Take a walk through any supplement store and you’ll no doubt be bombarded with endless products promising to boost everything from strength, power and muscle mass to testosterone. While some of these products may be helpful to certain athletes depending on their goals– at least the few that are actually supported by research– there’s one area of performance that supplements rarely do a good job of improving and that’s endurance, i.e. conditioning.
There is no doubt that the ability to maintain your explosive power from beginning to end, regardless of your sport or activity, is the key to performance and success. Conditioning has been called “the great equalizer,” and even though you won’t find hundreds of supplements claiming that they improve endurance, there are a few select products that can truly make a real difference in both training and competition.
If your goal is to boost endurance and get to the next level of conditioning, try adding the following research-backed supplements to your training regimen and see the benefits for yourself…
A relative newcomer to the supplement world, beta-alanine is one of a small handful of supplements that has been shown in various studies to improve endurance in various high intensity activities ranging from 1-4 minutes in duration. Given the nature of most sports, improving the ability to maintain high work rates for such time frames can offer a big advantage.
Beta-Alanine is a modified version of an amino acid alanine and is thought to buffer against the rapid change in the cellular environment that accompanies prolonged periods of anaerobic metabolism that drive high intensity efforts. Some research has even shown that it may improve body composition by helping to build lean muscle mass while reducing body fat (Smith et al, 2009; Kern and Robinson, 2009)
A typical dosage of beta-alanine is 2-5g per day, with most athletes benefiting greater from the higher end of that scale. One of the few downsides to beta-alanine is that when it is taken at higher dosages in a single serving, it may cause a tingling sensation similar to the well-known niacin flush. In order to avoid this, it’s recommended to split the total amount taken each day into 2 or 3 doses.
An even newer supplement to the market, beetroot juice has received a ton of hype over the last couple of years after several studies demonstrated its remarkable ability to increase endurance in tasks of varying intensity and duration.
It’s assumed that beetroot juice exerts this effect because of its high concentration of nitrates, which are related to nitric oxide (NO) and its effects on increasing blood vessel dilation and blood flow to working muscles. Some research has shown that the juice may improve time to exhaustion in high intensity activities by up to as much as 15%.
The best time to use beetroot juice is 30-60 minutes before training, with an effective dose of 300-500mL of the juice itself. It’s also thought that it may take several days of drinking the juice to really see the benefits, so it’s important to drink it even on non-training days for at least the first week or two.
With the rise in popularity in beetroot juice supplementation, several products are now available that offer concentrated beetroot juice shots that are both convenient and affordable.
Although there are literally hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of different supplements marketed and sold purporting to increase strength, power, stamina, etc., when taken during a workout, very few are well supported by research.
One of the newest supplements that actually has been studied, however, is a dipeptide known as L-Alanyl-L-Glutamine, a combination of L-Glutamine and L-Alanine.
Trademarked under the named Sustamine, it’s been shown to help improve cellular hydration by drawing water into cells, obviously important for performance. Combined with other supplements like BCAAs and carbohydrate supplements, it can help improve endurance and even promote faster recovery and increased protein synthesis.
A study by McCormack et al examined the effects of L-Alanyl-L-Glutamine on the performance of 12 endurance athletes (2015). After completing a 1-hour treadmill run at 75% VO2 peak and a subsequent run at 90% VO2 peak until exhaustion, the athletes who consumed either low doses or high doses of L-Alanyl-L-Glutamine demonstrated significantly improved ability time to exhaustion.
To make a turbo charged workout cocktail, try a combination of 2-3 scoops of Modern BCAA by USP Labs, a high quality supplement loaded with Sustamine and BCAAs (which can help improve endurance as well), together with 50-75g of the high powered super carbohydrate Vitargo.
Drink the cocktail both before and during your training session to help keep glycogen levels topped off and your muscles well hydrated and performing at their highest levels.
Maintaining glycogen levels is one of the most important components of improving endurance because as soon as glycogen levels start to run low, the body will shift into utilizing a higher percentage of fats instead of carbs for fuel. While this is beneficial if you’re trying to lose fat, the result is ultimately a decrease in power output.
This simple cocktail of Sustamine/BCAA with a rapidly absorbing carb (Vitargo) can be extremely effective at improving endurance, and most athletes will feel a noticeable difference as soon as they start taking it.
Mitochondrial energy support stack
Mitochondria are the sites of energy production within your cells, making them critically important to conditioning (and life in general, for that matter). Yet their energy-producing function is only part of the role these organelles play in keeping you alive and healthy; damage to mitochondrial DNA has been implicated in the aging process and is now a significant part of most modern models of what causes us to age.
Supporting healthy mitochondria is not just an important component of improving conditioning, it’s also hugely valuable to overall health and wellness. The following supplements have been shown to support mitochondria by increasing their number (through biogenesis) or overall health and energy output. They work best when combined in a mitochondria support stack.
Niacel™ is a product from Thorne Research and is the company’s trademarked name for nicotinamide riboside (NR). NR is a precursor to NAD+ which is a critical component of the processes involved in mitochondrial ATP production. NAD+ is also a substrate to several enzymes, including a protein family called sirtuins.
While this is grossly simplified, one of the many roles of sirtuins is to promote mitochondrial biogenesis. The Thorne webpage also claims that Niacel™ increases the number of mitochondria in your cardiac and muscle cells, thereby improve aerobic endurance. While it’s not an inexpensive supplement, it does work well, particularly when combined with the rest of the stack.
Pirroloquinoline quinone (PQQ) has been classified by many researchers as an essential micronutrient given the body’s inability to synthesize it and its critical role in longevity & energy production . Its role in mitochondrial health ranges from free radical protection to stimulating mitchondrial biogenesis where damaged or reduced mitochondria are present.
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is a micronutrient that has been documented to improve mitochondrial health and increase energy production, thereby reducing degenerative aging effects associated with mitochondrial DNA damage. Like PQQ, CoQ10 is a critical participant in the ATP production process within the mitochondria.
|Name||Benefit||Recommended Dose||Where to Find it|
|Niacel™||Increases mitochondrial biogensis||125 mg twice daily||HERE|
|PQQ||Increases mitochondrial biogenesis, prevents oxidative damage||10 mg twice daily||HERE|
|CoQ10||Improves overall mitochondrial health and energy production||100 mg twice daily||HERE|
While there’s no replacement for putting your time into training, supplements can help improve your conditioning faster if you use the right ones in the right amounts.
Research, along with my own experience, strongly supports the use of the six supplements I’ve described above, but, as with everything regarding your fitness, I advise taking an individualized approach.
Find out what supplements you respond well to and what doses work the best for you.
Just like recovery methods or training volume, it doesn’t matter if they’re effective for anyone else. If they’re not effective for you, then change it up. Make sure your fitness, nutrition, health, and performance strategies are getting you closer to your goals. A one-size-fits-all approach is never the best one.
If you have used any of the supplements I’ve mentioned or have found others that work well, I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments below.