Best Supplements For Endurance Athletes

A popular sport, particularly in the warmer months, is endurance activities such as triathlons, running, cycling, or roller skating. These activities may not be as intense, but they can last for several hours. Because of this, certain nutrients are depleted and need to be replenished during sports activity to maintain performance intensity. Along with a proper diet providing enough energy, nutritional supplements can also be beneficial. Some of these supplements can be taken before or during the activity to support performance. This article will discuss the essential supplements that should be available at home for enthusiastic cyclists or runners who are focused on both enjoying the activity and improving performance.

What are the specifics of endurance sports?

We will discuss below the typical characteristics that differentiate endurance activities from strength activities, apart from duration.

  • They normally last between thirty minutes and several hours. Activities lasting more than four hours are already considered ultra-endurance.
  • They involve large muscle groups. Typically, the muscles of the lower half of the body are most involved.
  • These are aerobic activities. There is an acceleration of the heart rate, normally above 50% of its maximum value for a particular athlete.
  • Endurance is the ability to maintain a given load intensity over some time and thus withstand fatigue.
  • For example, endurance sports include running, cycling, swimming, skating, mountain biking, triathlon, as well as riding a rowing machine, exercise bike, or ski erg.
  • Endurance athletes have higher energy intake requirements. They burn a lot of calories during prolonged activity.
  • Endurance athletes often have a higher carbohydrate ratio in their diet. As a rule, it accounts for more than 60% of total energy intake versus inactive individuals or strength athletes. They try to maximize the supply of muscle glycogen (reserve carbohydrate). This is then converted during performance into energy, which is used by the working muscles.
  • Prolonged activity causes greater sweating and loss of electrolytes. With sweat, not only fluids leave the body, but also important minerals called electrolytes. These include chlorides, sodium, magnesium, potassium, and calcium. They are important for optimum muscle function and essentially for the whole body. For example, decreases in magnesium and calcium are associated with disruption of muscle contraction and more frequent cramping. Therefore, athletes should ensure adequate hydration, including supplementation of these minerals.
  • During several hours of activity, athletes often replenish energy in addition to fluids. Most commonly in the form of easily absorbed simple carbohydrates (gels, ion drinks, or bars) that are easy to digest.
  • Endurance athletes have a higher protein requirement than non-athlete populations. This is mainly due to the body’s increased demands to regenerate, preserve muscle mass, and maintain proper immune function during demanding sports performance. Endurance athletes are generally advised to take about 1.2-1.4g of protein per kilogram of body weight. A quantity of 0.8 to 1g of protein per kilogram of body weight is often sufficient for the non-sporting population.

Why is diet and optimal nutrient intake so important for endurance athletes?

To ensure they receive enough macronutrients and micronutrients, endurance runners, swimmers, or cyclists are typically more demanding than recreational athletes or inactive individuals. This includes proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals, which are obtained from the diet or nutritional supplements.

  1. Supports regeneration

The replenishment of carbohydrates and proteins after exercise is crucial for initiating the body’s regeneration processes. Carbohydrates are particularly vital for swiftly restoring glycogen stores and repairing muscle fibres that have been damaged during training.

  1. Maintaining or achieving optimum weight

An athlete can achieve their desired weight goal by creating a calorie deficit or surplus by adjusting their energy intake from the diet. This process involves reducing or increasing the amount of energy consumed.

  1. Reduced risk of injury

Proper functioning of immunity and the locomotor system (joints, bones, muscles, tendons) relies on sufficient consumption of energy, protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals. Adequate hydration, essential for joint function, also lowers the risk of injury.

  1. Supports sporting performance

When exercising, the body relies on its quick energy reserves (muscle glycogen), which are limited and quickly used up. By consuming complex carbohydrates before and after exercise, as well as simple carbohydrates during exercise, athletes can improve their performance by sustaining higher intensity levels.

  1. Reduces fatigue 

Receiving sufficient amounts of certain micronutrients, such as B vitamins, vitamin C, magnesium, and iron, can help lessen fatigue and exhaustion. These substances are commonly present in both food and supplements. However, the matter is slightly more intricate, as maintaining sufficient energy levels throughout the day requires not only a proper diet, but also optimal regeneration, sleep, stress management, and a well-designed training program.

The best supplements for endurance athletes

What effects do these supplements have on sporting performance? Additionally, what dosages are recommended and when is the optimal timing for consumption to promote regeneration and proper muscle or joint function?

