Nutrition for Performance

Dr. Shawn Talbott (Ph.D., CNS, LDN, FACSM, FACN, FAIS) has gone from triathlon struggler to gut-brain guru! With a Ph.D. in Nutritional Biochemistry, he's on a mission to boost everyday human performance through the power of natural solutions and the gut-brain axis.

Over the years, I’ve done a great deal of counseling and education on sports nutrition. I’ve worked with athletes at the Olympic level, including the US Ski & Snowboard Team (2002 Winter Olympics) and as part of the Performance Enhancement Team for US Track & Field. In a couple of weeks, I’ll be wrapping up a 2-year program with the International Olympic Committee’s Medical Commission, and hopefully designing a course for future IOC students to learn about science-based product development.


As an athlete myself, I’ve competed at the elite level in rowing (US National Team Development Program), cycling (Lake Placid Olympic Training Center), and triathlon (professional license holder), but now just compete for fun and fitness in Ironmans and ultramarathon trail runs. Here’s a link to an article about my 2nd-place finish in the 2013 “World’s Fittest CEO” competition – and the full video of the event (an extremely well-done video of an amazing event – please give it a look – I will be heading back in 2014 to try to claim the top spot).


Athletes, whether “elite” or just competing for fun and fitness, are constantly asking me about the best nutrition practices and products for improving performance and accelerating recovery, but also for general health (athletes want to go fast, but they also want to stay healthy, especially as we get older).


Part of the education that I do for athletes, is to give presentations and write articles about different aspects of physical and mental performance (what I’ve been studying as “vigor” for the past decade or so). Here is a video and article covering a recent talk that I gave about the importance of phytonutrients in maintaining health and performance in athletes.


I’ve also written several articles about various aspects of dietary supplementation for Competitor Group (publishers of Velo, Triathlete, and other fitness-oriented magazines). Two of the most recent articles are pasted below and here are some links to past articles about:


Choosing and Using Supplements

Endurance Supplement Overview

Brain Ergogenics

Eleuthero (Siberian Ginseng)

Panax Ginseng

Glutamine and BCAAs

Banned Substances


Thanks for reading…




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


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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

?    The Cortisol Connection – Why Stress Makes You Fat and Ruins Your Health (Hunter House) – FREE text at

?    The Cortisol Connection Diet – The Breakthrough Program to Control Stress and Lose Weight (Hunter House) – FREE text at

?    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

?    Natural Solutions for Pain-Free Living – Lasting Relief for Flexible Joints, Strong Bones and Ache-Free Muscles (Chronicle Publishers – Currant Books) –

?    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)



Supplement Use And Triathlon


Surveys on dietary supplement use among the general population suggest that 50-75 percent of adults are “regular users” of dietary supplements, primarily multi-vitamin/multi-mineral supplements. Supplement usage rates among athletes are less clear, with some reports indicating 100 percent usage of dietary supplement among bodybuilders, and other estimates indicating 30-50 percent usage among elite and non-elite endurance athletes.


It is generally accepted that bodybuilders and weight-training enthusiasts consume dietary supplements at a significantly greater level compared to endurance athletes (runners, triathletes, cyclists, etc.), but the reasons for this disparity are not well understood. Differences in supplement effects, marketing, and mode of education (e.g. where/how athletes get their information) may account for some of the differences in supplement usage between strength and endurance athletes.


My research group, SupplementWatch, conducted a study entitled “Dietary Supplement Use Among Endurance Athletes” that was presented at the International Society for Sports Nutrition (ISSN). Our overall conclusions were:


– Triathletes at both Olympic and Ironman distances are avid users of dietary supplements (almost 100 percent in some cases).


– Primary sources of information about supplements are the Internet (95%), friends and training partners (89%), and coaches (83%).


– Longer-distance triathletes appear to take more supplements for recovery and endurance and also tend to report greater supplement usage after exercise, as compared to shorter-distance triathletes.


In our study, we recruited 326 triathletes from events in California, Texas, and Oklahoma (174 were Iron-distance triathletes with 103 men and 71 women, and 152 were Olympic-distance with 89 men and 63 women). Triathletes reported that, on average, they consumed dietary supplements five days per week and spent $51/month on their supplements (range $15 to $140).


Interestingly, we also found that despite the widespread use of supplements among triathletes, they also felt that they needed more information about supplements (90 percent) and they had difficulty in finding accurate/unbiased information (90 percent).


When we asked triathletes why they took supplements, 89 percent indicated that they felt they were not able to get the nutrients they needed from foods alone. Other reasons for taking supplements included:


– They give me energy (82%)

– To perform better (73%)

– General health (62%)

– To help me recover (61%)

– To lose body fat (41%)

– To prevent disease (28%)


When asked what types of supplements they were using, we found a wide range of endurance-specific products:


– Carbohydrate (beverage) = 98%

– Multi-vitamin = 93%

– Electrolyte (beverage) = 90%

– Carbohydrate (gel) = 78%

– Fish oil = 60%

– Antioxidant = 56%

– Recovery = 56%

– Endurance = 52%

– Fat Loss = 42%


When we looked at when supplements were consumed, we found that triathletes were avid users of dietary supplements before (95 percent) and during (88 percent) exercise, but less so after training (only 54 percent), despite the fact that some of the most proven sport nutrition supplements are post-exercise recovery enhancers.


Overall, we found that triathletes are avid consumers of a wide range of dietary supplements for reasons including endurance enhancement, general health, post-exercise recovery, and other benefits — but that they were in search of more information about supplements. While we did not survey runners, considering the wide degree of overlap between the two sports we would expect to obtain similar findings.


Future instalments in this “Performance in a Pill?” series will attempt to give you the information you need to make informed decisions about the pros and cons of choosing and using dietary supplements as an endurance athlete.


About The Author: Shawn Talbott, PhD, is a multiple Ironman and ultramarathon finisher and nutritional biochemist based in Salt Lake City. For more information visit



Super 7: Supplements That Improve Endurance


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.


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.


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


Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Rhodiola
  • Cordyceps
  • Eurycoma
  • Quercetin And Arginine
  • Eleuthero And Ashwagandha



Rhodiola helps improve oxygen transfer from lungs to red blood cells. It 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, VO2 peak, and pulmonary ventilation during endurance exercise.


Dosage: 50-300mg (standardized to 5-6% rosavins)



Cordyceps helps speed transfer of oxygen from red blood cells to mitochondria. It 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.


Dosage: 100-500mg (standardized to 5-10% adenosine)



Eurycoma balances two important hormones in the body —cortisol and testosterone. It is a root, often called Malaysian ginseng, that is used as a traditional remedy in Southeast 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 cortisol and testosterone.


Dosage: 25-50mg (standardized to 20-25% eurypepides)


Quercetin & Arginine

Quercetin (an antioxidant) and arginine (an amino acid) both improve blood flow by dilating blood vessels. They have been used effectively to improve blood flow in patients with high blood pressure and heart disease. They’ve also 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.


Dosage: Quercetin, 100-300mg (pure); Arginine, 2,000-3,000mg


Eleuthero & Ashwagandha

Eleuthero (Siberian ginseng) and ashwagandha (Indian ginseng) provide resistance to physical stress and increase energy levels. They 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.


Dosage: Eleuthero, 100-200mg (standardized to 0.5-1% eleutherosides); Ashwagandha, 10-30mg (standardized to 5-10% withanolides)


About The Author:

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


About the Author

Exercise physiologist (MS, UMass Amherst) and Nutritional Biochemist (PhD, Rutgers) who studies how lifestyle influences our biochemistry, psychology and behavior - which kind of makes me a "Psycho-Nutritionist"?!?!

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