Whether running toward the end zone or hitting the gym, good nutrition and dietary supplements give athletes the fuel they need.
Today’s athletes are well aware of the nutrients lost during physical activities, and therefore, are looking toward various outlets that provide the body with the right nutrition, vitamins and minerals for optimum performance and recovery.
According to Dr. Jackie Mills, chief creative officer of Les Mills International in Auckland, New Zealand, the functional sports nutrition industry is part of a massive, growing and crowded marketplace. Roughly, $4.7 billion of a global $6 billion sports nutrition industry is in the U.S., with $3.3 billion of this being protein powders. In the U.S. alone, there has been more than 5 percent growth every year for the past decade, she added.
“The field of sports nutrition continues to grow as more athletes, both amateur and professional, understand the crucial role nutritional status can play in their performance. It is becoming a bit more mainstream and recognized as a legitimate intervention to improve sports performance,” explained Holly Lucille, ND, RN.
Sports nutrition has expanded its playing field and is no longer solely targeting the younger players. “Additionally, we have many athletes who are staying active for decades—people in their 50s, 60s, 70s, even 80s—continuing in the activities they love. As the body ages, there can be more challenges to performance and even more post-athletic pain and discomfort, which can respond beautifully to nutritional interventions,” she said.
Dr. Andrew Halpner, vice president of product development for Pennsylvania-based Klean Athlete, powered by Douglas Labs, has also noticed a change in demographic. “We’ve seen increased supplement use among recreational, participatory and weekend warrior athletes over the last several years,” he said. This new group of athletes has placed an increased emphasis on maintaining and promoting health and wellness through daily nutritional supplement use, exercise and fitness-oriented activities, he added.
California-based Nordic Naturals team sports/athletic consultant, Kerry Gobei agreed, “There is significant growth happening in sports nutrition. Interest in research studies with athletes and a shift from just a performance focus to performance based on wellness and recovery is driving growth.” As Dr. Lucille previously noted, this affects both amateur but also professional athletes. Due to professional sports organizations cracking down on banned substances, athletes are searching for dietary supplements, vitamins, minerals and proper nutrients to take their place.
Professional athletes have been the most consistent nutritional supplement users over time without significant attention to standards and policies on quality and safety, Dr. Halpner added. However, “recently, there has been an increased focus on recommendation and consumption of healthier, cleaner and safer products.”
Sports, Cardiovascular, and Wellness Nutrition (SCAN), a dietetic practice group of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, found that “sports organizations, such as Major League Baseball (MLB), National Football League (NFL), and their players associations have partnered with companies like NSF International that test and certify dietary supplements. NSF screens supplements for banned substances (steroids, stimulants, hormones, etc.) and monitors manufacturing facilities for compliance with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) good manufacturing practices (GMP). Beyond safety, legality and quality, effectiveness and proper dosage of dietary supplements need to be evaluated.”
Consumer product safety and development of public health standards is the primary focus of organizations like the NSF, and Klean Athlete partners with their prestigious NSF Certified for Sport program for banned substance, environmental contaminant and label claims testing on all products, Dr. Halpner said. “It ensures Klean Athlete products are safe for daily consumption by both professional and recreational athletes. This testing, along with tighter regulatory compliance, requires sports nutrition and supplement manufacturers to ensure that their products are safe and manufactured according to certain standards and procedures,” he noted.
According to Gobei, “Sports nutrition focuses on providing the body with the proper fuel and safe supplementation that is supportive during physical activity and for recovery. When our body is not properly fueled for activity, we struggle to recover.”
Patients are looking to their practitioners for answers on how to further optimize their health before, during and after physical activity. They are searching for formulas that are backed by science, support their active lifestyle and give you everything you need–and nothing you don’t, Dr. Halpner commented.
Klean Athlete focuses on promoting peak performance by building a solid base and supporting the overall health of athletes. “Klean Athlete products help patients ‘up their game’ by promoting everyday health and wellness so that they can exercise and train more consistently and effectively.” They are designed to be taken daily to promote health and wellness, so athletes can train more effectively and safely reach their fitness and peak performance goals, he continued.
