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Supplementation—A Necessity For Athletes!
By Steve Born
I’ve been labeled a “supplement junkie” for longer than I care to remember, most likely because I’ve been taking supplements—and quite a few of them—for 20+ years. I often get teased about how many of them I take, with more than a few people over the years having asked questions such as, “Why do you take so many supplements? You’re eventually going to die someday anyway, so isn’t taking all those pills kind of a waste?” Honestly, if I had a nickel for every time I heard that question… but I digress. Seriously though, I am a big believer in the consistent use of an intelligently thought out supplement program and my response to my naysayers is usually something to this effect:
Yes, as much as possible, I try to consume the best diet I can. However, like you and everyone else, I don’t eat an ideal diet all the time, or at least as much as I should (such as when I travel).
No matter how well I eat, no matter how high quality my diet may be, the nutrient density in the foods I consume won’t meet my body’s requirements, especially when I’m training and/or stressed from work/personal obligations.
Along with diet, exercise, stress management, spirituality, and other components, I believe that supplementation contributes significantly to my overall well-being, so I can achieve the healthiest, most productive life possible.
Sure, I’m going to die some day, but I want to postpone that day for as long as possible. Also, when I reach old age, I still want to be mentally and physically active. When I hit my 60’s, 70’s and beyond, I don’t want to be incapacitated by sickness or disease; I still want to be able to ride my bike, go skiing, and do other activities, and I definitely want my mental faculties intact as well. I don’t want to just exist when I get older; I want to live!
These are the primary reasons why I’ve been an admitted supplement junkie for all these years. Sure, I’ve made some mistakes over the years in my supplement purchases (I’ve wasted a lot of money on supplements that over-promised and greatly under-delivered), but I remain a firm believer that, in addition to a high quality diet, the consistent use of the right supplements has and will continue to pay significant and noticeable benefits. As a result, I have absolutely no regrets and offer no apologies for the amount of supplements I’ve taken and will continue to take.
Now it’s my turn to ask you a question: Do you think that your diet provides the optimum amount of all nutrients, and thus you take no supplements? If you answered “Yes,” then please read this article. We recommend the consistent use of an intelligently designed supplement program because the “balanced diet will provide all you need” notion is a myth. You cannot obtain all of the nutrients your body requires from your diet. Here’s why:
There has never been a single clinical study that documents what comprises a balanced diet, nor one that has demonstrated one’s ability to meet basic nutrient requirements through whole foods alone.
New studies show that food alone does not supply all the micronutrients we need to prevent deficiency, let alone achieve optimal health.
Very few of us have routine access to fresh, locally grown foods. Much of our diet comes from foods grown far away, picked when unripe, and then sent packing. Nutritional content is questionable and usually depleted.
Even if we could obtain all the nutrients we need from our diet, it’s highly unlikely that any of us eats an ideal diet as consistently as we think we do.
All this said, please understand that we’re not suggesting that you can neglect your diet, take scads of pills, and have all your nutrient needs covered. By no means do we intend to send that message. Supplementation means just what the word means, supplementary. The pills we take do not substitute for a healthy diet, they only fill in where diets fall short, and fall short they will, especially given the high nutrient demands of endurance athletes.
Where exactly does regular food consumption fall short? Usually not in calories, except during and right after endurance exercise. Never in salt! Often in protein for hard-training athletes. Seldom in fat, though Omega 3s can be an issue for some. Almost always in micronutrients, and that’s the focus of this article. Regular diets simply can’t cover the entire range of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, antioxidants, and other micronutrients necessary to maintain optimal health and peak athletic performance. If you want to achieve your best performances in your workouts and races—and even more importantly enjoy optimal health (not minimal, optimal!)—then daily supplementation is a necessity, not an option.
No supplement program can or should take priority over the consumption of a healthy diet—we all agree on that. So even though this article is about supplements, we cannot emphasize enough that your primary nutritional goal is to consistently consume a healthy diet. What does this entail? It means eating whole grains and locally grown organic foods as much as possible, while avoiding packaged, processed foods and junk foods at all times. It means a low-sodium diet. It means consuming a variety of foods. It means avoiding foods containing artificial sweeteners, colors, flavors, and preservatives. It means you want to avoid added simple sugars (sucrose, fructose, glucose, etc.) in both your daily diet and in your sports fuels. It means many other things as well, but you get the picture. We’re emphasizing both quality nutrition and supplementation. The quality of the calories you consume always matters.
