Printer Friendly

Use of nutrients to support aerobic and anaerobic exercise.


Men and women of all ages are participating in sports and physical activities at an ever-increasing rate. Therefore, those who engage in regular physical activity or train for athletic events may benefit from specific nutrition and herbal support for optimal performance. Research over the years has demonstrated that there are specific physiologic and metabolic requirements for physical activity. The nutritional cofactors for these reactions can over time be diminished or depleted. It is known that regular physical activity is a metabolic stressor and that activity provides stimuli that promote very specific and varied adaptations according to the type, intensity, and duration of the sport performed. For example, prolonged walking at low intensity presents modest metabolic, hormonal, and cardiovascular demand, and thus there are small changes in fat utilization and mobilization from body stores. More intense activities, however, such as running, cross-country skiing, and mountaineering stimulate a substantial increase in metabolic demands and energy requirements. Weight lifting, on the other hand, requires an immediate energy source for the very short and high-intensity activity to occur. As you can see, the physiologic stress of exercise can be quite variable. It can be determined by nutrient utilization and depletion and cardiovascular response to the intensity of the activity.

Aerobic Exercise: Support for Activities Such As Running, Cycling, and Swimming

During exercise of greater than 30 minutes' duration and of moderate to high intensity, there is increased oxygen consumption and thus aerobic metabolism for ATP to be used by the muscle fibers. The intention of the following nutrients is to provide nutrition and herbal support to optimize aerobic exercise performance and thus delay the onset of fatigue.

Carnitine is a compound that has a well-established role in intermediary metabolism. It is an obligate for optimal fatty acid oxidation or aerobic metabolism, which is a critical source of energy during exercise. It is hypothesized that carnitine can improve exercise performance by enhancing the aerobic processes, sparing glycogen depletion and consequently prolonging the onset of fatigue. (1) Also, carnitine supplementation provides replacement of this nutrient because it is diminished with training. Rhodiola is an herb that contains a glycoside called salidroside, which has been reported to have stimulant, antistress, and adaptogenic actions, all of which are necessary for endurance athletics. Rhodiola had demonstrated the ability to inhibit stress-induced depletion of catecholamines (endorphins) and to facilitate the transport of neurotransmitters to the brain, thus decreasing the perception of fatigue and increasing work capacity. (2) Cordyceps is another herb that contains cordysepic acid and adenosine and which has demonstrated an ability to increase energy and endurance as well as reduce fatigue. (3) This action is accomplished by reducing submaximum heart rate and blood lactate accumulation during exercise, as well as enhancing fat metabolism and sparing muscle glycogen expenditure during prolonged activity. Caffeine is a unique compound and is part of the diet of most athletes. Several controlled studies have found that recreational and highly trained athletes improved their endurance performance by 20% to 50% after ingesting caffeine. (4) Metabolic studies suggest that this effect is accomplished by the release of fat breakdown products by the caffeine, thus enhancing aerobic metabolism and leading to a glycogen-sparing effect that can improve endurance. (5) Antioxidants such as CoQ10, glutathione, and lipoic acid are important in supplementation for athletics. (6) The rationale is that exercise is a highly oxidative process and consequently produces free radicals from aerobic metabolism. Antioxidant compounds help alleviate this process. It has also been demonstrated that glutathione supplementation can increase muscular strength and endurance with long-term use. (7), (8) Also, alpha-lipoic acid plays an essential role in mitochondrial dehydrogenase reactions (management of free radical reaction) and has recently gained considerable attention as a potent antioxidant as well as for its favorable interaction with vitamin C and glutathione. (9), (10) Collectively, these actions reduce the potential for oxidative damage in tissues from aerobic exercise. Exercise stresses metabolic pathways; thus, there are increased requirements for micronutrients such as thiamine, riboflavin, vitamin B-6, magnesium, and zinc. (11) Due to the stress, the need for specific nutrition is vital because of the decreased absorption of nutrients, increased turnover or metabolism of the nutrients, and mitochondrial enzymes that require nutrients for tissue maintenance and repair. Thiamine (vitamin B1) and riboflavin (vitamin B2) are both involved in the metabolism of energy from carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Each plays a role as a coenzyme. Specifically, thiamine is part of thiamine pyrophosphate (TPP), which is necessary for the conversion for carbohydrate metabolism. Riboflavin is necessary to metabolize energy from all three energy pathways. Riboflavin-containing coenzymes are needed in the Krebs cycle of aerobic metabolism. Vitamin 66 is necessary for carbohydrate and protein metabolism but not fat metabolism. Without the coenzyme PLP (pyridoxal-5'-phosphate, or vitamin B6) muscle glycogen cannot be broken down for energy during exercise. In fact, much of the body's vitamin B6 is stored in muscle. Magnesium is also necessary for sugar, fat, and protein metabolism, for the production of ATP. The intracellular functions of magnesium are achieved through the formation of magnesium adenosine triphosphate (Mg-ATP), which is a substrate for a wide variety of enzymes that are located in cells. At present, it is still hypothetical as to how magnesium supplementation could improve performance. The role of magnesium as a cofactor to rate-limiting enzymes such as creatine kinase (cleaves creatine phosphate for the production of ATP) could form the basis for one line of reasoning. (12) Zinc is necessary for macronutrient metabolism and cell replication and is a required cofactor in several enzymatic pathways.

