The 11 Best Supplements for Endurance Sports
Endurance is the ability to continue to endure a stress. Endurance sport is any sport in which there is a requirement to sustain an activity level while enduring a level of physical stress. Running, cycling, swimming, roller skating, mountain hiking, triathlon, rowing, cross-country skiing etc. for a prolonged period are some of such activities.
Typically, these activities are not very intense, but they can last for several hours. Because of prolonged sports activity, specific nutrients are depleted and must be supplied during activity to maintain performance intensity. Nutritional supplements, in addition to a healthy diet and enough energy, are helpful in endurance sports. These supplements can be taken before or during the sports activity, as advised, to help with performance.
Characteristics of endurance sports
The fundamental characteristic for an endurance sport is the ability of an athlete to sustain a submaximal work rate for a prolonged period. Following are the typical characteristics:
- Duration, some of these sports last between 30 minutes and several hours, sports activities lasting more than 4 hours are termed ultra-endurance.
- Sports that involve large muscle groups, the muscles of the lower half of the body are most involved.
- Activities that accelerate the heart rate to 50% above its maximum value for a particular athlete such as aerobic activities.
- Ability to withstand fatigue, athlete should have ability to withstand weariness from bodily exertion.
- These sports burn a lot of calories during prolonged activity and therefore have higher energy intake requirements.
- Diets are often heavier in carbohydrate. In comparison to inactive individuals or strength athletes, it usually accounts for more than 60% of total energy intake. They try to get as much muscle glycogen as they can (reserve carbohydrate), which is subsequently turned into energy and utilized by the working muscles during the performance.
- Hydration as well as mineral supplements are important. Sweating and electrolyte loss increase with prolonged exertion. Sweat removes not only water but also essential minerals known as electrolytes such as chlorides, sodium, magnesium, potassium, and calcium among them. These are crucial for optimal muscle function and for the entire body. Decreases in magnesium and calcium, for example, are linked to muscle contraction disturbance and increased cramping.
- Frequently replenish energy as well as water during long periods of action, most typically in the form of highly digestible and easily absorbed simple carbohydrates (gels, ion drinks, or bars).
- Primarily due to the body’s heightened demands to repair, keep muscular mass, and maintain adequate immunological function while participating in strenuous activities, higher protein is needed than non-athletes.
What limits endurance?
Fatigue is the fundamental element that limits endurance. When an athlete’s work rate reaches a particular point, weariness sets in. The precise threshold at which fatigue restricts performance (tolerance level) varies, and some athletes can withstand far more exhaustion than others.
An athlete’s level of fatigue, and therefore endurance, is affected by several factors including cardiovascular endurance, muscular endurance, aerobic endurance, anaerobic endurance, muscle strength and mental toughness.
Importance of diet and optimal nutrient intake
Endurance sports athletes must have adequate intake of macronutrients (proteins, carbohydrates, and fats), as well as micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) from diet or nutritional supplements.
- For fatigue reduction: B vitamins, vitamin C, magnesium, and iron are just a few of the micronutrients that help feel less tired and exhausted. These can be found in a variety of foods and supplements. However, it is a little more complicated, and in addition to eating, the whole mosaic of having adequate energy during the day includes optimum regeneration, sleep, stress management, and a well-crafted training schedule.
- To support regeneration: After sport activity, replenishing carbs and proteins is critical to kick-starting the body’s regeneration processes. Carbs are especially crucial for replenishing glycogen stores and repairing damaged muscle fibers.
- To maintain or achieve optimum weight: An athlete enters a calorie deficit or surplus by reducing or increasing energy intake from diet. This enables the athlete to lose or gain weight in accordance with intended outcome.
- Injury risk reduction: The normal function of immunity and the locomotor system is supported by an adequate diet of calories, protein, carbs, fats, vitamins, and minerals (joints, bones, muscles, tendons). Optimal hydration, which is important for joint function, for example, reduces the risk of injury.
- Improve sporting performance: The body uses readily available energy reserves (muscle glycogen) during endurance sports, but these energy reserves do not endure indefinitely and are frequently exhausted. An athlete may often produce more intense and better performance with regular energy replenishment in the form of complex carbs (before and after activity) and simple carbohydrates (during activity).