Even the best of diets is not enough!
Eating whole foods is by far the best way to supply your body with the myriad plant-derived, health-benefiting phytochemicals, but today’s food supply can’t provide even all of the basic vitamins and minerals. Our food simply won’t even meet the nutrient needs of average people, let alone athletes. Dr. Bill Misner states, "Athletes today ingest only 11% of the organic nutrients from their food sources that the athletes of the 1940's enjoyed." Even more sobering is the ever-increasing body of research that suggests that many people’s diets are insufficient in supplying enough nutrients to prevent a deficiency disease.
Did you get that? Forget about providing enough nutrients to promote optimal health, many people do not eat enough quality food to meet the minimal Reference Daily Intake (RDI) micronutrient requirements for preventing deficiency-related disorders. Misner’s hallmark paper, “Food May Not Provide Sufficient Micronutrients to Avoid Deficiency” (Townsend Letter for Doctors and Patients 261:49-52, April 2005, available on the Hammer Nutrition website) is but one effort to point out this startling problem.
And Dr. Misner is not the only one who suggests that diet alone does not provide adequate disease-preventative micronutrients at the current RDI-level. The research of the distinguished nutritional scientist Bruce Ames, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of California, Berkeley, also presents a hypothesis that implies micronutrient deficiency may eventually deteriorate the quality of whole human cell health. A portion of Professor Ames’ abstract reads as follows:
Inadequate dietary intakes of vitamins and minerals are widespread, most likely due to excessive consumption of energy-rich, micronutrient-poor, refined food. Inadequate intakes may result in chronic metabolic disruption, including mitochondrial decay. Deficiencies in many micronutrients cause DNA damage, such as chromosome breaks, in cultured human cells or in vivo. Some of these deficiencies also cause mitochondrial decay with oxidant leakage and cellular aging and are associated with late onset diseases such as cancer.
Reference: Ames BN, Low micronutrient intake may accelerate the degenerative diseases of aging through allocation of scarce micronutrients by triage, Proc Natl Acad Sci USA, 2006; 103 (47): 17589-94. (Address: Nutrition and Metabolism Center, Children's Hospital of Oakland Research Institute, Oakland, CA 94609, USA). ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
The bottom line is that our diets, no matter how good we think they may be, may not provide enough of the micronutrients needed to prevent a deficiency. That’s why taking supplements, especially a multivitamin/mineral supplement, is a wise strategy to employ; it helps bridge the gap between what you should be receiving and what you’re actually getting from your diet. Consuming the best possible diet as consistently as possible, and augmenting that with a multivitamin/mineral supplement plus additional antioxidants and auxiliary/complementary nutrients is the best way to cover your nutritional bases.
The Recommended Daily Allowance: Recommended for what?
The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) standard, and its successor since 1997, The Reference Daily Intake (RDI) standard, doesn’t take into account the higher needs of endurance athletes. Dr. Misner states, "Researchers have established… that athletes tend to deplete vitamins, minerals, enzymes, coenzymes, and other substrates more than sedentary people do." It’s not just more calories that endurance athletes need; it’s the whole nutritional bag.
Moreover, conventional standards are tuned to deficiency avoidance rather than optimal health, so it’s questionable whether anyone should rely on them. In The Real Vitamin & Mineral Book: Using supplements for optimum health, 4th ed. (New York: Avery Publishing Group, 2007), Shari Lieberman, Ph.D., and Nancy Bruning devote a chapter outlining the benefits of using a higher-dose vitamin/mineral supplementation regimen. I think the title of this particular chapter, "The RDIs—The Minimum Wages of Nutrition," pretty much says it all. No one spells it out better than Lieberman and Bruning in this highly recommended book–
Just like the RDAs, the RDIs have three basic problems: (1) you cannot get all of the nutrients you need from today's food; (2) the RDIs reflect amounts that are adequate to prevent nutrient-deficiency diseases, and are not tailored for individual needs; and (3) the RDIs do not address or consider optimum health or the prevention of degenerative diseases such as cancer and heart disease."
