In competitive sports we’re all looking for that extra something to give us the edge over the competition. Yes you’ll always get the odd few who will go down the route of banned substances but this is never to be recommended, they’re banned for a reason after all. Fear not though there are plenty of off the shelf legal alternatives that will not only give you the same effects but won’t do you any harm or result in you being disqualified from events.
What proteins can I take to improve my endurance and stamina?
To improve your endurance you ideally want a slow release protein such as micellar casein or if you’re lactose intolerant or vegan pea protein (which is sometimes referred to as the vegetable casein). The advantage of a slow release protein is that instead of giving your muscles all of the protein in one go it feds them over time. This means that instead of getting a one off boost of energy your muscles will have a constant supply, ready for when your muscles need it the most. To get even more benefit from protein it’s a good idea to combine it with carbohydrates, this is because, when taken in conjunction with protein, they can help to increase the rate with which your body can synthesis protein and glycogen.
Are there other supplements I can take instead of protein?
Of course you don’t have to take only protein supplements, there’s a wide range of other ingredients that can either be combined with protein or taken on their own. Ingredients such as:
Creatine – This is especially good for increasing your stamina and endurance because it produces phosphocreatine which provides energy direct to your cells when they need it.
Quercetin – Present in many superfoods, quercetin is an antioxidant that not only increases endurance but has also been found to protect against cell damage.
Ginseng – Sometimes referred to as the Chinese ginseng it’s been used in Chinese medicine for millennia. Ginseng popular amongst long distance runners and endurance athletes because it helps your muscle utilise energy more efficiently.
Guarana – Used by Amazonian Indians, guarana is a herb native to Brazil that’s famous for its energy boosting properties. A recent study showed has also shown that it can improve speed and accuracy as well as delay fatigue.
Caffeine – As stimulate caffeine can help your muscles to use your fat stores which means they’re burning fat as well as your energy stores. The effectiveness of caffeine is so good that Olympic athletes are only allowed to consume a ‘normal’ amount of caffeine (considered to be 12 micrograms of caffeine per millilitre of urine) prior to competition.
L-Carnitine – Produced from the essential amino acids lysine and methionine, L-Carnitine helps to improve your athletic performance and reduced the effects of fatigue.
L-Argine – Another amino acid, L-Argine is important in the body’s production of nitric oxide which helps to increase your blood flow which in turn has a positive effect on your endurance.
Iron – Unlike a lot of endurance supplements that work on providing your muscles with energy, iron works by transferring oxygen from your lungs to your tissues to help keep them in peak performance.
Sodium Phosphate – Originally used to preserve foods its recently been discovered that sodium phosphate helps red blood cells to send the oxygen that’s needed by active muscles. This makes the muscles far more effective and extends the time it takes to tire.
Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) – One of the most important ingredients when it comes to endurance, BCAAs can also help to speed up recovery so are often found in recovery supplements too. They work by regulating protein metabolism, promoting protein synthesis and suppressing protein degradation which improves recovery of muscles damaged during resistance training which is crucial for endurance.
Is there anything I can take mid competition to help me?
This will, to some extent, be determined by the type of event and the level at which you’re competing but recent advances in the science behind supplements has given to a range of ’on the go’ products. Taking the form of energy bars, gels and ready to drink (RTD) liquids, these on the go supplements are great at helping you to recover some of your energy and fluids you may have lost. Some events such as longer triathlons and marathons will even hand them out to competitors at various points during the event.
Energy drinks – Not the same as the energy drinks on offer in your local store, these energy drinks have been specifically tailored to the needs of athletes. Often containing a lot of sugar and caffeine as well as animo acids these are great for getting energy to your muscles quickly.
Energy bars – These are easy to digest and offer a quick boost of energy. As well as being high in carbohydrates they also contain cereal, fruits and nuts to give you a steady release of energy.
Energy gels – With a high concentration of caffeine and carbohydrates they’ll give you everything you need to top your energy levels back up. One bonus that gels have over bars and drinks is that they’re much easier to consume while on the go.
Intra-Workout Supplements – Scientific advancements have given rise to intra-workout supplements. These supplements, often in the form of shakes, are designed to be taken during a workout to not only replace minerals and electrolytes you have have lost but also to give your energy levels a lift just when you need it the most.
Water – It might sound silly to mention water but our bodies are made up of up to 60% water so you should be drinking plenty in addition to supplements.
As a professional athlete am I allowed to take supplements?
The type of event your competing in will determine which supplements you can or can’t take, but if you’re unsure though look for products carrying the ‘Informed Sport’ logo (left). Informed Sport is a global programme designed to give a quality assurance that products are free from all banned substances. Established in 2008 by the world’s leading sports doping control laboratory, LGC, Informed Sport has become the leading authority on testing products for banned substances.
What about recovery?
Endurance is only one aspect of a competition, the other aspect is recovery. Often overlooked recovery is just as important, if not more so. After all if you’re too tired for days after an event that’s not going to help anyone. There’s a huge number of recovery supplements out there and while they differ in ingredients the main ones to look out for are:
Beta-Alanine – Research has shown that this amino acid is great for fighting off fatigue. It’s also been proven to increase your overall aerobic exercise.
Glutamine – This removes ammonia that has built up during intensive exercise. Ammonia is a waste product and the removal of it aids the recovery process.
Vitamin C – Everybody knows that Vitamin C can help to fight off colds but it’s not so widely know that it can also help to remove lactic acid from your muscles. This will help reduce muscle soreness and thus speed up the recovery time.
Vitamin D – Like Vitamin C it works by looking after your muscles. The way Vitamin D does this is by reducing inflammation.
Vitamin E – A popular ingredient in recovery supplements, Vitamin E helps to increase your blood circulation which improves the flow of nitric oxide and phosphocreatine around the body in turn speeding up the recovery time. Vitamin E also protects cells from damage, keeping them healthier for longer.
B Vitamins – Sometimes called B Vitamin Complex its a group of eight vitamins that are famed for the ability to repair muscles. Muscles cramps and aches can often be a symptom of a lack of B Vitamins.
Magnesium – Reduces tiredness and muscle function by helping to maintain a healthy electrolyte balance.
Carbohydrates – Carbs are incredibly important in the recovery process because of their ability to increase your plasma glucose and insulin levels which in turn makes it quicker for your body to resynthesises glycogen.
Do I really need to take supplements?
The simple answer is of course you don’t. That said though supplements have been developed especially to work in the most effective way for your body and performance. Over time you will recover naturally but with the help of the right supplements you can cut the recovery time significantly. Likewise for supplements you take prior to competing and during.
Supplements aren’t there to replace any foods or to take the hard work out of readying yourself for an event, they’re there to complement instead.
When it comes to supplements for endurance it’s also worth considering supplements designed to aid recovery as well, after all the quicker you can recover in a test of endurance the better you’ll do. If you’re interested in reading more about the importance of supplements and proteins in particular why not have a look at our article on protein and why it’s so important to us, as well as other articles in our ‘Protein supplements for…’ series.