Common adaptogens and athletic performance

Adaptogens are a class of herbs known for their ability to boost the body’s tolerance to stress, fatigue, and sickness.

For a more in depth look into what adaptogens are and how they work, check out one of my previous articles here.

The role adaptogens play in increasing athletic performance, however, is less well known. In this article, we’re going to examine the scientific evidence surrounding some common adaptogens and their ability to improve athletic performance.

Roseroot (Rhodiola rosea)

Roseroot increases time to exhaustion and VO2 max.

VO2 max is the maximum amount of oxygen a person can utilize during intense exercise. Generally, the better shape you’re in, the higher your VO2 max is going to be.

A good VO2 max for a 30-year-old male is about 42ml of oxygen/kg bodyweight/minute. A good VO2 max for a 30-year-old female is about 32ml of oxygen/kg bodyweight/minute. To put these values in perspective, Tour de France winner Miguel Indurain’s VO2 max was reported at 88 mL of oxygen/kg bodyweight/minute. A highly trained athlete is that much more efficient at using oxygen than the average Joe.

The time to exhaustion test is quite simple. To perform the test, the participant must maintain a certain work rate. The time to exhaustion is the time between the beginning of the test and the moment the participant can no longer maintain the required work rate.

A study consisting of 12 healthy but untrained male and female participants tested roseroot’s effect on VO2 max and time to exhaustion. Participants took either one 100 milligram dose right before VO2 max testing or took a lower dose for 4 weeks. Both dosing regimes increased VO2 max and time to exhaustion.

A second study measuring VO2 max alone, wasn’t as promising. Fourteen males took roseroot for 4 weeks prior to testing. All the men were between the ages of 18 and 29 and were well trained. In this group, the roseroot had no effect on VO2 max.

One study has measured the effects of roseroot on power output.

Power is the amount of work that can be done in a given period of time. Work is a measure of energy transfer on an object. If, for example, a person moves a block along the ground, it means that person is doing work on that block. Power would be calculated by dividing the work done on the block by time.

The study measuring VO2 max and time to exhaustion in healthy untrained males and females also measured power output. No significant changes were noted.

Eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus)

Eleuthero is Siberian ginseng. One study conducted in 1986 concluded that taking eleuthero can increase anaerobic running capacity. Anaerobic means in the absence of oxygen. It’s the type of running that would make you out of breath, like sprinting.

The study involved 6 trained men between the ages of 18-44. They each took 4 millilitres of a concentrated liquid eleuthero herbal extract for 8 days. Then, they performed a VO2 max test. The researchers also measured time to fatigue.

The men in the study who took eleuthero for 8 days before the test had a higher VO2 max and a longer time to fatigue.

While the study is well designed, the effect wasn’t robust, and it only involved 6 people. More researched is needed to make any definitive conclusions about eleuthero and athletic performance.

Schisandra (Schisandra chinensis)

Schisandra is a plant whose berry extracts have been shown to increase circulating levels of nitric oxide in 71 male and female athletes. Nitric oxide is a molecule naturally produced by the body that increases vasodilation – blood vessels widen to increase blood flow.

The men and women involved in the study took Schisandra prior to competition and the authors measured circulating nitric oxide in the athlete’s saliva. Based on this measurement, nitric oxide increased as a result of the supplement.

Maral (Rhaponticum carthamoides) root

Rhaponticum carthamoides is a plant source of ecdysteroids and is commonly referred to as Maral Root or Russian Leuzea. Ecdysteroids are a type of steroid hormone widely marketed to athletes as a dietary supplement. They’re advertised as being able to increase strength and muscle mass as well as reduce fatigue and ease recovery.

Rats fed 50mg/kg of ecdysone over the course of 28 days had a grip strength that was 18% stronger than the group that was not given any ecdysone. Grip strength or power output after rhaptonticum carthamoides supplementation has not been assessed in humans.

Adaptogens have a long scientific history of reducing fatigue and helping the body adapt to stress. Research into adaptogens increasing athletic performance is less mature. Despite the relative infancy of the field, the documented safety of common adaptogens like roseroot, eleuthero, Schisandra, and Rhaponticum carthomoides make them a worthy candidate for the supplement stack of anyone trying to bust through a plateau or reach a new personal best.

