Are you an endurance athlete? Do you engage in any or all (Really?) of the endurance sports in our infographic below?
If you’re engaged in any one of the sports above or something similar to it, then you should learn about how to increase your endurance and stamina. You need to be prepared and armed for your next big event. Even if you’re not an endurance athlete, your body will need some endurance activities or exercises from time to time. It’s one of the four essential types of exercise recommended by respected health authorities to improve cardiovascular and overall health. The other three are strength, flexibility, and balance exercises. We’ll now focus on supplements that can boost your performance in endurance activities.
Electrolytes. Electrolytes or sports drinks should be on your priority list when it comes to endurance activities. When you perspire, you lose a lot of sweat. Sweat contains water, sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. These are the components you should be replacing, though not all electrolytes or sports drinks have all four of them. Your state of hydration should be adequate before, during, and especially after your activity.
Endurance activities subtract the greatest amount of water and electrolytes from your body. Electrolyte drinks are an easy to consume, tasty, and readily available supplement to help your body rehydrate. But if you develop a cramp while you’re exercising, stop what you’re doing as it means your electrolyte tank is empty. Go fill up your tank.
Maca root. People who take maca root (Lepidium meyenii) claim that the supplement makes them feel more energetic and alive. This is in part due to its ability to stimulate the secretion of endorphins (happy hormones). It also stabilises your blood glucose levels which translates to greater endurance. The effects of maca root are best experienced when you start taking it two weeks before your big competition.
Caffeine. Perhaps the earliest and best-known performance enhancer on this list is caffeine. Researchers have found that caffeine not only wakes you up, it also keeps you going for longer periods of activity. The best time for you to take caffeine is right before your endurance exercise. Caffeine has been shown to spare muscle glycogen until late in exercise. When you’re about to run out of energy, caffeine makes it possible for you to keep going because it uses the spared muscle glycogen. The downside is that not all people who take caffeine have the same response. Use the lowest dose possible and work your way up to the desired effect to prevent tolerance.
Creatine. Bodybuilders and weightlifters know that creatine works. But only for short-term and high-intensity activities. Creatine is a fuel source for ATP, the energy currency used for short bursts of power and strength. Researchers have validated that creatine doesn’t increase your performance during endurance exercises. The reason for this is because your body can’t store enough creatine to use it later for prolonged periods of exercise. There’s only enough for a limited time. But if you still want to take creatine, take it right before your exercise or sport to give you a little extra edge for the competition.
Protein powders should be a mainstay in the supplement armamentarium of any serious endurance athlete. Depending on their composition, protein powders can increase energy in all phases of your activity, boost your immune system, and facilitate repair of damaged tissues after you exercise. Regardless of type and composition, they’re best taken 4 hours before and immediately after exercise. They’re a challenge to digest (even those made up of whey protein), and your intestines can only absorb so much at a time. Taking a protein-digesting enzyme with your protein powder can help to maximise the amount of protein that you actually absorb. The enzymes can also help to minimise digestive discomfort experienced with some high protein supplements.
Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are a group of amino acids consisting of leucine, isoleucine, and valine. They’re grouped together because they have similar structures and effects on muscle (protein synthesis). They’re best taken after your endurance activity to help you recuperate and heal damaged muscle fibres and allow energised muscle growth.
Taurine is an amino acid that can pass itself off as a neurotransmitter (brain messenger). Taurine exerts its benefits best when combined with other amino acids like BCAAs (branched-chain amino acids). The effects are best felt if taken after your exercise. The combination of the two has been shown to reduce the severity of pain from delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) after endurance activities, mainly by assisting in the repair process.
Glutamine is a nonessential amino acid commonly used by bodybuilders. It’s the most abundant amino acid in your muscles. During extended periods of performance like endurance activities, the role of glutamine is well-established and documented. You’ll be happy to know that glutamine is best for pre-endurance and post-endurance activities.
People who engage in endurance activities generate huge levels of ammonia in their system. Ammonia is viewed as a cause of fatigue during exercise in many parallel studies. Researchers have found that blood ammonia levels were significantly lower among endurance athletes who supplemented with glutamine before their endurance activities. As a post-endurance activity supplement, glutamine aids in the repair of tissues and boosts your immune system during the recovery phase of your training. Remember, endurance activities can depress your immune system. Be one step ahead of the game and take glutamine after your training.
Glucose (also called dextrose) replacement supplements in the form of gels or solutions are an effective way of sustaining energy during endurance activities. Most complex carbohydrates that you take will eventually be broken down into simple sugars such as glucose. If you supply your body with the finished product (glucose) then all you have to do is absorb it through your intestinal tract. No need for digestion. Ingesting dextrose during endurance exercises can reduce how your body reacts to muscle fatigue. Furthermore, glucose replacement supplements ensure that there’s an adequate supply of circulating blood glucose in your system fueling you to continue your exercise. The optimal time for ingesting glucose replacement supplements is during exercise alongside your electrolyte supplement in small and frequent doses.
The Bottom Line
,As an endurance athlete (or wannabe endurance athlete), you’re always on the lookout for new supplements that can help you in your desired endurance activity. Take care when trying out new supplements, read the science and reviews behind the products. It’s also best to test out new sports supplements during your training phase. That way you will already know how your body will respond by the time your event day arrives.
Ross, A. C., Caballero, B., Cousins, R. J., Tucker, K. L., & Ziegler, T. R. (2014). Modern nutrition in health and disease/editors, A. Catharine Ross … Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer Health/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.