The 11 Best Supplements
To keep their bodies performing optimally, endurance athletes should be familiar with these 11 important supplements. Some supplements aid in athletic performance, while others promote regeneration and aid in muscle or joint function. We discuss below Why, What, How and When of these supplements.
Simple and Complex Carbohydrates: For maximum energy during performance
Why? Carbohydrates are converted to glucose in the body, which is subsequently used for brain or muscular activities or stored as carbohydrate glycogen in muscle or the liver. An endurance athlete’s glycogen stores are critical for success. When glycogen stores are depleted, tiredness sets in, and performance suffers dramatically.
An athlete’s body can store roughly 600g of glycogen on average. About 80-100g of this is liver glycogen, and 300-500g is muscle glycogen, which is used only as a source of energy for movement. Carbohydrate supply is extremely restricted and depletes quickly. As a result, it’s critical to supplement carbohydrates during the day, especially during endurance sports.
What? Endurance athletes are generally advised to take 5 -12g of carbohydrate per kg of body weight daily. The daily amount depends mainly on the total activity volume, followed by the intensity and duration of activity. It is recommended to consume 30–60g of simple carbs every hour when participating in endurance sports. In the case of activities (races) lasting more than 2.5 hours this consumption may increase to 90g in a 2:1 combination of glucose and fructose. This is our digestive system’s maximal useable capacity. However, it is always dependent on the athlete’s personal habits and tolerance. Higher carbohydrate intake during activities may create digestion issues in some people.
How? Complex carbs digest slower and more efficiently than fast carbohydrates, resulting in a more consistent energy source. They’re frequently found in gainers, possibly as Palatinose (isomaltulose). Gainers are usually made up of a combination of slow and fast carbohydrates, proteins, and vitamins and minerals. Therefore, a gainer can be used at any moment of the day to replenish energy and critical nutrients especially if an athlete has trouble meeting energy requirement with solid food. Liquid nutrients are considerably easier to digest and absorb.
When? Carbohydrates are a versatile food that may be consumed at any time of day.
Athletes often utilize complex carbs in the form of supplements with the proper timing before and after activity. Fast carbohydrates, such as well-absorbed energy gels, dextrose (grape sugar), or the quickly digested proprietary maize carbohydrate Vitargo® or maltodextrin combined in a drink, are appropriate during athletic performance.
Quality Protein: To promote regeneration
Why? In the human body, muscle proteins are constantly being formed and broken down.
Damaged muscles must be repaired after endurance activities. As a result, the creation of new proteins increases by 10 to 80 percent throughout the next 24 hours. Furthermore, a few hours of performance can cause the tired body to use proteins as an energy source. A high-quality protein is an efficient and quick way to stimulate regeneration and get the right quantity of protein in diet.
What? Whey protein is the gold standard in sports nutrition, as it includes all the essential amino acids in sufficient amounts. If athletes want a more plant-based protein source, they can utilize a high-quality multi-component plant protein with a blend of pea, hemp, and rice protein to provide the best amino acid range available.
Endurance athletes are recommended to consume 1.2–1.4 g of protein per kilogram of body weight (kg/TH) daily. Intake can be raised up to 2g per kg/TH to gain muscle mass.
Some of these requirements can be addressed by consuming high-quality protein powder.
Typically, two daily portions of protein powder are recommended, with one serving equivalent to approximately 20–40g. Protein bars, which have up to 23 grams of protein per serving, are another wonderful way to boost protein intake.
How? Mixing protein with water or low-fat milk is helpful in its quick absorption. This is especially important when an athlete must consume protein quickly. This is especially true in endurance sports, when there is a longer time between meals, or after activity, when damaged muscles must be trained immediately to begin regeneration.
When? During the day, protein powder can be added to cereal, pancakes, or smoothies to provide high-quality protein to diet. It is generally recommended to consume 0.3g of protein per kilogram of body weight every 3–5 hours during the day. Protein powder intake at any time of day can help in this. An endurance athlete should consume the same amount of protein before and after activity. Protein supplementation is also recommended during sports activity, at a rate of 0.25g per kg/TH every hour, in the case of prolonged, high-intensity sports.
