Global Experts Recommend Top Supplements for Endurance Athletes
In addition to healthy foods that are high in nutrition, as endurance athletes, we need to keep our bodies supplemented with nutritional support.
There are a lot of good (and bad) supplements out there and you may already be taking dietary supplements to support your body through all of your training and endurance events.
I’ve contacted five experts in the health and fitness industry, Jessica E Williams, Dr Peter Dingle, Julie E Health, Lisa Quinney and Brad Kearns, and asked them for their top-five recommended supplements for endurance athletes.
The top supplements recommended by these five experts for endurance athletes.
Minerals – Magnesium, Zinc, Calcium, Selenium
Minerals support your normal growth and development, as well as perform vital bodily functions, such as converting the food we eat into energy. It’s no wonder our experts recommend endurance athletes to get enough minerals into their bodies. Dr Dingle, Williams, Julie E and Quinney, ALL include general or specific minerals.
Julie E says we are “supposed to get tons of these from vegetables and the soil – this isn’t happening in our polluted world, so we need an arsenal of these babies. They prevent cancer, alkalize your pH, relax the muscles, flush out lactic acid and prevent muscle soreness. My favorite: Coral Legend Plus by Premier Research Labs.”
Here are the specific minerals mentioned by our experts:
Having adequate Calcium is very important to endurance athletes, because it enables the contraction of the heart muscle, which in turn pumps blood around your body. It’s also required for the contraction of our skeletal muscles, helping nerve signals to be transmitted and for blood clotting when injured. Calcium also activates the enzyme lipase, breaking down fat stores which produces energy.
Both Quinney and Williams have calcium as the top recommended supplement.
Williams says, “Calcium is required for bone metabolism as well as muscle and nerve function. I often recommend a combination of Calcium and Magnesium taken in a 2:1 ratio. Calcium and Magnesium work synergistically to contract and relax muscles, This includes smooth muscle (i.e. your heart) as well as skeletal muscles.”
Magnesium is required by virtually every cell in the body and plays several functions which endurance athletes need in particular. These functions are:
- To convert muscle Glycogen to Glucose, your body’s fuel during intense exercise. A lack of Magnesium can lead to lactic acid build up, resulting in muscle soreness and fatigue.
- For muscle contraction and relaxation. Having sufficient magnesium can help to promote quick recovery and prevent cramping.
- To activate the enzymes that enable the body to convert Vitamin D to its active form, which in turn enables Calcium absorption for bone building.
- To promote nerve function, blood pressure regulation, synthesis of fats and nucleic acids, and immune function.
- For the redistribution of Magnesium stores in order to meet our body’s metabolic needs for energy production, nerve and muscle function.
Dr Dingle and Williams both recommend Magnesium in their top five supplements for endurance athletes.
Dr Dingle also recommends Zinc, an essential component of good health. Zinc not only plays a key role in carbohydrate, fat and protein metabolism, but is required to protect against free radical damage and support the immune system.
In this informative First Endurance article, it asserts that endurance athletes are at risk for being Zinc deficient,
“both through inadequate dietary intake and through losses that occur with high intensity and long duration exercise… [ ] …Athletes can lose up to 9% of the US RDA for Zinc in a single 2 hour training session.”
Williams recommends Selenium for endurance athletes for its antioxidizing processes, and this mineral has been shown to repair cell damage and benefit athletes’ immune functions.
Multi-Vitamins – Antioxidants – Vitamins A, C, D, E
As we all know, endurance athletes do a lot of aerobic metabolism, which is the creation of energy through the combustion of carbohydrates, amino acids and fats in the presence of oxygen. This can create large amounts of free-radicals, which causes damage to cells in the body.
Williams says, “oxidative damage ages our bodies and increased respiration that occurs with high levels of training results in oxidation. We can protect ourselves and neutralise these reactive chemicals by ensuring we obtain enough antioxidants through diet and supplementation.”
Quinney highly recommends antioxidant supplementation for endurance athletes with Multivitamins and here, our experts point out a few of their favourites:
Williams says, “Vitamin C is an extremely important antioxidant and one that also regenerates Vitamin E in the body (another key antioxidant). Endurance athletes undergo a great deal of physical stress and must obtain enough antioxidants in order to avoid oxidative damage. Vitamin C is also crucial for the health of our connective tissues which can experience wear and tear with endurance sports.”
Dr Dingle also recommends over three grams of Vitamin C for endurance athletes.
Vitamin D is recommended by both Dr Dingle and Quinney. Vitamin D is sourced primarily from the sun. No wonder then that in recent years Vitamin D deficiency has become more widespread, with people spending more time indoors or wearing UV protection. It has been linked to weight gain, depression, poor nutrient absorption, low bone density, and several types of cancer.
