I wrote this article a while back, but as triathlon season is ramping up and temperatures are dropping fast, now is a good time to ensure you are getting everything your body needs.
Non-endurance athletes need a huge amount of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients for everyday living. The number of processes the human body undertakes every second of every day is phenomenal. So, consider the sheer volume of training that you, as an endurance athlete, do. Each session puts additional stress and demand on you and increases the amount of nutrients your body requires to perform its regular functions as well as training and racing.
So where do you start? Go into any pharmacy or health store and you will be greeted by a plethora of vitamins, supplements, tablets, potions and lotions marketed to every ailment possible, the choice can be overwhelming. These are the top 5 supplements I would recommend in addition to a healthy and balanced diet to optimise your potential.
A good multivitamin is at the top of my hit list as a place to start, you can’t out-train a bad diet, that’s for sure, and there’s no substitute for quality nutritious food. However, the CSIRO have proven that our soil is deficient in 9 essential minerals (selenium, zinc, chromium, cobalt, magnesium, manganese molybdenum, vanadium and iodine). So if our soil is deficient in nutrients, how can we expect the food that grows within it to fully nourish us? Add in the extra physical demands of endurance athletes and there’s no question that a multivitamin is needed to fill in the glaring nutritional gaps.
Ubiquinol (activated form of Co-enzyme Q10)
Every cell in our body contains organelles called mitochondria that are like little furnaces responsible for energy production. Co-enzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is a critical component of the electron transport chain and plays a vital role within mitochondrial respiration. Without going too much into Biology 101, CoQ10 levels have been shown to have a significant effects on the rate of cellular respiration, therefore decreased levels can lead to a lack of energy and decreased stamina.
I started taking Ubiquinol few months ago and I can honestly say that it changed my life. Having done a few Ironman before, I thought it was ‘normal’ to feel tired most of the days, assuming it was due to the increased training and workload. When I said this to the naturopath I work with, he was dismayed that I wasn’t taking it already. Within a week of taking 150mg of Ubiquinol daily I could feel the difference, my energy levels were higher than ever.
Don’t just take my word for it though, a double-blind placebo controlled study found that athletes supplementing CoQ10 measured all indexes of physical endurance and recovery as significantly improved. Another study showed Ubiquinol supplementation enhanced peak power production in trained athletes (elite German cyclists). Increased energy levels and enhanced power output… Don’t ask me why I take Ubiquinol every day, ask yourself why you don’t.
Although it’s a common household name and crucial for so many functions in the body, magnesium deficiency is one of the leading nutrient deficiencies in adults. Magnesium is required for heart rhythm, neurotransmitter function, calcium absorption, blood pressure regulation and supports stress, muscles and energy production. For athletes it can provide support for muscular aches, pains, cramps and spasms as well as assist in quality night’s sleep.
I would recommend taking 300-600mg per day of elemental magnesium depending on your training load and where you live (as magnesium is spent during perspiration). Be careful to check what form you are buying though, there are a few different salts of magnesium out there. Avoid “magnesium oxide” you will pay for it but won’t absorb it.
Vitamin C is probably one of the most understated yet valuable supplements. This water soluble vitamin is found in abundance in fresh fruit and vegetables, so if you eat well it’s likely you get the recommended daily intake for ‘regular human’ but we aren’t regular, are we? Therefore I would recommend any endurance athlete to take 1000mg every night for its antioxidant, healing and immune boosting properties.
Vitamin C is an essential cofactor in the synthesis of all connective and soft tissue, it has been proven to speed up minor wound healing. We know that training causes thousands of micro tears in our muscles and tissues, and when we go to sleep our body heals all these tears, making us stronger and faster. Think of a Vitamin C tablet before bed as your antioxidant superpower, speeding up this healing process whilst also protecting the integrity of your immune system and warding off infection, all whilst you sleep.
Our bodies can’t produce iron, therefore we must consume sufficient amounts either through our diet, or in the form of supplementation. Food rich in iron include red meat, poultry, seafood, legumes and green leafy vegetables. Adequate intake of iron is necessary for the production of red blood cells and the transportation of oxygen around the body. Iron is also involved in neurotransmission, the conversion of blood sugar to energy, and the production of enzymes, therefore it is crucial for athletes to have adequate iron stores for so many reasons.
Stores are depleted through bleeding, urination, defecation, sweating and a process called foot strike hemolysis, where red blood cells are damaged when the foot hits the ground, thus reducing your hemoglobin levels. The additive effects of these depletion causes can often result in low iron stores in athletes, especially females.
Before you go rushing out for an iron supplement to make you into an instant Ironman, start with making a conscience effort to evaluate and if necessary, increase the amount of iron in your diet. Then next time you’re at the doctor, I would recommended asking for a full blood test, especially if you are training for an Ironman or another endurance race involving heavy training load. Having a full picture of your health is important not just to optimise performance but also to ensure longevity in the sport and stay alive and well.
There’s a plethora of vitamins and supplements on the market that could be of potential benefit, but the spectrum of this article is limited, so these are merely the top 5 I would recommend for the general endurance athlete. For more personalised advice, speak to your friendly pharmacist, naturopath or coach about what they would recommend.
In the meantime, fill your plate with all the colours of the rainbow (preferably with fruit and vegetables not a packet of skittles), keep training and being awesome!