40-ish).

At Little Valley, I took my time to eat and drink lots – and I also took my new “mental clarity” supplement (super-duper-secret formula) – and it literally brought me back from the dead within a few miles. The general idea here is that by improving mental performance, you can also enhance physical performance (especially when you’ve got more than 20 miles of hot steep rocky trails left to travel). I still have a bit of testing to do, but I think this new formula has a great deal of potential outside of the endurance athlete arena – to help improve mental performance (focus, clarity, creativity, etc) throughout the day at work and school. Stay tuned…

Here’s the article about “Tainted Supplements” – please take a read and let me know what you think.

Thanks for reading,

Shawn

About the Author: Shawn Talbott holds a PhD in Nutritional Biochemistry (Rutgers) and a MS in Exercise Science (UMass). He trains for iron-distance triathlons and ultramarathons in Utah – and is always sure to keep himself in biochemical balance and with high vigor.

Follow me at:

YouTube

Amazon

Twitter

LinkedIn 

Facebook 

ShareCare 

 

My books related to stress, cortisol, vigor, and Feeling Your Best:

▪    Vigor Diet – The New Science of Feeling Your Best

▪    The Secret of Vigor – How to Overcome Burnout, Restore Biochemical Balance, and Reclaim Your Natural Energy

▪    Killer at Large – Why Obesity is America’s Greatest Threat – an award-winning documentary film exploring the causes and solutions underlying the American obesity epidemic. FREE versions at  http://www.KilleratLarge.com

▪    The Cortisol Connection – Why Stress Makes You Fat and Ruins Your Health (Hunter House) – FREE text at http://www.cortisolconnection.com/

▪    The Cortisol Connection Diet – The Breakthrough Program to Control Stress and Lose Weight (Hunter House) – FREE text at http://www.cortisolconnectiondiet.com/

▪    Cortisol Control and the Beauty Connection – The All-Natural Inside-Out Approach to Reversing Wrinkles, Preventing Acne, And Improving Skin Tone (Hunter House) – FREE text at http://www.cortisolcontrol.com/

 

 

Buyer Beware: Are Your Supplements Tainted?

Don’t always trust the label on your supplements: it could be tainted with an illegal substance.

Do you know what’s really in your sports nutrition supplements?

 

Doping.

Even uttering the word makes many of us in the endurance community cringe. It is a word charged with ethics, emotion, and politics. For us non-elite athletes, the issue of doping, or use of banned performance-enhancing drugs and methods, is mostly a theoretical one. Even if you were stuffed to the gills with testosterone and amphetamines at your next event, chances are you wouldn’t have to fear urinating in a cup or providing a blood sample for a doping test (even if you were on the top step of the podium).

However, if you plan on stepping onto the podium at Kona, or an Olympic Trials race, or a state championship cycling event, or even an NCAA-sanctioned running race, your chances of peeing in that cup are greater. The higher your level of competition is, the more likely you are to find yourself subjected to a doping analysis. (I’ve been tested twice as an elite-level rower, but never as a triathlete.)

Are Your Supplements Tainted?

According to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), athletes are “strictly liable” for any prohibited substances which are found in their bodies (blood and urine samples) — no matter how the banned substance made its way into the athlete’s body. It’s not overly cynical to “expect” any doping athlete to blame a contaminated dietary supplement for his or her positive dope test, but WADA doesn’t let athletes off the hook for “accidents;” even when some supplements have clearly been found to contain undeclared steroids and stimulants.

According to a much-quoted 2001 study commissioned by the International Olympic Committee, nearly 15 percent of sports supplements (634 products from 215 suppliers in 13 countries) tested positive for undeclared prohibited substances (anabolic agents or stimulants). Such findings have led to a policy of “supplement avoidance” among many people in the endurance community — even when scientific evidence clearly supports the use of some types of dietary supplements for promoting wellness, enhancing recovery, and generally helping athletes maintain a high state of mental and physical performance.

Taking a “just say no” approach to supplements is simply unrealistic for some endurance athletes, however. We need to explore every option that can help keep us going amidst the demands of work, family, and other aspects of our life outside of our endurance training.

None of us, elite or amateur, wants our supplements to contain any “undeclared” ingredients, especially if they’re prohibited by the rules of our sport. If your electrolyte powder has a smidge of testosterone in it, you probably won’t have to give back the Tour de France’s maillot Jaune, but you want your nutrition products to contain what they’re supposed to and nothing else. This is where good quality control comes in.

Contamination And Quality Control

Most manufacturers of dietary supplements are responsible and ethical, and they have no desire to market contaminated products. But even while many companies will tell you that their products are “formulated without banned substances” or that their products are “manufactured in a facility which contains no banned substances,” you never really know that the products you’re ingesting are clean unless those products are specifically analyzed to confirm the absence of prohibited substances.

