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Five Nutrients All Athletes Should Be Taking

November 6, 2007 | Sara Thyr, N.D.

Most athletes are very conscientious about what is going into their bodies, while keeping fit or training for an event. The combination of exercise, nutrition, and supplements can make a world of difference in performance and recovery from injury. Several nutrients are vital to this process. First are the essential fatty acids (EFA’s), most importantly, the omega 3 fatty acids. EFA’s are “essential” as the name implies, and called thus because they cannot be manufactured from other nutrients in the body. The most important thing they can do for athletes is help to decrease inflammation and assist in anti-oxidant functions. All work on muscles causes damage - that is how we get stronger. The recovery process is crucial. EFA’s are found in many foods, but especially high in cold water fish and flax seed oil. These oils can be extracted, but are very fragile. It’s important to make sure you are buying from a reputable company who analyzes the crude product for contaminants and rancidity. Fish oil is higher in omega-3 fatty acids than flax seed oil, but poses the risk of mercury contamination. Buying from a pure source is even more important if you are using these oils. I find that a pure source of fish oil that is encapsulated in a gel cap is easy to take and has low risk of going bad. You can also add flax seed oil to foods, such as drizzling over salads, in oatmeal, or mixed into a protein smoothie. There are several companies who make a decent tasting fish oil that is bottled rather than encapsulated. These can also be added to smoothies, but still have a strong enough fish flavor that make them difficult to add to vegetables. Vitamin C in high doses, about 2-4 grams per day, helps strengthen connective tissue and aid in repair after work, as well. Vitamin C is truly one of the most amazing nutrients we can ingest. It is found in many foods, and in many of the foods that athletes should be eating anyway. The best strength, fitness, and performance are achieved by eating a whole foods diet. So increasing our intake of oranges, red and yellow peppers, and other fruits and many vegetables is ideal. I recommend that people who are training take extra vitamin C, as mentioned 2000-4000 mg daily, in divided doses. A possible effect of vitamin C at higher doses is loose stools. If you aren’t taking any, increase gradually. If you begin to get loose stools, lower the dose. CoenzymeQ10 is also known as “ubiquinone” as it is ubiquitous in the cells of our bodies. It is important in the function of energy production, and is particularly abundant in heart and muscle cells. It is also a wonderful antioxidant. For athletes it is important in keeping energy production high during a workout or event, and the antioxidant properties make it a perfect addition for aiding in repair and preventing damage. CoQ10, as it is commonly called, is a fat-soluble nutrient, so should be taken with meals. I recommend athletes get 100 mg twice daily, and increase the dose before and after races or higher intensity workouts. Quercetin is a bioflavonoid that functions best at keeping connective tissue strong and healthy. For athletes, this means preventing and healing better from injury. It will also help if you experience some exercise-induced asthma or allergy symptoms. Quercetin and other bioflavonoids are found in many foods - fruits and vegetables. So again, eating a diet that is rich is high nutrient dense foods such as those is crucial to ongoing health and better performance. You can also find it in your health food store, where it may be combined with other bioflavonoids. It is a very safe nutrient, so overdose it not an issue. Digestive upset is the most common, although rare, side effect. Trying another (better) brand may help this to resolve. Taking two 300 mg capsules two to three times daily away from food is very beneficial. B vitamins are the heroes of handling stress. When you are training or even just exercising regularly, you are putting your body through some stress. The B’s help your liver to process toxins, and aid in overall recovery. I have athletes who will come in for B vitamin injections around a large event. They are also crucial in energy production, so can assist in overall performance. A good oral B complex will also accomplish this, as long as you don’t have any digestive issues that might hinder proper absorption. Some people get some stomach upset from taking them orally, so having them with food will decrease this. Start by taking a B Complex 100 and see if you notice any difference in how you feel or your athletic performance. They are water soluble, so they don’t accumulate in tissues, and are therefore very hard to get too much of. Most of the patients I see are deficient in B vitamins. You can also get them from food (oat bran, whole grains, Brewer’s yeast, legumes, fish, avocado) and a good green drink to start the day is an excellent source. These nutrients, along with a whole foods diet, proper hydration and adequate rest, will provide excellent protection from injury, and make your workouts more effective and fun. Happy trails.

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