Workouts borne from intensity, which test physical endurance, are growing in popularity. Crossfit training has moved well beyond a fad. Bring this style of training outdoors and shoulder a log while you jump over obstacles and it’s called a Paleo work-out. Endurance events, like Tough Mudder, a summertime, outdoor obstacle course that essentially takes place in a mud pit, have exploded onto the scene. These types of events use functional, natural movement to test and improve your flexibility, strength, speed, endurance and mental focus.
The intention is to push your body to the extreme with the hopes you don’t injure yourself—a tempting draw for those weekend warriors. As I’m not a certified fitness trainer, I’ll leave the physical training discussion to the experts. I do, however, know a thing or two about how to prepare for these events from a nutrient and supplement perspective.
I’ve recently run 235 kilometres through the jungle of Costa Rica on an ultra-marathon eco-challenge. At 95 degrees F, in hot and humid conditions, with high elevations and risk of getting bitten by exotic creatures with deadly venom, this pushed my limits—both body and mind. But, the risk was balanced. Well, sort of.
First off, I know how to prepare. If you want to improve your endurance, here is how to plan for the best outcome from a supplement perspective.
Before you start preparing for any sort of long distance or endurance activity, always get expert advice on your personal health concerns. If you have any recurring injuries or joint issues, think twice before you push your body to its limits.
Next, and probably the most important key to your success as an endurance athlete, you need to keep hydrated. One to two hours before your workout, you should drink 15 to 20 ounces of water; 15 minutes before you begin, drink between eight and 10 ounces of water; and then during your workout, try to drink another eight ounces of water every 15 minutes or so. If you’re working out for extended periods of time, consider using a drink that contains a comprehensive array of electrolytes. Electrolyte drinks, containing sodium and potassium salts, replenish the body’s water and electrolyte levels after dehydration caused by exercise.
Further to this point, make sure you are aware of the signs of heat exhaustion: excessive thirst, weakness and headache if you are dehydrated. Nausea, vomiting, muscle cramps and dizziness are sure signs that you need electrolytes.
Once you are confident about your body’s ability to withstand the training and the extreme challenge, there are some supplements that may very likely help you to survive the adventure.
Time-tested and true antioxidants, including vitamins C and vitamin E, and some all new ones including pterostilbene and nicotin-amide riboside, can help in your exercise recovery by neutralizing the free radicals in your body that will increase when you under-go strenuous exercise. Studies have shown that pterostilbene has anti-inflammatory, cardiovascular, and energy endurance benefits, while nicotinamide riboside increases muscle endurance. Most athletes also swear by antioxidants to ease muscle cramps.
Keep in mind that as a weekend warrior, or an endurance athlete, you need to supplement with antioxidants after exercise, not before. Research shows that supplementing with them before exercising may reduce the health benefit! Oh, and you’ll probably never achieve ideal systemic antioxidant levels from your diet alone—even if you are eating a colourful mix of fruits and vegetables every day.
You may want to consider the controversial, yet safe, branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), although study results have been mixed. Besides improved training and exercise performance, some athletes report increased mental clarity and less risk of infections caused by exercise stress. Studies have also shown that BCAAs can improve an athlete’s performance under extreme conditions such as high altitude or heat. I agree with BCAAs and take them when I’m in the midst of endurance training.
Glutamine is the most utilized amino acid in the body and is a good supplement for athletes. It helps to build up tissue levels and is best taken on a regular basis, as opposed to just before or just after a hard workout. Some athletes say that it also helps boost the immune system. One of my favourite amino acids for recovery—and even for endurance—is L-Carnitine. It helps to prevent lactic acid build up in the muscles.
Natural eggshell membrane (NEM)
Inevitably when we train hard, we undergo joint wear and tear. However, there is a new and exciting ingredient in the marketplace with some excellent science behind it. It can be found in many different brands with formulas designed to support joints. It’s called Natural Eggshell Membrane (NEM). This is exactly what it sounds like! It is made from the membrane found between the eggshell and the egg. This is a very exciting formula in the world of joint pain and connective tissue support.
Rigorous human clinical trials have been performed using one 500 mg capsule a day. This resulted in significantly reduced joint pain and stiffness. A review of the science shows that NEM is effective at reducing both joint pain and stiffness in as few as 7–10 days with a 30% reduction in pain score.
NEM is a natural food source that contains naturally occurring glycosamino-glycans and proteins (the same stuff found in your cartilage) essential for maintaining healthy joints and connective tissues in a small daily dose of just 500 mg. Studies show NEM is five times more effective than glucosamine and chondroitin.
As always, before taking any supplements or medication, check with your primary health care provider about possible side effects or conflicts with other medications. Remain boundless, my endurance athletes!
Bryce Wylde is a functional medicine expert, clinician, and associate medical director at P3 Health in Toronto. He is a television host, author, and a medical advisor and regular guest on the Dr. OZ show and CityTv’s health expert. His latest book, Power Plants, will be published March 2014. Follow him on Twitter @WyldeOnHealth and visit his website wyldeabouthealth.com