A balanced diet paired with a healthy lifestyle can help most people maintain healthy energy levels. However, athletes and fitness enthusiasts who push themselves to the limit during training have different nutritional needs from sedentary individuals.
For example, athletes often require additional calories, protein, vitamins, and minerals for optimal recovery and energy production.
Although adequate nutrient intake can be achieved by adopting a healthful diet, it can be challenging.
This is where dietary supplements and vitamins come in to help boost energy levels and allow you to reach your peak performance.
This article will explore the best supplements and vitamins for energy to help you reach your maximum potential and combat mental and physical fatigue.
- Mental and physical fatigue are often caused by stress, a demanding lifestyle, and inadequate vitamin and mineral intakes.
- Three energy systems work together to produce energy and fuel muscular contractions.
- The best supplements and vitamins for energy are vitamin D, B vitamins, iron, adaptogens, and L-theanine. Additionally, you can supplement with fast-digesting carbohydrates and creatine to provide an immediate energy source to fuel your workouts.
WHAT CAUSES MENTAL AND PHYSICAL FATIGUE?
Mental fatigue is a state of chronic exhaustion that makes it seemingly impossible to pay attention or focus on a task for long periods of time. It is often complex and involves prolonged periods of mental activity.
Mental fatigue tends to be caused by:
- Studying, working, or reading for too long without adequate breaks
- A high-pressure job or stressful work environment
- Financial stress
- Having a mental health condition
Physical fatigue, sometimes called muscle fatigue, happens after prolonged periods of strenuous physical labor. It is defined as the inability of a muscle to maintain optimal performance. This often leads to achy, sore muscles and exhaustion.
Physical fatigue is commonly caused by:
- Being overweight
- Having a job that requires intense physical labor
- Intense workouts
Though physical fatigue and mental fatigue aren’t exactly the same thing, they often go hand in hand. If you frequently experience physical and mental stress and find it difficult to bounce back, you may have a vitamin or mineral deficiency.
Before discussing the best supplements and vitamins for energy, let’s briefly discuss how our bodies produce energy.
ENERGY PRODUCTION AND THE THREE ENERGY SYSTEMS
Your body converts food into ATP for energy through several different pathways. By understanding how these systems work, you train safely and effectively.
The three energy systems are:
- ATP-PC/Alactic System
- Anaerobic Glycolysis/Lactic Acid System
- Aerobic System
The ATP-PC system, also known as the phosphagen system, provides an immediate source of energy. As the name implies, this system consists of ATP and phosphocreatine. It does not require oxygen, so it’s considered to be an anaerobic pathway.
It can supply around 6 to 10 seconds of energy and is used during short bursts of intense exercise. Examples of activity fueled by the ATP-PC system include sprints, lifting as heavy as you can for 1-2 reps, jumps, or throwing a ball.
This pathway first utilizes the ATP stored in your muscles (~3 seconds worth). Next, it uses phosphocreatine to regenerate ATP for another 5 to 8 seconds.
After these stores are used, the body will shift to another energy system to generate ATP to fuel your workout.
The anaerobic glycolysis system, also known as the lactic acid system is usually next in line following the ATP-PC system.
It generates ATP through a process known as glycolysis by converting the glycogen stored in our muscles to glucose without oxygen. This system can provide energy for 10 seconds to around three minutes.
As the body keeps relying on this energy system, it will produce lactate and hydrogen ions, making the environment more acidic and resulting in a temporary burning sensation during intense workouts.
The aerobic system provides long-term energy. Although the process itself is very complicated, it involves utilizing oxygen to convert fat, carbohydrates, and sometimes protein into ATP.
This system produces the most ATP out of the three systems but does so at a much lower rate. Basically, it cannot regenerate ATP fast enough to keep up with high-intensity exercise.
The aerobic system can fuel moderate-intensity activities such as long-distance running or swimming.
SUPPLEMENTS FOR ENERGY
To adequately supply energy for your body, it’s important to understand how certain nutrients contribute to the process.
The best supplements to replenish your energy systems include carbohydrates, protein, creatine, and adaptogens.
Next up, we’ll tell you exactly why.
Carbohydrates are the starches, sugars, and fiber found in fruits, grains, vegetables, and dairy products.
Carbs are the primary fuel for most types of exercise.
In fact, carbohydrates (as glycogen stored in the muscle and liver and blood glucose) is the preferred energy for both aerobic and anaerobic metabolism.
Starting a workout with adequate muscle glycogen stores is also an important contributor to optimal athletic performance.
Additionally, it is especially important to consume fast digesting carbohydrates intra workout when physical activity lasts over two hours.
