As Muay Thai athletes, we put tremendous demands on our body throughout training and in the ring. Supplements can play an essential role in your progress by allowing you to train harder and longer and recover faster. They can confer a number of benefits ranging from enhanced endurance, more explosive power, quicker decision making ability and sounder sleep.
These supplement recommendations will differ significantly from bodybuilding mainstays. Muay Thai has very different athletic and metabolic demands. Sport specific supplementation should be focused on improving performance, not just appearance.
1. Cordyceps Mushroom – Supplement for Aerobic Endurance
Endurance is one of the most important athletic qualities of a Muay Thai fighter. A good aerobic base helps with all the road work, pad work and clinching during training. It also helps you recover quicker from damage in the course of a fight.
One of the best supplements for increasing energy, enhancing endurance and reducing fatigue is the cordyceps mushroom. Cordyceps sinensis is a parasitic fungus that grows on caterpillar larvae harvested from the high mountainous regions of China, Tibet and Nepal. It has been used for thousands of years in traditional Chinese and Tibetan medicine to treat ailments of the lungs and kidney as well as fatigue and cancer. Cordycepes first came to prominence in the sports world in 1993 when several Chinese female athletes broke 1500 m, 3000 m, and 10k running records during the world track and field championships.
Personally, I’ve been taking Cordycepes for several years. Within the first couple weeks, I felt a definite increase in stamina. Light cardio like easy running, shadow boxing, jumping rope, etc… began to fell almost effortless. I find cordyceps helps me breathe deeper during aerobic activity. This results in a lower heart rate and reduced perceived effort. Over time, it has also helped me recover faster from more intense glycolytic activity like hard pad work.
A 2004 study in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise found that cordyceps improved athletes’ oxygen utilization by as much as 50 percent. A 1999 study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that elderly people taking a daily 3g does cordyceps experienced a nine percent increase in aerobic capacity. A study in the Chinese Journal of Integrative Medicine found that cordyceps significantly improves Vo2 Max, oxygen uptake, aerobic capacity, and resistance to fatigue.
Product Recommendation: Shroomtech Sport
Shroomtech Sport from Onnit contains organic cordyceps sinensis as well as a number of other complimentary adaptogens like Rhodiola, Green Tea Extract, Astragalus, Ashwagandha, Chromium and B-12. These are energy enhancing compounds in their own right and provide synergistic effects when combined with cordyceps.
2. Beta Alanine – Supplement for Muscular Endurance and Explosiveness
Most of us had days in the gym where our mind wants to push harder but the body simply won’t obey. You want to finish those 20 kicks at the end of a round but simply can’t lift your leg. Or, you have difficulty keeping your hands up because your shoulders are burning from smashing pads. Strenuous anaerobic activity can causes a build up of hydrogen ions which make your muscles acidic and cause them to burn. This can make difficult to press on and maintain good form and composure.
Although we can increase our body’s muscular endurance through training, we can also facilitate the process with smart supplementation. Beta-alanine is an amino acid found naturally in foods such as chicken, beef, pork and fish. It has been shown to enhance muscular endurance, explosive strength and improve moderate to high intensity cardiovascular exercise. Beta-alanine is a pre-cursor for carnosine, a molecule which acts as an acid buffer in the body. Supplementing with beta-alanine helps increases your muscle’s carnosine stores which help the body buffer exercise induced acidosis and maintain an optimal pH level.
I find taking beta alanine 20-30 mins before muay thai training sessions gives me a couple extra gears. I’m able hit harder and more often. Within 10 minutes of taking it, I get a nice tingly feeling which helps wake up me up for the coming rigors. This is a harmless side effect (called paresthesia) which feels similar to applying thai linament oil. I’ve also found that beta alanine increases vasodilation, increasing blood flow and causing my veins to pop even before training.
Beta-alanine is a highly researched supplement. A 2012 study in the International Journal of Sports Medicine and Exercise Metabolism found beta alanine to increase punching power and frequency in study of amateur boxers. A 2014 study found beta-alanine supplementation improved explosive and repeated jump performance in alpine skiers. A 2013 study found beta alanine significantly improved 2000m rowing times and was even more effective when combined with salt. Another 2014 study showed beta alanine improved power output during repeated high-intensity cycling trials in both non-trained and trained individuals.
Product Recommendations: Muscle Pharm Assault, Onnit’s T-Plus
Muscle Pharm Assault is a dedicated pre-workout supplement designed to provide explosive energy and mental focus. It contains 2000mg of beta alanine, B vitamins, a number of amino acids, creatine, minerals, beetroot extract to increase blood flow, cinnamon extract to balance blood sugar, and choline to increase focus, etc…
T Plus from Onnit is designed to help increase strength and power and improve athletic performance. A 2014 clinical study at Florida State University revealed that the athletes taking T+ improved overall max weight lifted 36% faster than placebo group over 4 weeks. T+ also contains Longjack, Luteolin and BCAAs. Longjack helps restore optimum testosterone levels. Luteolin has anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-estrogenic effects.
