12 super fitness supplements
Keeping physically fit supports your mental health as well as keeping you healthy in a myriad of ways that make life better. The challenge is that getting fit can be challenging for an unfit body, so here are some effective and readily accessible supplements you can use to help your body on the path to fitness.
Being physically fit is a wonderful base from which to live an enjoyable and healthy life. Being active improves your mental health, reduces your risk of type-2 diabetes, improves blood pressure, balances blood sugar levels, reduces body weight and maintains cardiovascular health. Unfortunately, 55 per cent of adults in Australia do not get the recommended amount of physical activity, 2.5 to 5 hours of moderate intensity activity or 1.25 to 2.5 hours of vigorous activity per week. Your quality of life will improve if you get fit, but knowing that and doing something about it are two separate things.
The process of getting fit can be a stress and strain on your body. You might not feel that you have the energy needed to get fit, and once you start training keeping your energy levels up can be a challenge. To help your body cope with the impact of the regular exercise you need to live well and build the muscle that will support your journey into fitness. Here are 12 powerful yet gentle supplements you can use.
Build your energy
Energy is the fundamental unit that drives your body and your health. You cannot exercise if you lack energy. That is why entities in your body’s cells called mitochondria are so important to your fitness routine. Mitochondria are present in every cell in your body, and they manufacture energy in a series of chemical reactions called the Krebs cycle and oxidative phosphorylation, which stores energy in the form of the chemical adenosine triphosphate (ATP). The release of ATP creates energy. This process is effective and nearly perfect … but not quite.
Minor imperfections in energy production generate free radicals that leak from the mitochondria and make energy production less efficient. The less efficient the energy production process, the more free radicals are generated. The free radicals eventually damage your DNA, the genetic blueprint that directs energy production and controls all other cell functions. The net result is inefficient energy production that leaves you tired.
A big part of lifting your energy levels is providing the nutrients that are needed in the mitochondria to improve the efficiency of energy production and, in doing so, reducing the number of free radicals that are created. The nutrients following are those that are central to cellular energy production and which will help to raise your energy levels.
Alpha lipoic acid
Alpha lipoic acid is a biological antioxidant that elevates levels of your body’s antioxidant enzymes. Additionally, alpha lipoic acid has been shown to aid in increasing glucose uptake in skeletal muscles and to improve mitochondrial function.
Dose: 50mg per day for general antioxidant protection.
The B vitamins are a group of water-soluble vitamins featuring vitamin B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), B6 (pyridoxine), folic acid, B12 (cyanocobalamin) and biotin. These vitamins are grouped together because they come from the same sources and work together in the body. As a group they are active in providing the body with energy by converting carbohydrates into glucose. They are also necessary for metabolism of fats and protein.
Please set the following as a table
|Nutrient||RDI*||Suggested daily intake|
|Vitamin B1 (thiamine)||1.2mg||25–50mg|
|Vitamin B2 (riboflavin)||1.2mg||5–10mg|
|Vitamin B3 (niacin)||15mg||25–100mg|
|Vitamin B5 (panthothenate)||5mg||10–100mg|
|Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)||1.3mg||25–50mg|
|Vitamin B12 (cyanocobalamin)||2.4μg||10–100 μg|
|*Recommended daily intakes are a minimum required to avoid disease and are not necessarily the optimal level required for people living an active modern lifestyle.|
For the mitochondria to create the energy needed to sustain cellular function, fatty acids (which serve as the mitochondria’s fuel) must be transported through the cell membrane and into the mitochondria. The amino acid L-carnitine boosts mitochondrial energy production by facilitating fatty acid transport and oxidation within the cell. Supplemental L-carnitine may protect your heart and support general cardiovascular function. It may have a triglyceride-lowering effect in some as well as help to elevate good HDL cholesterol levels. L-carnitine may also have antioxidant properties.
Dose: 1000–2000mg daily; take on empty stomach.
Carnosine is made up of a chemical combination of the amino acids beta-alanine and L-histidine. Long-lived cells such as nerve cells and muscle cells contain high levels of carnosine. Carnosine levels decline with age, which is a shame because it is an important nutrient for an exercising body. Carnosine is a pH buffer and so can protect muscle cell membranes from oxidation under the acidic conditions of muscular exertion. It also enables the heart muscle to contract more efficiently through enhancement of the calcium response in heart cells.
Dose: Carnosine oral supplementation is relatively new, and there is no recommended dietary intake (RDI) for this substance. The normal dose is 100–200mg each day. Up to 1000mg per day can be taken, although there have been some reports of muscle twitching with dosages of over one gram per day.
Co-enzyme Q10 (ubiquinone)
Co-enzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is incorporated into the mitochondria of cells throughout your body, where it facilitates and regulates the transformation of fats and sugars into energy. The heart and liver contain the greatest amount of CoQ10. CoQ10 is essential for youthful mitochondrial energy function; it is a potent antioxidant, and there are links between deficiency of CoQ10 and age-related mitochondrial disorders. Natural production of CoQ10 declines precipitously with increasing age and ageing humans have been found to have 57 per cent less on average compared to that of young adults. Supplementing should improve energy levels for most people.
Dose: Adult levels of supplementation are usually 30–90mg per day, although people with specific health conditions may supplement with higher levels (with the involvement of a health practitioner).
Creatine was discovered in the 1830s when it was identified in meat. A decade or so later it was found that wild foxes had more creatine in their muscles than domesticated foxes, suggesting that physical exercise influences how much creatine accumulates in muscle. We now know that it is used by your body in the production of phosphocreatine, which is broken down into phosphate and creatine during high-intensity exercise that lasts between 15 and 30 minutes. That breaking down process releases energy and is used to generate ATP, your muscle’s primary source of energy.
