Off Season Supplement Suggestions
By Steve Born
For many of us, the competitive season is fast coming to a close. If that’s the case for you, as your in-season training and racing schedule is winding down, you know it’ll soon be time to look back and evaluate all of 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 “pre-season 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 of 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 involved, is definitely on the decrease at this time of the year.
Many years ago, when I lived in Southern California the off season simply meant fewer miles on the bike. But when I moved to colder climates I discovered the benefits of cross training and began using Nordic skiing and weight training during the winter to prepare myself for the upcoming competitive cycling season. As has been the case for the past few years, I am retired from actively competing in ultra cycling. However, I still want to maintain fitness for general health purposes (and so I don’t hurt so bad come Highline Hammer time!) so I try to stay active all year round, even if the duration and intensity is less than during my main season.
But whether or not you choose to be active year round, once your main competitive season ends, does that also mean the end of your supplement program? I don’t believe it should be 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, I wouldn’t hesitate to remain on pretty much the same program you followed during your main competitive season. There’s no reason to stop supplementation if you’re going to remain active because you will still want to provide your body with the nutrients it needs so that you can get the most benefits out of whatever type of training you do. Now, you may find it desirable to cut back on the dosages if you’re not training as heavily, but I would definitely continue your supplement program. I do not believe there is any reason to cycle off supplements, especially the three Daily Essentials, Premium Insurance Caps, Race Caps Supreme, and Mito Caps during the off-season.
Free Radical Neutralization – Important All Year Round!
Louis Pasteur, recognized as the father of modern medicine, 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 primarily through the neutralization of excess amounts of free radicals. Over half a century ago Dr. Denham Harman first proposed the theory of free radicals and the role they play in agerelated 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 there are 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 (FR) 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. Misner states, “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 tremendous range of diseases including cancer, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and others.
A good portion of free radical damage results from the process of oxidation, which is somewhat of a double-edged sword. For example, whenever our bodies convert food to fuel it is done by oxidation, a vital, life-sustaining process. The down side is that the process is not 100% efficient and the metabolism of food, especially foods that are high in fats, can cause high amounts of free radicals to be produced. Dr. Misner 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 (FR's) 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
- 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
The take-home message is that even though oxidative damage occurs at higher levels during intense and prolonged exercise, it occurs at ALL times, during easy workout days and non-workout days - simply through the process of making energy. In addition, free radicals are also produced from environmental pollutants and ultra violet radiation. Also, stress of any kind creates free radicals. So even though you may be taking some well-earned time off from full-time training and racing, free radical production NEVER takes a day off and neutralizing them is the primary reason for the supplement suggestions that I’ve made.
One last note before I get into supplement suggestions: I strongly recommend that you read or re-read our article “Antioxidant Supplementation - It will shorten your life!” It’s a real eye-opener of an article, outlining some of the “scare tactic” headlines and news reports that resulted from very questionable conclusions derived from certain “studies” on antioxidants. It’s an article that will very much help “clear the air” about these dubious studies/conclusions, while also explaining why antioxidant supplementation is so important.
1) PREMIUM INSURANCE CAPS - Every athlete I’ve designed a supplement program for or have given supplement advice to knows that I consider a multivitamin/ mineral supplement the foundation of any program, and that I consider Premium Insurance Caps to have no peer in that category. It’s especially important during the competitive season because you’re depleting these basic nutrients at very high rates, nutrients that are important in maintaining the optimal performance of many bodily functions, including the protection and enhancement of the immune system. It’s also 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 research articles, “Food May Not Provide Sufficient Micronutrients to Avoid Deficiency,” 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 of the micronutrients that we need to prevent 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.