Electrolytes: For optimal hydration
Why? Endurance athletes commonly lose 4–10 liters of water and 3500–7000 mg of salt in a single day. Dehydration can occur because of low fluid consumption, excessive perspiration (high fluid loss), or a combination of the two. Weight loss is a common metric for this. A 2% weight loss can result in sports athletes’ deteriorated performance. This is because, for example, due to full water loss, perspiration is diminished, and the body is unable to cool itself properly. Additionally, the delivery of oxygen to the working muscles is slowed.
Athletes lose not only bodily fluids but also certain minerals when they sweat. Chlorides, sodium, magnesium, potassium, and calcium are examples of electrolytes. These are necessary for the healthy functioning of the heart, brain, and muscles, as well as for reducing weariness. These electrolytes play a role in the body’s water management as well and their lack can cause increased fatigue, muscle spasm or nausea.
What? Ion supply drinks are an excellent choice for replenishing minerals and liquids at the same time. It’s simply necessary to mix the beverage concentrate with water and drink it while exercising. In most cases, these drinks also include quick carbs to help with energy replacement.
Electrolyte tablets, which are simply swallowed with water, might also be useful during a long hike or a strenuous bicycle excursion.
How? The amount of fluid consumed is always determined by the ambient temperature, the length and intensity of the activity, and the athlete’s weight. However, one should always keep an eye on the drink’s components and potentially augment it with additional substances to achieve the “optimal ion supply drink” that is ideal for the type of training.
When? The common recommendation is to drink:
- 500ml of fluid 2 hours before activity
- 125 – 250 ml immediately before activity
- 125 – 250ml every 10 – 20 minutes during activity
- After activity, it is recommended to drink 150% of fluid loss (e.g., for 1 kg weight loss during activity, gradually replenish 1.5 liters of fluids)
Caffeine: For better performance
Why? One of the most well-known stimulants is caffeine. It not only helps prepare for activity, but it can also help perform better. This is primarily because it reduces fatigue and discomfort levels. It can inhibit the function of adenosine, which dulls the neurological system and makes us drowsy. Caffeine, on the other hand, increases endorphin excretion, which lowers pain perception. It also encourages the breakdown of fat into energy during activity. This could lead to an increase in reserve carbohydrate glycogen, which has been linked to poor performance.
What? Caffeine-containing dietary supplements are available in pill form, as energy shots, or as RTD drinks with added BCAA, vitamins, and minerals.
How? Athletes are more likely to consume it as a drink before or during a sporting event. According to several research, an intake of 3–6 mg caffeine per kilogram of body weight taken 30–90 minutes before sporting activities is helpful. In addition, a meal of caffeine (3 mg kg/TH) combined with a source of carbohydrates may efficiently increase glycogen replacement following activity.
When? Before, during, and after activity, 3 to 6 mg/kg/TH is recommended. However, one must keep track of caffeine intake throughout the day to avoid exceeding 400 mg. According to the European Food Safety Authority, this serving is entirely appropriate for a healthy 70 kg adult over the long term (EFSA).
Complex Joint Nutrition: To support proper function of musculoskeletal system
Why? Long periods of running or cycling are taxing not just on the muscles, but also on the joints, ligaments, and other musculoskeletal system components. Articular cartilage is especially vulnerable in runners and can be destroyed by strain. This might cause discomfort and make it difficult to move. Chondroitin sulphate, glucosamine sulphate, and two forms of collagen are among the components of cartilage. These are necessary for appropriate joint movement and function.
Collagen is especially important for cartilage strength and resistance. Chondroitin and glucosamine support collagen formation while also ensuring sufficient nutrition. The amount of these compounds in your body can be effectively boosted by consuming nutritional supplements, enhancing cartilage’s natural regenerating capacity.
What? Dietary supplements containing glucosamine and chondroitin may help to relieve discomfort and improve mobility in injured joints. MSM (methyl sulphonyl methane), an anti-inflammatory compound, is frequently used in complex joint nourishment supplements. As a result, the effects of these substances are complementary, and they should be included in any high-quality joint nutrition supplement.
How? It is recommended that you take the following doses daily to obtain the desired results:
- 900 – 1500mg glucosamine
- 500 – 3000mg MSM
- 1000–1200mg chondroitin
When? Joint nutrition supplements are most utilized following a meal throughout the day. These can be taken as capsules or as a highly soluble instant beverage powder. One can also take active ingredients separately to boost MSM or glucosamine intake.
