Do you find yourself winded mere moments into your fitness routine? Boost your endurance naturally with the three best supplements to improve stamina.
What is creatine?
Your body makes the protein creatine naturally. It is found in muscles as well as the liver, pancreas and kidneys. The more you exercise, the more creatine your muscles make, but creatine in the diet can also be absorbed by the body and added to both muscle and nerves, potentially improving neuromuscular performance.
Creatine was discovered in meat in 1832. Not long after, scientists found muscle levels were much higher in wild foxes, who exercise more, than in domesticated foxes. Around a century ago, it was found creatine in the diet could be absorbed by the body and could increase the creatine content of muscles.
What does creatine do?
Creatine is used to produce phosphocreatine, which in turn is used to provide energy to cells. Phosphocreatine is particularly used to provide muscles with energy during high-intensity exercise of short bursts of 15 to 30 seconds, such as sprinting or swimming short-distance races, weight-lifting or during sports such as tennis or football. Using creatine supplements to increase stores of creatine in muscle may make more energy available to muscle cells when they need it-increasing stamina and endurance.
What are the benefits of creatine?
Two-thirds of the 300 published studies on creatine’s effects on exercise found the supplement was helpful for sports that involved short, repetitive bursts of high-intensity exercise (creatine was not helpful for other sorts of exercise). However, a minority of studies found no benefit. The studies looked at a variety of types of sport including sprint cycling, swimming and soccer.
Creatine may increase lean body mass (however, some researchers have suggested this is due to muscles retaining extra water).
A study of men over 70 years of age found creatine supplements increased strength , power and endurance while a study of men and women over 65 found using creatine supplements during resistance training produced measurable improvements in muscle strength.
Creatine has also been used to improve exercise capacity, including endurance, in people with congestive heart failure . It is not known exactly how creatine produces benefits for people with this condition, as it does not appear to increase the amount of blood the heart can pump.
How to take creatine
* Creatine is available in oral powder, granules and micronized particles.
* As a sports supplement take either 3 grams of creatine daily continuously for 28 days or a cycle of 5 grams for 5 to 7 days followed by 2 to 10 grams a day for 8 weeks and then a 4-week break.
* To reduce age-related loss of strength take 5 grams of creatine a day, ideally in combination with regular resistance training.
* Taking creatine supplements with glucose or simple carbohydrates such as dark grape juice may reduce gastrointestinal side effects. Micronized forms may produce also better results with fewer gastrointestinal side effects.
* Creatine is not recommended for children and teenagers, as its safety and effectiveness have not been established.
What is guarana?
Guarana is a herb native to Brazil, where it has been used for centuries by Amazonian Indians for a range of effects. For centuries Amazonian Indians have used guarana to boost energy, reduce appetite and increase libido , as well as fight off malaria. Now the rest of the world has discovered this tonic: supplements are available and hot guarana drinks or soft drinks flavoured with guarana are proving a popular alternative to coffee-you can even buy guarana-boosted chocolate.
Scientists have shown guarana seeds are a potent source of caffeine but also contain a range of pharmaceutically active compounds, such as theophylline and tannins.
A study of 129 healthy people found that a multivitamin and mineral supplement with guarana improved speed and accuracy and delayed fatigue .
What does guarana do?
Guarana stimulates the central nervous system, primarily by blocking nerve receptors for adenosine. Adenosine is a chemical messenger that has inhibitory properties and, when its actions are blocked, the brain is able to release stimulating neurotransmitters, such as noradrenaline. In addition to stimulating the brain, guarana has benefits that you’ll want to bring with you to the gym: it may improve athletic performance and help reduce weight, both positives for your overall physical fitness .
What are the benefits of guarana?
Guarana, like caffeine, is used to help people feel alert and awake. It is also used to promote a sense of wellbeing, of being energized and motivated and to improve self-confidence .
However, there have been very few human studies of guarana. Many health practitioners use studies of caffeine to help them understand guarana’s benefits-guarana is known to contain caffeine, as well as other chemicals-and caffeine is known to have these effects, but this approach may not tell the whole story for this under-researched herb.
Guarana is also used to improve mental function but so far studies have produced conflicting results. Animal studies suggest guarana, either as a single dose or taken long term, improves memory function . Small human studies using healthy elderly volunteers have not borne this out, although a recent small study using young volunteers did report positive effects on concentration.
Some athletes use guarana to improve their performance both during training and in competitions, but formal studies have not yet been done while animal studies have produced conflicting results.
