Sorting Out the Hype
With all the marketing claims out there, promises that you'll lose weight, gain huge muscles, and tear up all competition, it's difficult to sort out what's real. I always come back to the same conclusion: A well-balanced diet that is centered around lean proteins, whole grains (NOT white flour), and lots of fruits, vegetables, and nuts, is the best way to boost your performance. Sleep and proper hydration are also essential (but that's a separate article).
That said, there are some tricks and shortcuts - and believe me, I take advantage of these! What follows is a list of supplements that I truly feel make you leaner, enhance performance, and make working out easier. Based on word of mouth between athletes, it seems that many professional endurance athletes agree.
As an amateur triathlete who started late with little experience, and began competing seriously fairly quickly, I've tried all kinds of sports supplements and vitamins. I have not used any illegal methods for boosting performance, though I know too many people who have!
This article is not intended as advertizing material, or as a cure-all for low energy. I do want to share a few supplements that I have field-tested extensively, and that have made my life a little easier.
1. Co-enzyme Q10 (CoQ10)
A holistic health practitioner originally recommended this to me years ago, when I was battling chronic fatigue. In more recent years, I started using it as a pre-workout supplement too. Co-Q10 (ubiquinone) is a substance that is already present in your body. Essentially, it converts food calories to ATP, or the energy your body uses to do physical work.
The sensation I experience is that CoQ10 makes you able to do the same amount of physical work without feeling it as much. I especially notice that I'm not breathing as hard while I'm swimming, running, or lifting weights.
The bonus is, the more out-of-shape you are, the more CoQ10 will help you. The difference is more noticeable when you're out of shape, because your body hasn't developed the ability to convert food energy to output energy efficiently. CoQ10 helps your body produce usable energy, so you can actually work out harder, and gain fitness more quickly!
CoQ10 is available over-the-counter, at most drug stores. If you happen to live near a Trader Joe's, they have great deals on it. Start with a lower dose (typically 30 mg), and then try up to 100 mg if you don't feel the difference at first.
2. Chromium Picolinate
--Another great substance that's available over-the-counter at most drug stores. Chromium picolinate is already at work in your body; it helps you utilize glucose.
While there are numerous health claims and debates associated with this supplement, I can offer my personal experience with it, and my interpretation of its benefits. Chromium Picolinate does not make you lose fat all by itself, but if you do regular aerobic exercise, it helps your body access its stored fat, and convert the fat to energy. It's particularly helpful in longer aerobic sessions, like a run longer than one hour, a 2-hour hike, or a long bike ride. After about 1-1.5 hours, the body starts to use stored fat as an energy source.
If you do have some extra body fat you'd like to lose, the benefit is even more noticeable. I felt and saw a difference in my early seasons of triathlon training. During a long run, usually I'd feel more tired after an hour. However, if I took chromium picolinate at least 30 minutes before a workout, I didn't feel that "wall" at all. My body kept on going like the Energizer bunny, with no slowing down.
3. Recover - Amino Power
This one is made by a small company called SportQuest Direct in North County San Diego, which is a major hub of triathlon activity. Recover is simple: It's the perfect blend of amino acids, cranked up to a high dose, and refined to a form that your body can still absorb.
Amino acids (protein) are the building blocks of muscle. Put simply, you need protein in order to build muscle. The more balanced and complete your profile of Essential Amino Acids (EAAs), the more lean muscle mass you can potentially have. However, if you're training hard, it's very difficult to eat enough lean meat to get the amount of amino acids you really need.
When taken at the proper times, Recover helps your muscles rebuild their tissue during and after exercise. The more lean muscle mass you have, the more quickly your body burns fat stores. So, Recover makes you leaner, improves muscle tone, and stabilizes energy. The key here is, you have to work out to get the benefits! You take one dose first thing in the morning, and then another dose after your workout. For every hour of exercise over two hours, take another dose. So, if you work out for three hours one day, take three doses in all.
I started taking Recover over a year ago, while training for half-Ironman-distance triathlon. I already had endurance and strength, but at 34, I'd begun retaining more body fat and showing less muscle than I had previously. After three weeks of taking Recover (while keeping my diet and training routine the same), I noticed a marked difference: I had lost two pounds of body weight and three percent body fat. And (forgive the expression), my muscles looked ripped again!
