Supplements For Endurance Athletes

A vast majority of the supplement brands for sport and exercise target the market with their supplements primarily focussing on muscle growth, weight training performance and fat loss. However many of these supplements can have their uses for those involved in endurance sports. An often misunderstood fact due to the clever marketing of these supplements is that it is the type of training and the quantities of macronutrients consumed that determine you’re physiological response, the marketing of whey protein is a classic example of something marketed to build muscle, under the right circumstances it will, but in others it will just support recovery, hormone function, enzymes and immune response amongst other positive benefits. The ‘I don’t use protein because I don’t want to get too muscly’ myth is alive and well, and unfortunately means many athletes miss out on the benefits supplementation can give you in endurance activities. Regardless of sport we all create muscle trauma through training and competition, we all require energy and the nutrients for many other physiological features in the body. Therefore many of the supplements geared towards the bodybuilding market, can also be employed successfully by endurance athletes to boost recovery, improve performance and maintain optimal physiological function. What changes is the amounts of these nutrients required and in certain circumstances the timing of this intake.

What is meant by endurance?

The term endurance is vague in nature, without doubt long distance events such as marathons are pure endurance events, but when considering other sports there is often a cross over with strength and power activities or the requirement for repeated bouts of high intensity with bouts of lower intensity periods involved. Therefore supplements for endurance athletes need to be tailored to the demand of the activity and in appropriate amounts, and the inclusion or exclusion of some supplements, for example creatine (which we will get on to later), which may boost performance in some sports but potentially hinder it in others. This guide will aim to give you a basic understanding of some of the supplements we at CSN recommend for endurance activities and the reasons why. Protein requirements for endurance athletes are recommended to be between 1-1.6g per kg of bodyweight, however little research has been performed on ‘mixed’ activities. Protein intake should mostly come from food, but the addition of whey protein post training can have a profound effect on recovery as this is absorbed quickly, providing the muscles with its building blocks, amino acids to repair micro-trauma caused during exercise. Although not essential we suggest the addition of whey protein can be useful when changing training style or increasing training volume, this will help the body recover, reduce the dreaded DOMS and allow you to train more frequently without the restrictions of muscle soreness.   Branch chain amino acids (BCAA’s) are becoming increasingly popular with endurance athletes for numerous reasons. Being the building blocks of muscle they obviously help the muscle recover but BCAA’s have been shown to help buffer lactic acid, this means that the negative effects on performance that muscle lactic acid accumulation can have is delayed, allowing you to perform at higher intensities for longer. Some recent research is also pointing in the direction that sharp increases in blood amino acid levels ‘trick’ the body in to thinking muscle tissue is being used for fuel, as a response the body mobilises body fat to preserve the imagined muscle loss. The release of stored fat in the form of fatty acids to be used for fuel may spare muscle glycogen allowing it to be used sparingly, allowing you to maintain performance for longer. Fats are not something you may consider supplementing with but the addition of MCT’s (medium chain triglycerides) before training provides a high energy type of fat that is used in a similar way to carbohydrate but with over twice the energy density. This also helps spare muscle glycogen for when the body really needs it. Research on super endurance activities, such as cross country skiing, has shown that high fat diets may improve performance in as the body becomes more efficient at using the higher energy fat for fuel in preference to carbohydrate, saving stored carbohydrate for burst of higher demand activities, think of this as the physiological version of the hybrid engine in modern cars. Carbohydrates should make up a majority of the endurance athletes diet (unless you wish to attempt the high fat principle described above), assuming you’re muscle glycogen levels are fully stored, supplementation in activities lasting less than 1hr should not be required.   In events longer than this the use of a fast digesting carbohydrate such as Vitargo or Highly Branched Cyclic Dextrin, replenish muscle glycogen stores and help maintain blood glucose for fuel, quickly and are also highly water soluble so they don’t cause gastro-intestinal discomfort, which can occur when high amounts of other fast digesting carbs, found commonly in most sports drinks, are ingested. This means refuelling can take place faster, keeping your performance levels as high as possible. The addition of these type of carbohydrate post exercise are a great way of quickly recovering muscle glycogen stores and also create an insulin response which helps transport other nutrients important for recovery in to the muscle. This would be massively important for endurance athletes if multiple event were undertaken on a single day or if continuous days where hours of endurance performance is required either in training or competition. [Tweet ""The addition of these type of carbohydrate post exercise are a great way of quickly recovering muscle glycogen""]  

Now on to Creatine

Creatine has also shown performance benefits in repeated bouts of high intensity activities that may be included in part of some ‘mixed’ activities, as it allows the body’s high intensity, anaerobic ATP-PCR energy system, to replenish itself quickly. Therefore supplementation for mixed activities may be recommended. However in more pure endurance events the benefits have been demonstrated to be limited, and due to the fact that creatine supplementation can increase water uptake into the muscles, increasing body mass, this should be considered in sports where body mass must be minimised to ensure optimum power to weight ratios and muscular efficiently are preserved.

One of the most commonly used supplements in top level endurance athletes

This supplement that is gradually creeping into the mass market is the amino acid Beta-Alanine. Beta-alanine increases blood flow to the muscles so is included in many pre-workout supplements. However the doses required for improving endurance performance would require dosing with it directly; fortunately at CSN we stock this in its raw form to give you its amazing benefits. So how does it work for endurance performance? Well beta-alanine is synthesised in the body into carnosine that is stored in the muscles. Studies have shown supplementation with beta alanine have, without exception, elevated muscle carnosine levels. Carnosine is another amino acid, what is so special about it is that this inhibits lactic acid accumulation, by buffering the acid inducing hydrogen ions that are created in high intensity activity.   The accumulation of acid in the muscle disrupts PH levels, negatively affecting the homeostasis of the muscle cells and therefore inhibits optimal muscle function and reduces performance. Beta-alanine supplementation can therefore help maintain higher levels of power output and improve performance through this ‘buffering’ mechanism. A word of warning though, beta-alanine can cause a tingling, itchy sensation in the skin. This is common and normal reaction and fades quickly, but for some people this can be enough to discontinue use! Hopefully this guide has been useful and may have opened your eyes to some of the benefits ‘bodybuilding’ supplements can have in endurance sports, helping you get the extra edge to take you’re training and performance to the next level. As always, thank you for reading and if you have any questions or ideas for future content then please contact us through any of our social media platforms. Peace, weights and protein shakes, Paul Rimmer (BSc, MSc). [wpsr_socialbts]