Klean Athlete’s sports supplements are broken up into three categories with The Foundation Bundle helping all athletes. It allows them to live healthily, train smart and be at their best, he said. “We’re talking about the basics: Klean Multivitamin for enhanced nutritional intake, Klean Omega for joint support and Klean Probiotic to support GI (gastrointestinal) health, nutrient absorption and a healthy immune system.”
The company also offers is its Train and Compete Bundle for athletes whose bodies deserve nutrition that meets their unique training and competition needs safely and effectively. Klean Isolate is pure whey protein isolate, free of artificial flavoring or sweetener. Klean Endurance is a chewable tablet that supports the natural way the human body produces energy. Klean Electrolytes is formulated with every kind of athlete in mind, supplying a blend of minerals in capsule form to help replenish electrolytes and retain hydration. Also included in the Train and Compete Bundle is Klean Recovery, a 4:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio to be taken post-workout or competition with whey protein isolate and hydrolyzed marine protein rich in amino acids, such as methionine, histidine and arginine. Lastly, the Targeted Bundle provides complete nutritional support at times when athletes need it the most. Klean Antioxidant helps guard against cellular damage that comes from intense training. Klean Cognitive is a unique combination to support brain health. Klean-D provides targeted support when your body can’t produce vitamin D naturally.
Whatever the level of physical activity, noted Nordic Naturals’ Gobei, it’s wise for athletes and fitness enthusiasts to make sports nutrition, especially a high-quality natural triglyceride form omega-3, part of their routine. “The primary function of omega-3 comes from the long-chain polyunsaturated EPA and DHA essential fatty acids. There is a profile of ‘other omegas,’ but supportive EPA and DHA levels are what a patient needs most. These fatty acids absorb into the lipid (fat) layer of the cell membrane where they regulate a healthy immune response and improve cell structure. DHA targets the brain, the eyes and the nervous system, while EPA works to support heart and circulatory system health, metabolism, body composition, positive mood, and a healthy inflammation response after strenuous exercise.”
She referenced a recent study published in the European Journal of Sport Science on endurance cyclists who supplemented 1.3 grams of omega-3 for three weeks. The study found that EPA and DHA supplementation increased the cyclist’s nitric oxide levels compared to the placebo group. “The omega-3 supplementation also improved blood flow dilation, which is associated with improved oxygen uptake,” she added.
“When it comes to exercise, more isn’t necessarily better. Continuous training can actually weaken even the fittest athletes. What’s more, going overboard, whether it’s exercising for too long or at too great an intensity, can easily set the aging athlete up for injury. So too can neglecting the importance of taking a one—or several—rest days each week. Rest days are important because they allow the body time to repair and strengthen itself. That’s why fitness trainers typically build rest days into their client’s exercise routines,” Dr. Lucille said.
“Sleep is also important for recovery and provides time for the body to adapt to the physical and mental demands of training,” she continued. “While moderate exercise can enhance the quality and quantity of sleep, recent findings in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine suggest that sleep also influences exercise performance the next day in older adults. To aid in recovery and maximize the next day’s workout, it’s important to get seven to nine hours of high quality sleep every night.”
In addition to supplements and rest, replacing nutrients lost during activity can be achieved by rehydrating the body. According to SCAN, “for short duration (<60 minutes) of low to moderate intensity activity, water is a good choice to drink before, during and after. Sport drinks (6-8 percent carbohydrate) are good options for moderate to high intensity activity lasting longer than 60 minutes, especially when the goal includes replacing carbohydrate and electrolytes.”