Protein is a macronutrient that can give you energy by building and repairing tissues in the body. Although it’s not capable of providing a quick energy boost like carbohydrates, it can be used to fuel your body once your body has run out of fats and carbohydrates to burn for energy.
For example, one review conducted by the International Journal of Sports Nutrition suggests that while protein may not enhance athletic performance if carbohydrate intake is adequate, it does reduce muscle soreness and markers of muscle damage. High amounts of protein (over 2.0 grams per kilogram) can also increase strength and skeletal muscle hypertrophy.
Creatine is a compound found naturally in skeletal muscle. It aids in ATP production and is the most studied sports nutrition supplement to date.
Creatine can also fight muscle fatigue, increase endurance, and increase anaerobic capacity.
Adaptogens are herbs, roots, and mushrooms that help reduce the negative impacts of chemical, biological and physical stress on the body.
Furthermore, one 2018 review of studies found that adaptogens help increase physical performance by boosting neuroendocrine system function and improving cellular energy transfer. This can help the body utilize glucose, oxygen, fat, and proteins more efficiently, thus providing a continuous energy supply.
Many people take adaptogens in a capsule form or mix them in with food or beverages.
VITAMINS FOR ENERGY
Although we don’t have any solid research to suggest the benefits of megadoses of vitamins, there is strong evidence to show that a deficiency in specific vitamins and minerals can lead to decreased energy production and reduced physical and cognitive performance.
Additionally, research suggests that athletes tend to need additional vitamins and minerals to maintain optimal energy levels.
B vitamins, vitamin D, iron, and L-theanine are among the most important vitamin supplements to increase energy levels.
Here, we’ll discuss each one in detail.
B12, in particular, plays a vital role in keeping your blood and nerve cells healthy. Red blood cells transport oxygen throughout the body. Once the oxygen is transported to the cells in your body, it is used for energy production.
Vitamin B12 deficiency anemia is a condition that develops when your body cannot produce enough healthy red blood cells because it lacks adequate B12. This decreases your body’s oxygen capacity, which leads to fatigue and reduced endurance.
According to one study published in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, active individuals with a suboptimal intake of B vitamins may have decreased ability to perform high-intensity exercise.
What’s more, researchers also believe that physically active individuals may need larger amounts of riboflavin and B6 than sedentary individuals.
Vitamin D is one of the best vitamins for energy levels. Unfortunately, vitamin D deficiency is widespread. In fact, an estimated 42% of adults living in the United States have inadequate vitamin D levels.
Not only is vitamin D essential for strong bones and muscles, but it also plays a vital role in electrolyte metabolism, protein synthesis, skeletal muscle regeneration, and immune system function. All of these things are essential for everyone, especially athletes.
Mitochondria use oxygen and glucose to form ATP through aerobic respiration. They also replenish phosphocreatine stores following muscle contraction.
Iron plays an essential role in energy metabolism. Our body uses iron to make hemoglobin, a protein inside red blood cells that carries oxygen from your lungs to different tissues throughout the body.
Without enough iron, your blood cells cannot effectively deliver oxygen throughout your body. This results in iron deficiency anemia, which can cause both physical and mental fatigue.
Athletes — specifically endurance athletes and females — are commonly diagnosed with iron deficiency anemia.
According to research, athletes who are iron deficient may experience:
- Frequent illness
- Shortness of breath before exercising
- Decreased energy levels
Because there are health risks associated with excessive iron consumption, iron supplements are not routinely recommended unless a deficiency is confirmed by your healthcare provider.
L-theanine is an amino acid mainly found in green and back tea, as well as some mushrooms. It’s known for promoting relaxation while improving attention and focus without causing drowsiness.
L-theanine also regulates levels of chemicals in the brain, such as serotonin and dopamine, which impact our mood, emotions, and sleep quality.
When combined with caffeine, L-theanine can decrease mental fatigue and exhaustion without causing palpitations and jitters.
According to a 2019 study, L-theanine can also improve mental health in the general population with stress and cognitive impairments.
Your body converts food into ATP to fuel your workouts through three main energy systems. They all work together to keep your body running efficiently.
Many different things can contribute to low energy levels that hinder your physical and mental performance. Even if you eat a healthy diet, exercise frequently, and get adequate sleep, you may still feel lackluster.
Thankfully, through proper vitamin and mineral supplementation, you can help boost your energy levels and support your performance both in and out of the gym.
The best vitamins for energy include B vitamins, iron, and vitamin D. You may also notice improved energy levels after consistently taking dietary supplements such as adaptogens, creatine, protein, and L-theanine.
Although the different dietary supplements and vitamins for energy we’ve mentioned above have a good safety profile, it’s still important to consult with your healthcare provider or registered dietitian to ensure they are safe for you to take.