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 Nutritional Programs: Nutritional Program for Athletes 

In addition to water, extra minerals must be replaced. These can be added to the water or replaced with food consumed following exercise. Prepared fluid-replacement drinks are good in concept, but many contain chemicals and are overly sweet. For fluid replacement, it is best to avoid sugary drinks or even lots of fruit juices. Diluted fruit juices with minerals would be helpful. I use a vitamin C powder with calcium, magnesium, and potassium designed by Allergy Research Company/Nutricology, sometimes adding some powdered amino acids.

For long events, a little sweet liquid, such as fruit juice, can be added to the water to provide some calories and energy. Water should be drunk in the couple of hours before an event to rehydrate the tissues and then, if there is extended competition or workout, sipped throughout the activity. No colas, caffeine, or alcohol should be consumed prior to or during a race or any exercise. Salt tablets are also best avoided.

Nutritional supplements are often helpful in improving athletic performance. A good-quality, high level multivitamin/mineral is crucial, one whose total daily dosage is contained in 3–6 capsules or tablets; this is best taken several times daily to ensure regular availability. Many B vitamins, such as thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, and pantothenic acid, are lost more rapidly with exercise and need more replacement.

Minerals are of major importance, as many are eliminated and need replacement to prevent muscle cramping, reduced cellular support, and other weakened physiological functions. Potassium chloride is lost during exercise through sweat. It is an important electrolyte for nerve conduction and muscle and heart function and is often useful in preventing spasms. Extra potassium, about 100–200 mg., is helpful after periods of exercise, along with potassium-rich foods eaten throughout the day. Calcium and magnesium are also important, a bit more so for women than for men. The calcium-magnesium cellular exchange supports muscle contraction and relaxation, nerve conductivity, cellular and bone strength, and delivery of oxygen to the muscles. From 600–1,000 mg. of calcium and 400-600 mg. of magnesium daily (above the diet) in two portions is suggested. Taking these supplements after exercise and before bed is the minimum. Iron is especially needed by women to maintain the red blood cells’ hemoglobin to carry oxygen; iron is also part of the muscle protein myoglobin. Without enough iron, energy and endurance are usually poor, which is not promising for athletic performance. Chromium is also lost in higher amounts during exercise; at least 200 mcg. are needed daily to help prevent or reduce any risk of sugar metabolism problems.

The antioxidant nutrients are important to reduce tissue irritations, inflammations, and loss of energy caused by free radicals. Vitamin A and beta-carotene, vitamin E, selenium, and vitamin C are all part of the athlete’s PEP. Loss of vitamin C, essential to connective tissue strength, is also increased with exercise. Joggers need extra C to prevent bone and ligament injuries, and ascorbic acid may be helpful in reducing all kinds of musculoskeletal irritation and injury. The vitamin C-mineral formula I mentioned previously is not only useful for assimilating the vitamin C, but is also an easily absorbable formula that replaces several important minerals. A complete mineral tablet can also be taken with it. Silicon or silica, usually derived from the horsetail herb Equisetum arvense, is important for maintaining elasticity and flexibility in the tissues.

Nutrients and Exercise

  • Water—essential to cell respiration and circulation
  • Antioxidants (vitamins A, C, and E; selenium, L-cysteine)—protect against tissue, joint, and cell irritation by reducing free radicals and oxidation of fats
  • Bioflavonoids—improve vitamin C effectiveness; serve as anti-inflammatory agents.

    B Vitamins

  • B1—generates energy
  • B2—improves cell oxidation
  • B3—energy metabolism
  • B5—adrenal support; boosts energy
  • B6—enhances performance by metabolism of amino acids and proteins
  • Folic acid and B12—red blood cell formation; adequate oxygen delivery
  • Biotin—carbohydrate metabolism; generates energy
  • Choline—supports brain and nervous system


  • Calcium—bone metabolism; muscle and nerve function
  • Iodine—thyroid support
  • Iron—blood cells and oxygen
  • Magnesium—muscle and nerve function; with potassium, improves endurance
  • Manganese—tissue strength and cellular function
  • Potassium—muscle and nerve function; improves endurance
  • Zinc—improves performance; growth and tissue repair

    Amino Acids (all L- forms)

  • Leucine, isoleucine, valine—muscle energy
  • Carnitine—fat utilization, energy generating
  • Arginine—growth hormone; muscle building
  • Lysine, ornithine—work with arginine
  • Tyrosine—thyroid hormone and neurotransmitters
  • Tryptophan—good sleep
  • Phenylalanine—improves mental performance; may reduce pain of exercise
  • Aspartic acid—brain support
  • Proline—tissue support


  • Enzymes (trypsin, bromelin, papain, pancreas, superoxide dismutase)— reduce inflammation
  • Coenzyme Q10—supports heart function
  • Octacosanol—increases stamina, long-term effect
  • Liver—boosts energy
  • Adrenal, heart, thyroid extract—individual organ support
  • Dimethylglycine—improves oxygen utilization
  • Gamma-linolenic acid—anti-inflammatory
  • Inosine—energizing through ATP formation
  • Germanium sesquioxide—energizing through facilitating electron transport

For adequate amino acids, a general formula of the L- forms (not D or DL) is best. Usually, two or three portions are taken daily, after exercise and/or after meals. An L-amino formula higher in L-tyrosine and L-phenylalanine may be more stimulating and physically energizing. L-proline will support the syntheses of collagen for membranes, ligaments, and tendons. Some extra magnesium and pyridoxal-5-phosphate, the active form of vitamin B6, may improve the metabolism of the amino acids in the liver and could be used as well after a workout.