Vitamins and Minerals: To maintain immune function and overall health
Why? For endurance sports athlete’s body and peak performance, adequate vitamin and mineral consumption is critical. Their bodies require slightly more of these compounds than inactive people because of increased stress and the necessity for renewal. Also, proper vitamin and mineral intake is necessary for maintaining general health. These vitamins and minerals participate in functions that are critical for athletes.
Vitamin C, D, and zinc help the immune system, while B vitamins and magnesium are needed for energy generation, and calcium helps with bone health. Furthermore, some of them, such as vitamin E and selenium, are antioxidants. As a result, they aid in the prevention of oxidative damage caused by high-intensity exercise. The high demands of the body can be difficult to meet only through nutrition in some situations. As a result, athletes are frequently encouraged to take micronutrient supplements.
What? The following doses are recommended by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA):
- B1: 1.1mg
- B3: 14mg
- B6: 1.3mg
- B12: 2,4μg
- Vitamin C: 95mg
- Vitamin D: 15μg
- Vitamin E: 11mg
- Calcium: 1000mg
- Magnesium: 300mg
- Selenium: 70μg
- Zinc: (Women) 7.5 – 12.7mg (Men) 9.4 – 16.3mg
How? Magnesium, zinc, selenium, vitamin D, C, and B vitamins can be found in multivitamin supplements or taken separately as tablets or capsules. In terms of convenience, taking a well-absorbed complex multivitamin that contains the majority of the nutrients in 1–2 capsules is the ideal option, as one won’t have to take multiple tablets or capsules at once. One must pay close attention to a product’s contents and consider supplementing it with missing elements if it’s a complicated multivitamin. Note that vitamins and minerals are also frequently included in food supplements in unique and well-absorbed liposomal forms.
When? Depending on the vitamin or mineral, the most typical recommendation is to take these supplements with food.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids: For better regeneration
Why? Omega 3 fatty acids, EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), are frequently linked to improved immune function, heart health, and cognitive function. They are significant in the realm of sports. They impact nitric oxide and support the delivery of oxygen to the working muscles. As a result, the muscles operate more efficiently, which can lead to improved athletic performance and blood flow throughout the body. Even after physical exertion, the effects of omega 3 fatty acids may be helpful. They have anti-inflammatory qualities, which help the body regenerate.
What? EPA and DHA are found in abundance in marine fatty fish including sardines, salmon, and mackerel. For those who don’t eat fish at least twice a week, omega-3 fatty acid supplementation is highly recommended. The majority of health organizations recommend a daily intake of 250–500mg of EPA and DHA. The EFSA recommends that a dose of up to 5g of these fatty acids (with a maximum of 1.8g EPA) is safe to take.
How? In general, 1–2 capsules of vitamin E-enriched fish oil or cod liver oil with vitamins A and D3 to prevent them from deterioration are adequate to meet the daily recommended intake.
When? Omega 3 fatty acid dietary supplements are commonly taken in the form of capsules throughout the day.
Nitrates: For better blood flow and maximum performance
Why? Nitrates are converted by the body to nitric oxide. This can widen blood arteries, allowing more oxygenated blood to reach the working muscles. This increases the amount of oxygen and other nutrients available to muscles, allowing them to generate more energy. Improved muscle oxygenation may also lead to more efficient waste elimination from the energy metabolism. All of this helps the athlete perform better in sports and recover faster.
Nitrates also help muscles contraction (tightening), which is necessary for their healthy function. Nitrates are found in red beets and leafy greens also, but if one doesn’t eat these vegetables on a regular basis, nutritional supplements are a good option.
What? An effective serving is 300–600 mg of nitrates in the form of supplements or 500ml of red beet juice.
How? An effective dose (300 – 600mg) of nitrate is recommended to be taken in the form of supplements or 500 ml of red beet juice.
When? It should be taken preferably ninety minutes before activity or endurance sport. For maximum effect, during the few days before an important endurance sport, this dose is recommended to be taken multiple times a day.