Anaerobic Exercise: Support for a Regular Weight lifting Routine

Weight lifting programs create great anaerobic demand on skeletal muscle. Creatine is a naturally occurring compound found primarily in skeletal muscle. Thus, rapid depletion of muscle creatine phosphate (CP) is believed to be a limiting factor during anaerobic work. Therefore, increasing creatine stores may theoretically prolong skeletal muscle activity and enhance work output. Creatine supplementation has been shown to improve exercise performance in individuals who undergo repeated bouts of high-intensity and short-duration work by increasing peak power total work, and decreasing lactate production. (13) The herbs green oatstraw, nettle, and sea buckthorn with vitamin C were used in a double-blind, cross-over study which hypothesized that there would be gains in muscular strength with the use of this combination.(14) The results demonstrated improvements in muscle strength, anaerobic power, endurance time, and feeling of well-being with supplementation. Glutamine is a nonessential amino acid, and it has been shown that plasma levels are decreased during high-intensity exercise (15) Thus, glutamine supplementation can be readily available for utilization in order to replenish levels. Also, glutamine is an important energy source for many cells in the immune system, such as lymphocytes and macrophages, and supplementation will support the immune system. Panax ginseng is an adaptogen and contains ginsenosides. In animal studies, it has been demonstrated that Panax stimulates the CNS and acts as an antioxidant. (16) These properties all can indirectly benefit an individual undergoing a routine exercise program such as weight lifting. Also, Panax ginseng has been the most studied herb in terms of enhancing athletic performance (17) Numerous studies have demonstrated that supplementation with Panax ginseng can assist in the improvement in muscular strength and work capacity. Wild yam contains the glycoside diosgenin, which has been shown to have an anaboliclike effect or the ability to increase muscle mass (18) Licorice root acts as an adaptogen and also has anti-inflammatory properties. It has also been shown that licorice decreases body fat. (19)


As you can see, there are many herbal and nutritional approaches to improving the metabolic processes that occur during aerobic and anaerobic exercise. These approaches are to improve the exercise outcomes and to replenish nutrients that can be depleted. The goal is that exercise be safe, enjoyable, and with optimal performance.


(1.) Brass EP. Supplemental carnitine and exercise. Am J Clin Nutrition 2000;72(25):618S-623S.

(2.) Kelly GS. Rhocliola rosea: a possible plant adaptive. Alt Med Review 2001;6131:293-302.

(3.) Zhu JS, Halpern GM, Jones K. The scientific rediscovery of a precious ancient Chinese herbal regimen: Cordyceps sinensis Part 1. I Alt Complemen Med 1998;4(3):289-303.

