Sponsored by our partner, MitoQ
You know by now: There are no shortcuts to conquering a Spartan. To power through miles of running and muscle-burning obstacles, you’ve got to do the work. That means steady forward motion and dedication, even when you really don’t feel like it—step by step, hill by hill, rep by rep.
That’s not to say you can’t benefit from an assist. Whether you’re new to racing, a weekend warrior or an elite athlete, a carefully chosen supplement can help you realize more significant results from the effort you put in. Here’s how three racers who were skeptical about supplements found the right formula to level up their fitness.
Supplements for Athletic Performance: 3 Game Changing Stories
A Scientist Gives CoQ10 a Chance
Alex Casteel had been athletic most of his life. But doing his first Spartan in spring 2018 took a lot out of him. “Where I live in Arizona is basically at sea level, so with the altitude of the race in Colorado, it absolutely gassed me,” he says. “I thought, ‘I have a long way to go.’”
Casteel, a former fighter pilot in the Air Force who now teaches statistics and research design at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, ramped up his training and also researched to find a supplement that would keep his energy revved to adhere to his training plan. In July, he found MitoQ, a modified form of CoQ10 that penetrates cells’ energy-producing mitochondria hundreds of times more effectively than regular CoQ10 antioxidants. He was curious but admittedly dubious. He’d tried a generic CoQ10 supplement previously on the advice of a naturopath and didn’t notice any boost. “I’m pretty skeptical, especially as a scientist,” he says.
After about a month, Casteel noted an uptick in his energy. “It wasn’t a caffeinated, shaky experience; it was truly just like I had more energy,” he explains. “My recovery was better and faster. I didn’t need the time between workouts like before.”
“When I was running a few years ago, I’d finish a 9- or 10-mile run and have to shut down for a couple of days so my body could recover,” he says. “Now, I can do a 10-mile run and feel like I’m ready to go again much more quickly.”
Casteel tracks his workouts and stats religiously (he’s a scientist, after all) and his data showed evidence of his progress. Within six months of starting MitoQ, his resting heart rate had dropped from 61 to 55 beats per minute. His max heart rate has improved, and he can maintain it more easily during trail runs and hill climbs. Casteel says, “The change has to do with fitness, diet, and supplements—it’s a fine balance.” Looks like he’s achieved it.
A Standout Spartan Finetunes Her Training
An experienced marathoner—she’s ticked off many U.S. majors and the Boston Marathon three times—Jessica Nenadov finished her first Spartan 15 months ago and fell in love. Though she placed in her age group during that race, Nenadov says, “It was a humbling experience for me. Trail running is so much different from road running. I had to learn gymnastics, gain mobility in my shoulders, figure out every single obstacle.”
Undeterred, Nenadov continued training at an obstacle course gym in her hometown of Laguna Beach, California, and worked on dialing in her nutrition as well. “I felt that I was better than my performances,” Nenadov explains. “I was finding myself out of breath and felt like my body was missing some element.” Around that time, a friend told her about MitoQ. “I was skeptical,” says Nenadov, who has a background in nutrition. But she decided to try it and see how it might support her last spring as she took on four Spartan races over two months.
After about a month and a half of popping the pill daily, Nenadov’s workouts were feeling easier. “I noticed an effortlessness immediately; my breathing stayed under control.” Bonus: Nenadov also saw an improvement in her skin—it seemed to have more elasticity. In fact, taking a CoQ10 supplement daily for 12 weeks helped reduce fine lines and improve skin smoothness, a 2017 study from Slovenia found.
“I’m a consistent person in my life in general. Everything I do has a reason, and I’m very purposeful with how I train. I didn’t adjust my diet or anything else,” Nenadov says. “This was the one thing that changed.”
An Endurance Coach Experiences the Benefits
After years playing soccer and competing in endurance races, Paul Cadman turned coach and nutritionist. He works with an adventure racing team in New Zealand, promoting a healthy diet of whole foods first. “I don’t prescribe supplementation first up because we should be able to get the vast majority of vitamins and minerals from diet alone.” The exception: athletes who are training intensely at a high level and need extra support. “Elite athletes can find it difficult to get what they need from diet alone because of the volume and intensity of exercise they take on,” Cadman says.
For that reason, Cadman has his top athletes introduce supplements like ketones, vitamin D, protein and CoQ10 into their diets. Cadman began experimenting with MitoQ himself first, about a year and a half ago, and quickly saw improvements, including achieving better stats on his bike rides and needing less time to recover between training sessions.
When Cadman began working the supercharged CoQ10 supplement into his team’s routine, the results were significant. After just six weeks taking MitoQ, one of his athletes saw his VO2 max go from 50 mL/kg/min to 60--“a pretty big jump,” Cadman says. “Even a minor VO2 max improvement is a benefit and will help any athlete lay down more power.” And it doesn't take long to see the effects: Studies have shown that just a few weeks of CoQ10 supplementation can improve the VO2 max of athletes across a variety of sports, from soccer to skiing.
“Supplementation isn’t a silver bullet,” notes Cadman. “But if you have a solid diet that is taking care of the vast majority of your requirements, I’d encourage experimenting to see if anything around can optimize your performance.” Get ready to surprise yourself.