People exercise for a variety of reasons including maintaining physical fitness, promoting a healthy body composition, maintaining or improving bone density, improving muscle strength and joint mobility, and promoting emotional well being. Whatever the reason for exercise, the body needs the right nutrition and recovery strategies in place to sustain performance and facilitate recovery.
Pre-workout supplements continue to become increasingly popular among recreational and professional athletes. Both aerobic and anaerobic athletes use pre-workout supplementation because of their potential ergogenic effects and ability to increase performance.1
Traditional pre-training nutritional recommendations were focused on carbohydrate loading, however more recent literature supports the benefits of carbohydrate combined with amino acids, creatinine and caffeine as key nutrients.2,3
Individuals who participate in endurance sports are required to have appropriate recovery strategies in place in order to quickly reduce inflammation caused by acute muscle damage, refuel the body with lost nutrients, protect the delicate immune system, allow rehydration and replenish energy stores – all so that the body can heal, repair and recover from the depleted state.
For an athlete, protein is most important for muscle repair and growth. During resistance training and prolonged bouts of exercise muscle fibres break down. The break down of muscle fibres initiates a response from cells to form new protein strands and repair damaged fibres. This process requires sufficient levels of amino acids from protein to occur effectively.
Tissue trauma also causes a local inflammatory process to contain and repair the tissue damage. Acute inflammation causes pain during and post exercise. This may result in the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Whilst having a temporary effect, NSAIDs are known to cause adverse side effects as well as other digestive conditions.4 They are also known to blunt muscle growth and reduce exercise induced protein synthesis.5
The right combination of carbohydrates, protein and fat is also important. No one single nutrient is sufficient to maintain swift and efficient energy production during exercise. A diet rich in a wide variety of plant foods and proteins provides the body with a broad array of essential micronutrients and antioxidants. Ensuring sufficient and good quality carbohydrate consumption on training or event days is also key to ensuring muscle glycogen stores are at their peak.
Enhancing performance and reducing fatigue
Beetroot juice is a rich source of nitrates. The salivary glands extract nitrate from foods and the bacteria within saliva convert it to nitrite. Nitrite is further processed into reactive nitrogen species including nitric oxide (NO) in the acidic environment of the stomach. NO is a vasodilator, it functions to relax the tone of blood vessels, thereby regulating blood pressure, platelet aggregation and protecting the vessels from vascular disease.6
Evidence is emerging that beetroot juice taken prior to exercise can enhance exercise capacity and sports performance. Recent studies have demonstrated that chronic and acute protocols of beetroot juice intake are associated with an enhanced exercise capacity and performance. In some studies, beetroot juice has improved endurance capacity by up to 15%.7,8
L-arginine works to increase nitric oxide (NO) synthesis, which responsible for the dilation of blood vessels to enable greater blood flow to all organs including the muscles, heart, lungs and brain. Increased circulation means enhanced delivery of oxygen and nutrients, hence greater performance. L-arginine plays a significant role in the secretion of endogenous growth hormone and is essential for adaptation post training. L-arginine also plays a role in creatine synthesis.9
Along with L-histidine, beta-alanine increases muscle carnosine levels. Carnosine is known for its ability to provide a “buffering” effectthat prevents lactic acid-related muscle pain and fatigue during repeated bouts of intense exercise. Carnosine also works with L-arginine to enhance NO synthesis for amplified circulatory function.10,11
Beta-alanine supplementation has been shown to improve high-intensity exercise performance and capacity. One study found that the ingestion of 3.2g/daybeta-alanine over 12 weeks improved performance in amateur footballers. Improvements can be attributed to an increase in muscle buffering capacity due to increased muscle carnosine concentration, attenuating the decline in intramuscular pH during repeated high-intensity exercise bouts.12
Beta-alanine increases peak power, increases strength and endurance and increases time until exhaustion.13,14 Beta-alanine may magnify the expected performance outcomes of training programs with different metabolic demands.15
There are several different available forms of creatine: creatine anhydrous, creatine in salt form (e.g. creatine malate) and creatine in ester form. The potential advantages of creatine salts include enhanced solubility in water and bioavailability which may reduce gastrointestinal adverse effects.16
Consuming supplemental creatine saturates and increases the muscle content of creatine. During the first 10 seconds of intense exercise, creatine levels are markedly depleted. Creatine supplementation has been shown to enhance the performance of exercise involving repeated sprints or bouts of high intensity exercise, separated by short recovery intervals.17 It has also been shown to enhance the force of muscle contraction, increasing strength and improving training adaptations, when combined with resistance training at 0.1g per kilo of body weight.16
L-carnitine is used for weight loss, increased energy and neuroprotection. L-carnitine aids the transportation of fats for use as an energy source and modulates intracellular fatty acid metabolism. It plays a decisive role in the prevention of cellular damage and ageing and favourably affects recovery from exercise stress and chronic fatigue.18
Coenzyme Q10 plays an important role in the production of energy, functions as an antioxidant in cell membranes and lipoproteins and helps maintain healthy cardiac function. CoQ10 has been shown to increase short term maximum performance, boost energy and speed recovery from exercise muscle exhaustion. Positive results were seen in a trial of athletes taking CoQ10 with 94% of participants showing improved performance and recovery times. Another study showed that higher muscular CoQ10 levels were associated with better marathon performance than those with lower levels of muscular CoQ10.19
Magnesium is one of the most vital micronutrients when it comes to energy synthesis, as it is actively involved in all steps of energy production. Magnesium is also the key nutrient required for muscle relaxation, and deficiency therefore may lead to muscle cramps, soreness and spasms.20 Because of its wide range of uses in maintaining physical activity, supplementation to prevent premature fatigue and muscular concerns are of benefit to athletes.
