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!

New Heart Health Research

 I’ve come across a couple new heart health studies that I wanted to share. Heart health isn’t a “trending” subject when it comes to supplements, but is really important when you consider that heart disease still remains the number one cause of death in the United States. Below are two supplements that are not traditionally thought of as things for heart health, but that have been researched lately with interesting results.

Beets and beet juice have been popular lately, and a new study confirms their benefits for heart health and increasing blood flow. The study followed people with something called reduced ejection fraction, which means that the heart isn’t contracting effectively and is not providing enough oxygen rich blood to the body. It’s a condition often seen with heart failure and can impact activity since your heart literally is not working to circulate enough oxygen needed for body and brain function.

In the study, the people using the beet juice supplement had significant increases in oxygen uptake during exercise and they were able to exercise longer and remain more active. Frequently athletes will take beet juice supplements for this reason, though the benefits can be seen for most adults, particularly older adults or people with heart issues. The nice thing about supplementing with a beet juice supplement is that there are no negative side effects. Beets are also a fantastic antioxidant

Another study on calcium found that people with lower levels of calcium in the blood had increased rates of sudden cardiac arrest. Sudden cardiac arrest is fatal in 90 percent of cases and the majority of people experiencing sudden cardiac arrest had no history of heart disease or other high risk warning signs.

Calcium is a tricky thing since it’s necessary for the body, but too much can also be a problem. Calcium supplements should always be taken in divided doses of no more than 500mg at a time, since that is all the body can absorb at once. Also, not all calcium supplements are created equal, so be sure you’re taking a well absorbing form.


The Importance of Exercise: More than Just Weight Loss

With spring in full swing, I wanted to write about exercise, since April is a great time to begin an exercise regimen with such nice mild weather outside.  First, I wanted to say that I think it’s a good idea to start thinking of exercise in a different way.  We usually think of exercise as connected with weight loss, and while exercise and weight loss do go hand and hand, it seems to me that connecting exercising with trying to lose weight can put exercise in a negative light, as something that can almost be a discouragement and easily set aside as “too hard” or too large of a problem to overcome.

If we begin to shift our thinking from the idea of exercising to lose weight to instead, deciding to make a change to a healthier, more active lifestyle, I think it can make a real difference.  “Dieting” can feel like such a negative thing, and can be something that’s difficult to maintain.  For example, my dad (I hope he doesn’t mind me writing about him) was overweight for years, and would joke every week about how he was, “restarting his diet” each Monday- something which never stuck.  Then, a couple years ago, he and his wife decided to make a change, and they took up biking.  At 73, he has gone from being overweight and unhealthy to biking huge distances, sometimes up to 50 miles at a time!  I am amazed by him, and really proud.  I wanted to tell his story as an example that anyone can make a change, today, and turn their life around to a healthy, active life, no matter how sedentary you may be.   It doesn’t happen overnight, but it won’t happen if you don’t start.

Being active is about much more than weight loss- exercise is one of the top ways to prevent heart disease.  Exercise improves blood flow, lowers blood pressure, and strengthens the heart, all of which lead to a longer life!  The official recommendations for exercise are 2.5 hours of moderate aerobic exercise a week.  That number seems like a lot, but is completely doable when broken up into small minutes each day.

Many people say that they don’t have enough energy to exercise.  If that’s the case, supplements like ginseng can really help.  Ginseng is a herb used for thousands of years for vitality and stamina and is something that can help you to get going in the morning.  In fact the German science commission has approved ginseng’s use in reducing fatigue.  Studies have shown that ginseng helps with increasing stamina during exercise, allowing a person to sustain aerobic activity for a longer period of time with less fatigue.  A typical dose is two five hundred milligram capsules first thing in the morning.  Ginseng is slightly more effective on an empty stomach, though it can be taken with food.

Another supplement that can be helpful for people starting an exercise regimen is CoQ10.  CoQ10 is most well known for its benefits to heart health, though it is also useful for improving stamina and energy during exercise and even helping with improving recovery after exercise.  CoQ10 has so many proven benefits and is a supplement everyone would benefit from.  If you’re interested, you can search “CoQ10” on our website for many, many articles on the benefits of CoQ10. 