In another chapter, “The Optimum Daily Intakes (ODIs),” they write:
In order to attain a state of optimum health and disease prevention, we must take into our bodies optimum—not minimum—amounts of vitamins and minerals. To distinguish them from the lesser amounts characteristic of the RDIs, I have called these amounts the Optimum Daily Intakes, or ODIs. The need for ODIs is based on six factors:
1) The RDIs are generally based on an amount that simply prevents overt deficiency diseases.
2) The RDIs do not take into account preventative or therapeutic levels of nutrients.
3) We cannot meet the RDIs even if we eat the “perfect” diet.
4) Because of many factors, including the loss of nutrients through shipping, storage, and processing, the foods available to us do not contain the amounts of vitamins and minerals they should contain.
5) Owing to the constant bombardment of stress factors, from pollution to emotional stress, we require higher levels of vitamins and minerals than originally thought.
6) We do not absorb 100% of the vitamins and minerals in foods and supplements.
Are you convinced yet that you need to supplement? Remember, Dr. Lieberman has regular human welfare in mind, and not the even higher demands of endurance athletes.
Supplements are dangerous? Antioxidants shorten life span? Be careful what you read!
Every once in a while you’ll come across a media article lambasting, or at least questioning, the use of supplements. It’s usually not bad science, but misapplied research in the hands of story-seeking media. Studies that apply only to very limited conditions, or that have only mildly suggestive findings don’t stop circulation-hungry editors from printing these results with sensational headlines that make sweeping generalizations. Sometimes the studies themselves seem to be questionable, and this makes what the public finally reads even more suspect.
Perhaps you remember the vitamin E “studies” from not so long ago, the ones that suggested that high doses of vitamin E were not only unsafe, but they also contributed to potentially shortened life span. As it turns out, this wasn’t new research at all, but rather a meta-analysis, a mathematical study that combines data from different trials in an attempt to draw statistically valid conclusions from the larger, combined set of data. Bottom line was that the findings of the meta-analysis were inappropriately applied to the general population.
Not too long after that, another attack on supplements hit the front pages. Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald announced “Vitamins Raise Death Risk.” Now if that’s not enough to get you at least a little concerned about taking vitamins, you’re not easily frightened! Now, the studies weren’t necessarily targeting vitamins per se, but antioxidants in general. Well, guess why the subjects in these studies died: over two-thirds of the people involved in them were already sick with heart disease, cancer, or other ailments. Taking antioxidants didn't prevent these already very sick people from dying! Of course, that really shouldn't come as a surprise because they (antioxidants) are intended to help prevent disease, not cure already existing conditions. Research has already established that antioxidants don't work in disease treatment. Taking vitamin E (or whatever) didn't prevent a person already afflicted with cancer from dying of cancer.
Now, when the playing field isn't anywhere near being level—in this case meaning that when over two-thirds of the people involved in the studies were already very sick—how can you not have negative results? This is really an inappropriate application of limited research. Call it sensationalism or flawed science or both, but the fact remains that we already have an enormous amount of research (including one listed just following this paragraph) that has shown the overwhelming benefits of antioxidant supplementation for reducing free radicals and improving health. The sensible use of antioxidant supplements yields numerous and overwhelmingly positive results.
A recent study: Just one of countless numbers!
While “scare tactic studies,” as I like to refer to them, often make the headlines, seldom are positive study results promoted. As an example, the safety and efficacy of beta-carotene has come into question quite a bit as of late. However, because it’s a study/article that shows positive benefits (and yes, I’m being cynical here), I’m betting you haven’t heard of the latest beta-carotene study. Check this out:
Beta-carotene supplementation associated reduced cognitive decline
The November 12, 2007 issue of the AMA journal Archives of Internal Medicine reported on a study that found that taking beta-carotene supplements for 15 years or more might confer a protective effect against cognitive decline in older men.
The research involved 5,956 men over the age of 65 who participated in the Physicians’ Health Study II, a randomized trial of beta-carotene and other nutritional supplements for the prevention of chronic disease. The Physician’s Health Study II is a continuation of the Physicians’ Health Study, which tested the effect of 50 milligrams beta-carotene every other day and low dose aspirin on male participants. For the current study, Francine Grodstein, ScD, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School and her associates administered cognitive function tests to 4,052 men who participated in the original study since 1982, and 1,904 newer recruits enrolled between 1998 and 2001.