Panax ginseng grows in northern China, Korea and Russia and well known for its stimulating properties. It is popular among athletes and sports people to increase focus and energy and improve aerobic capacity. In research, it has been shown to improve aerobic capacity, increase oxygen uptake and increase mental capacity and concentration. 21
Caffeine is rapidly absorbed and transported to all body tissues and organs where it exerts a variety of effects including stimulation of the central nervous system to change perceptions of effort or fatigue and increase the release and activity of adrenaline, mobilising fats from adipose tissue, and changing muscle contractility and effects on cardiac muscle.22,23
There is evidence that caffeine enhances endurance and performance over a range of exercise including short-duration high-intensity events (1-5 minutes), prolonged high-intensity events (20-60 minutes), endurance events (90+ minutes of continuous exercise), ultra-endurance events (4+ hours), and prolonged intermittent high-intensity protocols (team sports).24,25
Whey protein concentrate (WPC)
Protein is required for multiple functions throughout the body and is extremely important for muscle repair and growth. Individuals involved in exercise and resistance training that aim to enhance strength, power and muscle growth require higher intakes of protein. Elite endurance athletes have higher protein requirements due to the muscle breakdown that can occur during endurance events. Whey protein is the best form of protein for muscle recovery, because it is easily assimilated and digested and contains the essential BCAAs and glutamine required for protein synthesis.
Research has shown that the benefit of protein consumption for recovery may be related to timing. A dose of 20g during and/or immediately after (within 20 minutes) of training can maximise protein synthesis rates. Supplementing with additional BCAAs will also enhance muscle protein synthesis for efficient recovery and muscle growth.26,27
Results from numerous studies have indicated that it is critical to consume amino acids immediately following exercise if the goals are to maintain muscle, increase performance and to support recovery processes.28 While protein synthesis is elevated up to 48 hours following an exercise session, protein degradation is also increased; resulting in a negative protein balance if additional nutrients are not supplied.
Branched chain amino acids (BCAAs)
BCAAs - leucine, isoleucine, and valine - are used to enhance exercise performance, prevent fatigue, improve concentration and reduce protein and muscle breakdown during intense exercise.29 BCAAs are depleted through exercise and, as levels drop, athletes experience this as fatigue. Chronic depletion of these amino acids can result in overtraining syndrome and a severely impaired immune system.30 Research suggests that BCAA supplementation regulates serotonin impacting cognitive function post endurance training.31
Ornithine is an amino acid that increases the body’s ability to buffer ammonia post exercise.Ornithine reduces physical fatigue by improving the efficiency of energy consumption and promoting the excretion of ammonia.32 L-ornithine appears to lower cortisol33 which is typically elevated during post exhaustive exercise and found to be chronically elevated in competitive athletes.34
One of glutamine’s roles is as a nitrogen shuttle, which helps protect the body from high levels of ammonia. Glutamine acts as a buffer for excess ammonia and releasing it when needed to form other amino acids, amino sugars, nucleotides and urea.35 Glutamine assists recovery following strenuous exercise and may aid the prevention of overtraining syndrome.36-38
Endurance athletes undergoing intense, prolonged training haver a higher risk of infection due to apparent immunosuppression. Glutamine is a source of fuel for the immune cells and may have specific immune stimulating effects. Research has demonstrated that plasma glutamine concentration is lower after prolonged, exhaustive exercise which may contribute to impairment of the immune system at a time when the athlete may be exposed to opportunistic infections.39
Taurine increases muscle contractibility of both skeletal and cardiac muscles. It is able to attenuate exercise-induced DNA damage and enhance exercise capacity due to its cellular protective properties. Taurine has also been shown to increase blood flow and improve post exercise recovery.40,41
Tart cherry is a potent antioxidant and free radical scavenger, containing an array of anthocyanins phenols and flavanols. These phytochemicals offer cell protection, aid muscle recovery and repair and modulate inflammatory processes.
Research has shown that tart cherry was able to significantly reduce symptoms associated with post exercise muscle damage, with only 4% of participants experiencing strength loss and pain compared to 22% of the placebo group.42,43
Tart cherry effects numerous pathways to protect against inflammation such as: