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Sports Nutrition

Full Steam Ahead

It’s 8 a.m. and you’ve managed to drag yourself out of bed and into the shower, but you find yourself dozing over your eggs and can’t fathom making it through a full day at the office. It’s 3 p.m. and you can barely keep your eyes open or your yawns under control. At this point, you’d rather go home and plop down on the couch than hit the gym to toss around some iron. It’s 6 p.m. and you’ve somehow gotten your gym clothes on, but you’re not lifting as much as you usually do and your cardio session was … let’s just say less than vigorous.

There are many reasons why you may feel sluggish throughout the day. Work stress, poor diet or a restless night of tossing and turning can contribute to suffering an energy crisis. Thankfully, more and more research demonstrates that certain supplements derived from natural sources can give you the energy you need to jump around the office or gym floor like Bugs Bunny on a latte binge. So if you are experiencing a general lack of get-up-and-go during your workouts, on your morning commute or at your desk after lunch, you might want to consider trying one or more of these 10 energizing supplements to give you a little jolt in the butt. Think of them as swallowing a little bit of rocket fuel.


Caffeine is as good as any place to start our discussion on natural compounds that perk you up. It’s widely known to stimulate the sympathetic nervous system (the area responsible for our “fight or flight” response to danger) to quickly boost energy, alertness and mood. It’s also a performance enhancer. A 2013 study in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise reported that trained adults experienced significant increases in power output during an intense bout of exercise after taking caffeine 60 minutes before activity. Caffeine is thought to work by lowering your perceived level of exertion, thereby allowing you to exercise harder for longer. If you’re taking caffeine to boost your workout, keep in mind that it takes about an hour for it to reach peak levels in your blood.

Dosage: As long as it’s not disrupting your sleep or making you too jittery, take about 200 milligrams of caffeine anhydrous once or twice daily, preferably not too close to bedtime. As an ergogenic aid, try 1.5 milligrams of caffeine per pound of bodyweight one hour before a hard workout.


Yerba Mate

Gleaned from leaves of a South American shrub, yerba mate (Ilex paraguariensis) naturally harbors three peppy stimulants: caffeine, theophylline and theobromine (the same “happy” chemical found in chocolate). Each cup of brewed mate tea has roughly 85 milligrams of caffeine compared to 135 in coffee.

Yet many people find that yerba mate does not come with the same jittery side effects associated with coffee. Traditionally used as a digestive aid, yerba mate is also, recent research suggests, rich in an array of disease-thwarting phytochemicals. Further, a recent study in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition discovered that regular usage of mate can improve blood cholesterol numbers, helping to slash heart disease risk. If you find yerba mate too bitter or “grassy” for your liking when brewed like normal tea, you can purchase yerba mate capsules.

Dosage: Try sipping three to four cups of yerba mate tea daily or take 900 milligrams of mate in pill form once or twice daily.


Taking this ancient Chinese herb could help you take your workouts to new levels because several investigations suggest that ginseng has anti-fatigue capabilities during exercise. Case in point: Researchers from California State Polytechnic University discovered that healthy adults who took ginseng twice daily for a month experienced significant improvements in their exercise endurance. Ginseng may function to make energy metabolism more efficient when you’re on the move. Also, Korean scientists determined that supplementing with ginseng can lessen the muscle damage and inflammation associated with training.

Emerging research also suggests ginseng is a mood booster, which can make you feel like you have more zip in your step.

Dosage: Try taking one or two ginseng capsules (about 700 to 1,400 milligrams) daily with meals.

B Vitamins

The B vitamins — namely thiamin, riboflavin, B-6 and B-12 — are involved in the metabolic pathways within the human body that produce usable energy from dietary carbohydrates, fats and protein. The upshot is that coming up short in B vitamins can make it feel like you’re going to crash and burn when in the middle of a career-changing meeting with the boss or an epic workout. B vitamins are available in many different foods, but using a supplement is good insurance.

Dosage: Once daily, take a B-vitamin complex supplement that contains 50 to 100 milligrams of niacin, thiamin, riboflavin and vitamin B-6 as well as 50 to 100 micrograms of vitamin B-12.


For good reason, creatine is one of the most cherished energy-boosting supplements among those who train hard. Creatine is a compound made up of amino acids that works by raising levels of adenosine triphosphate in muscle cells. This is significant because ATP is the primary energy source for explosive movements like a bench press or fully loaded squat. So generating more raw power courtesy of creatine can translate into lifting heavier loads, which, in turn, should bring about greater muscular growth and strength. Among the numerous research papers proving that creatine can elevate your fitness gains is a recent study in the journal Nutrition involving 20 healthy men and women who were randomized to receive either creatine or a placebo for six weeks. After the trial, the group receiving creatine was found to be more resistant to muscular fatigue.

Dosage: Take 2 to 5 grams, depending on the form of creatine, within 30 minutes before and after your workouts.

Gotu Kola

Gotu kola (Centella asiatica) is an herb related to parsley that grows commonly in swampy areas of the tropics. It’s long been used to combat mental fatigue by populations in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia. