The sports performance ingredient market is flooded with options when it comes to nutrients for preparing for training and the performance itself, with valid claims made for the improvements they can offer. Unfortunately, what is often overlooked is the fact that a well-balanced nutritional recovery program is equally as important to muscle gain and fat loss as exercising itself. In fact, many trainers and coaches make the argument that after training and competition, recovery must first occur before any further progress can be made.
Research has shown that to increase muscle mass, stress must be put on the body, leading to increased hormone release and increased flow of nutrients into the muscle and, with rest, muscles will grow. In other words, training beats the body up so it will adapt and become stronger. However, if a recovery plan is not in place during this process, the body will break down. Muscles and other tissues are broken down, and the body is in a fatigued state. It is necessary to refuel to rebuild and strengthen muscle, repair tissues and prepare for the next challenge.
Ingredients proven to assist in recovery play an important role in energy production, hemoglobin synthesis, immune function, and protection from oxidative damage. They also assist with synthesis and repair of muscle tissue during recovery from exercise. Therefore, it is important that athletes consume adequate amounts of these nutrients to promote their efforts for optimal performance and health.
Citrulline malate has made some waves in the gym and athletic arena. It is a salt of the amino acid citrulline and the organic acid, malic acid. One of its biggest benefits is that it helps remove endotoxins such as lactic acid and ammonia from the body. These endotoxins are produced by all the hallmarks of training: intense physical activity, protein metabolism and catabolic states. Endotoxins damage living cells and impair performance.1
Citrulline malate also works in recovery by enhancing the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Directly after working out when supplies are low, citrulline supplementation helps to bring those levels back to normal. In addition, citrulline malate is an efficient promotor of nitric oxide (NO) synthesis, even more so than arginine, which improves blood flow, essential during any high-intensity physical training.2
Arginine is a vasodilator, especially in combination with citrulline. Both increase blood flow so the heart can pump blood more efficiently, which can promote cardiovascular and muscular performance. L-arginine’s ability to improve blood flow and circulation occurs because of its conversion into NO. NO causes blood vessels to dilate and improve circulatory status. L-arginine supports the healthy detoxification of ammonia, which is a byproduct of high-intensity training. It can also stimulate the release of growth hormones and insulin, which support lean muscle mass and energy production from glucose. This improved utilization of glucose can be used for increased growth and energy demands.3
Beta-alanine is a precursor of carnosine, which has been shown to play a significant role in balancing muscle pH. It can reduce muscular acidity, which aids in muscular performance. It acts as an acid buffer, which delays the onset of fatigue and muscular failure. In recovery, stabilizing the acid/base balance reduces the potential for damage to tissue and muscle that occurs during exertion. It has also shown to have several performance-enhancing functions that include regulation of calcium and antioxidant properties.4
Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) supports healthy recovery from intense training sessions more quickly. Riboflavin is necessary for energy production and cellular regulation. Vitamin B2 is involved in energy production in three areas: glucose metabolism, oxidation of fatty acids, and the shuttling of hydrogen ions through the Krebs cycle. The Krebs cycle is responsible for the production of ATP, which is the way that cells produce energy. In addition, vitamin B2 supports protein metabolism, making it important to the development and protection of lean body mass.5
Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) is essential to the metabolism of proteins. It supports healthy energy production, and can aid in muscle recovery and reduce fatigue. It plays a vital role for the athlete by promoting healthy red blood cell formation. This is important for energy production and resistance to stress by making iron in the diet more bioavailable to the tissues of the body. This allows hemoglobin to increase the amount of oxygen available for the working muscles. It also supports a more efficient utilization of carbohydrates by the mitochondria for energy production.6
Protein metabolism, muscular growth and adaptation and carbohydrate utilization are all supported by optimal amounts of vitamin B6. In fact, it’s the only vitamin directly tied to protein intake, meaning the more protein that is ingested, the more vitamin B6 is needed, making it an important factor in the building and repair of muscle and lean body mass.7
Dimethylglycine (DMG) is an amino acid that helps the body cope with physical stress by promoting oxygen utilization to improve the rate of muscle recovery after strenuous exercise. Studies show that it speeds up the removal of lactic acid from the body, which allows for faster recovery, fewer aches and pains, and optimal training performance.8,9
Leucine, isoleucine and valine are the branched chain amino acids (BCAAs). These amino acids, especially leucine, stimulate protein synthesis and help reduce the harmful effects of stress on the body. During intense physical training, over 70 percent of amino acids that are used by the muscle are BCAAs. They need to be replaced before, during and after training to support optimal recovery from high-intensity training.10
Leucine is by far the most important of the BCAAs. It is essential for muscular growth and recovery as a stimulator of protein synthesis in the muscle. Valine supports leucine and contributes to lean muscle-mass building and muscle repair. Isoleucine contributes to the biochemical process that generates energy. Isoleucine also helps build lean muscle mass and reduce fat.10,11
Glutamine is a conditionally essential amino acid that helps activate protein synthesis. It also promotes brain health, muscular energy and recovery. Glutamine supports the healthy balance between muscular growth and repair, and muscular breakdown. This is known known as the anabolic/catabolic ratio. As this ratio increases, lean mass and muscular development increase. Glutamine also supports mental function by supplying a direct source of energy to the brain, as well as healthy digestive function.12
Taurine reduces the effects of training stress and helps prevent muscle breakdown. It also supports healthy energy production, stress response and recovery, and healthy fat metabolism. Taurine promotes healthy cardiac and muscular adaptation to high-intensity activity. It maintains a healthy balance of the electrolytes calcium, magnesium, sodium and potassium in the heart muscle. Taurine also reduces the negative effects of high-intensity training on the nervous system.13
For a list of references, email [email protected].
Jack Grogan is chief science officer for Uckele Health & Nutrition. He is a recognized expert in hair mineral analysis, a valuable tool in determining the causes of nutritional imbalances or deficiencies. With considerable experience in the fields of biology, biochemistry and nutrition, he has helped development hundreds of proprietary nutritional formulas and programs.