  1. Simple and complex carbohydrates for maximum energy during performance

Athletes choose carbohydrates as their preferred energy source when deciding between carbohydrates, fats, or proteins because carbohydrates are easy to digest, can quickly be used for energy in movement, and are metabolized into glucose in the body. Glucose is then utilized for brain or muscle activity or stored as glycogen in muscles or the liver for future use.

The performance of an endurance athlete relies on the glycogen stores, as when these stores are depleted, fatigue sets in and performance declines greatly. An athlete’s body can typically store about 600g of glycogen, with around 80-100g being liver glycogen and 300-500g being muscle glycogen, which provides energy for movement. The supply of carbohydrates is limited and quickly runs out, so it is crucial to supplement carbohydrates throughout the day and during sporting activities.

By carefully planning their diet and incorporating supplements, endurance athletes can optimize the storage of muscle glycogen. The most efficient approach involves increasing carbohydrate consumption, preferably making up around 60% or more of total daily intake, alongside a well-structured training regimen and sufficient rest.

To manage higher carbohydrate intake throughout the day and during training, dietary supplements can be beneficial. However, consuming approximately 450g of carbohydrates daily, along with an energy intake of 3,000 kcal through a solid diet, can be quite challenging. This is particularly true when engaging in regular sports activity for extended periods.

The suggested amount of carbohydrates to consume.

Endurance athletes such as runners and cyclists should usually consume between 5-12g of carbohydrates per kg of body weight each day. The specific amount required is primarily determined by the overall volume of training, with the intensity and duration of the activity also playing a role. Carbohydrate needs increase as the duration of exercise lengthens, as the body demands more.

It is advisable to consume 30-60g of simple carbohydrates per hour during sporting activities. If the activity lasts longer than 2.5 hours, the recommended intake may increase to 90g, with a combination of glucose and fructose in a 2:1 ratio. This amount represents the highest capacity our digestive system can effectively utilize. However, the individual habits and tolerance of the athlete play a significant role in determining the optimal carbohydrate consumption. Digestive issues may arise for certain individuals who consume higher amounts of carbohydrates during exercise.

In what way and at what time should carbohydrates be consumed?

Carbohydrates can be consumed at any time of the day. Athletes often use complex carbohydrate supplements before and after training for their slower and more efficient digestion, which promotes consistent energy levels. These supplements, such as Palatinose™ (isomaltulose), are often included in gainers. Gainers contain a combination of slow and fast carbohydrates, proteins, and sometimes vitamins and minerals. Therefore, gainers are a convenient option for replenishing energy and essential nutrients throughout the day, particularly when solid food is not sufficient. Additionally, liquid nutrition is easier and faster to digest than solid food.

When engaging in a sports activity, it is recommended to consume fast carbohydrates in the form of energy gels that can be easily absorbed, grape sugar (dextrose), or patented easily digestible maize carbohydrate called Vitargo. These carbohydrates can also be mixed with maltodextrin in a drink.

  1. Quality protein to promote regeneration

In the human body, the synthesis and degradation of muscle proteins occur continuously. It is necessary to repair damaged muscles not only after strength training but also after endurance activity. As a result, the production of new proteins increases by approximately 10 – 80% for up to 24 hours. Furthermore, in a few hours of physical activity, the body may utilize proteins as an energy source when depleted. A high-quality protein is a fast and effective way to enhance regeneration and attain optimal levels of protein in the diet.

Whey protein is regarded as the ultimate and undefeated benchmark of sports nutrition because it provides ample amounts of all the essential amino acids. For athletes who favour plant-based protein sources, an excellent option is a multi-component plant protein that combines pea, hemp, and rice protein to obtain a diverse range of amino acids, ensuring the highest quality.

The recommendations for protein intake should be considered in a step-by-step manner.

Endurance athletes are recommended to consume between 1.2 and 1.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. If they aim to increase muscle mass, this intake can be raised to 2 grams per kilogram of body weight. Protein powder can help meet some of these requirements, usually in the form of approximately two servings per day, with each serving containing around 20 to 40 grams of protein. Protein bars are also helpful in increasing protein intake, as they typically contain up to 23 grams of protein per serving.

What are the recommended ways and timing to consume protein?