The team found that those who received beta-carotene for an average of 18 years had significantly higher scores on several tests of cognitive function compared with those who received a placebo. Among men who had received short-term treatment with beta-carotene there was no improvement observed.
“The results support the hypothesis that long-term supplementation may be necessary to achieve cognitive benefits,” the authors remark. They note that the Nurses’ Health Study found that a decade or more of vitamin E supplementation was associated with improved cognition, while failing to find the same result with shorter-term use. Similarly, the Honolulu-Asia Aging Study found improvements in cognitive impairment associated with vitamin C and E supplementation only after 10 years. In animals, brain aging starts early in adult life, and long-term nutrient exposure may be required for neuroprotection.
“In this generally healthy population, the extent of protection conferred by long-term treatment appeared modest; nonetheless, studies have established that very modest differences in cognition, especially verbal memory, predict substantial differences in eventual risk of dementia; thus, the public health impact of long-term beta carotene use could be large,” the authors write in their commentary. They conclude that, “the public health value of beta carotene supplementation merits careful evaluation. Moreover, as these data support the possibility of successful interventions at early stages of brain aging in well-functioning subjects, investigations of additional agents that might also provide such neuroprotection should be initiated.”
Source: Life Extension Newsletter
Our comprehensive supplement program
It should be clear by now that to optimize athletic performance and overall health, you need to consistently consume the best possible diet and augment that diet with a high quality comprehensive supplement regimen. Of course, you need to tailor your supplement program to the specifics of your particular training, health, and personal factors. A 64 year-old male Nordic skier has different requirements than a 22 year-old female triathlete. That’s where the Hammer Nutrition supplements come in. As with our fuels, we have designed our supplement line for maximum flexibility and integration. Whatever your personal needs require, we have products available to keep your body in the best possible condition.
To make your supplement selection easy and effective, we’ve divided our line into four categories: Essential, Very Important, Important, and Specific Support. This classification derives from a basic, but oft forgotten maxim of endurance sports nutrition:
YOU MUST BE A HEALTHY PERSON FIRST, AN ATHLETE SECOND, AND AN ENDURANCE ATHLETE THIRD.
Unless you take care of the basics, you can’t succeed with your downstream goals. That’s why our most basic products address overall health issues, not the specifics of endurance exercise. Many athletes think that a daily vitamin is expendable because they’re looking for the “secret formula” that will give them extraordinary endurance. Your body knows better! Our supplement program will keep your body healthy so that it can train at higher levels and thus produce better race results. Don’t look for magic in a bottle. Look for health support so your hard training will give you the maximum benefit.
The Daily Essentials – This category includes the three primary products in the Hammer Nutrition line: Premium Insurance Caps, Race Caps Supreme, and Mito Caps. These three form the foundation of your supplement program, as they provide the widest range of benefits for enhancing both athletic performance and overall health. You should take these three daily throughout the year. Because they provide tremendous general health benefits, we also recommend them for daily use by non-athletes.
Benefits of the Daily Essentials
Provide basic vitamins and mineral replenishment to optimize overall health.
Provide enhanced immune system and cardiovascular system support by supplying a wide range of antioxidants to neutralize free radicals produced by increased physical activity. Unchecked, free radicals cause cell damage and lead to many disease states.
Provide key substrates to enhance and ensure efficient production of energy.
Provide support for mitochondrial health. In our view, the longer you can stimulate the number, lifespan, and health of the mitochondria, the longer you will live and the better you will perform in endurance events. The athlete who has the most healthy/efficient active mitochondria is the athlete who performs at their best.
Very Important – These products provide additional support and benefits by adding additional nutrients that complement the Daily Essentials. They address several different physiological functions. You can use these products daily or as needed.
Super Antioxidant – An ultra potent, non-vitamin antioxidant formula. Enhances recovery by reducing soreness and fatigue, improving circulation, and helping to maintain optimal immune system functioning. Provides additional antioxidant coverage to Premium Insurance Caps. Use after lengthy or very strenuous aerobic workouts.