(4.) Costill D et al. Effects of caffeine ingestion on metabolism and exercise performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc 1978;10:155-158.

(5.) Graham land Spriet L. Caffeine and exercise performance. Sports Sci Exch. 1996;9(1):1-5.

(6.) Ylikoski T, Piirainen J, Hanninen 0, Penttinen J. The effect of coenzyme Q, on the exercise performance of cross-country skiers. Mol Aspects Med. 1997;18:s283-s290.

(7.) Powers SK, Hamilton K. Antioxidants and exercise. Clin Sports Med. 1999;18(3):525-536.

(8.) Malm C, Svensson M, Ekblom B, Sjodin B. Effects of ubiquinone-10 supplementation and high intensity training on physical performance in humans, Acta Physio/Scand. 1997;161:379-384.

(9.) Packer L, Witt E, Tritschler H. Alpha lipoic acid as a biological antioxidant. Free Radic Biol Med; 1995;19:227-250.

(10.) Sen CK et al. Thiol homeostasis and supplements in physical exercise. Am J Clin Nutr. 2000;72(2S):65356695.

(11.) Manore MM. Effect of physical activity on thiamin, riboflavin, and vitamin B-6 requirements. Am J Clin Nutr. 2000 Aug; 7212 Suppl):5985-6065.

(12.) Newhouse IL Finstacl EW. The effects of magnesium supplementation on exercise performance. Chi) I Sports Med. 2000; 10(31:195-200.

(13.) Greenhaff P. Creatine and its application as an ergogenic aid. Int I Sports Nutr. 1995;5:S100-S110.

(14.) Bucci LR. Selected herbals and human exercise performance. Am I Cf in Nutr. 2000;72(25): 6245-236S.

(15.) Wolfe RW. Protein supplements and exercise. Am 1 Clin Nutr. 2000;72(2s):551S-5575.

(16.) Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. Therapeutic Research Faculty, Fourth Edition, 2002; 593-599.

(17.) Bucci LR. Selected herbals and human exercise performance. Am I Chi) Nutr 2000:72(2S): 624S-236S.

(18.) Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. 4th ed. Therapeutic Research Faculty; 2002:1337-1338.

(19.) Stewart PM, Wallace AM, Valentini R, Burt D, Shackleton CHL, Edward CRW. Mineralocorticoid activity of liquorice: 11 [beta]-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase deficiency comes of age. Lancet 1987;2:821-824.

by Laurie Cullen, ND

Laurie Cullen, ND; is a core clinical faculty member at Bastyr Center for Natural Health, the teaching clinic of Bastyr University in Seattle, Washington. She is also currently the chair of the Department of Clinical Sciences as well as the interim associate dean for clinical education at Bastyr University, where she teaches an advanced gynecology course. Her practice focuses on her interest in all aspects of women's health. She incorporates evidence-based medicine and standards of practice in her patient care. Dr. Cullen has several years of experience in evaluating and managing female health conditions including menstrual disorders, vaginitis, cervical abnormalities, infertility, and contraception management, including IUD placement. She also performs annual physical exams for men and women of all ages. Dr. Cullen completed residencies at both Bastyr Center for Natural Health and at the teaching clinic of National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, Oregon, and has completed thousands of hours in continuing medical education, primarily in the area of gynecology. She codeveloped a line of female health supplements. Dr. Cullen received a BS in exercise science from Montana State University In 1987 and dn MS In clinical exercise physiology/cardiac rehabilitation from Eastern Illinois University in 1989. She received her NO degree from Bastyr University in 1998.
COPYRIGHT 2013 The Townsend Letter Group
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2013 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Cullen, Laurie
Publication:Townsend Letter
Article Type:Report
Date:Dec 1, 2013
Previous Article:Anti-aging medicine: an anti-aging medical approach to prostate cancer.
Next Article:Enhancing the performance of the athlete part 1.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2018 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters