Note: The original version of this article first appeared way back in 2000, in Endurance News #29, with an updated version appearing last year at this time, in EN #48. I don’t usually like to recycle articles, but this one’s always been one of my favorites, and I believe the information provided is useful and worth repeating.
For many of us, the competitive season is fast coming to a close. If that’s the case for you, if your in-season training and racing schedule is winding down, you know it’ll soon be time to look back and evaluate all the things that went right, as well as the things that need improvement; it’s an ideal time to set your goals for the next season. Dr. Bill Misner has suggested that “preseason goals should be realistically set at 1-3% above personal bests at each distance with planned training peaks set to meet those goals methodically.” If you’re like most athletes, you’ll probably be doing some form of aerobic cross training outside your primary sport, as well as weight training. But the day-to day training, the accumulation of several hours spent running, cycling, swimming, or whatever your training involves, is definitely on the decrease. When I lived in Southern California the off-season simply meant fewer miles on the bike. But ever since I moved to a colder climate, I have used cross-country skiing and weight training (and now the Compex as well!) as my winter training in preparation for the cycling season. So I try to stay active all year round even if the duration and intensity is less than during my main season.
Whether or not you stay active year round, when your main competitive season ends, does that also mean the end of your supplement program? I don’t believe it should, and later in the article you’ll find my supplement suggestions for the off season. If you plan to remain active, training frequently and racing occasionally, you can stay pretty much on your competitive season regimen. If you’re still active, then your body will still need its nutrients. You cut back on the dosages if you’re not training as heavily, but definitely continue your supplement program. The three Daily Essentials – Premium Insurance Caps, Race Caps Supreme, and Mito Caps – should be year-long constants.
Free Radical Neutralization – Important All Year Round!
Louis Pasteur, recognized as the father of microbiology, once said, “The key to medicine is host resistance” and this is where antioxidants excel. Antioxidants strengthen our immune system, increasing our resistance to many types of toxins, bacteria, viruses, and degenerative diseases. They accomplish this by neutralizing excess free radicals. Over half a century ago Dr. Denham Harman first proposed the theory of free radicals and the role they play in age-related diseases. Back then, when aging was primarily believed to be more of a mechanical issue due simply to many years of wear and tear on the body, Harman’s theory on free radicals was, well . . .radical. Now, however, while we have identified many factors that contribute to the aging process, the Free Radical Theory of Aging is widely accepted as one of the primary, if not THE primary concept as to the cause of accelerated aging and/or age-related diseases.
Researchers Bradford and Allen write, "A free radical is simply a molecule carrying an unpaired electron.... All free radicals are extremely reactive and will seek out and acquire an electron in any way possible. In the process of acquiring an electron, the free radical... will attach itself to another molecule, thereby modifying it biochemically." [R. Bradford & H. Allen. Oxidology. Chula Vista CA: R.W. Bradford Foundation, 1997. Pp. 64-65.] Leibovitz and Siegel state: “However, as free radicals (FRs) steal an electron from the other molecules, they convert these molecules into FRs, or break down or alter their chemical structure. Thus, FRs are capable of damaging virtually any biomolecule, including proteins, sugars, fatty acids and nucleic acids.” [Leibovitz, B. & Siegel, B. (1980) "Aspects of free radical reactions in biological systems: aging" J Gerontal 35: 45-56.]
So even though some free radical activity in the body is actually a beneficial thing, allowing free radicals to accumulate and go unchecked – which they easily do, overwhelming the body’s built-in antioxidant defenses – is definitely not beneficial. Dr. Bill says, “The human body uses free radicals to destroy specific microbes; however, when free radical volume accumulates in time or in high volume, mutagenic activity or degenerative disorders may occur.” Free radicals are now believed to be a primary culprit behind a wide range of diseases including cancer, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease.
A good portion of free radical damage results from oxidation. Oxidation itself, however, is not a toxic process. For example, oxidation converts the food we eat into the fuel our muscles use. It is a vital, life-sustaining process, but it is not 100% efficient, and the metabolism of food, especially foods that are high in fats, produces high amounts of free radicals. Dr. Bill elaborates: “Oxygen has the capacity to be both friend and foe. When energy fuels are metabolized in the presence of O2, 5% of them create molecules that contain an odd number of electrons. The conversion of blood sugar, muscle glycogen, and fatty acids occur by oxidation. During this process pairs of hydrogen atoms are released like guided missiles, resembling a minute micro-level war causing devastating destruction to underlying tissues and cells. If Free Radicals (FRs) are not neutralized by on site antioxidant body stores immediately, tissue damage occurs to absolutely every cell membrane touched by these imbalanced molecular wrecking machines.”