Other amino acids useful for athletes could be used only in addition to the general formula. L-carnitine is an important one. It is peculiar in that it is not used in the formation of body tissues but can be made in the liver and kidneys from other amino acids, methionine and lysine, along with niacin, vitamins B6 and C, and iron. It is found in few foods other than animal meats. Carnitine is thought to be helpful in preventing cardiovascular disease, aiding weight loss, and improving athletic performance. It aids in fat metabolism and energy production in the cells’ mitochondria by improving utilization of fats. It is a good amino acid supplement for people who exercise.

The combination of L-arginine and L-lysine has also been shown to improve exercise endurance and strength, according to Rita Aero and Stephanie Rick in Vitamin Power (Harmony Books, New York, 1987). Two to three grams of arginine and one gram of lysine taken together stimulate growth hormone and protein building. (Other authors, such as Pearson and Shaw of Life Extension, have suggested an arginine-ornithine combination.) These combinations help put the body into a positive nitrogen balance, meaning that more protein is being made in the tissues than is being broken down and eliminated. These can be taken together in an amount of about 1,000 mg. each at night after days of heavy workouts, up to four or five times a week, when the other amino acids are taken as well during the day.

The branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are leucine, isoleucine, and valine, all of which are essential. In our bodies, these comprise about one-third of our muscle tissue. For people working on muscle building, supplementing the BCAAs can be helpful to this process. Having enough of these amino acids can prevent tissue wasting (protein loss) with exercise. Taking 1–3 grams of each of these amino acids has an anabolic (building) effect on muscle tissue similar to that experienced with steroid treatment, but without the risks and side effects (although they are also not as potent anabolically). When the BCAAs are used it is necessary to take them together, about half an hour to an hour before a workout. Taking 50 mg. of vitamin B6 or pyridoxal-5-phosphate, its active metabolite—will aid the utilization of the BCAAs. It is also wise to take additional amino acids, including extra L-tryptophan and L-tyrosine, because the BCAAs are so rapidly used that they can interfere with the absorption of these other amino acids.

A number of other supplements have been associated with increased athletic strength and endurance. None has been clearly shown to be effective by the little research done, but many an athlete has described feeling better when using these products. I will leave it up to you to try these "bioenergetic boosters" and see what they do for you.

Octacosanol is said to increase endurance, possibly by improving energy metabolism in the muscles. It is obtained mainly from wheat germ oil, where it is found in high concentration. Bee pollen and other bee products, such as royal jelly, definitely provide some simple carbohydrate energy, and many people feel uplifted and supercharged when using them. They also provide various minerals plus possibly some yet-to-be-discovered power agents. Pangamic acid (see Vitamin B15 in Chapter 5) is no longer available in the United States, but it is highly touted in Russia for its healing powers and endurance enhancement. Dimethylglycine, or DMG, is the form that people take now to get some of the pangamic acid precursors. Though it is not really clear how this product works, many people describe benefits from its use. Another precursor nutrient that I really like is inosine; used at a dosage of 300–500 mg. daily, inosine helps to release oxygen from hemoglobin. It is the precursor of adenosine, which is the building block for production of ATP, the energy molecule for cellular metabolism.

A formula that I use regularly and before exercise is Oxynutrients by Nutricology in San Leandro, California. It contains 150 mg. of inosine per capsule, plus dimethylglycine, L-carnitine, organo-germanium, coenzyme Q10, and more nutritional energizers. One capsule two or three times daily or two capsules 30 minutes before exercise really makes a difference. I also use it in patients with fatigue or viral problems, and have been receiving excellent reports.

Various body therapies, such as massage, acupressure, and chiropractic skeletal alignment, have helped many athletes perform better. Sexual activity also may add that extra charge for better performance, but this is controversial. Many athletes avoid sexual relations prior to competition. It may, however, be a very relaxing and energizing practice.

Herbs have been used in many ways for the various problems encountered by athletes as well as for increasing performance. Ginseng root has been known to increase stamina. It is a general tonic and also has some antistress properties. Cayenne pepper is a natural stimulant that may raise the metabolism and increase energy levels. Comfrey is a common herb for musculoskeletal injuries. It has some mild anti-inflammatory effects, and I have seen comfrey leaf work "magically" for healing sprains. To use it for this purpose, wrap lightly steamed leaves (or chew them and make a poultice) over the wound and then cover with a cloth. Leave on, if possible, for a few hours. Also, drinking an herbal tea containing comfrey root and the silica-containing spring horsetail will support the healing process. White willow bark contains natural salicylates and thus possesses anti-inflammatory properties. It is available in tablets or capsules and can be used like aspirin for sore joints or muscle aches. Bromelain is an enzyme from pineapple and is available as a supplement; it too has mild anti-inflammatory effects, and aids digestion of vegetable protein in the gastrointestinal tract.

(Excerpted from Staying Healthy with Nutrition ISBN: 1587611791)
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 About The Author
Elson Haas MDElson M. Haas, MD is founder & Director of the Preventive Medical Center of Marin (since 1984), an Integrated Health Care Facility in San Rafael, CA and author of many books on Health and Nutrition, including ...more
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