Testing products for banned substances is an extremely intricate area of analytical chemistry. The credibility of a banned substance screen really comes down to the sensitivity (or the “limits of detection” — the smallest amount of a substance that can be detected) of a particular analytical method, because even a minute “trace” amount of a banned substance present in a nutrition product could result in a positive doping result. Many labs can analyze substances down to microgram levels of sensitivity (mcg), but banned substances present at nanogram-levels (ng = 100 times lower than most labs can detect) could cause a positive doping result.

I have personally been involved in several projects where doping risks have been associated with dietary supplements used by elite athletes. In two instances, we were able to trace contaminated herbal extracts (containing undeclared ephedrine in one case and intentionally spiked with sildenifil, the active ingredient in Viagra, in another) back to their origin (China in both cases). In another instance, the individual raw materials checked out clean but the finished product tested positive for testosterone precursors (DHEA and androstenedione) — with contamination eventually traced to an improperly cleaned encapsulating machine that had been used months before to manufacture bodybuilding supplements.

Endurance athletes also need to understand that some dietary supplement ingredients (and medications) that are perfectly legal in the United States may also be considered prohibited by WADA for use in sport (training and competition). DHEA, a precursor for testosterone synthesis used for anti-aging benefits, and sildenifil (Viagra), used for other types of “performance enhancement,” are two examples of substances that are perfectly legal for the market, but banned for athletes.

You could take one of several positions on the issue of dietary supplements and the risk of consuming banned substances:

1. I’m an elite athlete who can’t afford to take the risk with supplements, so I’ll just say no, even if that means I’m giving up a legal performance edge to my competition by forgoing the all supplements.

2. Who cares? I’m an age-grouper doing this for fun and a challenge. I’ll take the risk of taking supplements so I can gain any edge that can help me train harder and go faster.

3. I want the benefits of the right supplements, but I don’t want to break the rules, and I want to know what I’m putting into my body.

 

No matter which group you fall into, you ought to be concerned that your nutrition products are produced under Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP), which are mandated and overseen by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and that they contain only those ingredients that are disclosed on the label (which is mandated by U.S. law).

There are a handful of organizations that can analyze dietary supplements for the presence of prohibited substances (primarily anabolic agents like steroids and stimulants like ephedrine and amphetamines). They include Banned Substances Control Group (BSCG), HFL Sports Science, NSF International (which certifies supplements for Major League baseball and the National Football League), ConsumerLab, and the National Products Association. Be aware that the limits of detection and the compounds they analyze differ between the organizations.

Buyer Beware

As you’ll read in coming editions of the “Performance in a Pill?” series, there are certainly some dietary supplements that are of potential value to endurance athletes — but the responsibility for choosing and using the right supplements (and avoiding the “wrong” ones) comes back to the individual athlete. Only through self-education and asking the right questions can you make an informed decision about which supplements are right for you.

 

Supplements For Endurance Performance

Here’s an article that I wrote for Competitor Endurance Sports Network (the folks who publish Competitor magazine, Triathlete, VeloNews, and Women’s Running).

 

You can read the article online here

 

Tomorrow, I’ll be running the Kat’cina Mosa 100k Trail Run – perhaps the most difficult 100k run in the country. It’s a loop course in Springville, Utah that traverses nearly 35,000 feet of elevation gain/loss (17,404 feet of elevation gain and 17,404 of elevation loss).

 

The weather forecast is calling for 93 degrees of bright sun with a very high (10) UV index – so it’ll be cooking out there!

 

During the race, I’ll be using all of the supplements listed in the article below – in addition to a new supplement that I think is a true breakthrough in endurance performance (perfectly legal and amazingly effective – so look for info in future posts).

 

Send me good vibes for the run tomorrow – and let me know what you think of the article below.

 

Thanks for reading,

 

Shawn

 

=============================================

Shawn M. Talbott, Ph.D., CNS, LDN, FACN, FACSM, FAIS

Nutritional Biochemist and Author

www.shawntalbott.com

 

NEW BOOK: The Secret of Vigor – How to Overcome Burnout, Restore Biochemical Balance, and Reclaim Your Natural Energy

Order at Amazon = http://amzn.to/ovkwJf

 

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Killer at Large – Why Obesity is America’s Greatest Threat – an award-winning documentary film exploring the causes and solutions underlying the American obesity epidemic  (http://www.KilleratLarge.com)

The Cortisol Connection – Why Stress Makes You Fat and Ruins Your Health (Hunter House) – http://www.cortisolconnection.com/

The Cortisol Connection Diet – The Breakthrough Program to Control Stress and Lose Weight (Hunter House) – http://www.cortisolconnectiondiet.com/

Cortisol Control and the Beauty Connection – The All-Natural Inside-Out Approach to Reversing Wrinkles, Preventing Acne, And Improving Skin Tone (Hunter House) – http://www.cortisolcontrol.com/