In other words – and I’m paraphrasing this from a source I can no longer recall – “the very thing that helps give life (oxygen) is also what’s killing us.”
Free radicals are higher in people who:
- Exercise beyond 90 minutes duration at a time.
- Exercise above 80% VO2 Max
- Have a high body fat percentage - (above 15% males, above 20% females)
- Eat Animal Meats and Dairy Products
- AGE--->Older (above 40) = More Free Radicals
- SIZE-->Bigger (above 200 lbs) =More Free Radicals
Oxidative damage occurs at higher levels during intense and prolonged exercise, but it is a continual process, occurring on easy workout days and even non-workout days, simply through the process of making energy. Environmental pollutants and ultraviolet radiation also generate free radicals, and so does stress of kind. You might be taking a break from full-time training and racing, but free radical production never takes a day off. For that reason, you should never take a complete break from free radical neutralizing supplements.
Speaking of supplements, here are my suggestions for an off-season program.
1) PREMIUM INSURANCE CAPS- Every athlete I’ve designed a supplement program for, or given supplement advice to, knows that I consider a multivitamin/mineral supplement the foundation of any program. Premium Insurance Caps has no peer in this category. It’s especially important during the competitive season because you’re depleting these basic nutrients at very high rates, nutrients that maintain optimal performance of many bodily functions, including the protection and enhancement of the immune system. It’s important to replenish our bodies with these basic nutrients during the off-season as well, if only because our food supply is severely lacking in these important vitamins and minerals. I often recall something Dr. Misner wrote, and his words have been instrumental in why I believe supplementation with a multivitamin/mineral product is so important: “Athletes today ingest only 11% of the organic nutrients from their food sources that the athletes of the 1940’s enjoyed. Modern science has concluded that marginal nutritional deficiency and imbalance is directly responsible for 644 diseases or disorders.”
One of Dr. Misner’s most recent research articles, “Food May Not Provide Sufficient Micronutrients to Avoid Deficiency,” which was published in the prestigious Townsend Letter for Doctors and Patients (April 2005 #261, pages 49-52), along with the paper (NIH State of Science Conf., Bethesda 14-16 May 2006, for Am J Clin Nutr) of another of nutritional science’s brilliant minds, Dr. Bruce Ames, provides evidence that supports the notion that food alone does not supply all the micronutrients we need to prevent deficiency. The key thing to take away here is that there is an ever-growing body of research that is indicating that food alone may not provide enough of the micronutrients needed to prevent a deficiency. When you think about that, it's pretty sobering: Our food supply may not provide enough of the nutrients needed to prevent a deficiency disease, let alone enough to promote optimum health. That, in my opinion, makes supplementation a necessity.
Taking Premium Insurance Caps daily will amply replenish vitamins and minerals, supplying what the diet cannot, and also provide basic antioxidant support. You may not require the full two-packet dose (which we recommend for days with workout sessions over 1.5 – 2 hours), but the consistent intake of one half to one packet (4-7 capsules) per day will help provide the nutrients your body needs that it cannot get in adequate amounts from our food sources.
- Antioxidants in Premium Insurance Caps: beta carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E, manganese, selenium, and zinc
2) RACE CAPS SUPREME- This product is a “must have” during the competitive season as its nutrient components powerfully support enhanced energy production, endurance, and recovery. The primary nutrients in Race Caps Supreme – Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) and idebenone – are vital for the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the basic energy molecule of each cell, and this is but one reason why it’s such an important “during season” supplement.
However, as impressive as the performance-specific benefits are, the general health benefits are even greater, and that’s why Race Caps Supreme is on my year-round supplement list. Books have been written on CoQ10’s antioxidant benefits, and you could spend an awfully long time on the internet reading about the other numerous benefits of this incredible nutrient. Here are but a few:
- Improves blood circulation and aids in lowering blood pressure
- Alleviates asthma and allergies
- Helps alleviate chronic fatigue syndrome
- Prevents the oxidation of lipoproteins, thus potentially reducing the risk of plaque formation in arteries.
