Everyone needs an energy boost now and then. Products claiming to beat fatigue, deliver quick bursts of vigor and improve exercise performance can be found anywhere from specialty websites to convenience stores.
How many of these “energy enhancers” actually work, and how can you know which one will help the most?
Separating the truth about energy supplements from the gimmicks takes some doing, but evidence supporting several popular options has come to light over the years. If you need something to get you through the afternoon slump at work or power you up for those last few reps in your workout, one of these five supplements may help.
The lining of your blood vessels naturally releases nitric oxide to improve dilation and blood flow, optimizing oxygen delivery to every cell. Nitrates found in food, therefore, may have a beneficial effect on circulation and how efficiently your body uses oxygen. Beets are particularly high in nitrates, and many athletes claim beet juice boosts their performance.
Studies show there may be some truth to these claims. In one test, beet consumption allowed subjects to exercise for longer with less effort thanks to better oxygen transportation. Whole beets seemed to have the most beneficial effect, but beet juice also shows promise for improved endurance.
By allowing the body to work harder without the need for extra oxygen, consuming beets gives you more bang for your buck every time you work out. However, similar effects have not been shown in studies looking at nitrates in pill form.
Do you know why your morning cup of coffee makes you feel more energized? Caffeine resembles a brain chemical called adenosine and docks on the same receptors. Under normal conditions, adenosine slows you down, but it can’t get to the receptors if caffeine is in the way.
This results in the characteristic “caffeine high” but doesn’t actually offer additional energy. It can take your body anywhere from eight to 12 hours to clear caffeine, meaning your morning latte or cup of tea could still be thwarting adenosine long into the evening.
Caffeine is best consumed in beverages such as coffee or green tea. Popular energy drinks are often full of sugar and other ingredients, many of which lack scientific backing to show they improve the energy-enhancing effects of caffeine alone.
Often cited by weight lifters and bodybuilders as a superior supplement for strength gains, creatine has been the subject of over 200 studies. According to both scientific trials and anecdotal evidence, creatine has the potential to:
• Reduce muscle damage during exercise
• Lower inflammatory markers
• Improve post-exercise recovery
• Increase endurance for high-intensity activities
Creatine appears to work by helping your body use its natural energy source, adenosine triphosphate (ATP) more efficiently. Phosphate in creatine replenishes the phosphate in ATP, slowing the rate at which energy is depleted.
Proponents claim they’re able to lift heavier weights and perform longer bouts of intense cardiovascular exercise without fatiguing.
It’s important to note many studies on creatine were done with small groups of subjects, and long-term supplementation may not provide consistent benefits. That being said, if you decide to take creatine, you should do your research before buying.
Iron deficiency is common in the U.S., and women are at greater risk than men of having low levels. Iron is essential for making hemoglobin, the component of red blood cells responsible for transporting oxygen around the body.
Not consuming enough iron in your diet, having a condition affecting nutrient uptake or experiencing bleeding problems can cause you to become anemic. Symptoms of low iron include fatigue, aches, weakness, lack of energy and shortness of breath.
The daily recommended intake of iron is 1.8 milligrams for adults. Including lentils, leafy greens and other iron-rich foods in your meals can help prevent deficiency.
However, if you’re already anemic, an iron supplement can help restore proper levels and make you feel more energetic. Since an iron overdose can be dangerous, any unusual changes in energy levels should be evaluated by a doctor before starting on supplements.
Part of a group of herbs known as adaptogens, rhodiola may be helpful when it comes to moderating the stress response thanks to its potential to act on neurotransmitters involved in feelings of well-being.
The herb is found in the arctic areas of Europe, Asia and Alaska and is available as a supplement both alone and in combination with other adaptogens.
Rhodiola shows potential for helping improve athletic performance. In animal and human trials, taking rhodiola prior to exereice resulted in better endurance during aerobic activity. The herb may also protect against muscle damage and lower inflammation in the body.
Although little scientific evidence is available to support or explain these properties, many people experience positive effects from rhodiola supplementation.
Bonus: Pre-Workout Supplements
There are also products known as “pre-workout supplements”. These are typically in powder form and created specifically for you to take 30mins-1h before you work out. The goal of these supplements is to give you a huge boost of energy and endurance throughout your workouts.
They are typically a proprietary blend of ingredients such as: Beta-Alanine, BCAAs, Creatine, L-Citrulline, Caffeine and other energy boosting ingredients.
While not really necessary, if you take them correctly and don’t overuse them, they can get you through those rough days where you don’t feel like working out. I’d recommend speaking with a doctor first though.
Although supplements can provide a shot of extra energy when you need it, none are substitutes for healthy lifestyle habits. Eating a diet based primarily in whole plant foods, getting regular exercise and sleeping for seven to eight hours per night gives your body what it needs to produce energy naturally.
Choose smart supplements for occasional support, and your daily performance will improve over time.