Citrulline: For better nutrient and oxygen supply to muscles
Why? Citrulline is a non-essential amino acid that the body produces from glutamine. Because it is turned into arginine, which creates nitric oxide, it has similar effects in the body to nitrates. This, like nitrates, helps active muscles get more oxygen and other nutrients. It also aids in the removal of waste from the muscles and assists to their healthy function. Muscles that have been properly nourished and oxygenated can therefore function for longer periods of time and with greater efficiency. The athlete will be able to perform better because of this.
What? Citrulline comes in the form of L-Citrulline or Citrulline malate in dietary supplements. In Citrulline malate Citrulline is coupled to malic acid salt (malate), which can aid in the breakdown of waste products of energy metabolism, such as lactic acid.
How? In dietary supplements, Citrulline is most found in the form of Citrulline malate either as a soluble powder, capsules, or tablets. It is recommended to take 3.5–4.5g L-Citrulline or 6–8g Citrulline malate to support endurance performance.
When? It is recommended to be taken sixty minutes before endurance sports. It’s also a common ingredient in pre-workout supplements, which are taken between thirty and sixty minutes before an athletic event because of its properties.
Creatine: For more energy and withstanding fatigue
Why? Creatine is found naturally in the human body, and it even makes it in small amounts. Its primary function is to replenish energy resources for functioning muscles. Strength or speed athletes benefit the most from creatine’s influence, as this helps them somewhat in speed and strength. Endurance athletes also benefit from creatine’s advantages. It can, for example, aid in the preservation of muscle mass during periods of intense training or racing.
In addition, creatine aids in the replacement of reserve carbohydrate glycogen in muscles and has a minor beneficial effect on bodily fluids. The more glycogen reserves in the muscles, the longer it takes for exhaustion to set in, which often translates to improved performance.
What? Creatine is found in small amounts in meat and other animal protein sources. To get 5g of creatine per day from diet, one must eat about 1.1kg of beef every day. Creatine supplements are thus a more cost-effective and ecologically friendly option to boost the body’s creatine stores.
How? To attain the desired impact, it is normally recommended to take 3-5g of creatine per day long term. Creatine is most taken as a soluble powder or in tablet form.
When? Usual recommendation is to consume 3-5 grams of creatine before, during, and after exercising. On non-training days, the same serving can be consumed at any time during the day.
BCAAs: To withstand fatigue and protect muscles
Why? Leucine, isoleucine, and valine are BCAAs (branched-chain amino acids). They play a crucial role in protein synthesis and muscle mass restoration in the body. As a result, they’re one among the most often used dietary supplements among endurance sports athletes. Runners, bikers, and other endurance athletes are big fans of BCAAs.
Our digestive system can quickly break BCAA down and extract the energy required for movement if necessary. As a result, BCAA intake during periods of high physical stress helps in muscle mass protection from energy burn.
BCAAs help athletes perform better by reducing fatigue. This is because BCAA and the amino acid tryptophan compete for the same transport mechanism that permits them to enter brain cells. This permits less tryptophan to enter them, causing brain cells to release less serotonin delaying the weariness that serotonin induces in this situation.
What? The most common recommendation for BCAA intake is 20g per day in total.
How? BCAA is typically consumed in the form of pills, soluble powder, or popular canned RTD drinks.
When? It can be taken prior to, during, or following activity, workout, or sports. The usage of BCAA during performance appears to be the most suited for endurance athletes, especially when training for several hours.
In this article, we have discussed 11 best supplements for endurance sports.
An athlete’s exceptional performance is based on a well-established training plan, an appropriate diet with all the necessary nutrients, and adequate rest. Supplements with specific properties also help achieve better athletic performance. Carbohydrates, both simple and complex, supplement muscle glycogen and provide a quick energy source in some cases.
A high-quality protein powder and BCAAs, on the other hand, protect and energize muscles during activity. Electrolytes are necessary for the body’s hydration. You now have a better understanding of which vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients are important for joint, muscle, and general health for endurance sports.
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Abhinav Malhotra is an award-winning personal trainer, coach and sports nutritionist in Dubai, UAE. He also offers online services to clients around the world. A personal trainer par excellence, Abhi has worked with the world’s leading fitness chains, supplement brands and founded his own fitness academy in India. He has achieved successes for many clients from all backgrounds and has trained the Indian Army Rugby Team. He is the first International Kettlebell Sport athlete from India.