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Woman Resting After Exercise

Fueling Exercise and Performance

The endless search for energy is being boosted by continued development and research of ingredients targeting bioenergetic processes and fatigue signaling.

Research has highlighted several natural ingredients that provide support for the processes in the body that produce energy and fight fatigue.

The body breaks the bonds of the molecule adenosine triphosphate (ATP) to generate energy. ATP is stored in the body, but this supply can only fuel short bursts of exercise. To go beyond a short sprint’s worth of time, the body uses both aerobic and anaerobic processes to turn dietary carbohydrates into ATP. Longer exercise relies more on fat oxidation to make ATP for energy. Further, an extremely low carb state called ketosis generates ketones that can be used as fuel and also ramps up fat oxidation for energy.

The popular sports nutrition ingredient creatine helps boost muscle stores of phosphocreatine, which can be quickly turned into ATP for energy and prolong short bursts of exercise. Creatine comes in several different forms, each designed to offer either an absorption or efficacy.

D-ribose is a five-carbon sugar that is part of the structure of ATP, so athletes have turned to supplementation with this ingredient for energy support.

Glycolysis is the process of turning glucose into ATP, so increasing glucose levels via quick carb intake prior to and even during exercise has been a popular way to fuel this type of energy production. Glycolysis feeds the kerbs or TCA cycle, which generates ATPs via oxidation reactions. Fat oxidation can result in compounds that feed this cycle. Choline/phosphatidylcholine can help deliver fats from the liver, while carnitine helps shuttle fats into the mitochondria for oxidation.

Byproducts of glycolysis, including hydrogen ions and lactate, can accumulate in the muscles and trigger fatigue. Carnosine helps buffer these ions to limit muscle fatigue. Beta alanine is a primary component of carnosine, along with histidine, and has become a popular supplement for supporting carnosine production in the body.

There can also be an excess of feeder coenzymes heading into the krebs cycle. These extra compounds can convert to ketones, including acetoacetate and beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB), which can be used as fuel throughout the body, including the brain, and can even convert back into coenzymes for ATP production. Unlike the long-chain fats shuttled by choline and carnitine, medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) are short-chain and need no help getting into the mitochondria where they can generate excess coenzymes and, thus, ketones.  MCTs have become popular for those looking to maintain ketosis and ramp up fat oxidation for fuel.

Minerals are important for many of the enzymatic reactions central to ATP production, and several mineral-rich ingredients are potentially beneficial in boosting energy. This may be part of the actions of shiliajit, an mineral pitch used in Ayurveda for energy and other health outcomes. Ancient peat is another mineral source researched for energizing properties. 

Protecting the mitochondria from oxidative stress and free radicals is important to preserve optimal energy production. This job falls to antioxidants,s everal of which have been researched for energy support, including astaxanthin, apple polyphenols and quercetin.

Caffeine is the world’s most popular stimulant, and it works by competing for adenosine receptors in the brain that would otherwise cause fatigue. By beating adenosine in this game of musical chairs, caffeine block fatigue signaling and results in a stimulating effect. The downside is caffeine can be addictive and can cause central nervous system (CNS) problems, including cardiovascular dysfunction. Theacrine, found in tea, is similar in structure to caffeine but supports fatigue inhibition without the addiction and CNS side effects.

For more information on the research behind these and other energy boosting ingredients, including several that improve blood flow, check out the special digital issue “Sports Nutrition: Pure Energy, Pure Ingredients.”

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