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There are many different supplements marketed as performance enhancers in the world of sports nutrition. With athletes trying to find an edge, and opportunistic companies selling the latest fad ingredients, it is very difficult to discern what natural substances are supported by sound scientific evidence and which ones are the flavor of the month. The reality is that many of these “natural” products have little or no evidence supporting their effectiveness or safety. At worst, they may be adulterated with dangerous and banned substances. Despite the pit falls in the world of sports nutrition, good evidence is emerging to show that some nutrients can improve physical performance. This article will discuss the key evidence-based natural nutrients used to optimize performance and dispel common myths regarding sports supplementation.
How Much Protein Do You Need
Of all the nutrients and supplements used for sports performance enhancement, it’s not difficult to argue that protein is most important. It provides essential amino acids that are the building blocks for muscle growth, recovery
The biggest concern most people have is whether large amounts of protein may have a damaging effect on their kidneys. Despite this prevailing idea, there is very little evidence to support this concern. The only negative evidence linking large amounts of
Using Protein Supplements
With numerous sources of proteins becoming available on the market, another key question is: what type of protein is best for athletes? A full spectrum of all essential amino acids is required for muscle health. Animal sources provide a complete source of amino acids, whereas vegetable sources generally lack one or more. This is the reason animal sources such as whey or egg are traditionally considered superior to vegan proteins for building muscle.
The precise protein digestibility corrected amino acid score (PDCAAS) is considered the gold standard measure of protein completeness and how well protein is digested.3 Whey and egg protein consistently have the highest scores in most protein assessment measures, but certain vegan proteins such as soy, rice and pea also score well and are now being used by athletes for muscle growth and recovery. Current research supports whey as the gold standard for muscle building and recovery.1,4 This not only applies to athletes, but also to the aging population which is susceptible to muscle loss. Due to the presence of growth factors, whey protein can prevent the loss of muscle mass and maintain strength in the elderly over and above the effect of simple amino acids.5
In terms of timing, a common recommendation is to deliver amino acids to the muscle during and right after activity, when the ability of
Whey protein has some distinct benefits compared to vegan proteins. Whey protein upregulates glutathione production, a powerful cellular antioxidant that prevents cancer formation, protects cells from free radical damage and increases elimination of harmful chemicals.7 Vegan proteins do not increase glutathione to the same degree as whey since they have lower levels of the amino acid cysteine, a key glutathione building block. Whey also has higher levels of Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs). These specific amino acids (leucine, isoleucine, and valine) stimulate muscle growth and maintenance.8 They will be discussed in greater detail later in the article.
Milk Intolerance, Allergies and Whey Protein
Conversely, some people can have a food allergy or sensitivity to animal proteins such as egg, dairy (casein) and whey protein. This is not to be mistaken with lactose intolerance, which is an inability to digest lactose, a sugar found in dairy products. Dairy products, including whey protein, are common food allergens; if a person is sensitive to either the carbohydrate (lactose) component, the protein component, or cannot digest dairy fats properly, then it may promote inflammation and digestive irritation, which can hinder athletic performance and prevent nutrient absorption.9 However, some people may tolerate different forms of whey protein over others and most whey proteins are very low in the fat component. Whey isolate has the non-protein components (lactose) partially or totally removed to “isolate” the whey protein, meaning it contains a higher percentage of protein than concentrate and
Nutrition Myth Buster: Do amino acids boost growth hormone production?
For many years, research has been focused on naturally stimulating human growth hormone (HGH) production since levels decline with age. Glycine is one amino acid that attracted special attention after two studies in the
The following study adds to the evidence that that glutamine boosts growth hormone levels. In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of 42 healthy middle-aged and elderly adults, the subjects consumed either a placebo or 5 g of a nutritional supplement composed mainly of glutamine,
Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) and Muscle Growth
BCAAs are specific amino acids that have the most significant role in stimulating protein synthesis since they upregulate enzymes that are responsible for muscle growth.10 BCAA’s
Leucine, in particular, is the most studied of the three BCAAs since it signals the synthesis of protein and glycogen in the muscle (anabolism, or building), and it also appears to modulate the secretion of insulin or its actions on muscle cells. Glycogen is a quick energy supply for working muscles. Post-workout glycogen storage has traditionally been thought to be increased only by consuming a good amount of simple carbohydrates immediately post-exercise. Studies have gotten mixed results when examining the effect of combining protein or BCAAs with carbohydrates for elevated post-exercise glycogen synthesis. The more muscle glycogen stores can be increased, the more energy is available for the next exercise session, resulting in better performance. In terms of protein anabolism, the importance of leucine is demonstrated by the fact that when all amino acids are supplemented except leucine, protein synthesis decreases by 40%.
The Amino Acid L-Carnitine
L-carnitine is an amino acid that plays a central role in the breakdown of fatty acids and their subsequent transport into the mitochondria to be used in the production of cellular energy.13 L-carnitine has been studied to address conditions such as angina, heart damage, peripheral vascular disease, diabetes, chronic fatigue syndrome, kidney failure
Nutrition Myth Buster: Does drinking coffee before a workout improve performance?
Many people like to drink a coffee or another caffeinated beverage before their workout in the hopes it will boost their performance. Caffeine has been intensely studied as a potential
Other Nutrients That Improve Sports Performance
Astaxanthin is a unique and powerful antioxidant that is being studied for a wide variety of conditions including eye fatigue, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.18 Astaxanthin appears to also improve muscle function after exercise since it may protect cells and mitochondria from free radical damage. It may also reduce lactic acid formation, which reduces muscle soreness, allowing athletes to perform exercise longer.18 To support this theory, a number of studies in human subjects have shown astaxanthin supplementation improves both resistance and endurance performance.19,20 One study supplemented athletes with 4 mg of astaxanthin for six months leading to an improvement in the number of squats in just three months.20 D-Ribose is a naturally occurring sugar that has been studied in heart failure,
Colostrum is the first milk (before normal milk is produced) secreted by mammals when a baby is born that is very rich in immune and growth factors. Many athletes suffer from poor immunity as a result of intense training, making colostrum an attractive supplemental option. The evidence suggests that colostrum helps maintain intestinal barrier integrity, immune function, and reduces the chances of suffering upper respiratory tract infection symptoms in athletes undertaking heavy training.22,23 The latest evidence suggests colostrum may improve lean body weight (compared to whey protein) and helps maintain testosterone levels during exercise.24
Nutrition Myth Buster: Is creatine harmful or helpful?
Creatine is one of the most studied sport performance supplements. Numerous studies have found it
What You Need To Know
It is now well established that a balanced diet and appropriate supplementation can enhance sports performance. Protein is an essential dietary component, and whey protein