Coffee and Beetroot: Are Performance-Enhancing Supplements Worth It?

Some Other Supplements You May Have Read About

Omega-3

Unlike other fats, omega-3s (a group of long-chain fatty acids) can't be made by the body and so must come from the diet, for example, from oily fish. Essential for growth, development and the correct functioning of the brain and nervous system, evidence shows that omega-3s can protect against depression and heart disease. They also play a role in the regulation of body fat and may stimulate muscle protein synthesis. Plant-based omega-3 is also found in walnuts and flaxseeds, although these shorter-chain versions are less efficiently used in the body. Omega-3s are more frequently used as a cornerstone for health rather than for performance per se as there's little research linking supplementation with increased performance.

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Antioxidants

Free radicals are a harmful by-product of the oxidative stress of exercise that can damage cells and attack the fats that provide structure to the walls of the cell membranes. Antioxidants help defend the body and mop up these free radicals by binding to them and nullifying their destructive effect. You can buy antioxidants in supplement form but save your money as they occur naturally within many fruits and vegetables. Provided that you eat a diet full of these foods, then you shouldn't need to take antioxidant supplements. In fact, it's recently been shown that artificially mopping up free radicals is potentially harmful, and can decrease positive adaptations that derive from training.

Nitrates

Research is starting to show that nitric oxide (a conversion of nitrates) is beneficial to performance: increasing vasodilation, improving delivery of oxygen and nutrients, reducing oxygen uptake, making exercise less tiring and having a positive effect on the metabolism of the mitochondria — the cells' engines — within the muscles as well.

Nitrates are found in higher concentrations in certain foods such as beetroot and spinach, although concentrations can significantly vary, making it difficult to know how much to eat to gain a performance benefit. For cycling performance, the supplement may be a better choice. Many sports nutrition manufacturers now produce gels, drinks and bars that contain higher levels of concentrated nitrate, which the body can utilize far more easily. However, taking large quantities can cause gastric distress, so it's best avoided immediately before competition. In fact, because nitrates last in the body for a good few hours, you can take them in the morning for breakfast and still get the benefits in the afternoon when you ride.

Our advice on nitrates for now is to watch this space. Eat plenty of spinach and beetroot to naturally boost your nitrate availability through your diet, but remember, as with all supplements, it is more important to get the right amount of rest and eat a healthy balanced diet in addition to your training.

This story originally appeared in "The Pain-Free Cyclist" by Matt Rabin and Robert Hicks. As a member of the ACTIVE community, order "The Pain-Free Cyclist" and get it delivered to your doorstep for FREE using the promotion code ACTIVEFS

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About the Author

Matthew Rabin & Robert Hicks

Matthew Rabin is a team chiropractor and nutritional strategist with World Tour professional cycling team Cannondale-Garmin. Matt has also worked with the American, Australian, and British cycling teams at the World Championships, and the Australian cycling team leading up to the 2012 London Olympic Games.

Robert Hicks is a journalist, serving as Health and Fitness Deputy Editor across cycling titles for TimeInc UK, most notably for the biggest UK cycling magazine.
Matthew Rabin is a team chiropractor and nutritional strategist with World Tour professional cycling team Cannondale-Garmin. Matt has also worked with the American, Australian, and British cycling teams at the World Championships, and the Australian cycling team leading up to the 2012 London Olympic Games.

Robert Hicks is a journalist, serving as Health and Fitness Deputy Editor across cycling titles for TimeInc UK, most notably for the biggest UK cycling magazine.

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