The standard dosage is 100mg per day.  CoQ10 is a fat-soluble vitamin, so it should be taken with food for the best absorption.  We currently have a buy one, get one free two pack of CoQ10 by Natural Factors at Pass Health Foods which is a really great deal.

The last recommendation I would make would have to do with protein.  After exercising, particularly strenuous exercise or exercise where you’ve worked your body hard, it’s a good idea to use a protein shake.  There is a “magic window” of 45 minutes after exercise where ingested protein can make a real difference for muscle repair and synthesis.  That protein does not need to be in the form of a protein shake, though I have found protein shakes to be the most convenient after exercise, since they’re simple and fast. 

If you consume dairy products, whey protein is a fantastic, easily absorbed protein source, and the company Jarrow has a line of whey protein powders which are very high quality as well as a good value.  If you’re dairy-free, as I am, I’d very much recommend Garden of Life’s Organic Plant Protein.  It’s the one I use, and I really love it.  Also, while supplies last we have a number of really nice shaker cups that are free with any full size Garden of Life protein powder.  I use a shaker cup all the time; you can put a serving of protein powder in a shaker cup to take along with you when exercising at the gym and then add water and drink immediately after exercising, since protein shakes are best when drunk right after mixing.  Protein shakes taste best when mixed with milk or in a smoothie, but they are perfectly acceptable when mixed with water- plus it’s easier and has less calories.

Finally, I want to say two more things- the first is that exercise can be enjoyable, and not everyone likes the same things.  We live in an area with a huge amount of paved forest preserve trails, and Lake Katherine and Swallow Cliff are nearby as well.  If you don’t like biking, try walking, or running, or hiking.  Numerous studies have shown the benefits to stress relief simply by being outdoors, and even more have shown exercise’s ability reduce stress and improve mood.

In closing, I again want to encourage you to start being more active and to begin to add exercise as a regular component to your day!  Nothing happens overnight, but it all starts with a choice, and taking that first step.   Good luck!


If you’re interested in further information, here are two of our past articles that go into more detail about protein shakes:

Exercise and Protein Shakes

Protein Shakes for Weight Loss


Healthy Q & A: Protein Shakes for Weight Loss

Q: I’ve heard protein shakes are good for weight loss, but there are so many choices I don’t know what is the best (or even if protein shakes will help).  Do you have any advice?

A: Protein can be a fantastic aid to weight loss.  Adding additional protein to your diet can help you to feel more satisfied, which can help with dieting.  Protein also helps with muscle recovery after exercise.  For best results for building muscle, a protein shake should be consumed within 45 minutes after a workout.  All of the below protein powders can be mixed with water in a shaker cup, or milk for a creamier shake.  A scoop of protein powder is also wonderful addition to a smoothie.

When it comes to protein shakes for weight loss, not all shakes are created equal.  We have three different protein shakes that I would especially recommend as weight loss aids.  The first is a brand new one we’ve found, Betty Lou’s Low Glycemic Protein Shakes.  I’m particularly fond of it since it is a whey protein shake (whey is a protein from milk which is very easily absorbed), that has fibers added to help increase the feeling of being satisfied.  It also has vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, and enzymes added, and is sugar, gluten, and soy free.

Another great protein shake I’d recommend is Jarrow Formulas Greek Yogurtein.  I wrote a feature on it a few months ago, since I was so impressed with it.  It combines quick absorbing whey protein, with a second milk protein, micellular casein, which is very slowly digested.  Since it stays in the stomach a long time, it can help you to feel full for longer period of time.

The final protein shake I’d recommend is Garden of Life’s Raw Fit.  It is different from the previous two in that it is a dairy free, plant based protein shake.  It sets itself apart as a weight loss protein shake since it has additional diet aids like green coffee bean extract, as well as chromium and cinnamon for balancing blood sugar.  It also contains vitamins, minerals, fiber, enzymes, and probiotics.  It’s a fantastic protein shake suitable for dairy free and vegan diets.


Healthy Q & A: Exercise and Protein Shakes, with Recommendations


Q:  I’ve started working out, and I want to start taking a protein shake, but am kind of overwhelmed with the choices.  Do you think a protein shake is necessary?  What would you recommend?  I want something that is good tasting too.

A:  Good job starting an exercise program!  Protein is great for muscle recovery, enhancing muscle rebuilding and growth.  Drinking a protein shake within 45 minutes of exercising has been shown to aid in promoting muscle growth in studies.