- Prophylaxis and therapy for heart disease, cancer, periodontal disease, and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and Huntington’s disease
Some experts believe that idebenone, a synthetic variant of CoQ10, is a more powerful antioxidant that yields even greater benefits, and that’s saying something. In fact, idebenone is such a potent antioxidant that it is used to protect organs that have been removed from a donor for transplant.
With Race Caps Supreme you have these two powerful substances, plus vitamin E, which itself is no slouch in the antioxidant line-up. All three substances are premier antioxidants and cardiovascular health nutrients. Speaking of cardiovascular health, Race Caps Supreme also contains trimethylglycine (TMG), which not only has antioxidant properties, but even more importantly, is involved in the process of methylation which helps lower elevated homocysteine, which is implicated in cardiovascular disease. TMG, folic acid, and vitamins B12 and B6, (all of which Premium Insurance Caps contains), are the key donors and factors in the methylating process. One nutritional scientist writes, “If your body runs low on methyl donors or methylating factors, the body’s essential detoxification and repair functions are impaired. Among other things, the body begins to have difficulty keeping up with the job of recycling homocysteine back into [the amino acid] methionine. The accumulation of homocysteine in the blood is a clear danger signal that methylation is impaired. It is also a direct threat to your health in and of itself.”
The specific dosages I suggest in the article “The Hammer Nutrition Daily Essentials” (you can find that article in the Getting Started section of the Hammer Nutrition web site) would be very applicable during this time of the year.
- Antioxidants in Race Caps Supreme: CoQ10, idebenone, vitamin E, Trimethylglycine (TMG)
3.) Mito Caps –I think the most exciting anti-aging research that I’ve read about in the past few years is that of Dr. Bruce Ames regarding the effects of two nutrients, acetyl l-carnitine (ALC) and r-alpha lipoic acid (r-ALA), on mitochondrial health. Ames’ landmark studies found that both ALC and r-ALA (both ingredients in Mito Caps) played vital roles in improving mitochondrial activity and cellular metabolism, which is beneficial not just for athletic performance, but even more so for general health. The anti-aging implications of the ALC/r-ALA combination are staggering when you think about the potential they have for delaying, and even possibly reversing, mitochondrial aging, which would mean that the millions of energy-producing “furnaces” in our bodies might possibly be restored to more youthful levels.
ALC is probably the most widely researched form of carnitine, one that not only enhances the use of fatty acids for fuels in the mitochondria (helping to make more energy available to cells and tissues), but also most readily crosses the blood-brain barrier, helping support a number of brain and nerve functions and helping prevent neurodegenerative diseases.
As an antioxidant, r-ALA is uniquely both water and fat soluble, and thus can neutralize free radicals in both fatty and hydrous cellular regions. It also boosts the activity of other antioxidants, including vitamins C and E, CoQ10, and glutathione. And there’s even more! This stuff is amazingly versatile and active. It also stimulates the production of glutathione, which might be the overall champion antioxidant. No wonder so many nutrition experts refer to it as “the universal antioxidant.” In addition, r-ALA plays an important role in controlling blood sugar, thus helping with the prevention of Type 2 diabetes.
What Dr. Bill wrote when we first introduced Mito Caps is at the heart of why I recommend taking the product every day of your life: “The longer you can stimulate the lifespan or health of the mitochondria, the longer you will live and the better you will perform in endurance events. The athlete who has the most healthy/efficient active mitochondria is the athlete who performs at their best.” As with Race Caps Supreme, the dosages I suggest in the article “The Hammer Nutrition Daily Essentials” (again, you can find that article and dosage suggestions in the Getting Started section on the Hammer Nutrition website) would very much be appropriate during the off season.
- Antioxidants in Mito Caps: r-Alpha Lipoic Acid, vitamin C (as ascorbyl palmitate), vitamin E, DMAE (Dimethylaminoethanol), PABA (Para Amino Benzoic Acid)
4) Carlson’s Norwegian Salmon Oil - Omega 3 fatty acids unquestionably belong in the year-round essential category. Among their many benefits related to athletic performance, the components of fish oil (DHA/EPA) improve endurance by increasing mitochondrial efficiency via their positive effects on coenzyme Q10 and idebenone, two key substrates involved in energy production. The absorption rate of these two fat-soluble nutrients is greatly increased in the presence of a fat source, and there’s arguably not a healthier fat than fish oil.