I was so impressed, I asked my coach about it. (He is an honest professional triathlete who relies on his natural strength and talent.) He said Recover was the one supplement he actually used regularly.
Note that Recover is not a substitute for adequate sleep, necessary calories, or a balance of food nutrients.
Caffeine has long been used by endurance athletes as a muscular endurance aid. This is because it really does work. Caffeine actually prolongs the time to muscular fatigue, or makes you able to run, ride, swim, lift, dance...for longer, and at a higher power level.
A Tour de France rider might down as many as five cups of coffee before a day of racing, and then continue to top it off throughout the day. (There is a legal limit on the amount of caffeine you can have in your bloodstream in professional or Olympic competition.)
Caffeine can make you feel jittery and mentally unfocused, but these symptoms will probably fade once you're in motion. Be aware that caffeine also acts as a laxative, so make sure you have access to restroom facilities before you start your workout!
Coffee or espresso can cause stomach upset in some people, or trigger acid reflux. If you're looking for a source of caffeine without coffee or carbonation, check out Think Geek's website.
We know that caffeine alone boosts physical energy muscular endurance (at least temporarily), but this product puts a new twist on these benefits. Motivator is another winner from SportQuest Direct, the makers of Recover.
Motivator is a patented blend of caffeine from Guarana seeds, Ginkgo Biloba, amino acids, and vitamin and vitamin precursors. It is designed to energize you before a workout, and enhance muscular endurance and mental focus during a workout or race. Unlike caffeine by itself, this "magic bullet" actually quiets your mind and keeps it in a serious zone while you're working out. The relaxed state of your mind lets you actually work harder; you are stronger and have better reflexes when you're mentally relaxed.
You get the same benefits caffeine offers, but a brain-booster at the same time. When I use Motivator on a long training ride, I feel smooth, strong and focused. It's much easier to push aside those self-defeating thoughts that float into my brain when I get tired - "It's hour three, I'm tired now;" or "I don't know if my legs can handle another hill." I would describe the effect as pure zone power.
6. Race Caps Supreme
This formula is made by Hammer Nutrition, and is available online. Hammer specializes in completely natural, low-sugar fuels and supplements for endurance athletes. (I also recommend their Hammer Gel for a quick fix if you want to go for a short run within 30 minutes or less, but feel too hungry and tired. It's also great for mid-workout, if you start to tire.)
Race Caps combines the benefits of CoQ10, digestive enzymes, and other specialized ingredients that supposedly help your body make and use energy (ATP). All I know is, it makes my workouts feel easier! This means I can make the most of a harder workout, and rest and relax more during an easy workout. Again, I believe this supplement produces more noticeable benefits if you are just starting out, or building your basic fitness.
If you work out frequently, or even if you just endure daily stress (as most of us do!), I also recommend a few very basic, supporting supplements: vitamin C (for immune system strength) a complete vitamin B blend (for stress management), a calcium-magnesium-zinc blend (for bone strength and resistance to colds, etc.), glucosamine (for joint strength and health), and a good digestive enzyme.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Prggy on August 20, 2016:
Do you know of something to quiet my hunger pangs thru-out the day. I know all the tricks but none of them work. I would love to lose these last 7-10 lbs but all I do is think of food and then I give in. There must be something out there to curb my appetite. Please let me know.
Ps. I took your advice and purchased coq10 and chromium. Thank you.
Peter on August 06, 2016:
You mentioned Recover, did you mean recovery?
I went to carbopro direct but they have Recovery not Recover.
Helouise from Hartbeespoort on February 08, 2014:
Hi! Im a 10km runner and would like to improve my time from 39min to 36min. Without having to use anything illegal! I was so impressed with your article that I went straight to the pharmacy to get the supplements. Can I usee BCAA loaded from biogen instead of recover? And I still need to get motivater and Race caps supreme.
do I need to use all 6 Enhancers or only some of it.