Protein digests most quickly when mixed with water or low-fat milk, which is especially beneficial for athletes who need to utilize protein rapidly. This is particularly advantageous before training if there has been a longer time between meals or after training to initiate muscle regeneration promptly. Throughout the day, protein powder can be added to foods like porridge, pancakes, or smoothies to enhance their protein content. It is generally recommended to consume 0.3g of protein per kg of body weight every 3 – 5 hours throughout the day, and protein powder can assist with achieving this goal at any time.

Generally, the same amount of intake should be enough for an endurance athlete both before and after training. However, if they engage in prolonged, high-intensity workouts, it becomes necessary to include protein supplementation during the actual sports activity. The recommended rate for this is 0.25g per kg/TH every hour.

  1. Electrolytes for optimal hydration

Athletes may experience dehydration if they do not drink enough fluids, sweat a lot (resulting in high fluid loss), or both. Dehydration is typically determined by measuring weight loss. Even a 2% decrease in weight can negatively impact an athlete’s performance. This is because the body loses the ability to effectively cool itself through sweating when it has lost all its water, resulting in reduced sweating. Additionally, the transportation of oxygen to the muscles being used during exercise is reduced.

Athletes lose not only body water but also specific minerals when sweating. These minerals, known as electrolytes, include chlorides, sodium, magnesium, potassium, and calcium. They are crucial for the proper function of the heart, brain, and muscles, and also aid in reducing fatigue. Additionally, they play a vital role in the body’s water management. Insufficient electrolytes can lead to increased fatigue, muscle spasms, or nausea. Endurance athletes often lose 4 – 10 litres of water and 3500 – 7000 mg of sodium in a single day.

It is crucial for athletes who engage in several hours of running or cycling to replenish water and electrolytes during exercise. Additionally, they should keep track of their thirst and the colour of their urine. If the urine is darker shades of yellow to brown, it indicates likely dehydration for the athlete. On the other hand, overly bright urine colour suggests hyperhydration.

Fluid and electrolyte intake that is advisable

The amount of fluid intake is always determined by the ambient temperature, the duration and intensity of the activity, and the athlete’s weight.

According to standards, it is advised that you consume:

  • 500ml of fluid 2 hours before exercise
  • 125 – 250 ml immediately before exercise
  • 125 – 250ml every 10 – 20 minutes during training
  • After training, it is recommended to drink 150% of your fluid loss (e.g. if you weigh 1 kg less after training, you should gradually replenish 1.5 litres of fluids)

When exercising for more than two hours or in a hot environment causing higher sweating rates, it is advisable to replenish electrolytes. Sodium is the most lost electrolyte through sweat. It is recommended to supplement sodium at a rate of 300 – 600mg per hour.

In what manner and at what time should electrolytes be consumed?

Ion supply drinks are a great option for replenishing both minerals and liquids at the same time. To prepare the drink, all you need to do is mix the beverage concentrate with water and sip it during exercise. In addition, these drinks often include fast carbohydrates to ensure an energy boost. Alternatively, electrolyte tablets can be taken with water and are useful during longer hikes or challenging cycling trips. It is important to carefully check the ingredients of the drink and consider adding other substances if necessary to create the perfect “ideal ion supply drink” that suits the specific training requirements.

  1. Caffeine for better performance

Caffeine, a well-known stimulant, is commonly used by athletes in the form of a beverage before or during sports activities. Its effects are not only felt quickly before training, but it also enhances overall performance. This is primarily because it decreases fatigue and pain levels. By blocking adenosine activity, which causes tiredness, caffeine keeps our nervous system alert. Additionally, it boosts the release of endorphins, reducing pain perception. Moreover, caffeine aids in converting fat into energy during workouts and can increase the storage of carbohydrate glycogen reserves, which are crucial for optimal performance. Considering these factors, endurance athletes should include caffeine in their supplementation plan.

According to several studies, a beneficial amount of caffeine before training is 3 – 6 mg per kilogram body weight, consumed within 30 – 90 minutes. During sports activities, the same amount can be consumed if necessary. Additionally, after exercising, combining a serving of caffeine (3 mg kg/TH) with a source of carbohydrates can effectively support glycogen replenishment. However, it is important to monitor your caffeine intake throughout the day to prevent exceeding 400 mg. According to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), this amount is considered safe for a healthy individual weighing 70 kg in the long term.

What are the recommended methods and timing for consuming caffeine?