Natural Solutions for Pain-Free Living – Lasting Relief for Flexible Joints, Strong Bones and Ache-Free Muscles (Chronicle Publishers – Currant Books) – http://painfreelivingbook.com/

The Immune Miracle – The All-Natural Approach for Better Health, Increased Energy and Improved Mood (GLH Nutrition, 2012) – http://amzn.to/SPLV4W

The Health Professionals Guide to Dietary Supplements (Lippincott, Williams & Wilkens) – http://www.supplementwatch.com/

A Guide to Understanding Dietary Supplements – an Outstanding Academic Text of 2004 (Haworth Press) – http://www.supplementwatch.com/

 

 

 

Supplements For Endurance Performance

 

By Shawn Talbott, PhD

 

As an endurance athlete, you might be interested in dietary supplements that have proven benefits to enhance oxygen efficiency, improve blood flow, balance hormone profile, and improve stress adaptation.

 

The Magnificent Seven

There are seven dietary supplements that have been evaluated in research studies of endurance athletes:

 

  • Rhodiola – helps improve oxygen transfer from lungs to red blood cells
  • Cordyceps – helps speed transfer of oxygen from red blood cells to mitochondria
  • Eurycoma – balances hormones (lower cortisol and higher testosterone)
  • Quercetin – improves blood flow by dilating blood vessels
  • Arginine – improves blood flow by dilating blood vessels
  • Eleuthero – provides resistance to physical stress and increases energy levels
  • Ashwagandha – provides resistance to mental stress and induces relaxation

 

Rhodiola is a Himalayan root used by the Sherpa people to “adapt” to the stress of living and working at high altitudes. Even today, Sherpa climbers chew on rhodiola for an energy and endurance boost when helping mountaineers scale Mt. Everest. One mechanism for rhodiola’s anti-fatigue effects is an enhancement of oxygen efficiency – with subjects living at high altitude (5,380 meters) showing a beneficial effect of rhodiola supplementation on blood oxygen levels, time to exhaustion, VO2peak, and pulmonary ventilation during endurance exercise.

 

Cordyceps is a Tibetan mushroom used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) for “lung protection” and to balance the “Qi” – the fundamental “energy of life.” In clinical studies, cordyceps feeding results in significant improvements in fatigue, oxygen uptake, and endurance exercise performance.

 

Eurycoma is a root, often called Malaysian ginseng, that is used as a traditional remedy in Southest Asia (Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam) to help individuals “adapt” to the reduced energy and depressed mood that often come with chronic stress and overtraining. Eurycoma contains a group of small peptides that are effective in restoring the balance between the catabolic hormone cortisol and the anabolic hormone testosterone.

 

Quercetin (an antioxidant) and arginine (an amino acid) have been used effectively to improve blood flow in patients with high blood pressure and heart disease – and have become popular in some endurance supplements, but it is unknown whether or not the small levels typically contained in some supplements would be effective in improving endurance performance.

 

Eleuthero (Siberian ginseng) and ashwagandha (Indian ginseng) are used in traditional medicine as “adaptogens” to help the body adapt to stressful situations. Eleuthero tends to be more “energizing” while Ashwagandha is regarded as more “relaxing” in its effects.

 

How to Use Them

Dosage ranges to consider are listed below and are dependent on delivery of effective levels of the active compounds – rather than to the total amount of the herb itself. Pay attention to product labels, which are required to list the percentage of active compounds provided by each herbal extract. For example, one product might provide 1,000mg of a low-potency cordyceps (and a low content of the active adenosine compounds), while another product might deliver a lower total amount of cordyceps, but at a higher potency with a higher level of active adenosine. Focus on the total amount (percentage) of active compounds rather than the absolute amount (milligrams) of each herb to maximize the endurance effects and your performance benefits.

 

  • Rhodiola = 150-300mg (standardized to 5-6% rosavins)
  • Cordyceps = 100-500mg (standardized to 5-10% adenosine)
  • Eurycoma = 25-50mg (standardized to 20-25% eurypepides)
  • Quercetin = 100-300mg (pure)
  • Arginine = 2,000-3,000mg (pure)
  • Eleuthero = 100-200mg (standardized to 0.5-1% eleutherosides)
  • Ashwagandha = 10-30mg (standardized to 5-10% withanolides)

 

Summary

No amount of any herb is going to take you from the couch to the podium without your dedication to proper training and nutrition. However, if you’re already doing what you can in terms of diet and exercise, then adding a daily supplement to enhance the effects of your training might serve as a “biochemical tune-up” for your body and help you reach the next level of performance.

 

Shawn Talbott holds a MS in exercise science (UMass) and a PhD in nutritional biochemistry (Rutgers) and competes in iron-distance triathlons and ultramarathons.