Studies of guarana in combination with other herbs suggest it may help people lose weight . Several factors could be at work here. Firstly, by slowing the rate at which food leaves the stomach, guarana may make people feel full for longer, thereby reducing appetite. In addition, it may act directly on the brain to suppress appetite. It may also increase metabolic rate, helping burn off kilojoules faster (especially kilojoules stored in fat cells in the body) and act as a diuretic, promoting urine production. However, studies have tended to use combinations of herbs, so there is uncertainty about guarana’s exact role (if any) as a weight-reduction agent.
A traditional use for guarana is as an aphrodisiac, increasing libido. This use has not yet been investigated in formal studies, so those interested in this potential effect will have to try it and make up their own minds.
How to take guarana
* Guarana is available as a dried herb, liquid extract, capsule, tablet and oral spray.
* Guarana is also available in combination with other herbs thought to improve alertness, either physical or mental, such as ginseng.
* The exact caffeine content may vary from preparation to preparation. Take enough guarana to provide around 250 milligrams of caffeine a day. This may involve taking 2.5 to 4 grams of the herb, depending on the individual formulation. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions or consult your health-care practitioner .
* Avoid guarana-containing preparations in the evening, unless you are trying to stay awake.
3. Ginseng (Panax)
What is ginseng?
A wildly popular herb, ginseng is added to everything from fruit juices to vitamin supplements . Most of these products actually contain very little ginseng and are typically ineffective, but supplements made with quality ginseng do indeed exert a variety of protective effects on the body.
Panax ginseng (also commonly called Asian, Chinese or Korean ginseng) has been used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years to enhance longevity and quality of life. Panax ginseng contains panaxans, substances that can lower blood sugar, and polysaccharides, complex sugar molecules that enhance the immune system . “White” ginseng is simply the raw, dried root; “red” ginseng has been steamed and dried and is more potent. Panax ginseng should not be confused with Siberian ginseng.
What does ginseng do?
The primary health benefits of Panax ginseng derive from its immune-stimulating properties, as well as from its ability to protect the body against the effects of stress .
Ginseng may help the body combat a variety of illnesses. It stimulates the immune system in a number of ways, including production of specialized immune cells called killer T cells, which destroy harmful viruses and bacteria. It may also be useful in treating people with low white blood cell counts.
What are the benefits of ginseng?
Ginseng may benefit people who are feeling fatigued and over-stressed and those recovering from a long illness. The herb has been shown to balance the release of stress hormones in the body and support the organs that produce these hormones. It may also enhance the production of endorphins, “feel-good” chemicals produced by the brain.
Many long-distance runners and body builders take ginseng to heighten physical endurance and improve stamina . Some nutritionally-oriented doctors and herbalists believe that ginseng is able to delay fatigue because it enables the exercising muscles to use energy more efficiently. There is research, however, that contradicts this hypothesis.
Ginseng may be helpful for impotence but the way it works is not clear. Some of its active ingredients appear to affect smooth muscle tissue and improve erectile function. Men with fertility problems may benefit from ginseng as well, because animal studies indicate that it increases sperm production.
Ginseng has benefits that go beyond the fitness department: there is some scientific evidence that ginseng improves mental performance, including memory and concentration and is useful in reducing blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes.
How to take ginseng
* Panax ginseng is available in powder/granules, capsules, liquid/tincture/oral spray, softgel and as dried herb/tea.
* Read labels carefully to make sure that you’re getting Panax ginseng. Other kinds of ginseng, such as American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) or Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus), produce different effects.
* Each day, take the extract equivalent of 0.9 to 3.0 grams of crude ginseng root.
* Tablets/capsules: follow the manufacturer’s instructions or consult your health-care practitioner about your particular situation, but a typical dose is a ginseng extract equivalent to 500 to 2000 milligrams of dry root a day. Most studies have used products standardized to contain 4 percent ginsenosides.
* Liquid extract (1:2): 1 to 6 millilitres a day.
* Other forms: follow the manufacturer’s instructions or consult your health-care practitioner.
* Start at the lower end of the dosage range and increase your intake gradually.
* Some experts recommend that you stop taking ginseng for a week every 2 or 3 weeks and then resume your regular dose. In some cases, ginseng may be rotated with other immune-stimulating herbs, such as astragalus or Siberian ginseng.
* The combination of ginseng and caffeine may intensify any side effects, so cut back on (or avoid) caffeine. Avoid ginseng at night unless you want to be awake.
* Do not take products containing Panax ginseng if you have an acute infection with fever or if you feel hot, tense and overly stimulated.