Dr Dingle recommends us to read this research article, “The impact of 1-year vitamin D supplementation on vitamin D status in athletes: a dose–response study”. It’s research covers the effect of and required dosage of Vitamin D3 to prevent deficiency in athletes.
Williams also recommends Vitamin A as an additional antioxidant.
Superfood Green Powders
Williams says,“Superfood greens serve as an extra dose of nutrients, and endurance athletes require pretty much more of everything. These greens provide many important vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and a great dose of chlorophyll.”
Green Powder ingredients can include:
- Land vegetables and grains: wheatgrass, spinach, broccoli and beetroot.
- Aquatic plants and algae: kelp, spirulina and chlorella.
- Probiotics and enzymes: lactobacillus acidophilus and coenzyme Q10.
- Herb and spice extracts: dandelion, wolfberry and ginger.
- Vitamins and minerals.
Essential Fatty Acids – Omega 3/Fish Oils
These “good” fats are ESSENTIAL because, unlike other fatty acids, they are NOT produced by the body and must be supplied through diet or dietary supplementation.
This informative article by Training Peaks describes them well,
“Omega 3 is a general name for three fatty acids which are all needed by the body. The fatty acids are EPA, DHA and ALA which is found in plant oils. The body needs all three of them but the first two are more important for us as athletes.”
Omega 3 has been found to be a great benefit for endurance athletes, as it:
- Reduces blood pressure and inflammation
- Improves cardiovascular health
- Improves cognitive function and memory
- Improves exercise and muscular recovery
- Promotes weight loss
Quinney, Dr Dingle and Julie E all recommend Omega 3 EFA’s.
Julie E says, “Endurance athletes often do not eat enough total calories and good fats. They’re usually so careful with their diet being clean and light, or some binge on unhealthy food because they’re starving. Eating 3 tsp/day of EFAs does wonders for the brain, joints, circulation, while assisting the appetite and preventing unhealthy binges and crashing blood sugars. My favorite: The Omega Swirls from Barleans.”
Probiotics are live microorganisms found in bacteria, yeast or fungi, while prebiotics are a specialized plant fibre that helps stimulate the growth and survival of ‘good’ bacteria that’s already there.
Dr Dingle has both of these ‘good’ bacterias high on his top five supplements for endurance athletes.
Why is this important for endurance athletes?
Because they indirectly aid our training by preventing digestive issues in our stomach. We must consume large amounts of calories and effectively absorb nutrients to provide us the energy to sustain our training and endurance events.
If we have an unhealthy gut, we have poor digestion.
If we have poor digestion, we do not absorb the nutrients we need, leading to “bloating, flatulence, constipation, diarrhoea, inflammation and damage of the gut lining (which can lead to leaky gut syndrome), candida, and increases susceptibility to infections such as urinary tract infections, colds and flu, allergies and inflammatory disorders,” says nutritionist, Lisa Guy, at My Body and Soul.
Kearns puts Phosphatidylserine as his #1 top supplement recommendation for endurance athletes “because it helps moderate cortisol levels in the bloodstream…[ ]…(which is) pretty beneficial for endurance athletes.”
What is Phosphatidylserine?
Phosphatidylserine (PS) naturally occurs in foods like fish, rice, green leafy vegetables, soybeans and meat sources, particularly the kidney, liver, heart and brain.
This Pro Source Research article, explains how PS increases “the rate of recovery as well as prevent muscle soreness, thus greatly improving the rate of return in training and the actual amount of training that an individual (or team) can perform.”
Research shows that PS also improves concentration and reduces stress, which is a great benefit for not just endurance athletes but for every person.
It’s stated in this informative Peak Performance article that “numerous studies have concluded that PS is completely safe; indeed the only side effects seem to be beneficial (improved mental acuity, lower levels of circulating stress hormones etc), so while more evidence is needed, there appears to be nothing to lose by experimenting with it.”
Sound good doesn’t it? Brad Kearns thinks so too!
L-Carnitine – Amino Acid
L-Carnitine is a non-essential amino acid which, as Julie E says, “transports fat out of storage to the cell mitochondria –this burns fat in order to create energy.” L-Carnitine is most effective for weight loss, as long as it is paired with adequate amounts of Omega 3 Fatty Acids.
This is convenient considering Omega 3 is high on our experts list of top supplements for endurance athletes! However, in this Ergo-Log analysis of a study done on L-Carnitine, noted that when mixed with carbohydrates, more economical muscles are created and endurance is increased.
This amino acid helps reduce endurance fatigue by stopping the build-up of lactic acid, and has been shown to reduce the accumulation of metabolic waste during exercise, helping athletes increase endurance and enhance recovery post-exercise.
