The Top 7 Endurance Supplements
Looking for that extra boost? Endurance exercise does require a lot of strength and stamina from the body. Of course, a healthy foundation of a balanced diet and lifestyle are key to address first and foremost.
Though most healthy individuals won't necessarily require extra supplementation, those who follow an active lifestyle may benefit from additional support. This can provide a variety of benefits such as improving muscular strength, reducing muscle soreness, supporting lean body mass, and improving recovery time. These supplements paired with proper diet and lifestyle adaptations can better enhance performance outcomes than with supplementation alone.
For elite athletes, additional support will often be required in order to maintain physical performance and improve recovery from exercise.
1. Creatine Monohydrate
Creatine is an organic compound that is found naturally in the body and is required for muscle contraction.
It is a popular fitness supplement to boost exercise performance, increase muscle strength, and improve lean muscle mass.
Creatine monohydrate is actually known as the most effective ergogenic nutritional supplement for increasing high-intensity exercise capacity and lean body mass during training (1)(2).
Its primary function is to increase the phosphocreatine stores in your muscles which can then be used to produce ATP, the key energy source of the body, helping you to perform better for longer (3).
Creatine is generally more popular among the strength training and power crowd, as most of the research behind creatine supports its efficacy in enhancing short duration, predominantly anaerobic, and intermittent exercises.
However, there is also evidence of its positive effects on endurance activities due to its ability to increase plasma volume and glycogen storage, improve ventilatory threshold and reduce oxygen consumption. More research is needed to confirm its beneficial effects on endurance specific exercise (4)
Creatine is one of the most tested sports supplements on the market, deemed as safe, but also beneficial in preventing injury (5).
Caffeinated beverages, such as coffee and tea, are very popular beverages that are often consumed for their energy-enhancing effects. Caffeine can also help to boost cognitive function, alertness, and mood, which makes it an alluring choice to start the day with but also to use during training (6).
Studies have highlighted the benefits of caffeine in improving performance in endurance exercises such as cycling and cross-country skiing (7)(8)(9). Caffeine acts in various ways to benefit endurance sports, which include sparing muscle glycogen, inhibiting pain signals, and delaying fatigue (10).
To what extent caffeine benefits performance appears to be based on genotypes, as a study found those with the AC gene did not seem to benefit the same way as those with the CYP1A2 genotype (11).
The consumption of caffeine for performance benefits is generally recommended about 60 minutes before physical activity.
The ergogenic effects of caffeine are dose-dependent. Research suggests that caffeine at doses of about 3-6 mg per kg of body weight provides ergogenic benefits in endurance exercise performance (12)(13).
Additional benefits include increased fat oxidation, which can improve weight management (14).
Though coffee is a popular choice, caffeine supplements are also often used for their convenience before or during prolonged exercise bouts. Not everyone reacts the same way to caffeine as side effects can include digestive distress, anxiety, sleep problems, and increased heart rate.
It is recommended to start with low doses and assess whether you are better off consuming it or not.
A nonessential amino acid, beta-alanine is often recommended for athletes because it is involved in carnosine production, a compound that is important for muscle endurance. Higher muscle carnosine levels can help to regulate lactic acid levels, which can reduce muscle fatigue and increase performance time (15)(16).
A study found that a group of elite rowers who followed 7 weeks of beta-alanine supplementation were able to improve their own speed while also proving to be 4.3 seconds faster than the placebo group (17).
Beta-alanine consumption can help you increase lean body mass, improve aerobic sports performance, achieve faster times, and ultimately exercise for longer (18).
4. Sodium Phosphate
Sodium phosphate is a salt that contains phosphorus and other minerals such as magnesium and potassium. Though it can be found in food, dietary consumption through diet alone is rarely enough to reach significant endurance benefits. Supplementation of sodium phosphate can increase the time to exhaustion and aerobic capacity in endurance activities such as cycling and running.
A study found that short-term supplementation with sodium phosphate improved the efficiency of the cardiorespiratory system during low and moderate-intensity exercise among trained male cyclists (19).
Sodium phosphate is considered a nutritional ergogenic aid due to various mechanisms such as increased aerobic capacity, peak power output, and anaerobic threshold, and improved myocardial and cardiovascular responses to exercise (20). For ergogenic benefits, sodium phosphate is recommended to supplement at a dose of 3-5 g per day for 3-6 days.
5. Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)
Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) include the three essential amino acids, leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Since these are essential, meaning the body doesn't produce them on its own, they must be obtained from the diet or supplementation. BCAA's stimulate muscle protein synthesis which is why they are often used by bodybuilders to support muscle growth and muscle mass while reducing muscle breakdown and muscle fatigue.
BCAA's don't just benefit power sports, they can also enhance endurance performance. They can do this by increasing time to exhaustion, promoting fat oxidation, and alleviating central fatigue (21)(22).
They can also decrease the buildup of lactic acid in the muscles that accumulate during exercise which allows for increased endurance capacity and a quicker recovery (23).
When taken before or during exercise, BCAA's can spare muscle glycogen which is an important factor for endurance athletes to help prevent crashing and keep them going for longer (24).
The process of muscle protein synthesis involves the breakdown of muscle tissue from intense exercise and the rebuilding of new cells for muscle repair and regeneration. This is an important part of the recovery process and is supported by the consumption of protein.
Protein intake post-exercise may improve the time of the recovery period while reducing muscle soreness and maintaining lean body mass (25).
Typically carbohydrates are emphasized more than protein for endurance performance, however, protein does play an important part in optimizing endurance exercise by minimizing potential muscle damage and muscle breakdown, repairing muscle tissue, and maintaining muscle strength (26).
Protein requirements are higher among ultra-endurance athletes due to increased physical demands. It is recommended to consume 1.2 - 1.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight for endurance athletes, which is greater than the RDA for the general population (27).
The combination of carbohydrates paired with protein can help to promote optimal athletic performance among endurance athletes (28).
Daily protein intake should be obtained from whole food dietary sources, however, a protein powder can help to meet requirements and boost daily intake that might be missing.
Complete protein sources include all nine amino acids and can be obtained from animal products but also certain plant-based foods.
If you are vegan, plant-based sources of complete protein include quinoa, tofu, chia seeds, hemp hearts, and buckwheat.
Protein intake is recommended within 0-2 hours after exercise and should be evenly distributed throughout the day for the most benefit.
Since the body can make glutamine on its own, it is not considered an essential amino acid, however, that doesn't mean that it is not significant!
Glutamine is often supplemented for its gut-healing benefits as it has been shown to help treat intestinal permeability by regulating tight junctions and reducing inflammation in the gut (29)(30).
It is also used as a fitness supplement for endurance athletes. Glutamine improves glycogen synthesis, reduces ammonia accumulation, increases Human Growth Hormone, and reduces muscle damage (31)(32).
All of these mechanisms of action can result in faster recovery, improved performance and energy levels, and preserved muscle mass.
When performing longer workouts, glutamine levels can drop and this can compromise performance and recovery. Strength and endurance athletes are at a higher risk of deficiency thus supplementation can help to maintain glutamine levels for endurance training outcomes while also benefitting immune and gut health.
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