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!

Hemp Seeds: They're Awesome (and are a great source of protein and omegas)

Have you tried hemp seeds?  If not, you really should. They’re delicious and are incredibly nutrient dense.

Hemp is related to the marijuana plant but does not contain marijuana's mood-altering THC. Hemp seeds are completely legal in the US. Hemp seeds, either in their shelled form or ground as hemp protein are a wonderful whole food that is a boost to any diet. Hemp seeds are high in protein and amino acids, in fact, one 30 gram serving of shelled hemp seeds has over 10 grams of protein and 10 grams of amino acids- three of which are omega 3 fatty acids which are so lacking in most American diets. Hemp seeds also contain the rare omega 6 fatty acids known as GLA. GLA has been shown to help with balancing hormones and lubricating skin. GLA is available in supplement form as borage or primrose oil softgels, but hemp seeds are the only whole food which GLA is naturally found.

Hemp has double the protein of flax or chia seeds (not that I’m badmouthing either of them- I love flax and chia) and hemp also has a broader spectrum of omega fatty acids as well as all ten essential amino acids. They also don’t contain gluten, soy, or dairy, so they’re a nice nutrient boost for people with food allergies.

For hemp seeds, we recommend the Nutiva brand, since I truly believe they’re the best. They’re organic (which also means they’re GMO-free), cold processed (heat can destroy some of the beneficial compounds in hemp seeds), and are completely chemical free. I’ve had other brands of hemp seeds which I didn’t think tasted as good- Nutiva’s hemp seeds taste absolutely delicious- they’re nutty, sweet, and savory all at the same time.

Check out our recipe section for two delicious hemp seed recipes, but they can also be eaten by themselves or sprinkled on top of salads and cereals. Hemp seeds are softer than seeds like sunflower seeds, so they’re easy to add to any foods. They’re also a great addition to a morning smoothie!






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.


Garden of Life Organic Plant Protein

We’re having a huge sale on Garden of Life this month for our store’s anniversary- 40% off their entire line!  Because of the sale I wanted to mention one of their products I’ve been using and absolutely love, their Organic Plant Protein.

I have dairy free diet, so over the years, I have tried a LOT of different plant based protein powders.  I have to say, that Garden of Life’s Organic Plant Protein is the very best one I’ve tasted.  Many plant proteins can be gritty or a little odd tasting, but not so with this one.  It’s creamy and delicious, and is even liked by picky eaters.  The vanilla is my favorite, since it literally tastes like cake.

I would very much recommend taking advantage of the sale and giving Garden of Life’s Organic Plant Protein a try this month.  

Supplement Spotlight: Jarrow's Greek Yogurtein

We have a new protein powder by Jarrow called Greek Yogurtein.  I wanted to write about it since it’s such a unique protein supplement.  It combines fast digesting whey protein with slow digesting micellar casein proteins for sustained energy and muscle building.

Whey protein is great after exercise since it gives an immediate (but short lived) boost to protein synthesis.  Casein (another milk protein) is slower to digest and be used by the body, which leads to a prolonged increase in amino acids and also reduces protein breakdown.  The micellar form of casein protein (which is the form in Jarrow’s Greek Yogurtein) has been shown in research to prevent muscle breakdown.  The micellar form of casein is also of significantly higher quality than conventional casein protein.

Since whey protein increases protein synthesis and casein protein reduces protein breakdown, they make a fantastic pairing for muscle health and growth.  All of us would benefit from building some extra muscle, since increasing muscle raises metabolism, helps to prevent osteoporosis, improves blood sugar control, and improves sleep.

The micellar casein protein in Jarrow’s Greek Yogurtein is also slowly digested, which means it stays in the stomach longer, which in turn helps a person to feel full and satisfied with less calories.

During the month of March, we’ll have Jarrow’s Greek Yogurtein on sale for 25% off.

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.