Fortified to Thrive

Are the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients packed into everything you chug and chew the real secret to becoming a finely tuned sports superstar? Turn the page.

Jul 1, 2003
Outside Magazine

OK, YOU'VE GOT your ratio of carbohydrates, protein, and fat dialed, and you graze through six small meals daily to keep your energy level up and your metabolism humming. Nice work. But guess what, sailor. There's more to a high-performance diet than just the big picture, and it involves a bevy of nutritional bit players known as nutraceuticals. They lurk in many natural foods but also in those long lists of ingredients found on the wrappers and labels of nearly every power drink, energy bar, and gel you swallow (see "Big Boosts in Tasty Packages," opposite). We're talking about things like the magnesium, vitamin A, and soy protein listed at the bottom of the Nutrition Facts label.

Nutraceuticals are functional foods—vitamins, minerals, compounds, and extracts—with specific roles. They include herbs that increase your mental aptitude, phytochemicals that can fend off illness, antioxidants that help speed recovery, B vitamins that your body requires to metabolize food, and minerals to enhance your energy-delivery systems. Though nutraceuticals won't shave an hour off your marathon time, there's compelling evidence that the right balance of them in your diet can contribute to overall wellness and, consequently, help you train longer, recover faster, and avoid serious problems like heart disease and joint pain. "If you're an athlete," says Dr. Bernd Wollschlaeger, associate editor of the Journal of the American Nutraceutical Association, "you definitely want to pay attention to nutrition supplementation."

Can this nutra-stuff really aid you on your upcoming Rainier climb or heated game of disc golf? Well, yes, assuming you know what it does and when and how to use it. Since manufacturers don't face strict regulation by the FDA, they're free to make any number of claims, leaving you to distill the real science from pharmacological science fiction. It's not an easy task when facing a $20 billion industry with hundreds of products, so we've put together a guide to the primary nutritional mighty mites and organized them into five easily digestible categories: stimulants that jump-start your workout; hydration catalysts and endurance boosters that ramp up your performance; systems managers that keep your body in tune; and antioxidants that help you recover and stave off disease. Armed with this knowledge, you can train and perform better for years to come.

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