SCAN recommends that when beginning an activity, one should be well hydrated by drinking fluids during the day and within the hour before the activity. Athletes are prone to high sodium losses and are encouraged to eat salty foods pre-workout, and rehydrate post-workout to replace the fluid lost when they sweat. Practitioners should encourage their patients to replace sweat loss by drinking fluids regularly during activity. Rehydrate after performing to replace weight lost as fluid during activity, and follow a personalized fluid replacement plan to prevent the consequences of excessive (>2 percent body weight loss) dehydration, such as early fatigue, cardiovascular stress, increased risk of heat illness and decreased performance.
In addition to liquids, doctors can also steer patients into eating their way back to hydration. SCAN recommends water-based foods that contain salt, and fruits and vegetables to replace potassium.
Muscle health is an important sector in sports nutrition, in that many active patients find that muscle growth and recovery are in the back of their minds when performing. This is due to the importance of strength building, since optimizes performance.
“Recently, research has demonstrated that nutrients that we may not have previously associated with exercise could yield beneficial results for the athlete. For example, a number of studies have shown that vitamin D levels can impact exercise performance, including both sprint times and vertical jumping ability. Additional research is needed to further understand the relationship between vitamin D and exercise performance, but its role may be related to its ability to influence both the number and size of fast twitch muscle fibers,” Dr. Halpner said. In addition to vitamin D, he added that supplementation with omega-3s has been shown to enhance the effect of strength training in older women and may also influence other parameters of exercise performance.
“Physicians want to recommend a high-quality, natural triglyceride form omega-3, vitamin D3, a probiotic and for patients over 40, ubiquinol CoQ10 for cellular energy production and its potent antioxidant function” Gobei said. “Nordic Naturals Ultimate Omega-D3 Sport is a high-quality, natural triglyceride form omega-3 combined with 1,000 I.U. of vitamin D3 per serving. Patients appreciate that they get the foundational support of omega-3 along with additional vitamin D3 support, all in a single product. Nordic Naturals Ultimate Omega-D3 Sport is also available as a liquid. It delivers therapeutic levels of omega-3—again combined with vitamin D3. The therapeutic levels support injury recovery and are appropriate for patients that are very omega-3 deficient. The Ultimate Omega-D3 Sport products go through additional product testing, and the label has the NSF Certification for Sport seal. That tells the patient the product has been thoroughly tested, and is guaranteed to be free of any athletic banned substances.”
In order to get the most out of your performance, Dr. Lucille recommends a series of supplements to consider. Ubiquinol not only assists in the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), research published in the European Journal of Nutrition reports that it also modulates the inflammatory signaling that can lead to muscle damage. This potent antioxidant also prevents exercise-induced oxidative damage by scavenging free radicals. Regular supplementation increases plasma CoQ10 levels and increases the time to exhaustion during exercise, she explained.
However, she believes that branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are the most popular pre-workout supplement for athletes because it helps improve exercise performance and reduce muscle breakdown. “While there is little evidence that this combination of valine, leucine and isoleucine can help exercisers go longer or stronger, a number of studies support BCAAs as a way to reduce muscle breakdown and delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS),” Dr. Lucille explained. “In one 2010 study, 12 non-athletic women were assigned to either BCAAs or a placebo before participating in squat exercises. For three days, all of the women performed seven sets of squats consisting of 20 squats per set. DOMS was significantly lower in those taking the BCAAs, leading the researchers to conclude that exercise-induced muscle damage could be suppressed by BCAA supplementation. You can find BCAAs from a number of quality companies.”
Dr. Lucille also reccomends Corvalen D-Ribose, which contains naturally occuring 5-carbon sugar, to support healthy muscle tissue, and provide a key building block of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). “It is theorized that one of the mechanisms involved in muscle recovery is the re-synthesis of ATP,” she said. “Because ATP is used as fuel for every cell in the body, assisting with the regeneration of ATP may be a useful way to recover after exercising … When supplementing with ribose after intense intermittent training, significant outcomes in muscle recovery were noted.”