3. Tumeric – Supplement to Reduce Inflammation, Speed Recovery
While Muay Thai training is a great workout, it can often leave you with achy joints and sore muscles, especially as you age. If you don’t keep chronic inflammation in check, it will lead to sub-optimal performance in the short term and injury and muscle wasting down the line.
Turmeric is a root native to India and a central ingredient in curries. It has been used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine to treat digestive, heart, skin and liver problems, aches, pains, wounds, and sprains. Curcumin, the active polyphenol found in Tumeric, has been shown to exhibit strong anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, and anticancer activities. It has the potential to be used against various malignant diseases, diabetes, allergies, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, and other chronic illnesses. A review of research studies showed curcumin to be even more effective than pharmaceuticals in the treatment of certain cancers. For athletes, curcumin has been shown to decrease exercise-induced inflammation, muscle soreness and increased the rate of muscle repair.
Curcumin modulates in the body’s inflammatory response in several ways. Cyclooxygenase (COX) are enzymes responsible for formation of prostanoids, molecules involved in the inflammatory response. COX-1 is present in most cells and tissues, but COX-2, primarily present at sites of inflammation. NSAIDs like Ibuprofen inhibit both COX-1 and COX-2, leading to unwanted side effects like ulcers, prolonged bleedng time, kidney problems. However, curcumin inhibits only COX-2 while not affecting COX-1, keeping inflammation in check without side effects.
Cytokines are small groups of proteins important in cell interaction and communication. Pro-inflammatory cytokines tend to make a disease worse by producing fever, inflammation, tissue destruction and even death. Reducing their activity can significantly improve a patient’s condition. Curcumin acts by down regulating the expression of inflammatory cytokines (TNF, IL-1, IL-2, IL-6, IL-8, IL-12) which helps the body with many inflammatory conditions.
A 2014 study found curcumin increases the blood’s antioxidant capacity, thus reducing exercise-induced oxidative stress and ultimately inflammation. Another 2014 study showed curcumin reduces perception of fatigue and can prevent DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). A 1999 mouse study found curcumin significantly stimulates the repair of muscle tissue. Subjects treated with curcumin showed levels muscle regeneration after 4 days normally seen 2+ weeks without supplementation.
A 2002 study demonstrated that curcumin substantially suppresses systemic inflammation markers MMP-3 by 48% to 99%, and MMP-13 by 45% to 97%. A 1980 study of arthritis patients found curcumin was significantly better than corticosteriods in relieving morning stiffness and joint swelling, and improving walking time. A 2008 study found curcumin better reduced levels of inflammatory cytokines and markers of oxidative stress in diabetes 2 patients in comparison to statin drugs.
Product Recommendation: Thorne Research’s Meriva-SR
Curcumin is fat-soluble and experiences poor absorption when not consumed with fat. Thorne Research’s Meriva-SR uses a patented form of curcumin named Meriva which binds curcumin to a naturally occurring lipid, phosphatidylcholine. A 2011 study showed bioavailability is 29x higher in Meriva in comparison with ordinary curcumin.
4. Nootropics – Supplement for Focus, Reaction Time
Muay Thai is both a physical and mental game. Feeling alert and focused can give you the winning edge in a fight. It can also improve the quality of your training. Although good sleep and nutrition can go far in keeping you sharp, some days you can’t help but feel a little foggy or distracted in the gym.
Nootropics, also know as “smart drugs”, can help improve focus, reaction time, and memory. There are many different types of nootropics. There are prescription stimulant drugs like Provigil and Adderall, which are also used “off label” by silicon valley types. There are also a number of safer over the counter nutraceuticals which also provide cognitive enhancements. These are made from earth grown nutrients, mostly plant extracts.
Neurotransmitters are the chemical messengers which transmit signals between neurons (nerve cells), synthesized from amino acids in the food we consume. A number of nootropics work by boosting the levels of a very important neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. Acetylcholine is responsible for learning, memory, thought, attention, synaptic plasticity and muscle activation. In fact, alzheimer’s and other disorders linked to cognitive decline are linked to low levels of acetylcholine. Increasing acetylcholine levels can result in improved perception, concentration, memory, verbal fluency, etc…
Alpha-GPC is a choline source synthesized from soy lecithin. It enables greater production of acetylcholine in the brain by supplying it with more raw materials. Its estimated that 90% of the population of the USA is believed to not get enough of the acetylcholine precursors in their diet. Supplementing with Alpha-GPC is known to improve memory function, make it easier to learn new concepts and it keeps your brain healthy by relieving oxidative stress.
