Trying to maintain an active and healthy lifestyle in the face of the many demands and uncertainties of everyday life can be a fatiguing experience for many of us, says Fortitech's Cathy Arnold
Key to achieving optimal endurance and performance in your everyday life is maintaining a healthy nutrient-rich diet, accompanied with regular daily exercise to help control body weight and the development of chronic diseases, along with getting enough sleep. Beyond these general health guidelines, here are a number of important nutrients and ingredients that may help to maximise endurance and performance.
Important electrolytes in the body, such as sodium, potassium, chloride and bicarbonate are essential for maintaining normal water distribution throughout the body, and are essential for heart, nerve and muscle function. Sweating causes the body to lose electrolytes, primarily sodium and chloride (salt). It is generally well accepted that the provision of electrolytes along with water is important in rehydration following exercise.
There is also some concern that excess water consumption without electrolytes during prolonged exercise can be detrimental to some people by increasing the risk of developing a condition called hyponatremia (low blood sodium). The main ingredients of popular sports drinks are water, electrolytes and simple carbohydrates and they are designed to promote rehydration.
The B vitamins are important facilitators of cell metabolism and energy production. Maintaining adequate intakes of these essential nutrients is important to ward off deficiency and help maintain optimal energy production. B vitamins such as thiamin (B1), riboflavin (B2) and niacin (B3) are critical components of metabolic cycles in the body that generate ATP, the body’s energy currency.
Other important B vitamins include folate and cobalamin (vitamin B12), which are involved with red blood cell production and cell division, as well as pyridoxine (vitamin B6), which is needed for protein synthesis.
L-carnitine is an amino acid that is synthesized from the amino acids lysine and methionine. Because it can be synthesised in the body, L-carnitine is usually not considered to be an essential nutrient and is used in exercise programmes to reduce muscle soreness.
D ribose is a five-carbon sugar (pentose) found primarily in ribonucleic acid. It encourages ATP production, maintains energy levels and promotes recovery. Most of the body’s tissues, including the heart, are unable to produce ribose quickly enough to restore energy levels once they have fallen significantly.
Intense exercise, muscle ischaemia or localised hypoxia can all overwhelm the renewal mechanisms of cellular energy. As a result, an imbalance occurs between energy supply and demand, which leads to muscle stiffness, pain and weakness. D ribose helps to maintain optimal levels of cellular energy and reduces the physiological consequences of a deficiency of cellular energy.
Branched chain amino acids (BCAAs)
The branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) are leucine, isoleucine, and valine. BCAAs are considered to be essential amino acids because human beings cannot produce these amino acids and, as such they must be present in the diet. Some athletes say that branched chain amino acids help to improve strength training results, as well as improve endurance and recovery.
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is an important nutrient in the human body. It is a fat-soluble vitamin-like compound that is also known as ubiquinone from the word ubiquitous, which means 'everywhere.' CoQ10 plays a role in the production of energy within the mitochondria.
Magnesium is a cofactor in more than 300 enzymatic reactions in the body, and is necessary for the transmission of nerve impulses, muscular activity, temperature regulation and detoxification reactions. It is required for the metabolism of carbohydrates, proteins and fats, as well as activity related to calcium, phosphorus and vitamin C.
It is vital for the health of nervous and muscular tissues throughout the body, is necessary for the synthesis of ATP and it facilitates the transport of potassium into cells. A deficiency of magnesium or potassium can result in fatigue.
N-acetyl-cysteine is the acetylated form of the amino acid cysteine and serves as a precursor for the synthesis of glutathione, a detoxifying agent in the body. Intensive exercise can generate large amounts of free radicals, which places increased stress on the body, which can degrade the immune system. NAC quenches free radicals and strengthens the immune system, which can lead to enhanced performance.
There are many trace elements — such as iron, copper, zinc and selenium — that are important essential mineral nutrients. Maintaining proper trace mineral status is important to maximize oxygen transport capacity (iron), ATP generation (iron) and defend against the damaging effects of free radical production (zinc, copper and selenium).
Women are particularly in need of iron and are at high risk of developing iron deficiency, which impairs haemoglobin synthesis in red blood cells, leading to reduced oxygen transport to tissues and the development of easy fatigability on exertion.
Potassium is one of the body’s three major electrolytes (the other two being sodium and chloride). They exist as fully dissociated ions and are the main particles responsible for osmotic pressure in body fluids. Potassium is the primary electrolyte functioning inside cells throughout the body and needs to be replaced after strenuous exercise for the proper functioning of muscle and energy recovery.
Beta-alanine is found in the normal diet in meat, especially poultry. This amino acid, along with the amino acid L-histidine, forms the dipeptide carnosine in muscle. The oral supplementation of beta-alanine can increase muscle carnosine concentration. Exercise normally produces acid in the body and can lead to a drop in pH. Carnosine acts as a buffer in muscle and can offset the exercise-associated drop in muscle pH and has been shown to improve physical performance.
Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)
GABA is synthesised in the body from an amino acid called glutamate. GABA acts as an inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain, which may help to prolong time to fatigue and increase the glycogen content of muscle. GABA has also generated interest in the sports community because it may also influence the secretion of growth hormones and thereby influence muscle growth.