Dr. Lucille references one study where athletes participated in one week of high intensity endurance exercise, during which muscle levels of ATP were reduced by nearly 30 percent. Over the next three days, participants were given a daily dose of either 10 g of ribose or a placebo. Those in the ribose group experienced a rapid and complete restoration of ATP levels. No such effect was seen in those taking the placebo. The company that introduced D-ribose, and has been used in human clinical studies, is called Corvalen D-Ribose. It is available from several natural medicine companies.”
“Exercise results in an increase in oxidative stress and a change in various signaling molecules, all of which can contribute to delayed onset muscle soreness,” she said. “Through their ability to modulate oxidative stress and help regulate inflammatory processes directly related to acute exercise, omega-3s can play an important role in helping to minimize post-exercise muscle soreness.”
The goals of nutrition are to maintain blood glucose levels, promote hydration and electrolyte balance and optimize exercise performance, according to SCAN. Sports bars are primarily used as a portable source of carbohydrates and protein, and composition is generally 40-60 grams of carbohydrates and 6-20 grams of protein. And finally, sports gels, gummies and beans provide bite-sized carbohydrates and 20-25 grams of carbohydrates per serving.
Post-workout supplementation assists the body during recovery, however, according to SCAN, if you have two athletic performances per day or your next physical activity is within, eight hours, recovery nutrition is crucial. If the athlete isn’t hungry then they should opt for liquids that meet their recovery goals; weigh themselves before and after a performance and replenish what was lost. They should then replace muscle fuel (carbohydrates) utilized while performing; provide protein to aid in repair of damaged muscle tissue and to stimulate development of new tissue; and begin nutrition recovery with a snack or meal within 15-60 minutes following a performance.
Recovery snacks include smoothies made with yogurt and frozen berries; sports drink (carbohydrate, electrolyte, fluid), sports bar (carbohydrate, protein), graham crackers with peanut butter, low-fat chocolate milk and banana. Lastly, recovery meal ideas includes a whole wheat pita sandwich with turkey and veggies, pretzels, low-fat milk; rice with beans, cheese, salsa, avocado, whole grain tortilla chips or whole wheat tortilla; stir fry with lean steak, broccoli, bell peppers, carrots and brown rice.
SCAN advises consumers to eat a carbohydrate-rich snack or meal before exercise to top off muscle stores, although, with pre-performance jitters, liquid meal replacements may be a better choice than whole foods. They recommend including small amounts of protein in pre-performance meal(s) because protein helps build and repair muscle tissue. Adequate protein before a performance may help reduce post-exercise muscle ness, and make sure to choose pre-performance meal(s) that are low in fat and fiber to ensure optimal digestion. They recommend eating three to four hours before physical activity, and drinking sports drink or water, beans or gummies, sports bars and pieces of fruit or a jam sandwich.
“Most trainers stress the importance of pre- and post-workout nutrition. But that all-important protein shake likely won’t be enough to improve performance or maximize the benefits of exercise,” Dr. Lucille said. “And it certainly won’t help to reduce post-workout pain that is often present in the aging athlete, or speed recovery from injury at any age.”
Dr. Lucille suggests Curaphen to support proper healing post-workout, a natural pain reliever by EuroMedica blended with which four ingredients, which address pain and/or inflammation from a different perspective. The heaviest lifter is BCM-95 Curcumin, which has 24 published studies, including 11 human clinical trials, a few of which were on very painful conditions, such as rheumatoid and osteoarthritis. It has enhanced bioavailability so it absorbs up to 10 times better than standard curcumin, and contains turmeric essential oil, she continued. “Turmeric essential oil contains key compounds not found in curcumin called tumerones, which play a role in absorption and also boost the activity of the curcumin. It is combined with a uniquely standardized boswellia, also clinically studied, and the amino acid DPLA and the enzyme nattokinase.”
“The nutrition sector overall holds much confusion for consumers and sports nutrition even more so,” Dr. Mills concluded. “While there are many reputable companies with quality products, there are also products out there that do not stand up to the claims they make. There simply isn’t a silver bullet or an easy fix to health and fitness. Real results require long-term lifestyle, nutrition and exercise changes.”