Sources and further reading

Roseroot

Eleuthero

Schisandra

Rhaponticum carthamoides

 

 

 

 

Taurine: Frequently Asked Questions

Taurine is an organic acid found in large amounts in the brain, retina, and blood. It is a “conditional amino acid”, meaning it can be manufactured by the body when insufficient amounts are ingested from the diet.

Taurine has many different functions throughout the body and several uses in modern medicine. For example, it acts as a stabilizer of cell membranes and helps out a few different anti-oxidant defense systems; it is used to treat congestive heart failure, high blood pressure, and liver disease; it is used in seizure disorders, autism, and attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder; and supplementation has been shown to improve performance in athletes. Some are a direct result of the actions of taurine, others occur through taurine’s influence on other molecules.

With so many different effects and applications, it’s easy to get confused trying to sort out what taurine does, and what it doesn’t do.

With this article, I’m going to tackle some of the most frequently asked questions about taurine.

If you’re looking for some general information about taurine and taurine supplementation, check out this previous article of mine.

#1: Is taurine a stimulant?

A stimulant refers to a compound that increases the activity of the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord), that is pleasurable and invigorating, or stimulates the sympathetic nervous system.

On its own, taurine doesn’t seem to be a stimulant because it doesn’t fit these criteria.

While some studies have shown improvements in athletic performance and exercise capacity, this is likely occurring through taurine’s capacity as an antioxidant and membrane stabilizer, or through some function of taurine that hasn’t quite been identified yet.

Taurine is sometimes mistaken as a stimulant because a few studies have suggested taurine combined with caffeine improves mental performance. And because you’ll often find taurine listed as an ingredient in energy drinks.

#2: Is taurine a diuretic?

A diuretic is a compound that increases the production of urine.

It’s a little unclear as to whether taurine is a diuretic or not. I was able to find two studies saying it is, but one was done in hamsters and the other was super small.

The one study that was done in humans involved 8 patients with damage to their livers from liver disease. These patients had taurine added to their i.v. bag one day, had their urine volume measured, then had extra saline added to their i.v. bag the next day to serve as their own control.

A study with a sample size this small, which only included people with advanced liver disease, doesn’t allow you to draw too many conclusions. So, for now, the jury is still out on whether taurine is a diuretic.

#3: Is taurine a sleep aid?

In short, no.

Taurine is involved in the creation of melatonin (the sleep hormone) and it increases in the body with long periods of being awake. It also activates GABA(A) receptors in a region of the brain associated with sleep regulation.

These properties have led people to think that taurine is useful as a sleep aid.

However, the only study with good results suggesting taurine was useful for promoting sleep was done in fruit flies.

Studies done in rats showed minimal effects and the one study involving people didn’t show good results either.

#4: Can you take taurine before bed?

Taurine on its own is not a stimulant. So, yes, it can be taken before bed without any risk of disrupting your sleep.

Do be careful about other ingredients that might be appearing alongside taurine though. Often you’ll find taurine in energy drinks or pre-workout supplements, which contain caffeine and other stimulants that may make it difficult to fall asleep.

#5: Does taurine help with stress?

Taurine can be found in many different regions of the brain and can be taken in by neurons. In people, taurine levels found in the blood are related to depression.

One study examined the effect of taurine supplementation on chronically stressed rats.

The researchers supplemented rats with taurine before stress and measured changes in depression-like behavior, hormones, neurotransmitters, inflammatory factors, and neurotrophic factors.

The animals given taurine had decreased depression-like behaviors and displayed beneficial changes in many of the hormones and other factors measured. Based on the changes the researchers observed, they concluded that taurine may be involved in regulating the HPA axis (the master regulator of the stress response).

While these results have not been tested in humans, taurine does seem pretty promising in being able to help the brain cope with stress.

Conclusion

Taurine is found in many different parts of the body. Because it is so widespread, it plays many different roles in human physiology. Some science has discovered and characterized already, many remain active areas of research.

