Supplements to Improve Athletic Performance

Q: I’m planning on running my first half marathon, and as I start training, I was wondering if you had information on supplements that might be helpful as I start increasing my mileage.

A: That’s exciting- congratulations! There definitely are supplements that could help.

The first supplement I’d recommend is CoQ10. CoQ10 is a nutrient that is best known for its benefit for heart health and is a common supplement used for cardiovascular health particularly in the aging population.

CoQ10 is a nutrient produced in the human body that works with the mitochondria in each of our cells. Mitochondria are the energy producers in each of the cells in our body, and CoQ10 works to support those energy producers in our cells. It’s almost like CoQ10 is food for those energy producing organisms, which in turn, helps our cells to run better.

Parts of the body that use the most energy, like the heart and other muscle tissues, have the most mitochondria- remember, the mitochondria are the power plants of a cell. Since CoQ10 supports those cellular power plants, it can help with proper cardiovascular functioning and protecting the heart. For example, CoQ10 is often recommended for congestive heart failure, since it has been shown in research to encourage the heart to run properly and have the energy it needs.

CoQ10 can also be beneficial for athletes or anyone on an exercise regimen, since studies have shown that CoQ10 can increase exercise performance, helping people to be able to exercise longer without fatigue.

CoQ10 has also been researched with positive results for helping to reduce muscle damage and soreness after exercise when used on a regular basis. Most studies used 100mg-200mg of CoQ10 daily, and CoQ10 should be taken with food for best absorbtion.

Omega 3 fatty acids can also be helpful in reducing exercise induced muscle damage and soreness. Omega 3s have also been researched with positive results in helping the muscles to repair themselves after exercise, which can improve performance, especially when on a training regimen.

Omega 3s are known as “essential fatty acids” meaning that they must be obtained through diet or supplements since they are not manufactured by the body. Also, be sure to look for a high potency omega 3 supplement that has a good dose of EPA and DHA (the beneficial parts of omega 3s) per pill, since the amounts of those nutrients in a fish oil pill can vary widely. One we would recommend in particular is Solgar’s Omega 950- each softgel has 504mg of DHA and 378mg of DHA, which are really good amounts. Any fish oil or omega 3 supplement should list the amounts of EPA and DHA they contain on the back of the bottle so you can compare. This one by Solgar is the strongest we’ve found, and I don’t really see why a person would take one that’s less potent, since taking a less potent version just seems like a waste of time.

Omega 3s can also help with brain function, joints, and reducing inflammation throughout the body- all good things. Omega 3s have even been researched for reducing cholesterol and helping cardiovascular function. Here’s an article from our website with more information about Omega 3s.

Another supplement that might help would be panax ginseng, also known as Korean ginseng. Ginseng has been used for thousands of years in Eastern medicine to help with energy and vitality. I personally take ginseng occasionally in a liquid form since it’s a great energy boost. Research has linked panax ginseng use with a reduction of fatigue and enhancement of physical performance, so it might be a supplement worth trying to see if it helps.

Last, I’d say a protein shake is a good idea after exercise. Protein can help the muscles to repair themselves after strenuous exercise, but it’s important to note that there’s a “magic window” of about 45 minutes after exercising, where consuming protein has the most benefit for repairing muscles. Mega doses of protein aren’t necessary- a shake containing around 20mg of protein is ideal. You can make a protein shake into an entire smoothie with the addition of fruits and whatever else in a blender, but generally the easiest thing is just to mix protein powder in a shaker cup with water, which will also equal out to less additional sugar and calories. We have a good selection of protein shakes at the store including many suitable for people with allergies or dietary restrictions.

Finally, since you’re trying to increase the amount you’re running, you may think of investing in a pair of new shoes. The cushioning and support in running shoes does not last forever. We would recommend a running store in Palos Heights called Running for Kicks, which has been voted to be one of the 50 best running stores in the entire United States, and the people there are extremely knowledgeable about running and running shoes.

Good luck, and happy running!

Supplement Spotlight: Adrenasense for Reducing Night Wakening and Daytime Fatigue

My daughter started kindergarten a few weeks ago- talk about an emotional time!  Due to the stress and anxiety about school, I wasn’t sleeping well.  I would go to sleep fine, but wake in the night unable to get back to sleep, which would lead to being exhausted during the day- then the cycle would begin again each night.

At the health food store, I was talking, or rather, complaining to Sarah (another one of our employees).  She mentioned Adrenasense by Natural Factors as a supplement she has been taking for nearly a year for the same issues.  She said she used to have horrible problems of waking in the night and then not being able to get back to sleep, which would then ruin the next day since she was so tired.  She said that she started using Adrenasense and that it had literally changed her life, and that of all the things we have at the store, it was her favorite.