Depending on what type of exercise you’re doing, a protein shake may not be necessary. Light exercise like walking or yoga usually does not require additional protein added to the diet (though everyone should be getting at the very minimum the RDA of protein, which is 46 grams for women and 56 grams of protein for men).  Weight training or more intense exercise, which people of all ages should be doing, would benefit from additional protein.  Strength training helps to increase bone density and prevent osteoporosis as well as reducing arthritis pain improving insulin resistance, and reducing blood pressure. Building muscle also helps to boost your metabolism which increases the rate in which you burn calories.  A natural part of aging is reduced muscle mass, so incorporating some strength training into your daily routine literally can “turn back the clock”.

One thing to think of when adding a recovery protein shake is the amount of calories consumed.  Pretty much every protein shake tastes better when made with milk or soy milk, but in most instances protein powder mixed with water is preferable due to its lower calorie count.  When trying to get in shape or lose weight, it’s important not to sabotage your weight loss efforts by drinking all the calories you burned post workout.

Whey protein, which is derived from milk, is often said to be the best form of protein for building muscles since it is so easily absorbed.  I don’t eat dairy, so I asked Patrick who works at the store, and he recommended Isopure as his favorite protein shake, due to its taste and protein and amino acid content.  After Isopure, Patrick and his family agreed that our Biochem chocolate whey protein powder was the next best tasting.

For non dairy protein, after trying a number of other protein shakes, the one I’ve stuck with is NOW Food’s unflavored pea protein powder.  It is economical and has a high protein content per serving, particularly for a non dairy protein shake (non dairy protein powders are typically lower in protein than their whey protein counterparts).  I like it because it has a similar amino acid profile to whey protein and is a clean shake without excess ingredients.  Unlike some other protein powders, it isn’t gritty, which makes it easy to drink.  I do also like Nature’s Plus Spirutien shakes, which are a mix of rice, pea, and soy protein.   They’re especially nice since they come in so many different flavors.  They aren’t as high in protein per serving as some other shakes, but they do have added vitamins, minerals, and superfoods like spirulina.

Research has shown that roughly 20-25 grams of protein post workout is optimal, so look at the nutrition facts for the protein powder you’re using to find how much you need to take.

Healthy Q & A: Protein and Exercise


I have been working out and am looking for a protein drink to assist.  What would you recommend?


Protein is incredibly important for helping to build and repair muscles.  Most recommendations say that it’s best to consume protein within one hour of resistance training since said training increases amino acid delivery to muscles as well as absorption.  Because of this, the sooner you consume protein after exercise, the bigger the stimulation of protein synthesis in the muscles. In theory, proper protein timing leads to increased gains in strength and lean body mass (something we all want).  There’s also some researchwhich says that drinking a protein shake before working out can be beneficial.


Whey protein is considered the best for muscles, since it’s quickly digested and over 90% of its protein is utilized by the body.  One we have that I’d recommend is Jarrow’s Whey Protein (it’s also 25% off this month).  It’s a good value, comes in three flavors, has a low amount of sugar, and has 4 grams of branched chain amino acids per serving (BCAAs help with maintaining and increasing muscle mass).


Whey comes from milk, though if you have a dairy sensitivity or allergy, we have a number of nice non dairy protein shake options (we have brown rice, pea, egg white, hemp, and soy protein shake mixes).


Something important to note is overall calorie expenditure and what you’re looking to gain from your workouts.  If you’re lifting weights and are trying to gain significant muscle, a protein shake after exercise is a great thing.  If your main goal is weight loss, and you’re doing shorter cardiovascular workouts, a post workout protein shake might not be needed; instead, just take care to ensure you’re getting enough protein in general.


For people doing mild to moderate exercise for weight loss, there is usually not a lot needed for “refueling”, and adding a lot after a workout can actually hurt your weight loss efforts.  An example would be a person who runs for 30 minutes and then eats a protein shake with a banana and added flax seed oil (a very healthy shake in and of itself).  30 minutes of jogging burns roughly 300 calories, but the shake described above could be as much as 400-500 calories.  If a shake like that is used to replace a meal or snack that would be fine, but if it’s added on top of a person’s normal food intake, you can actually be consuming more calories than expended during a 30 minute exercise session.