What do we know taurine does? Taurine is an antioxidant, it stabilizes cell membranes, it improves athletic performance and exercise capacity, it is beneficial for mental performance when combined with caffeine, it can safely be taken before bed, and it likely helps with stress management.

What doesn’t taurine do? Taurine is not a stimulant, it doesn’t seem to be a diuretic, and it is not a sleep aid.

Do you use taurine in your supplement stack? Have you had any personal experiences with it that don’t line up with what’s published about it in the science world? Let me know about it in the comments below. And please subscribe to the blog to get updates when new articles are posted!

Sources and further reading

Effect Of Taurine Supplementation On Exercise Capacity Of Patients With Heart Failure

The Effect Of Acute Taurine Ingestion On Endurance Performance And Metabolism In Well-trained Cyclists

A taurine and caffeine-containing drink stimulates cognitive performance and well-being

Taurine-induced diuresis and natriuresis in cirrhotic patients with ascites.

Effect of taurine and caffeine on sleep-wake activity in Drosophila melanogaster.

Effect of taurine on ethanol-induced sleep time in mice genetically bred for differences in ethanol sensitivity.

Effect of caffeine and taurine on simulated laparoscopy performed following sleep deprivation.

Antidepressant effect of taurine in chronic unpredictable mild stress-induced depressive rats.

Do you need carbohydrates? A nutritional panel weighs in.

We are all trying to find an edge, something that will take us and our performance to the next level.

That edge takes the form of supplements. It takes the form of new training regimes. It takes the form of sport psychology.

It also takes the form of diet.

We have become increasingly aware of the intimate link between the types of food ingested and its impact on performance.

Scientific studies on the ketogenic diet and low carb diets have exponentially increased in the past 10 years. While research has undoubtedly added to the growing body of knowledge regarding how the body metabolizes different sources of fuel and what the human body needs to function optimally, it has also muddied the waters.

Some scientists believe we’ve become so enamored with the next big thing in the diet world, that we’ve forgotten what we’ve already known for centuries: carbohydrates are essential for optimal physical performance.

Carbs are essential is a conclusion drawn by an expert panel who convened in 2018 to discuss the latest science on macronutrient (protein, carbohydrates, and fat) needs for physical activity.

The panel consisted of Dr. Lawrence Spriet from the University of Guelph – a prolific researcher who studies the role of diet on exercise performance; Dr. Janet Rankin from Virginia Tech – a leader in the application of sports nutrition research and principles; Dr. Katherine Beals from the University of Utah – a certified specialist in sports dietetics; and Dr. Bob Murray – a former Gatorade Sports Science Institute director and researcher and lecturer in the area sports nutrition.

The panel agreed on the necessity of carbohydrates for physical performance, especially for high intensity exercise.

Do you do high intensity exercise? Then you need carbohydrates in your diet

More people than ever are doing High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) and other forms of high intensity exercise. It cracked many published lists as one of the top fitness trends for 2019.

High intensity training allows you to burn more calories in a shorter amount of time, it increases your metabolic rate for hours after you’ve finished working out, it is associated with increased fat loss, and it can reduce heart rate and blood pressure. These are just a few of the known benefits.

High intensity exercise requires lots of energy.

Energy in the body is supplied in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP).

ATP is the biological molecule used by cells of your body as energy to do work. That work may be building new structures, breaking down old structures, and making your muscles move.

Proteins, fats, and carbohydrates can all be used to generate ATP to do work. How they get there is different for each macronutrient.

Proteins are used to generate ATP as a last resort.

The path to ATP from protein looks like this:

Protein –> Amino acids –> Keto acid –> Acetyl-CoA

Acetyl-CoA sugar is then used to generate ATP.

The path from fat to ATP looks something like this:

Fat –> Free fatty acid –> Acetyl-CoA

Finally, the path from carbohydrates to ATP:

Sugar –> Pyruvate –> Acetyl-CoA

High intensity exercise requires the use of fast-twitch muscle fibers. These muscle fibers are capable of breaking down proteins and fats to generate ATP, but they prefer carbohydrates because it is the only macronutrient broken down fast enough to support high-intensity exercise.