Taking creatine supplements has been shown to increase phosphocreatine levels in muscle, and so is regarded as “fuelling up” your natural stores of energy. The more creatine you have stored, the faster ATP is generated, and that means more energy immediately available to your exercising muscles. Supplementing with creatine should also decrease the recovery time required between episodes of intense exercise.
One study conducted at Victoria University, Melbourne found that supplementing with creatine prior to extreme exercise reduced muscle damage and led to faster recovery of muscle strength.
Dose: To “load”, take 3g daily for a month, or alternatively take 5gm four times a day for five to seven days and then revert to between 2gm and 10gm daily for one week to six months. After six months a four-week break can be taken before resuming the process.
Your body contains about four to five grams of iron and 60–70 per cent of this is in the blood stream. Red blood cells contain a protein called haemoglobin and each haemoglobin molecule contains four iron atoms. It is the job of iron to grab onto oxygen as blood passes through your lungs and then later release that oxygen into body tissues where it is needed. The iron in these red blood cells is replaced every 120 days. Iron is also needed for storing oxygen in cells and in production of energy in cells. No wonder then that if you are low in iron you become lethargic and low in energy.
Dose: The best-absorbed forms of iron are the “chelated” forms such as ferrous succinate and ferrous fumarate. Men require around 7mg of elemental iron per day and women need 12–16mg. To maximise your iron absorption take the supplement between meals and with a supplement of at least 250mg of vitamin C as this vitamin greatly enhances iron absorption.
Quercetin belongs to a class of water-soluble plant pigments called flavonoids. It acts as an antihistamine and has anti-inflammatory properties, and it plays an important role in the mitochondria. Research has found that taking 500mg of quercetin daily for a week leads to a nearly 4 per cent increase in maximum oxygen uptake as well as a 13 per cent increase in endurance.
Dose: 200–500mg taken two to three times per day.
Once adults reach 40, they start to lose between 0.5 and 2 per cent of their muscle each year. Your muscles are of course essential to your fitness routine. You want to protect them and also help them to grow. Even without wanting to enter a body-sculpting competition, strong muscles provide lots of metabolic, stability and postural advantages, so looking after them is important.
Amino acids are the building blocks for proteins in the body. Twenty different amino acids are used for the growth, repair and maintenance of tissues, and some of these are also used as an energy source for skeletal muscle. Branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) can help maintain muscle or build muscle if you want to bulk up.
The three BCAAs leucine, isoleucine and valine are unlike other amino acids. While most amino acids are metabolised in the liver, BCAAs are metabolised in muscle and they contribute to the anabolism (ie building) of muscle tissue. During exercise, muscle stores of BCAAs may be used as an energy source.
Arginine, another amino acid, promotes the release of hormones such as insulin and growth hormone, helps support immune function and is involved in wound healing. Glutamine, the most abundant amino acid in the body, provides glucose for energy and enhances immune function. Glutamine is especially helpful for preventing immune system suppression that may occur after bouts of intense physical exercise.
The results of many studies suggest that taking between six and 11 grams per day of an amino acid mixture may enhance aerobic fitness, reduce muscle injury and shorten recovery time after exercise.
Magnesium is involved in several hundred different enzyme reactions in the body that relate to production of energy and cardiovascular function. Magnesium is also essential for the proper function of muscles. Without magnesium muscles cannot relax and cramping can result. Despite its importance, many people today are magnesium-deficient since things like alcohol and coffee can lower magnesium levels.
Dose: 350–500mg daily.
Selenium is a powerful antioxidant that helps protect muscles from oxidative damage, one of the factors that contribute to the loss of strength that generally occurs with age. One study found that people with the highest levels of selenium in their blood have the greatest upper and lower body strength, performing better on hip, knee and hand strength tests. Unfortunately, since soils are notoriously depleted of this mineral it is hard to get in food.
Dose: Adults 60–70μg daily.
Better than cure
Although being fit is a good thing for your health, “getting” fit can put a strain on your body. So it is worth thinking about taking supplements on a long-term basis that will help protect your body against the damage that regular physical activity can bring about.
When you exercise you boost your body’s metabolism, and this means that you produce more molecules known as “free radicals”. These free radicals are highly reactive oxygen fragments that may lead to many chronic diseases and can accelerate the ageing process. Research today is telling us that free radicals also serve some useful functions in your body, but excess levels of free radicals are an issue. Your body has control mechanisms to deal with the excess free radicals, but if you are exercising regularly, your body’s ability to cope may be overloaded.
To deal with free radicals head-on, you do have neutralising weapons known as “antioxidants”. Antioxidants give up electrons to the free radicals thus neutralising them. In addition to the antioxidant nutrients mentioned above, vitamin C is a well-known antioxidant that works with another antioxidant, vitamin E. When a vitamin E molecule is damaged, a vitamin C molecule will repair vitamin E and return it to its antioxidant state.
There are also many herbal remedies that have powerful antioxidant effects to support your body when exercising. The herb Ginkgo biloba is a potent antioxidant that particularly protects blood vessels and has the added bonus of supporting circulation. All red and blue fruits and berries contain flavonoids that block free radicals. Tea is an excellent source of antioxidant flavonoids, especially green tea. Beta-carotene from vegetables is another antioxidant that has a proven capacity to prevent disease generated by free radicals.
Terry Robson is a writer, broadcaster, journalist, television presenter and speaker. He is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing magazine. www.terryrobson.com.