After such a glowing recommendation, I thought I had to try it.  The directions say to take 2 capsules at mid-day, up to a maximum of four pills per day.  She said she started taking two in the morning and then two more after lunch, so that’s what I did as well.  I’ve only just started taking it, but I feel like I’m already seeing benefits- better sleep in the night and being less tired during the day.

Adrenasense is a formula made up of five different adaptogenic herbs.  Adaptogens are supplements which help the body to adapt to stress and bring it back into balance.  The herbs in the blend help to energize the body gently while promoting calm and reducing anxiety.  It’s quite a blend, so I thought I’d list the five herbs below along with a few of their benefits (a list which only scratches the surface of the many benefits of each herb, all of which I could write about forever).

Rhodiola is best known for its ability to reduce cortisol in the body, also known as the “stress hormone”.  Seven different peer reviewed studies have reported its ability to reduce fatigue, and other studies have found it to have benefits for mood, stress, and for improving overall well being.   Many people also find rhodiola to be beneficial for improving concentration and reducing “brain fog”.  Other studies found that it helped to reduce depression and anxiety.

Suma is best known for enhancing athletic performance by giving the body an energy boost.  Research has also reported anti aging benefits for suma as well as immune boosting properties.

Eleuthero is also known as Siberian ginseng. It has been used for thousands of years in Traditional Chinese Medicine for increasing energy, reducing fatigue, and boosting the immune system. Interestingly, some research has even linked eleuthero as a therapy for reducing cold symptoms and severity.  Eleuthero is also known for its use in aiding in concentration and mental focus.

Schisandra is a superfruit which has been long used for its anti aging and fatigue fighting effects.   Schisandra has also been researched for its benefits for liver detoxification and improving liver function.  It also has been demonstrated to help with lowering and normalizing both blood pressure and blood sugar levels.

Ashwaganda is an herb which has been gaining much notoriety of late for its impressive list of benefits which include stress relief, a reduction in anxiety and depression, and reducing cancer risk.  Ashwaganda also has a protective and healing effects on the brain and has even been suggested as a possible therapy for neurodegenerative diseases life Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

Many of the herbs listed above have benefits for hormonal balance as well, for women of all stages, which only add to its effectiveness.

I would very much recommend giving Adrenasense a try if you’re dealing with stress, sleeplessness, and night waking.

Healthy Q & A: Natural Ways to Increase Energy

Q: I’ve been tired all the time lately.  I have a lot of stuff going on with my job right now and its hard being exhausted all the time.  Coffee makes me jittery, so I don’t know if there is anything else that can help with energy.  

A: It sounds like you have a lot of stress with your job, which doesn’t help since stress and lack of energy go hand in hand.  It’s a terrible cycle- you’re stressed at work and have a hard time sleeping, which leads to not getting enough sleep at night so you’re tired all day- then the cycle repeats.

There are a number of things which can help with reducing stress and enhancing energy.  Stretching or doing a few yoga poSes in the morning can help to encourage blood flow, making you feel more alert.  The sun salutation is a series of movements which is great for helping to feel more awake in the mornings (here's a video).

Finding time to exercise during the day can also help with energy, as well as encouraging restful sleep at night, as long as you aren’t exercising too close to bedtime.  It can be difficult starting an exercise regimen, especially when you feel tired, but even making time for a 15 minute walk can help to give you an energy boost and clear your head.  A University of Georgia study found that sedentary people who regularly complain of fatigue can increase their energy levels by 20 percent and decrease their fatigue by 65 percent by engaging in regular, low intensity exercise.  Exercise has also been proven as an effective stress relief.  

It may be a good idea to evaluate your diet as well.  Truly, we are what we eat.  Refined grains (think anything “white”- white flour, white bread, white rice), processed packaged foods, artificial sweeteners, and excess sugars (especially high fructose corn syrup) all take a toll on energy levels as well as our physical and mental health.  Switching to a diet full of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and legumes can help to provide more stable energy levels and blood sugar.  There are many cookbooks and websites with delicious and easy healthy recipes.

There are also a number of supplements that are very effective for increasing energy and relieving stress.  One of my favorites is panax ginseng (also known as Asian ginseng) which has been used for thousands of years in traditional Chinese medicine.  Ginseng is known as an adaptogen which means it is able to help the body to better “adapt” to stress.  Ginseng has a number of beneficial uses, one of the most well known is for combating fatigue.  It’s best taken in the morning on an empty stomach since herbs are generally more effective when taken without food.