If you work out at a high intensity regularly, you definitely need carbohydrates.

Glycogen is the storage form of carbohydrates in the body. You can find it in the liver and in muscle.

Glycogen stores in fast-twitch muscles are the primary source of fuel during high-intensity exercise.

Data suggest that most athletes do not eat enough carbohydrates after they exercise to fully replenish glycogen stores.

If you don’t replenish glycogen stores, you end up with low glycogen in your muscle, your muscle has less fuel to generate ATP, and you cannot perform at your best.

The panel referred to a serious competitor who trained for four hours a day or more. They cited this competitor’s carbohydrate needs at a whopping 3,800 carbohydrate calories per day as required to maintain a high level of performance for an extended period of time.

Most of us don’t fall into this category of strenuous competition, but if you’re are an avid exerciser and doing high-intensity workouts on a regular basis, you are probably not fully replenishing your glycogen stores between workouts and your performance could be suffering as a result.

If you’re an avid exerciser doing high-intensity workouts on a regular basis and you’re on a low carb diet, your performance is definitely suffering during your workouts. You need carbohydrates to perform at your best.

How much carbohydrates do you need in your diet?

The panel of experts suggested 5-7 g/kg bodyweight for moderate exercisers and up to 8-12 g/kg bodyweight for very heavy exercisers.

Immediately before exercise and during exercise, high-carbohydrate foods and beverages are best. These are rapidly absorbed and provide muscles with the energy they need to maintain high-intensity performance.

Immediately after exercise, carbohydrate rich foods that can be quickly digested and absorbed can alter the hormonal environment in the body to support glycogen resynthesis.

Conclusion

The recent popularity of the ketogenic diet has led to many people avoiding carbohydrates in their diet. As more studies are conducted, research is synthesized, and critically evaluated the expert panel who convened in 2018 think we are going to relearn something about carbohydrates that we’ve known for decades: that they are essential for supporting high-intensity performance.

References and further reading

High-Quality Carbohydrates and Physical Performance

 

 

 

 

 

 

The top 7 fitness trends for 2019 according to health and fitness professionals

2018 is over. It came and went in a flash.

Just as you were getting comfortable with your workout routine and your diet, the end of the year, and the beginning of a new one, might have you thinking about what you are going to do next.

Your body is continually evolving. Exercise science is continually evolving. It’s only natural that your exercise routine should evolve too.

Stay ahead of the pack and on top of your game by taking advantage of the biggest trends in the fitness world for 2019.

These are not fads.

Fads by their very nature are fleeting. In the fitness industry these are things like the Bowflex, doing Tae Bo, or the vibrating belt. They come, people get very excited about them, and then they are gone just as fast.

Trends are longer lasting; they represent a general development in a situation or a change in the way people are behaving.

For the past 13 years, American College of Sport’s Medicine’s Health and Fitness Journal have conducted a survey of thousands of health and fitness professionals.

This year, they received responses from 2,038 people representing countries all over the world and working in many different industries. The top occupations participating in the survey were personal trainers (10%), clinical exercise physiologists (10%), health and fitness directors (10%) and professors (9%).

Here is a list of what they expect to see in 2019.

1. Wearable tech

Wearable tech includes fitness trackers, smart watches, heart rate monitors, and GPS tracking devices.

These little devices were super popular when they first came out in 2016 and interest in their use continued into 2017. 2018 saw them slip into the third spot.

For 2019, wearable tech has gone back up to the number 1 spot.

If you haven’t jumped on board with this trend yet, here are a few good guides to help you find a device that will work best for you:

“25 expert tips to get more from your fitness tech this New Year”

“Best fitness tracker guide 2019: Fitbit, Garmin, Xiaomi and more”

“The Best Fitness Trackers for 2019”

2. Group training

No one likes to do it alone. And it seems people like to do it in groups of 5 or more.

According to this and past surveys, group training has always been somewhat of a thing. It wasn’t until 2017, however, that it cracked the top 20.