The intake of 3 to 6 mg/kg/TH is recommended to be taken before, during, or after training. Caffeine-containing dietary supplements are available in tablet form, energy shots, or RTD drinks, which also contain BCAA, vitamins, and minerals.

  1. Complex joint nutrition to support proper function of the musculoskeletal system

Prolonged running or cycling challenges not only the muscles but also the joints, ligaments, and other parts of the musculoskeletal system. In runners, the articular cartilage is especially vulnerable and can be strained, leading to painful discomfort and difficulty with movement. Cartilage is made up of various components, such as chondroitin sulphate, glucosamine sulphate, and two types of collagen, which are vital for its proper function and joint flexibility. Collagen plays a crucial role in the strength and resilience of cartilage. Chondroitin and glucosamine support collagen production and provide proper nutrition. By taking nutritional supplements, you can effectively increase the levels of these substances in the body, thus improving the natural regenerative ability of cartilage.

Various studies have indicated that the consumption of glucosamine and chondroitin through dietary supplements can potentially result in decreased pain and enhanced mobility of impaired joints. The inclusion of MSM (methylsulphonylmethane) in joint nutrition supplements is common due to its additional anti-inflammatory properties. Consequently, the effects of these substances complement each other, emphasizing the significance of incorporating them in superior joint nutrition supplements.

To obtain the desired effects, it is advisable to consume the following doses daily.

  • 900 – 1500mg glucosamine.
  • 500 – 3000mg MSM,
  • and 1000–1200mg chondroitin.

When should joint nutrition be taken and how should it be taken?

The most common time to use joint nutrition supplements is after a meal, with options including capsules or an instantly soluble beverage powder. Additionally, individuals have the option to separately take active substances, allowing for increased intake of MSM or glucosamine on their own.

  1. BCAAs

BCAAs, which are made up of the amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and valine, can be found in animal foods like meat, fish, and milk, as well as in training supplements.

All three amino acids have the potential to serve as an energy source for muscles, while leucine additionally possesses the ability to facilitate muscle growth.

BCAA supplements do not seem to have a significant impact on the performance of endurance athletes. However, they are particularly beneficial for strength training and bodybuilding due to their ability to promote muscle growth.

However, even though BCAAs may not enhance your endurance, they will increase your ability to train more intensely and expedite the recovery of muscle damage post-workout.

  1. Beetroot or beet juice

Limited studies have been conducted on the effects of beetroot or beet juice on strength training and bodybuilding, unlike the numerous studies that have revealed the favourable impact on endurance in activities such as running, swimming, cycling, and rowing.

The participants in studies that showed the positive effects of beet juice consumed 2 cups of beet juice approximately 2.5-3 hours before exercising. It should be noted that beet juice appears to have a greater impact on enhancing recreational performance rather than highly-trained endurance athletes.

One possible reason for the endurance benefits of beetroot and beet juice could be their high nitrate content, as they are considered to be one of the best natural sources of nitrates.

Beets and beet juice are believed to enhance endurance through the conversion of nitrates to nitric oxide, which results in the expansion of blood vessels. This expansion improves blood flow, enabling the muscles to receive increased oxygen and nutrients, thus enhancing endurance. Additionally, it may accelerate the elimination of muscle waste products.

  1. Beta-alanine

There have been studies indicating that beta-alanine can lead to minor enhancements in activities that involve intermittent efforts, such as hockey or soccer. Yet, it remains uncertain whether beta-alanine can enhance endurance in running or cycling.

Most studies involved participants consuming a daily dosage of beta-alanine ranging from 1.6 to 6.4 grams throughout 4 to 8 weeks. Conversely, the average intake of beta-alanine from food is approximately 1 gram per day. It is advisable to commence with a lower quantity and assess the effectiveness of this supplement for individual needs.

Beta-alanine is an amino acid present in meat, fish, and poultry that functions by boosting muscle carnosine levels. Consequently, this results in a decrease in lactic acid within the muscles, fatigue reduction, and an increase in muscular force.

  1. L-glutamine

If the body has low amounts of L-glutamine, it can lead to inflammation, muscle breakdown, and a weakened immune system. Glutamine levels may not be enough in endurance athletes even though their bodies can produce it, which is why they may choose to use glutamine supplements.

