Check out these natural ergogenic aids for a natural nutritional performance boost, says nutritionist Sally Pinnegar.

Natural Stimulants

Some natural supplements work wonders (Photo: Fir0002)

An ergogenic aid is a substance, food or training method used to improve performance or recovery. Here we’re going to look at some that come from natural food, that reportedly give athletes a competitive advantage.

Natural whole foods should always be your first choice, and they are the foundation of sports nutrition. They are more bio-available to your body, cheaper and have other nutrients not found in single supplements. Bear in mind that there is a whole industry around supplements; a lot of the evidence for their effectiveness is unsubstantiated and they can be very costly. Another point to note is that there can often be a placebo effect, but an effect is an effect.

1. Bicarbonate of soda

There is scientific evidence and anecdotal evidence that suggests that taking bicarbonate of soda has a positive effect for races of up to about seven minutes and during anaerobic repetitions such as interval training.

Claims : The alkali in bicarbonate of soda lowers acid levels in the muscles, which are high as
a result of hard or anaerobic training and can reduce your performance.

How to use: The recommended dose is 300mg/kg of bodyweight for males and 250mg/kg for females. It should be split into smaller doses starting three hours before exercise with small doses at 30-minute intervals, the last one hour before the session. Its side effects can be highly and undesirably explosive in terms of stomach issues and it is not recommended you use this for the first time before an important session or race.

2. Branched chain amino acids (BCAAs)

Branched chain amino (BCAAs) acids are a component of muscles. They consist of three essential amino acids: leucine, isoleucine and valine.

Claims: They reduce protein and muscle breakdown during intense exercise. They also stimulate the use of protein to build and repair muscle.

How to use: Include BCAA-rich foods in your everyday diet; such as meat and dairy products and legumes (peas, beans, lentils, peanuts etc).

3. Choline

Choline is a compound and helps to transfer nerve signals to muscles. If you’ve ever run a marathon or a long triathlon you may have experienced muscle spasms or cramps; this ergogenic aid may help.

Claims: Helps prevent muscle fatigue and promotes prolonged repeated muscle contraction.

How to use: In the lead-up days to your event, eat choline-rich foods, which include meat and seafood, nuts, cauliflower, spinach, soya, lettuce and eggs. Note that for long distance, choline may require topping up after a couple of hours (which isn’t practical). Choline supplements can cause diarrhoea and flatulence problems.

4. Cherry juice

Claims: Anti-inflammatory, antioxidant compounds
in cherries, called anthocyanins, promote faster recovery after exercise by mitigating the muscle damage caused by hard exercise.

How to use: Drink good quality cherry juice, with no additives, after hard training sessions; add cherries to yoghurt, smoothies and cereal – including frozen or dried cherries. Eat fresh cherries as a snack when they are in season.

5. Colostrum

Colostrum contains growth substances, antimicrobials and immune substances. The colostrum used by athletes is bovine (cow) colostrum, which is said to be identical in structure to human colostrum.

Claims: Enhances immunity and recovery; promotes fat burning and muscle growth and health, reduces gastric distress during exercise.

How to use: It comes as a powder, which you mix into a glass of milk or some live yoghurt once or twice a day.

This article was originally published in Triathlon Plus magazine. Save time and money by having every issue delivered to your door or digital device by subscribing to the print edition or buying digitally through Zinio or Apple Newsstand.

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