Phytomax – A live green Super Food supplement containing ample amounts of easily assimilated organic minerals, as well as enzymes and phytochemicals. Makes sense as a dietary supplement, especially in winter when fresh produce is scarce, or when traveling.
REM Caps – A natural sleep formula to help you accrue more quality REM time, and wake up in the morning feeling refreshed. Better sleep = higher HGH levels = better recovery. For anyone with sleep deficits; also has antioxidant properties.
Tissue Rejuvenator – Four active ingredients and a multi-nutrient anti-inflammatory pain relieving component make this supplement ideal for protecting and maintaining healthy joints and connective tissue, and aiding in recovery from joint injuries.
Important – These products provide additional benefits beyond the nutrient strength of the products in the above two categories. Mostly, these are taken as needed at various times throughout the year. If you're seeking the ultimate supplement program, then you should consider products in this category.
Xobaline – Use after workouts to optimize production of red blood cells, reduce fatigue and related symptoms, and enhance muscle repair and regeneration. Ideal for athletes concerned about anemia.
Chromemate – This trace mineral helps ensure proper insulin function, maintains healthy cholesterol levels, enhances recovery, and curbs sugar cravings.
Digest Caps – Aids in maintaining proper levels of healthy bacteria in the digestive system. This helps improve intestinal health, immune and digestive system function, and nutrient absorption.
Boron – Safely and naturally restores normal hormone levels, which are depressed as a result of endurance training. Normalizing your hormone levels dramatically enhances recovery, workload tolerance, and libido. Strongly recommended for anyone over 40.
Specific Support – Not usually taken regularly; however, they may become essential for certain athletes and/or under specific conditions.
Anti-Fatigue Caps – Helps remove excess, fatigue-causing, performance-robbing ammonia from cell pathways. Especially effective in reducing fatigue in extended endurance events while also providing electrolytic mineral support.
Race Day Boost – Enhances the functions and performance of your body’s three energy production pathways, and effectively buffers lactic acid. Use for four days prior to a major event and enjoy up to an 8-10% improvement in performance time.
Energy Surge – Use as needed for a quick energy boost during interval or speed workouts, just prior to increased efforts during training or competition (such as a big climb or an attack), or for a perk during ultra distance events.
Appestat – The sensible, healthy approach to weight loss. Use to control cravings and support your weight loss program. Very helpful in the off-season.
PSA Caps – Effective, non-prescription nutrient support for male prostate health.
Putting It All Together
I've often said that athletic success depends on three key factors:
1. The use of high quality equipment – You don't need the "limited edition, gold plated" model, but you do need to use good equipment.
2. The incorporation of an intelligent training and recovery program – You can't just ad lib a training regimen and hope that the pieces will fall into place. You need a systematic, incremental, personally adapted training program that places equal emphasis on recovery.
3. The consistent use of high quality nutritional supplements and fuels, and a sensible supplement/fueling program – As an athlete, you place enormous physiological demands on your body. Your nutrient requirements—just to maintain health—are much greater than the average person. But your goal isn't to just maintain health at a minimally acceptable standard; your goal is to achieve supreme health. In addition, you want to get the absolute most out of your body so that it can do what you want it to in your workouts and races, while you have more fun and achieve more success in the process.
All three of these areas are important, and if one is lacking, the others can’t pick up the slack. I hope that you’re now convinced of the importance of an intelligent supplement program and the key role it plays in helping you achieve optimal athletic performance and overall health.
In addition to the information provided in this article, you’ll find more useful articles about supplementation in general, as well as information on all the Hammer Nutrition supplements, at hammernutrition.com. Of course, if you need assistance in putting together a supplement program or to help fine-tune your current program, our knowledgeable client service staff is ready to assist you. Please don’t hesitate to call or email us!
Steve Born is a technical advisor for Hammer Nutrition with well over a decade of involvement in the health food industry. He has worked with hundreds of athletes—ranging from the recreational athlete to world-class professional athlete—helping them to optimize their supplement/fueling program. Steve is a three-time RAAM finisher, the 1994 Furnace Creek 508 Champion, 1999 runner-up, the only cyclist in history to complete a Double Furnace Creek 508, and is the holder of two Ultra Marathon Cycling records. In February 2004 Steve was inducted into the Ultra Marathon Cycling Hall of Fame.
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