People tend to like working out in groups because it’s motivating (a good, energetic instructor can make an hour fly by), there’s a well-structured plan, it makes you accountable and you tend to try harder, it’s fun, and you have the support of your fellow participants.

Here are some guides to classes you might want to try in 2019:

“6 Group Workout Classes That Beat Hitting the Gym Alone”

“The beginner’s guide to choosing the best group fitness workout”

3. High intensity interval training

High intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts are popular, and it looks like they are here to stay. HIIT cracked the top 20 of this survey in 2014 and has been 1 of the top 5 ever since.

The popularity of HIIT undoubtedly continues as exercise science tells us more and more about the benefits of this type of training. These include: burning a lot of calories in a short amount of time, boosting your metabolic rate for hours beyond the actual workout, helping you lose fat, gaining muscle, etc.

Whatever the workout is packaged as on the surface, HIIT always involves working at 90% or more of your maximum heart rate for short periods of time, followed by intermittent rest periods.

Here are some links to some good HIIT workouts you can do on your own:

“10 HIIT Workouts to Get You Shredded for Summer”

“5 Best 20 Minute HIIT Cardio Workouts For Rapid Fat Loss”

4. Fitness programs for older adults

The baby boomers continue to get older. And they tend to have more money than us younger folk.

That means many health clubs are going to start gearing some of their classes towards this portion of the population.

5. Bodyweight training

Bodyweight training has gained popularity in the last few years. It first made its appearance on this survey in 2013 and it was within the top 5 in 2017 and 2018.

It has cracked the top 5 again this year.

People tend to enjoy bodyweight exercise because of its convenience (you can do the workouts anywhere you are with no equipment required) and because of its effectiveness (you can get all the benefits of a full gym with some creative exercises).

Here are some great bodyweight workouts to try this year:

“The 30 Best Bodyweight Exercises for Men”

“Bodyweight Workouts for Women”

6. Hiring certified fitness professionals

People want to know they can trust the person they’ve charged with looking after their health. In 2019, you can expect more thorough background checks into accreditation and qualifications. This is a good thing for you.

7. Yoga

Yoga really got popular around the 2010’s. And it appears to be on the rise again in 2019, just like it has been since 2017.

Yoga is great because of the relaxation techniques you learn in a class; the benefits it has on stress, depression, and anxiety; and the strength and flexibility increases you’ll experience with regular practice.

There are many types of yoga you can do. Here are some articles to help you figure out where you should start.

“Beginner’s Guide to Yoga”

“The Definitive Guide to Yoga”

Conclusion

Here’s to another year of nutrition, fitness, and well-being. Stay ahead of the curve by capitalizing on these fitness trends and have fun becoming the best version of yourself possible.

Have a great 2019!

Sources

“Worldwide survey of fitness trends for 2019” – American College of Sports Medicine

Things you didn’t know branched-chain amino acids do for your immune system

Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are well known for their abilities to prevent muscle degradation and promote protein synthesis.

With this article, I’d like to talk about some fewer known benefits of BCAA supplementation. That is, their effects on the immune system.

For a more complete guide to BCAAs (i.e. uses, doses, timing, etc.) check out an earlier article I wrote here.

What are BCAAs?

Amino acids are biological units that make up proteins. Together with proteins, the two are often referred to as the building blocks of life.

Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are a group of amino acids – leucine, isoleucine, and valine – essential to the diet.

They are essential because our body lacks the ability to produce them itself. Therefore, the only way to get them is by ingesting them in food or from a supplement.

While most amino acids that arrive in our system from the diet are broken down in the liver, BCAAs can be fully metabolized within the mitochondria of skeletal muscle. The products of their breakdown can be used to generate energy and it was long ago observed that exercise increases BCAA metabolism.

Because of these findings, many people started looking at the use of BCAAs to increase athletic performance.

A lot of the research looking at BCAAs directly influencing athletic performance have not shown anything conclusive.

The best people have found is an increased time to exhaustion during aerobic exercise, decreased mental fatigue, increased processing accuracy, decreased perceived exertion, and decreased reaction time.