Im going to start doing the short duathlons (run and cycle) as well this year. I'm 31. Please help!
sammy yo on October 27, 2010:
Interesting reading :)
I currently take co Q10 daily,i do notice that i dont really needa breath that much when i swim and that i can kinda just keep going.
Guna give caffiene ago sometime too,specially since coffee is cheap.another idea would be to have a redbull or something like that cos its got caffiene and other stimulents, and if you get the sugar free one you dodge the calories :)
I also heard the Bee pollen can help with endurance and i also just acouple of days agom read a small article that suggested folic acid to be performance enhancing,could be worth researching maybe
Dave on September 25, 2010:
Chromium Picolinate - hasn't this been linked to kidney failure in the UK. Looking at the studies on this "supplement," i don't know if I would want to use this (sterility and mutations in the offspring of fruit flies, skeletal deformities in fruit flies...).
James Woodrow on September 09, 2010:
I find eating a snickers before my cross country races helps!
lemniscate.fisher on September 01, 2010:
I just happened upon this list by accident (seeking wise advice and healthy options). I'm feeling motivated! Really exactly what I was looking for. Thank you!
BodybuildingBuddy from USA on November 14, 2009:
What no steroids?! just kidding, great list of supplements, i would also really suggest an after workout recovery drink from http://advocaremuscle.com its really important to get a good mix of carbs and protein after and during a workout to make sure you limit the breakdown of your muscles to provide nutrients.
also for general nutrition and limiting inflammation, get some fish oil and green tea, two great additions to any athletes kitchen and gym bag.
Mike Lickteig from Lawrence KS USA on October 24, 2009:
As I approached the age of 51 and found it harder to reach down and tie my shoes, I decided to get into the gym and work on my body. I have lost 20 pounds and put on quite a bit of muscle, but am seeking a more focused, scientific, insightful approach to fitness training. Thanks very much for your post, it was quite helpful.
michelle.dragon99 on September 06, 2009:
Hi, as what you mentioned earlier and mentioned by personal trainer, i agreed you state caffeine can be one of the great tools for boosting up your performance for fitness. You will definitely get exercises well done if you have drink a nice creamy cappuccino before you start....great hub....you mentioned something that none of others mentioned before...great hub!
personaltrainer from Beverly Hills on June 28, 2009:
I totally agree with caffeine! It really helps both aerobic, and anerobic work. For strength training I like creatine, and beta-alanine. Post workout go with protein RTD. Caffeine prior to working out. Enjoy your newfound results!
Dianamite (author) from Carlsbad, CA on February 18, 2009:
Yes, I've used quite a lot of whey protein. A good serving of microfiltered whey protein post-workout is excellent. (I like Jay Robb's - good flavor and it mixes even without a blender.) However, as I left age 30 further and further behind, I found I couldn't stomach the amount of protein I had before; and the Recover provided a great additional source of muscle recovery. The results I saw were fairly dramatic. I'm a personal trainer, but not a licensed nutritionist; so I couldn't tell you exactly why the Recover works so well, but it does seem to be absorbed and used easily.
Thanks for reading!
drobertson on February 15, 2009:
Caffeine sure does a lot for an athlete especially when it comes to running and other aerobic activities. Although it has some its disadvantages and unwanted side effects. Have you tried whey protein? It gives you that much needed boost and repairs your cells which creates a leaner physique for an athlete like you. Btw, if you have time you could find great reviews about performance enhancing supplements which are natural, safe and effective at SupplementMania.com.
Dianamite on February 04, 2009:
I haven't tried creatine, b/c I haven't had a need to bulk up; but I understand that it does work if used properly.
I do use caffeine before races; however, my caffeine tolerance is lower now, so all I take is 2 Motivator capsules. In recent years, I find it easier to relax my body during hard work with less caffeine.
Looking forward to your article!
Matts88 from Canada on February 04, 2009:
Haven't used all of them, I have used some. Have you ever tried creatine? It works great for building muscle mass I will be writing about it soon in my hub if you want to check it out. It might not be the best for a triathlete like you though because you are looking for more lean mass not bulk. I have tried caffine pills before aswell and I just love it. Do you personally use it before your races?