Huperzine A is extracted from a southeast asian plant called firmoss. It boosts acetylcholine levels by inhibiting the enzymes which break down acetylcholine. It is known to increase memory retention, improve reasoning and enable a higher rate of cognitive activity.
Anecdotally, I do some of my best writing and fight analysis after taking a nootropic. The words seem to flow from my fingers and my focus is undivided. During training, I think less with my conscious mind and act more on training and instinct. I become better at anticipating the movement and attacks of my trainers / training partners, and seeing new openings and creative solutions. While the results are a little less fantastical than Hollywood may portray, they are still very noticeable.
A 2013 study found concluded Alpha GPC has significant cognitive enhancing capabilities improving both memory and attention. Another 2013 study found Alpha GPC to be useful in treating cerebrovascular or neurodegenerative disorders and suggests using it in the treatment of such diseases.
A 2005 study found that Huperzine A has various neuroprotective effects and relieves memory deficits in the elderly, Alzheimer patients and people with vascular dementia. A 1998 and 2011 study found Huperzine A is the most-promising Alzheimer’s drug candidate amongst various acetylcholinesterase inhibitors.
Product Recommendation: Onnit’s Alphabrain
Alpha Brain is a nootropic stack with contains Alpha GPC and Huperzine as well as a number of other anti-oxidant and mood balancing compounds. A pilot study has shown that Alpha Brain provides some significant improvements in verbal memory and executive function.
5. Magnesium – Supplement for Sound Sleep
Its often difficult to get a good night’s sleep after an intense training session. After getting home from hard sparring or clinching, you still feel amped up and your mind races as you toss and turn. Poor sleep will hinder recovery and leave you feeling tired and achy before your next trip to the gym. Sleep is also critical in the formation of myelin, a protective coating around nerve fibers that is critical for learning new skills. Thus, poor sleep patterns can also make it difficult to master new techniques and tactics in your muay thai training.
One natural remedy which can improve sleep quality is magnesium. Magnesium is used in over 300 functions in the body including muscle and nerve functioning, bone development, energy production, heart rhythm, regulating blood pressure, etc… Research suggests that only around half of US adults reach the recommended daily amounts. Everyday stress and exercise stress also depress magnesium levels. Low levels are linked to high blood pressure, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, osteoporosis, heart disease, etc… When supplementing with magnesium, some people experience vivid dreams, an indicator of slow wave or “deep” sleep.
I find taking a magnesium supplement 30-60 mins before bed reduces the amount of time it takes to fall asleep and provides deeper and more restful sleep. Sleeping pills can make you feel groggy and sluggish the next day, but with magnesium, I wake up feeling refreshed (relatively) ache and pain free.
A 2012 study shows that magnesium supplementation improves sleep efficiency, sleep time and sleep onset latency and mitigates insomnia in the elderly as measured by serum renin, melatonin, and cortisol. A 2013 study also found similar insomnia reduction benefits and even noted an increase in physical activity and decrease in calorie consumption from magnesium supplementation. A 2011 study also found the administration of nightly melatonin, magnesium, and zinc improve the quality of sleep and the quality of life for people suffering from insomnia.
Some researchers have found restless leg syndrome to be cause of insomnia. A 1998 study found that magnesium significantly decreased the frequency of limb movements and significantly improved sleep efficiency. They recommended magnesium as an effective treatment for restless leg syndrome induced insomnia over conventional drugs.
Product Recommendations: Natural Calm, Onnit’s New Mood
Each serving of Natural Calm contains 325mg (or 80% of recommended daily intake) of a highly absorbable form of magnesium (ionic magnesium citrate).
Seratonin is a powerful neurotransmitter which helps regulate mood, appetite and sleep. In addition to magnesium, New Mood from Onnit contains seratonin precursors, L-tryptophan and 5-HTP, to boost seratonin levels and enhance mood and sleep quality.
Honorable Mention, Protein
I find I struggle to eat enough food to support my physical activity during particularly hard phases of training. I also tend to lose my appetite after training making it difficult to properly refuel for the next day. Taking a protein shake can help supply your body with an easily digestible calories and keep your energy levels are topped off.
Product Recommendation: Onnit’s Hemp FORCE
Hemp FORCE utilizes a rich and complete protein isolated from raw, organic hemp seeds. It contains all of the essential amino acids, all three BCAAs, and both Omega-3 and Omega-6 and CLA. Cocoa and maca root not only enhance the natural flavor of the hemp, but also contain several antioxidant and bioactive compounds beneficial for peak performance.
Which supplements have you tried? What effect have they had on your muay thai training? Please let me know in a comment below.