There is better scientific evidence regarding BCAAs as being able to prevent protein degradation during exercise and stimulate protein synthesis.

But, these topics have been covered extensively in other articles (“5 Proven Benefits of BCAAs (Branched-Chain Amino Acids”, “BCAAs: The Many Benefits Of Branched-Chain Amino Acid Supplements”).

I’m going to spend some time talking about some aspects of BCAAs that don’t get as much attention: their ability to influence the immune system.

Exercise and the immune system

Exercise, from the point of view of your body, is a form of trauma. In fact, mild trauma to the muscle is absolutely necessary for adaptation (i.e. getting stronger) to occur.

If, however, you go too hard too fast, don’t allow sufficient time to recover between workout sessions, or participate in a really strenuous athletic event – like a marathon or a tournament of some kind – you can develop a chronic form of tissue trauma.

As a general rule of thumb: anything chronic usually isn’t good. In this case, chronic mild tissue trauma isn’t good for your muscles and it’s not good for you on the whole.

To prevent trauma from crossing into the chronic “no fun zone”, your body mounts an immune response.

An immune response is the same thing that happens when your body tries to defend itself against bacteria, viruses, and anything else that your body comes into contact with and recognizes as harmful.

In little doses, the immune response is a good thing. It helps stimulate the repair required to get stronger.

If you push your body too far and constantly stimulate the immune response without giving it a chance to shut off, you can develop a persistent immune response that throws off the balance of immune cells within the body.

Besides delaying strength building and adaptation to exercise, this can have negative effects elsewhere in the body too: you get sick easier because your ability to defend against microorganisms invading the body goes down.

BCAAs regulate the immune response by maintaining glutamine levels in the blood

Glutamine is another amino acid. In humans it is the most abundant amino acid found circulating in the blood.

Certain types of immune cells, like lymphocytes for example, use glutamine to function properly.

Prolonged periods of intense exercise – the kind that puts you into the category of chronic trauma and a chronic immune response – may cause working muscles to dump less glutamine into blood circulation.

Less glutamine in the blood means there is less available for cells like lymphocytes and they may then not be able to function properly when a little invader enters your body. The result: you get sick easier.

BCAA supplementation has been shown to prevent the decrease in glutamine circulating in the blood associated with intense exercise bouts.

BCAAs maintaining blood glutamine levels means they support your immune system and keep your defenses up so you don’t kick sick as a result of over-exercising.

BCAAs regulate the immune response by keeping things balanced

Overly strenuous exercise can cause certain cells in the body to release a specific combination of signaling molecules called cytokines.

These cytokines cause immune cells in the blood to skew towards humoral immunity and suppress cell-mediated immunity.

Humoral immunity is a type of immune response where immune cells secrete molecules into the space around them. These molecules tag invaders for death or damage the invaders so badly that they die.

Cell-mediated immunity is a type of immune response where immune cells deal with invaders directly.

Knowing the differences between humoral and cell-mediated immunity isn’t as important as knowing that cell-mediated immunity is suppressed as a result of over-strenuous exercise.

This can leave you more susceptible to infections, which is why some researchers think athletes are more susceptible to upper respiratory tract infections than the general population.

BCAA supplementation is associated with regulating the signaling molecules (cytokines) that throw the balance of humoral and cell-mediated immunity out of whack.

Regulated cell-mediated immunity means you’re less susceptible to unwanted infections as a result of strenuous exercise.

Conclusion

BCAAs have been researched and used in sport and workout supplementation for over 40 years. In that time, we’ve learned lots about their ability to promote muscle building and prevent muscle degradation as a result of exercise.

But, BCAA supplementation has important effects on the immune system that will help keep your body able to defend itself against things that could potentially make you sick.

Be sure to check out my other article on BCAAs to learn more about dosing and more information about the other uses of BCAAs. If you have any more questions, post them in the comments below, I’d love to help you out!

Sources and further reading

Branched-chain amino acid supplementation does not enhance athletic performance but affects muscle recovery and the immune system