Can foods help me perform better?

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COLUMBIA - Sometimes we feel like we just need some assistance to gain our competitive edge, right? We are training for a race and we feel like we could be performing better. Or we're preparing to go out for the football team and we feel like we're lacking... somewhere... but how?

Enter the ergogenic aid. An ergogenic aid is defined as: “A physical, mechanical, nutritional, psychological, or pharmacological substance or treatment that either directly improves physiological variables associated with exercise performance or removes subjective restraints which may limit physiological capacity”

Conceptually, ergogenic aids can be divided into mechanical, physiological and mental factors:

  • Mechanical: an example of this would be the reduction of friction or the improved aerodynamics of using a lighter-weight fabric or piece of equipment.
  • Physiological: nutritional supplements or specific foods/liquids
  • Mental: utilizing counseling, psychological support and the personal support of family and friends

Today, we're going to focus on the physiological concept of an ergogenic aid - specifically, foods.

The following six foods have been shown to enhance performance by improving time to exhaustion, decreasing perceived exertion, increasing speed, decreasing lactic acid production or decreasing levels of fatigue.

CAFFEINE: Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system, increases alertness and decreases perceived exertion. The strongest evidence for using of caffeine is in endurance activities (like cycling).

WHEY PROTEIN: Whey protein is best known for its ability to help increase muscle mass. Ten to 20 grams of whey protein are recommended prior to weigh training to enhance muscle strength, increase endurance and decrease muscle breakdown. Post-workout, 20-30 grams of whey taken within 30 minutes can enhance muscle recovery and improve muscle protein synthesis.

BEETROOT JUICE AND GREENS: Beetroot juice and beet greens are good sources of nitrate, which can decrease VO2 during submaximal exercise and increase tolerance of high-intensity work rates. A study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that athletes before exercise can increase workout time by 16 percent.

WATERMELON JUICE: Watermelon juice is rich in the nonessential amino acid citrulline. Intake of 1-3 grams of l-citrulline or 6 grams of citrulline malalte can lead to more intense training and decreased muscle fatigue. Citrulline is good for both aerobic and anaerobic performance, with reduced fatigue, quicker recovery and improved performance. However, one liter of watermelon juice contains 2.5 grams of l-citrulline. (In other words, that's a LOT of watermelon juice.)

GREEN TEA: Green tea extract (GTE) is known to increase endurance and exercise performance by 8 to 24 percent (with a 0.5% green tea extract supplement). Results of a study published in the American Journal of Physiology indicate that GTE is beneficial for improving endurance capacity, among other benefits.

MEDIUM CHAIN TRIGLYCERIDES (MCT): Most people associate MCTs with coconut oil, which contains more than 50% MCT. The body metabolizes MCTs differently than it does long-chain triglycerides (found in olive oil and other vegetable and seed oils). MCTs are taken directly to the liver where they are converted to energy. If you want to try out MCTs, start with one teaspoon of coconut oil (or MCT oil), three times a day to prevent any gastrointestinal distress, and can gradually increase to one tablespoon, three times a day.

If you plan to try out some of these ergogenic aids, do your research, ask your physician if you could have any possible negative interactions, and don't overdo it.