1. Whey protein
Whey protein, together with casein, is the major class of milk protein and it contains high levels of the amino acid cysteine, as well as some branched chain amino acids (BCAAs). A negative protein balance can occur, if inadequate levels of amino acids are consumed before or after exercise, leading to detrimental side effects. Protein supplements can help to meet the daily requirements and increase muscle hypertrophy and recovery. Whey protein has a great bioavailability, is water soluble and is digested quickly and, when taken after exercise can aid recovery, increase muscle mass and strength, by improving protein oxidation and increasing blood levels of essential amino acids. Also, an increase in whey protein in the diet, has been shown to be beneficial to weight loss, as compared to lower protein diets.
Creatine is an amino acid synthesized in the liver, kidneys and pancreas from arginine and methionine and 1 g/d of creatine is also consumed with the diet. Approximately 90-95% of the body’s creatine can be found in the muscles. Of this, 2/3 exists as phosphocreatine (PCr), which plays an essential role in energy metabolism and it is involved in the generation of energy at high rate for a period of 10-15 seconds.
Due to the role played in energy regulation, and because of its limited availability during intense short-term exercise, it has been suggested that an increased PCr concentration could improve the performance of short-term maximal exercise. Studies have shown that creatine can increase performance in exercise capacity and increase resistance training.
According to the evidence, the recommended dose is 0.3g/kg bodyweight for 5-7 days, followed by a maintenance phase of 3-5g a day (for instance, a person weighing 80kg would need to take 24g/d for the first 5-7 days and subsequently 240-400 g/d). This will result in an increase of muscle creatine stores of 10-40%.
Caffeine is a powerful ergogenic aid and it can be beneficial in training and competition. It can affect both the central nervous system and the skeletal muscle, by increasing fat oxidation, facilitating recovery after exercise and enhancing contractile force. Caffeine has been shown to increase exercise performance by reducing fatigue and increasing alertness and concentration.
Several studies reported that an intake of caffeine 2.5-6mg/kg/bodyweight improved performance, cognitive function and increased glycogen resynthesis, which enhanced recovery.
The recommended dose for optimal performance is 6 mg/kg of bodyweight, ingested 1 hour before exercise (for example, an individual weighing 80 kg would need to take 240mg). Studies have also shown that withdrawal and tolerance do not affect performance, however some studies suggest caffeine intake in habitual users, merely alleviates the symptoms of withdrawal therefore improving performance.
4. Green tea
Green tea extract (GTE) is rich in polyphenol catechins and caffeine and its effects on health and performance have been widely investigated. The most active form of catechins, epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), has been shown to have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and metabolic effects. The caffeine contained in green tea can also act synergistically with EGCG to enhance the body’s metabolism, increase fat oxidation and aid weight loss.
Several studies have observed an increased loss in body weight and fat, when consumption of green tea catechin was combined with exercise. Also, due to its antioxidant properties, green tea can decrease the muscular damage and oxidative stress caused by exercise, aiding recovery.
The term branched-chain amino acid refers to a complex of essential amino acids, including leucine, isoleucine and valine, characterized by a similar structure and with a branched-chain residue. Free BCAAs play an important role in the metabolism of protein, especially leucine, which has been shown to increase protein synthesis and to inhibit protein degradation during exercise.
Intense physical activity will increase BCAA’s oxidation and supplementation with BCAAs has been proven to reduce muscle damage and fatigue for up to 5 days after exercising.
BCAAs can also be used to treat clinical conditions such as tardive dyskinesia, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, some brain conditions caused by liver disease and to increase appetite in patients with cancer, kidney failure or anorexia.
6. Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA)
Conjugated Linoleic Acid refers to a group of linoleic acid isomers, characterized by the presence of conjugated dienes. It is mainly assumed through the consumption of meat and dairy products and it’s been shown to reduce body fat and preserve muscle tissue, when approximately 3.4 g of CLA per day are administered.
Together with fat loss, CLA has been shown to have an effect on hormone resistance, by decreasing blood glucose levels, as well as having anticarcinogenisis and antiatherogenesis effects. Other benefits of CLA supplementation include an increase in metabolic rate, immune function, muscle growth and a reduction in LDL cholesterol levels.
L-Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in the body and is involved in cell division, thus providing energy and optimal conditions for nucleotide biosynthesis. Therefore, it plays a vital role in maintaining a functioning immune system and it also contributes to the removal of ammonia from the body.
L-Glutamine increases fluid retention in cells, stimulating their growth and increasing the production of protein and glycogen. L-Glutamine prevents muscle catabolism and increases the rate of recovery after exercise because of increased muscle cell performance.
Also, several studies have been carried out to assess its effects on tumours and supplementation has been shown to clinically improve the condition and metabolism of cancer patients.
8. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) can be found in cell membranes and when they are incorporated in red blood cells, they allow oxygen to be delivered and carbon dioxide to be removed.
Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexonic acid (DHA) are the main omega-3 PUFAs and they are involved in the production of arachidonic acid (AA). When EPA is replaced with AA in the cellular membranes, the inflammatory response to exercise is reduced.
Several studies have reported positive effects on muscle damage, inflammation and metabolism during exercise, following the ingestion of 1-2 g/d of EPA and DHA, at a ratio of 2:1 EPA to DHA. Fish oil, which is rich in omega-3 fatty acids has been proven to decrease muscle soreness, increase the rate of recovery, induce the oxidation of fat, sparing glycogen and improve cognitive functions.
Fish oil supplements, together with regular exercise, have also been proved to aid weight loss.
9. Beta Alanine
Beta alanine is a substrate of carnosine, which is a major contributor of H+ buffering in the skeletal muscle and helps lessen the drop in pH associated with high intensity exercise. Acidosis, caused by this drop in pH, is responsible for reduced force production and fatigue. Therefore, by attenuating a drop in pH, it would be possible to exercise at a higher intensity for a longer period of time.
When beta alanine is ingested, it can be resynthesized into carnosine and according to a study, a dosage of 4 to 6 g/d, administered for 28 days, resulted in increased intramuscular levels of carnosine by 60%.
Many studies have reported increased resistance in exercise performance, increased work capacity and delayed onset muscle soreness, following the administration of beta alanine supplements.
L-Carnitine is a non-essential amino acid synthesized from the amino acids lysine and methionine. It’s involved in the transport of fatty acids into the mitochondrial matrix and it allows fat to be oxidized to produce energy, sparing glycogen for higher exertion. As l-carnitine allows fuel to be processed more efficiently, stamina and endurance will increase, facilitating fat loss.
L-Carnitine has been proved to increase work capacity, by decreasing lactic acid production and thus, enhance recovery. Its antioxidant properties will protect the cells from the damage caused by free radicals, making l-carnitine an excellent candidate for the treatment of many conditions, such as type 2 diabetes and wasting syndrome.
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