By promoting muscle recovery, glutamine mainly functions by enabling you to exercise more intensely, thus emphasizing the importance of maintaining adequate levels of glutamine in the body.

A study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition discovered that higher concentrations of L-glutamine have the interesting effect of enhancing sodium uptake. This leads to a reduction in muscle fatigue and the preservation of muscle strength.

With that being said, glutamine has the potential to be advantageous for endurance athletes as it can expedite muscle recovery and increase energy levels.

  1. Omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids can reduce muscle inflammation and enhance the process of recovery.

According to Swolverine, the most optimal source of Omega-3 fatty acids is krill oil, which can be found widely and offers various benefits such as reducing inflammation, relieving joint pain, improving joint mobility, and accelerating recovery. These fats are plentiful in seafood, plant oils, nuts & seeds, and fortified foods.

Who is Swolverine:-Swolverine is an athlete and active lifestyle brand.  They create sports supplements designed to fuel and optimize your athletic performance through transparency, clinically effective doses, and clinically proven ingredients with evidence-based outcomes.

Omega-3 fats and krill oil can enhance endurance by enabling increased training and quicker recovery, once again.

  1. Sodium bicarbonate

Research has demonstrated that sodium bicarbonate, also known as baking soda, can enhance performance in activities requiring intermittent loads or short, intense bursts such as sprinting in football or soccer.

The effects of sodium bicarbonate differ greatly among athletes, and in some individuals, it may actually hinder performance.

The usual amount of sodium bicarbonate to take is 300 milligrams for every kilogram of body weight. Nonetheless, it is important to keep in mind any possible adverse effects. Baking soda frequently leads to vomiting, nausea, and fluid retention, and some individuals may perceive sodium bicarbonate dissolved in water to be excessively salty.

The mechanism of sodium bicarbonate’s effectiveness is believed to involve the reduction of acid buildup, including lactic acid, in muscles, subsequently diminishing fatigue.

  1. Turmeric

Studies have demonstrated that turmeric shares similarities with omega-3 fatty acids in terms of its effects. These studies have also revealed that turmeric has a positive impact on joint health and mobility, as well as reducing muscle inflammation and soreness while enhancing muscle recovery.

A study that compared the safety and effects of Ibuprofen and turmeric was published in the Journal of Medicinal Food, specifically focusing on their similarities in anti-inflammation.

In the study, individuals with knee osteoarthritis were divided into two groups. The first group consumed 1,200 milligrams of Ibuprofen daily, whereas the second group ingested 1,500 milligrams of turmeric extract each day for four weeks.

After the 4 weeks, it was found that turmeric had effects similar to Ibuprofen, but with less impact on gastrointestinal health.

Thanks to its anti-inflammatory and recovery effects, turmeric could be seen as a safer substitute for ibuprofen which, in turn, could enhance athletic performance, particularly in endurance athletes.

  1. Whey protein

Endurance athletes may occasionally overlook protein intake as its main function is muscle-building and recovery rather than providing energy. However, protein is essential as it actively contributes to muscle recovery.

The ACSM, DC, and AND suggest that endurance athletes should consume between 1.2 and 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. It is generally advised for endurance athletes to consume protein towards the lower end of this range, which is 1.2 grams per kilogram per day.

Adequate amounts of protein are typically consumed by most individuals through the intake of meat and other food sources. However, for certain endurance athletes, the protein provided by regular food may not be enough, therefore leading them to rely on supplements.

A recommended option for a protein supplement to consider is whey protein, which is obtainable in concentrate, isolate, and hydrolysate forms. Whey protein concentrate is less processed and contains higher amounts of fat and carbohydrates, while isolate and hydrolysate offer a more refined protein.

  1. Creatine

Recent research indicates that endurance athletes who incorporate sprints, high-intensity intervals, or strength training into their workouts can receive potential benefits from using creatine, which is a well-liked supplement in the athletic community.

By increasing the production of ATP, which is the primary energy source for muscle contractions, creatine functions. This heightened energy level can aid endurance athletes in completing the final repetitions of a strength training session or maintaining their speed during high-intensity intervals. Furthermore, studies have demonstrated that creatine assists in the augmentation of muscle mass and strength, resulting in enhanced running efficiency and quicker race times.

It is important to note that creatine may not be effective for all athletes and should be taken as directed. However, before adding creatine to your training regimen, it is always best to consult with a healthcare professional, as with any supplement.


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