For the replenishment of vitamins and minerals, supplying what the diet cannot, and to provide the basics of antioxidant support, taking Premium Insurance Caps on a daily basis is an excellent idea. You may not require the full 14-capsule dose (which is the amount we suggest for athletes weighing more than 150 pounds who are doing workouts over 1.5 - 2 hours), but the consistent intake of 4-7 capsules a day, in divided doses if possible, 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, I believe that as good as the athletic-specific benefits are, the general health ones of this product (especially from CoQ10 and idebenone) outshine them, which is why Race Caps Supreme is on my year-round supplement list. Entire books have been written on just 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 of the ones attributed to CoQ10:
- 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 arteries from forming plaque and getting damaged
- Used as a preventive and therapeutic agent for heart disease, cancer, periodontal disease, and neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s
Now, as important as CoQ10 is, and with such tremendous benefits, there are some experts that feel that idebenone, the synthetic variant of CoQ10, is an even more powerful antioxidant and a substance that yields even greater benefits. Dr. Misner explains, "Idebenone supplies all of the same benefits as CoQ10 [acting as a “spark plug” for the production of energy (ATP), as well as being a potent antioxidant] plus some distinct advantages based on its more complex chemical structure.” In fact, the antioxidant power of idebenone is so potent that it is used to protect organs from damage when they are removed from donor for transplant to patient.
While CoQ10 is perhaps the most important substance one can take for the prevention of cardiovascular disease and certain cancers, idebenone also provides superb nutritional support in those specific areas, while appearing to have even greater brain-specific benefits. Dr. Misner writes, “Idebenone protects the brain from the detrimental effects of serotonin deficiency and facilitates endogenous serotonin production. Serotonin deficiency compromises sleep and may contribute to chronic depression. Idebenone favorably affects blood flow in the brain, reproducing verbal fluency, creativity, and memory. Idebenone enhances endogenous norepinephrine production by facilitating cellular uptake of tyrosine. This suggests that idebenone may indirectly improve the uptake and reproductive role of tyrosine in thyroid hormone production. Thyroid hormone deficiency is a factor in performance and body mass index.”
Other “brain benefits” attributed to idebenone include improved cognition and mood, reduced damage from Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease, and a role in the prevention of damage caused by excitotoxins (a class of substances produced from the consumption of substances such as MSG and some artificial sweeteners), which can impair neuronal functioning. On top of that, idebenone appears to positively affect liver mitochondrial function, which suggests that it would support and enhance the detoxification functions of the liver.
With Race Caps Supreme you have two powerful substances, which, along with the vitamin E in the product, have some outstanding general health benefits. All three substances, CoQ10, idebenone, and vitamin E 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 is vital for, among other things, helping lower elevated homocysteine levels, which are implicated in cardiovascular disease. TMG, plus vitamins B12, B6, and folic acid, all of which are found in Premium Insurance Caps, are the key components (methyl donors/methylating 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.”
Antioxidants in Race Caps Supreme: CoQ10, idebenone, vitamin E, Trimethylglycine (TMG)
3) MITO CAPS - I think the most exciting anti-aging research I’ve read in many years was that of Dr. Bruce Ames regarding the effects of two nutrients, Acetyl l-carnitine (ALC) and r-alpha lipoic acid (r-ALA) on the health of the mitochondria. Ames’ landmark studies found that both ALC and r-ALA (both of which are contained 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 antiaging 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 the form that most readily crosses the blood-brain barrier, helping support a number of brain and nerve functions and helping prevent neurodegenerative diseases.
r-ALA is one of the most potent antioxidants discovered and what makes it so unique in that regard is that it is both a water-soluble and fat-soluble antioxidant, able to neutralize free radicals in both the fatty and watery regions of the cells. In addition, it has the unique ability to boost and recycle other antioxidants such as vitamins C and E, CoQ10, and glutathione. In fact, r-ALA can stimulate the production of glutathione, which may be the most important antioxidant there is. 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. Misner 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 suggested in the Hammer Nutrition Product Usage Manual would very much be appropriate during the off-season.
Mito Caps was the featured product in one of the Athlete Education Series pieces, so you'll want to check that out for more details about this amazing product.
Antioxidants in Mito Caps: r-Alpha Lipoic Acid, vitamin C (as ascorbyl palmitate), vitamin E, DMAE (Dimethylaminoethanol), PABA (Para Amino Benzoic Acid)
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 fresh, organically grown 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 2-3 capsules twice daily), along with the vitamins and minerals in Premium Insurance Caps, will very much fulfill your nutritional “basics” and augment the nutrients that 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.
Phytomax was our “spotlight” product in Endurance News #66. Check it out for more for information about this uniquely beneficial product.
5) SUPER ANTIOXIDANT and AO BOOSTER -Super Antioxidant was a new entry in my off-season supplement list in 2006 (when the product was known as Super AO), and AO Booster, which was introduced last year, is once again on this year’s list. I’ve included both products for one simple reason: additional antioxidant support.