Other ideas which can help with low energy are supplementing with extra B vitamins via a quality B complex or a multivitamin with high levels of B vitamins.  Many Americans have diets low in B vitamins, and one of the symptoms of a deficiency in any one of several B vitamins is fatigue.  Aromatherapy is another idea.  Citrus and peppermint oils have been used for many years energy.  One recent study at Wheeling Jesuit University even found that dabbing peppermint oil inside a car can increase driver alertness; in fact, citrus oils are frequently used in Japan to help data entry workers to increase productivity.

Getting a good night’s sleep is crucial for proper energy levels during the day.  Unfortunately when under stress, many find it difficult to fall asleep, even when they’ve been tired all day.  In situations like these, supplementing with relaxing herbs like valerian, passionflower, and hops can be especially effective in helping one to relax enough to be able to sleep.  The above herbs also help with quieting racing thoughts, which is helpful for people who lay down to sleep and feel like they can’t “turn off their brains”.  

Journaling before bed can also help with sleep, and many people find writing out their thoughts of the day is a therapeutic release.  Another idea, which I read in an article on a few months ago, is to count backwards from 300 by 3’s.  The article reasoned that it was complex enough to keep your mind from wandering elsewhere but monotonous enough to help with falling asleep.  I’ve been doing it occasionally when I’ve woken in the middle of the night and think it really does help.

Supplement Spotlight: Increasing Cellular Energy

This month I wanted to talk about energy.  Not energy as in a cup of espresso, but boosting the body’s overall energy reserves at the cellular level.


With age, many people experience a greater overall fatigue when compared with the energy levels they had in years past.   Many people turn to caffeine or energy drinks to give them an extra boost, but a better way to ensure lasting energy is to start at the cellular level.  Our cells contain mitochondria, which are basically the cell’s “powerhouses” which produce the energy molecule known as ATP.  Tiredness, fatigue, and exhaustion are a direct result of diminished ATP in the body.

One little known supplement that is fantastic for boosting the body’s stores of ATP is the mushroom cordyceps.  Cordyceps is a beloved medicinal mushroom from China and has been used for a number of ailments including cancer, diabetes, asthma, immunity, and fatigue.  Research has confirmed cordyceps’ benefit for raising ATP levels, even for subjects with conditions which are known to produce fatigue, like anemia.  One study on elderly patients found improvements in energy levels in 92% of the participants after 30 days.


Another great supplement for energy is panax ginseng.  Panax ginseng is another Chinese herb which has been used for centuries for energy production and stress.  Modern research has found that the reason ginseng is able to make such a difference in a person’s energy levels is its ability to increase ATP production.  It also appears that panax ginseng is able to help the cell’s mitochondria to work more efficiently.

Healthy Q & A: Energy


I feel like I'm tired all the time.  Is there anything you'd say that could help?


Tiredness can be a complex issue that usually is rooted in having too much stress.  Stress often robs us of sleep, which makes us tired in the morning.  Depression can have a hand in it as well, since stress and depression can go hand in hand, and work well together to sap energy.


The first thing I’d recommend are adaptogenic herbs like ginseng or ashwaganda.  Adaptogens literally help your body to “adapt” to stress, while reducing its negative side effects.  Stress, in and of itself in not necessarily a bad thing, but when the stress goes on for prolonged periods without respite is when problems develop.  Adaptogens work to help to bring the body into balance, both calming you down and giving you energy without being overstimulating or jittery like the energy from coffee.  Research has also linked ginseng to increased brain function and both ashwaganda and ginseng to increased physical stamina.


If difficulty falling asleep or insomnia is an issue, there are a number of herbs which can help.  Herbs like valerian, passionflower, and hops are all wonderful for helping with relaxation and promoting sleep. For anxiety, the amino acid L-theanine taken at bedtime or during the day can be very helpful.


For people suffering with depression, SAMe or the amino acid 5-HTP can be helpful.  Boosting your mood often helps to reduce fatigue and lethargy.  Both have added benefits- SAMe can help with seasonal affective disorder (which I’ll write about in more detail in next month’s newsletter) and 5-HTP can help with weight loss.


Finally, don’t forget exercise.  Exercising (especially in the morning) can help with increasing energy, reducing stress, boosting mood, and helping with sleep.  The park districts in the area have lots of choices for exercise classes, and there are often membership deals at fitness centers in the surrounding communities.  Also, even though October mornings can be brisk, getting outside for a walk, bike ride, or run can be wonderful.