For general health purposes, fish oils provide one of the best defenses against cardiovascular disease. For example, an ever-growing body of research suggests the consumption of fish oils may prevent atherosclerosis, angina, heart attack, arrhythmias, stroke, and congestive heart failure. Fish oils help to reduce blood pressure, maintain arterial wall elasticity, and prevent blood clotting… they really are the heart’s “best friend.”
Newer research shows that fish oils have a positive influence on brain function and mood, including the alleviation of anxiety, insomnia, and other symptoms of depression. In addition, Omega 3 fatty acids from fish oil have been shown to provide impressive anti-inflammatory benefits by reducing specific pro-inflammatory cytokines and Series 2 prostaglandins, while increasing the level of anti-inflammatory Series 3 prostaglandins. Lastly, there is new evidence from both experimental and clinical studies to support a role for omega 3 fatty acids in the prevention of non-melanoma skin cancer.
There are two essential fatty acids (EFAs) that we need for life itself – the Omega 3 fatty acids and Omega 6 fatty acids. Our bodies cannot make either of them, so it’s necessary that we obtain them from dietary sources. However, while most of us consume an overabundance of Omega 6s, our Omega 3 intake is woefully lacking. In fact, while research points to a 1:3 Omega 3 to Omega 6 ratio as ideal, most people’s diets show a 1:20 ratio, which is obviously very much out of balance. The bottom line is that we need Omega 3 fatty acids, and the best source for them is fish. However, consumption of certain types of fish (such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines) two to three times a week is simply not possible for most of us. That’s where the Carlson’s Norwegian Salmon Oil supplement comes in. Two soft gels twice daily is a super easy way to make sure you obtain the essential Omega 3 fatty acids.
4) Phytomax - I wish I could say that my diet is excellent all the time. The truth is that it’s not always possible, especially in the winter where I live, to obtain substantial amounts of vegetables. I have found this product to be a real benefit for helping provide additional nutrients not found in other foods or supplements. The vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and phytochemicals in Phytomax (I suggest three capsules daily), along with the vitamins and minerals in Premium Insurance Caps, will very much fulfill your nutritional “basics” and augment the nutrients you obtain in your diet.
One of the benefits of Phytomax is its ability to help promote optimum alkalinity in the body, which helps create the best environment for the health of the cells. Other benefits that can be obtained with consistent use of the product (and we hear these frequently from regular Phytomax users) are increased energy levels (but without the unpleasant side effects of stimulants), faster recovery, improved immune system function, improved moods and mental clarity, and a higher quality of sleep.
5) Super AO – This is a new entry in my off season supplement list and I’m including it for two reasons:
- Additional antioxidant support – As mentioned earlier, free radical production never takes a day off, and with the extraordinary antioxidant profile in this product – nutrients that augment, but don’t replicate, any of the other antioxidants in the above-listed products – you have even wider-ranging support for the neutralization of free radicals.
- Cognitive function support – Two of the primary nutrients in Super AO – Ginkgo biloba and vinpocetine – are arguably the two most well known “brain” nutrients in use today, believed to enhance memory and alertness. In addition, both nutrients (along with Gotu kola, another nutrient in the product) are believed to help increase circulation. Potential benefits of increased circulation include the ability to speed delivery of antioxidants throughout the body and helping eliminate metabolic wastes more quickly.
So for increased antioxidant support, plus support for enhanced cognitive function and circulation, taking a Super AO capsule at breakfast is not a bad idea. At the rate of one capsule a day, a bottle will last you two months, not a bad investment for all the benefits you’ll receive.
One of the pieces of advice that has had the most impact on me as an athlete - and I hope it'll ring true for you as well - comes from sports nutrition expert Dr. Michael Colgan. In his book, Optimum Sports Nutrition [Advanced Research Press, 1993], Colgan suggests that we should, while we have the opportunity, make our athletic goals a major focus of our lives. In doing so, however, he urges that we understand that achieving excellence is not possible by doing things halfway.
This admonishment came to mind when writing this article because it emphasizes the concept that excellence in athletics (and overall health) isn’t a half-hearted (or half-year) proposition. The off season may be a time for cutting back on heavy training, but it still requires a full time commitment to your athletic goals, especially as the focus shifts towards general health requirements and away from high-volume training. Maybe this is a good time to repeat another saying that I often quote: An endurance athlete is a healthy person first, an athlete second, and an endurance athlete third. A year-round supplement program is vital for making positive increases in both health and fitness. The program outlined in this article is an excellent one to follow because it comprehensively covers a tremendous amount of nutritional territory.