As mentioned earlier, free radical production never takes a day off and with the extraordinary antioxidant profile in these two products you have even widerranging support for the neutralization of free radicals, both water-soluble and fat-soluble. One of the reasons why the latter is so significant, and the primary reason why AO Booster was introduced, was because of something Dr. Misner once wrote:
My biggest criticism of antioxidant (AO) supplementation is that we take mega-doses of water soluble AO’s, but are quite negligent of the fat-soluble components, whose ORAC values are remarkably high. It is my view that natural fatty acid nutrition and fatsoluble antioxidants should accompany the high ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) foods and watersoluble components [such as] Vitamin C, B-Complex, and [the multiple antioxidants in] Super Antioxidant for reducing free radicals.
Simply stated, with Super Antioxidant and AO Booster you provide the body with a plethora of unique antioxidants working in synergy with the ones provided by Premium Insurance Caps, Race Caps Supreme, and Mito Caps. You may notice that, unlike those three aforementioned products, I haven’t listed the antioxidant components in either Super Antioxidant or AO Booster. Why? Because the ingredient list for both of those products contains nothing but antioxidants!
In addition to antioxidant support, two of the primary nutrients in Super Antioxidant, 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. A potential benefit of increased circulation is the ability to speed delivery of antioxidants throughout the body in addition to helping eliminate metabolic wastes more quickly.
One of AO Booster’s potent antioxidants, lutein, is noted for its eye- and skinspecific benefits; it’s arguably the most commonly used “eye health” nutrient. Animal studies with astaxathin, another nutrient in AO Booster, suggest it provides impressive immune system boosting and potential cancer preventative benefits.
So for increased antioxidant support, plus support for enhanced cognitive function and circulation, taking a Super Antioxidant capsule at breakfast or lunch is good idea, in my opinion. Adding one AO Booster capsule to your daily supplement regimen will also provide significant benefits, primarily via its fatsoluble antioxidant support.
At the rate of one capsule per day, a bottle of Super Antioxidant and AO Booster will last you two months, not a bad investment for all of the benefits that you’ll receive.
NOTE: AO Booster was our “spotlight” product in Endurance News #61 for more information about this powerful product and all of the benefits it supplies.
7) CARLSON NORWEGIAN SALMON OIL - If there were ever a group of nutrients that I would classify as being essential all year round, it would be the Omega 3 fatty acids. 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 absolute defenses against cardiovascular disease. For example, an ever-growing body of research suggests that athlerosclerosis, angina, heart attack, arrhythmias, stroke, and congestive heart failure may be prevented with the consumption of fish oils. Fish oils help to reduce blood pressure, maintain arterial wall elasticity, and prevent blood clotting & they really are the heart’s “best friend.”
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 proinflammatory cytokines and Series 2 prostaglandins, while increasing the level of anti-inflammatory Series 3 prostaglandins.
There are two essential fatty acids (EFA) 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 6’s, 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, while being an extremely wise strategy, is simply not possible for most of us. That’s where the Carlson Norwegian Salmon Oil supplement comes in. 2 soft gels twice daily is a super easy way to make sure you obtain the essential O-3 fatty acids.
Some people reading this article may think, “Wow, you’ve listed seven different products&that’s a lot of stuff to be using during the off-season!” I admit that it is a fairly sizeable number of products to consider using, but I genuinely believe that the combination of these products provides a tremendous and wide-ranging number of athletic performance enhancing and overall health benefits; otherwise, I would not have suggested them (and believe me, there were another product or two that could have made the list). That said, if finances are an issue for you, then I would suggest the use of the three Daily Essentials products first and foremost. That’s not to say that the other products I’ve suggested aren’t worthy of including in your daily regimen (they definitely are), but in my opinion the three Daily Essentials, Premium Insurance Caps, Race Caps Supreme, and Mito Caps, will always be the most important.
Excellence in athletics is a year round proposition so even though the off-season may be a time for cutting back on heavy training, I believe it still requires a full time commitment to your athletic goals, especially as the focus shifts more towards general health requirements than it does actual training. A year round supplement program is vital for making positive increases in both fitness and health and I believe the one outlined in this article covers a tremendous amount of nutritional “bases.”