Let?s face it: Sports supplements can be kind of scary. Huge men and women on the packages, spandex and loud music at the trade shows, and a general feeling that maybe these things just aren?t so natural. Putting those things aside for a moment—for a future article—know that it doesn?t have to be that way. Your shelves are full of products that don?t scream ?sports.? Athletes, whether they be hard-core performers or weekend warriors, are looking for products to improve their performance and their health. You can help in that quest by educating them about products that may not look or sound like sports supps, but that can be.
Adapting to stress
Working out or playing hard is really just stress. Maybe it?s not the stress we think of when we think hectic day-to-day stress, but stress nonetheless. And stress decreases immunity. Numerous studies have shown that exercise, while increasing some immune factors, depletes others. For instance, a 1997 article in the International Journal of Sports Medicine found that women who participated in several cycling trials experienced ?a brief increase followed by a more prolonged suppression? of natural killer cells. NK cells are white blood cells, the cells of immunity. Pointing your customers in the direction of general immunity-enhancing products should be one of the first prongs in your many-pronged approach at helping your athletic customers.
David Bunting, herbalist and director of botanical and regulatory affairs for Williams, Ore.-based Herb Pharm, says that herbal adaptogens are a great first step. ?When you get into using adaptogens, they don?t care what your stress is ? they?re helping with some of the basic things like immunity, helping to keep your immune system strong, and that?s going to be good for anybody under any kind of stress.? This category of herb has additional benefits for the athlete in that they also are ?[helping with] utilization of oxygen in the body, which is obviously another major thing in sports, and helping to build and maintain energy in the body,? Bunting says.
Adaptogens, according to Bunting, generally increase a person?s resistance to stress and disease, and comprise several herbs and mushrooms. Reishi mushroom, which is good as a general tonic for overall health, has liver-protective properties, is a lung-function-boosting herb, and is good for strengthening tendons and bones. Schisandra (Schisandra chinensis) is a vine found in China, Russia and Korea; its berries are used to help fight fatigue and exhaustion, increase work capacity, improve reflexes, and help to build strength and increase endurance. Ginseng (Panax ginseng) has all the energizing, stamina and stress- and disease-resistance properties but is more directly stimulating than the other adaptogens, Bunting says. Eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus), formerly known as Siberian ginseng, is an energizing herb that helps stamina and endurance.
Another possible immune-enhancing product to point customers toward is Active Hexose Correlated Compound, a proprietary ingredient found in Blauvelt, N.Y.-based American Biosciences Inc.?s ImmPower. This hybrid mushroom blend has been shown in several studies to improve NK cell function. A study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology in October 2004 found that ?AHCC can be used as a potent immunoenhancer, especially in cases in which the immune system is suppressed by any condition, including diseases such as human immunodeficiency virus infection and cancer.?
Building a strong ?home?
Homeopathics, while sometimes misunderstood, are free from side effects and generally compact and portable, making them easy to pop into a gym bag. In the late 1800s, German biochemist William H. Schuessler categorized 12 cell salts that he felt were vital mineral constituents in human cells. These ?tissue salts? are homeopathic preparations that, according to Mitch Mahler, Canadian national sales manager for Hyland?s, stabilize the mineral balance at a cellular level. ?I think, on a daily basis, most people are really challenged when it comes to mineral balance at the cellular level ? and because [tissue salts are] homeopathically prepared, no matter how compromised the cell is, [people] can still absorb it and start the healing process, which is very important for most athletes because they?re putting their body under more stress than a regular person.? Mahler likens tissue salts to house foundations: They?re incredibly important, but most people pay little attention to them.
Mahler believes that directing athletes and weekend warriors toward the tissue salts has an added bonus. ?You?re taking 2,000 remedies in homeopathy [down] to 12 single tissue salts, so for the average person out there it?s way easier to learn and understand and apply.? Tissue salts are a potential gateway into what customers may perceive as the mysterious world of homeopathy.
Let?s hear it for hyphenates
L-carnitine is an amino acid that aids muscles—including the heart muscle—in the production of energy. It is a nonessential amino acid because it can be synthesized in the body, but L-carnitine production decreases with age. Experimenting with L-carnitine appears to have little downside. According to Basic Health Publications? 2004 User?s Guide to Heart Healthy Supplements, ?Typical doses of L-carnitine range from 1,000 milligrams to 6,000 milligrams daily, and it has been used in an effort to enhance athletic performance at doses up to 20,000 milligrams with no apparent side effects.? In fact, a study published in the Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology in October 2004 found ?that supplementation of carnitine and antioxidants may improve lipid profiles and exercise ability? in rats that were previously exercise-trained.
L-glutamine is also considered a nonessential amino acid. However, several studies have shown the importance of L-glutamine in relation to exercise. For instance, a September 1998 review article in Sports Medicine found that, ?During various catabolic states including surgical trauma, infection, starvation and prolonged exercise, glutamine homeostasis is placed under stress.? According to Basic Health Publications? User?s Guide to Sports Nutrients (2002), ?Due to their increased activity levels and metabolic requirements, athletes can develop relative deficiencies of glutamine that can hold back their training progress.? Glutamine is important for protein maintenance in muscles and for removing lactic acid buildup. In addition, because immune system cells use glutamine as fuel, there is a dual concern with glutamine levels.
Coenzyme Q10 is a nutrient related to vitamin E ?with even more potent antioxidant properties and a critical function in the production of energy in every cell, but especially in heart muscle,? according to User?s Guide to Heart Healthy Supplements. Co-Q10 use has been shown to be very helpful in numerous cardiac diseases. However, studies on Co-Q10 in relation to sports performance have been mixed, with results ranging from significant benefits to significant reductions in performance measures.
Clearly, neither this list nor that in ?The Science of Sports Supplements? is exhaustive. The field of sports medicine is highly studied, and new information—and new hype—is constantly flowing. By starting with a few basics and then staying up on new research, retailers can add muscle and endurance to sales as athletic-minded customers discover the benefits of supplements for the whole spectrum of sports.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVI/number 5/p. 36, 38