Coenzyme Q10 is one of those supplements that sounds vaguely threatening. But don’t hate on it just because it has an overly biological name. It’s actually a truly beneficial compound that provides significant health benefits (including improved heart health) and can be critical to your performance in the gym and the results you glean from training.
Just the Facts
Coenzyme Q10 is the compound of many names. Known less formally as CoQ10 and very formally by scientists as 2,3-dimethoxy,5-methyl, 6-polyisoprene parabenzoquinone, it’s also referred to as ubiquinone because it’s ubiquitous within the body. It’s that last name that might give you some inkling of how critical CoQ10 is.
But what is it, exactly? Although not classified as a vitamin, CoQ10 has properties similar to vitamins’. Like vitamins, it assists in numerous reactions in the body, primarily the production of energy. CoQ10 is typically found in mitochondria, considered the power plants of cells because they produce the majority of adenosine triphosphate from carbs and fats. (ATP is the energy currency that all cells, including muscle cells, rely on to function.) More specifically, CoQ10 works to carry protons and electrons, which is an essential process in ATP generation. But it is also found in cells’ membranes, where it can enhance the integrity of cells.
CoQ10 is produced naturally in the body. Therefore, it is not an essential nutrient and does not have a recommended intake level. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t need to supplement with it. Quite the contrary. After you reach the age of 20, the levels of CoQ10 that your body is able to produce drop dramatically.
There are numerous studies showing that CoQ10 is effective for the prevention of and/or treatment of numerous diseases, including cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, chronic fatigue syndrome, muscular dystrophy and neurodegenerative disorders, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s disease. Evidence suggests that supplementing with CoQ10 improves heart function and that it’s effective for reducing blood pressure by 10 percent and lowering “bad” LDL cholesterol by 15 percent. Many of these properties are a result of CoQ10’s ability to turn on or off certain genes, but the compound’s strong antioxidant properties are also involved.
Not only does CoQ10 provide direct antioxidant protection by neutralizing free radicals, preventing them from damaging tissues in the body, but it also enhances the antioxidant potential of other antioxidants in the body, like vitamins C and E. It’s by working in tandem with these vitamins that is another way that CoQ10 may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. CoQ10 enhances vitamin E’s ability to reduce levels of the inflammatory protein C-reactive protein, high levels of which are linked to increased risk of heart disease and diabetes.
Performance Pusher and Muscle Maker
CoQ10 appears to protect against muscle damage resulting from intense exercise, as well as the oxidative damage that tends to follow exercise-induced muscle damage. Japanese scientists found that when rats performed muscle-damaging downhill running, their levels of key enzymes associated with muscle damage were significantly elevated. However, rats supplemented with CoQ10 did not have elevated levels of these enzymes and therefore resisted muscle damage. A 2008 study from the University of Tsukuba, Japan, found similar results to the 1991 study but in kendo athletes taking CoQ10. A recent study from the University of Granada found that in athletes competing in a 30-plus-mile run in the Sierra Nevada, those taking a placebo had a 100 percent increase in markers for DNA damage, while those supplementing with CoQ10 had only a 38 percent increase. Scientists reported that the CoQ10 prevented the over-expression of pro-inflammatory compounds, thereby reducing oxidative damage to the muscle cells.
Another way that CoQ10 may help to reduce exercise-induced muscle damage is by stabilizing the muscle membrane. This added stability can help muscle fibers be more resilient against mechanical damage, such as intense exercise. This was shown in yet another study from the Japanese group at the University of Tsukuba. Their 2007 study reported that rats given CoQ10 and forced to perform exhaustive exercise experienced reduced markers of muscle damage but not enhanced levels of free-radical scavenging. Therefore, they concluded that the higher CoQ10 levels they found in the rats’ muscle fibers suggested that CoQ10 was effective at reducing exercise-induced muscle injury by enhancing stabilization of the muscle cell membrane.
Given CoQ10’s role in ATP (energy) production, it should come as no surprise that it can significantly enhance not only daily energy levels but also energy and endurance during exercise. In fact, several studies confirm that CoQ10 supplementation enhances exercise performance. One 2008 study by Japanese scientists found that subjects supplementing with 300 milligrams of CoQ10 per day for eight days experienced less fatigue during exercise on a stationary bike and recovered faster between bouts of exercise as compared to those taking either 100 milligrams of CoQ10 or a placebo. Finnish scientists found that when cross-country skiers supplemented with CoQ10, all the measured indexes of physical performance, such as their maximal oxygen consumption, endurance and recovery between exercise bouts, improved significantly. Several other studies in athletes also have found similar results.
These results not only have implications for aerobic exercise but also for weightlifting. The reduction in fatigue afforded by CoQ10 supplementation also could help you complete more reps with a given weight, especially on higher-rep sets and late in your workout. Plus, the fact that the subjects taking CoQ10 were able to recover faster between bouts of exercise suggests that CoQ10 may be able to help you better recover between sets. Better recovery between sets means that you will be stronger on the next set, and that can help to further boost gains in muscle strength and size.
CoQ10 also may help directly with muscle growth and strength. One 2002 study conducted at the Centre for Molecular Biology and Medicine in Richmond, Australia, reported that subjects supplementing with CoQ10 for four weeks significantly increased the amount of fast-twitch muscle fibers they had. Because the fast-twitch muscle fibers are the ones that grow the biggest, the strongest and the fastest, taking CoQ10 could make a major impact on your gains.
The majority of the studies in humans showing significant effects with CoQ10 used doses of about 300 milligrams per day. Because CoQ10 is fat-soluble, it is better absorbed when taken with food, and you may want to make sure those meals include a cup of grapefruit juice. Japanese scientists discovered that uptake of CoQ10 is enhanced when taken with grapefruit juice, which acts on a certain protein in the digestive tract to allow for a higher absorption of CoQ10. Another way to enhance CoQ10 uptake is to take it with 5 to 10 milligrams of bioperine, an extract from black pepper that has been shown increased blood levels of CoQ10 by 30 percent more than when taking CoQ10 alone.
Want to learn more from training, nutrition and supplement authority Jim Stoppani, Ph.D.? Visit his website JimStoppani.com or find him on Facebook and Twitter.