Are Supplements Necessary for Triathlon Training?

Before deciding to take any nutritional supplements, you first need to have a good reason for doing so. It should be based on scientific and medical evidence, and not just based on what your training partner or friend is doing.

It’s a good idea to talk first with your doctor and/or nutritionist, and much better if you undergo a blood test a number of times in a year. This helps in determining if you have deficiencies in any key nutrients.



Self-Prescribed Supplements

Taking supplements just because you think you lack some nutrients can result in potential overdoses of different minerals and vitamins at levels that are too dangerous and can have unpleasant side effects. In fact, majority of known cases on over supplementing creates a far greater problem than being deficient. It is much better if you first talk to qualified health care provider for the possible interaction of  supplements with any medications you have previously taken.

If you are able to identify a nutritional deficiency, then you may need to first look at your diet. Always take note that fresh and wholesome foods should be a part of the daily diet for you to get everything that you need. If this has already been addressed and there are still gaps, then you may need to take supplements.



When doing this, only take supplements in their recommended doses, because more is not always better. Proper dosage depends on a number of factors such as gender, physical activity, body size, etc. This caution is also applicable to any herbal medicines or other supplements. Always remember that overdosing can be really toxic, even if it involves natural herbs.

Regulated Products?

The FDA does not usually regulate nutritional supplements, so always bear in mind that you are only giving out your trust in the manufacturer when using the product. What you have is their assurance that what is written on the labels of their product in true, and that the dosage that is written on the bottle is accurate.



Specific Nutrients

Getting back to the specifics of your question, below is an explanation on the potential and/or claimed benefits of the supplements that you have mentioned earlier:

Flax and fish oils are really good sources of omega 3 fatty acids, that are essential nutrients in the body, and they also play important roles in many body functions. It can be very difficult to get enough of these fatty acids from regular diet alone, so this supplement may well be warranted for general health and athletic performance. These supplements are also backed up by much credible research.

Rhodiola rosea and cordyceps are herbal supplements that claim to be capable of improving well being by reducing pain and fatigue. Rhodiola is believed to stimulate the nervous system. Cordyceps on the other hand, is believed to facilitate the delivery of oxygen to the body’s muscles. However, there is still little unbiased scientific research examining the safety and efficacy of the said supplements until now, so more research is needed, particularly on trained athletes.

Beta-Alanine is an amino acid and is a precursor to carnosine which aids in decreasing fatigue. Studies have already been done, and it shows that it may improve strength and power in short anaerobic sprints, because it can increase muscle carnosine levels which in turn delays the point of fatigue. Again, further research is still needed.

L-glutamine plays a very important role in protein metabolism and immune cell function. Being the most abundant amino acid in our skeletal muscles, it can sometimes be depleted under intense training conditions. Its food sources include chicken, eggs and fish, and also some types of recovery drinks.

L-arginine on the other hand, is an essential amino acid which the body produces in sufficient quantities of it on its own, but also may require an outside source under conditions that are stressful. It is usually found in foods such as nuts, grains, seeds and meats. It is very important for most bodily functions and unless you have a medical condition or you are under a restricted or poor diet, it is unlikely that you will be deficient of it.

Creatine monohydrate has been known to boost strength and power, and is a great aid in muscle growth. It is more commonly used by athletes in power based sports. With these supplements, gain in muscle weight and water retention is typical, which results into an increased body mass, which is not necessarily what most triathletes are aiming for. Also, as is the case for many supplements, consequences of long-term use are not yet known.

The bottom line on supplements is that they can work and do have their place in promoting health and athletic performance. However, they should not be taken blindly. Seek professional advice about what will work for you.


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