Of course, physiologically speaking, hard consecutive training days suppress the immune system leaving us susceptible to illness, so it's not completely a mental thing. (Blurb from one of my old blog posts: "Depending on the duration and intensity of a workout, after prolonged exercise (at least 1.5 hours) certain key immune cells dramatically decrease for hours leaving you at higher susceptibility to infection. This is known as "the open window" when infection risk is high..." read the rest here.)
What you put into your body can help you avoid sickness, stay strong in training, etc. First and foremost, quality whole foods and staying hydrated are vital, but supplements can fill in the gaps for us, especially endurance athletes.
While I don't think it's necessary to do a lot of supplements if your diet is well-rounded, there are certain things that endurance athletes, in particular, should consider. In the past couple years I've taken bits and pieces of what I need and what I know of sports nutrition, what I need based on tests (lab, field), and I've put together my own little "cocktail" of supplements.
Here's what I take:
Fish Oil/Omega-3: 1280-1920 mg per day (brand: Nordic naturals ultimate omega). Dosage depends on amount of training and amount of omega-3 through food that day. Fish oil and cod liver oil should be in everyone's diet as powerful anti-inflammatories and to balance our omega-3 to omega-6 ratio (omega-6 can promote inflammation).
Extreme Endurance (3-6 a day). We talk about this on our Endurance Planet podcast a lot. I was skeptical at first, but gave it a try and now I don't want to live without it :) I believe XEndurance truly helps me recover faster; it doesn't necessarily make "lactic acid" burn disappear, but I think it helps me to push harder than I would be able to otherwise.
Iron: 65 mg. I get blood tests every year, and a couple years ago I saw that my iron was in the "healthy range" but still low (below the healthy range is anemia). Supplementing has made a huge difference. Iron supplements shouldn't be taken unless there is a sound reason. Note: I do eat red meat too.
Magnesium/Calcium/Zinc: dosages vary (brand: Whole Foods). Magnesium is a mineral that's vital for endurance athletes, especially because we lose it in sweat and our bodies do not produce it on their own. It can help performance/energy levels, overall health, recovery, and much much more. I take mine with calcium and zinc.
Vitamin D: 1000-3000IU (brand: Whole Foods). Vitamin D helps with bone health, immunity, anti-inflammation and more. More people are deficient in this than you'd believe. A couple years ago, my levels were "normal" but low. Again, test your levels before you start supplementing.
Norwegian Cod Liver Oil: 1,000mg caps (brand: Whole Foods). See notes on fish oil. Allen Lim (of Skratch Labs fame) first got me on this in 2010. I don't take this every day, but often.
CoQ10: 200mg (brand: Whole Foods). There is mixed research on this, but evidence shows it can help with cardiovascular health, which can help exercise performance, and anti-aging.
Proteolytic Enzymes: 1-2 tbsp per day (brand: Crystal Plex by The Enzyme Company). These have been a lifesaver for me, and proteolytic enzymes really deserves their own post! When I had my knee issues back in Feb/Mar, a physical therapist/triathlete friend turned me onto these. They are powerful at fighting inflammation and aiding in recovery. I use them religiously now. Be sure to take on empty stomach otherwise they'll be wasted on digestion!
Living Fuel: SuperGreens & SuperBerry Ultimate . I guess this qualifies as a supplement? I just started LF this year because I was sick of not being able to have a full rainbow of fresh food in my fridge, let alone all the greens I wanted. While I still rely on fresh foods first, the products by LF ensure that I'm getting an even wider array vitamins and nutrients found in whole foods. I've tried other green powders and whatnot, and this is by far the tastiest in my opinion! I even will simple mix the powder with almond or coconut milk for a creamy, yogurt-like treat. If you're interested in trying these let me know please!
To come: I'm also going to start adding back in an amino acid supplement, probably Master Amino Acid Pattern (MAP). I do a podcast with Dr. David Minkoff who's behind this supplement, and I know a few people who take it. Sounds like it's worth trying!
When starting any supplement, be sure you know why you're taking it and if you really need it. Blood tests can help with many of these, or other at-home tests even. You have to be careful with dosages, and be sure to balance supplements with what you're getting in food. More is not always better. As you can see, there is a reason for all these supplements; it's not like I put my hand in a grab bag and blindly chose what to take because all the cool kids were doing it.
Another key point: Read the ingredient label on a supplement before buying to make sure you avoid "bad" fillers. I once took a CoQ10 supplement from Costco and found out I was taking a lot of filler, such as soybean oil and who knows what else! That is nasty. Same goes for fish oils. Lower-priced fish oil pills are cheaper for a reason, they come from low-quality fish sources. You hear about wild vs. farm-raised in what you eat, well the same goes for the supplements! I am willing to spend a little more to put high-quality ingredients in my body.
Last but not least, don't be "that guy" who eats crappy because you supplement. Real, whole foods are always the priority!
I'd like to know... What do you take and why?