My Supplement Recommendations
I was glad my list looked similar to their recommendations. I believe in minimising what I take and definitely avoiding having expensive urine but here is a summary of the supplements I take and why, taking into account I live in Hong Kong:
Fish Oil (or the right balance of DHA and EPA)
Fish Oil is a great anti inflammatory! I like Charles Poliquin DHA/EPA product for this. It’s important when choosing fish oil, to make sure that it is not oxidated (reaction from exposure to Oxygen), eg. packaged in a dark bottle. If it smells fishy, then they are rancid.
In warmer climates, you lose more fluid and electrolytes through your sweat. So, being in Honk Kong, where it is humid, it’s important to rehydrate by taking magnesium.
I take Vitamin C because of the pollution and it stops me from getting colds and flu. Vitamin C is a good antioxidant! It protects the body from harmful Free Radicals that are formed when pollution enters the lungs.
In the form of Isolated Whey, Pea Protein and L-Carnitine
A Multi Vitamin
A high quality multivitamin which covers all essential Vitamins, Minerals etc. Once again, it’s important to choose the right brand and product. See my previous article.
I take probiotics for reasons already listed by the experts. Be careful when choosing this one. Most probiotics must remain refrigerated, so find out what happens to them in transit and look at what you are paying for (hint: compare the amounts in billions).
So there you go, the top recommended supplements for endurance athletes by our health and fitness experts!
But remember, just because they are recommended, doesn’t mean you should hurry off and get stuck into them. It’s vitally important to consider your diet (you may not need them), whether you’re on any medications, your level of activity and to check with your medical practitioner first to determine if these supplements will be appropriate for you. Everybody is different.
Also, we ALL need to make sure our supplements are of the highest quality and our chosen supplement brands are honest. Some supplements can actually do more damage than good.
Before you purchase your supplements, please take the time to read my previous article about buying supplements: Choose Your Brand Wisely. What’s Really In Your Supplements?
I hope you’ve enjoyed this compilation of our expert opinions. We also hope this information helps you to choose the most effective supplements to support your training so we can see you smash PBs at your next endurance event AND remain healthy.
Jessica E Williams is a nutrition consultant and co-founder of www.bodyawakening.net. She has a Masters of Science Degree in Holistic Nutrition and has over a decade of experience working within the nutrition and health industry. She has managed one of the world’s leading detox and cleansing retreat centres and has taken hundreds (if not thousands) of people through cleansing and detox programs. Alongside Body Awakening Jessica runs a nutrition practice in Hong Kong.
Dr Dingle has spent the past 25 years as a researcher, educator, author and public health advocate for common sense. He is one of Australia’s leading motivational health speakers, he was an associate professor in health and the environment for 21 years before being rewired, and runs corporate health and wellbeing programs and public speaking around Australia. He currently has 10 books in print with the latest ones “The great cholesterol deception, Take Control and Realise Your Potential” and “A Supplement a day keeps the doctors away”.
Julie E Health is a nutrition & fitness spokesperson on TV/radio, magazines, an author, vitamin expert, fitness product developer and creator of Julie E Health & Wellness. She started teaching fitness classes in high school and has been certified by NASM, ACE, AIS, IM=X (and more) for over 28 years. Julie reinvented stretching with the StretchBall, has a Masters in Public Health and is a registered dietitian, working in corporate, 1:1, TV, radio, movies and has been public speaking since 1996. She is now an expert in holistic nutrition, vitamins and energy healing, QRA (Quantum Reflex Analysis). Julie E is based in Southern California.
Lisa Quinney is a registered holistic nutritionist, business owner, lifestyle coach and mompreneur, based in Canada. Her mission is to enhance the overall health and quality of life of her clients, creating a balanced lifestyle that will contribute to their long-term physical, emotional and mental growth. She is a super enthusiastic woman and even more passionate mother, with an enormous love of health through nutrition.
Brad Kearns, from Auburn, California is noted speaker, author and coach in the health & fitness world for over two decades. During his nine-year career as a triathlete, he was one of the world’s top ranked professionals, amassing 30 wins worldwide on the pro circuit. Brad currently works with health & fitness expert, Mark Sisson on a comprehensive lifestyle movement called the Primal Blueprint. He is the President of Primal Blueprint Publishing, has helped develop the Primal Health Coach certification program, has delivered nearly 30 Primal lifestyle seminars across the USA, and organized and presented at nine “PrimalCon” health and fitness retreats around the world from 2010-2014. He and Mark authored the 2016 release, Primal Endurance, a comprehensive guidebook on how to escape the carbohydrate-dependent, overly stressful conventional approach to training in favor of a healthier, stress-balanced, fat-adapted primal approach.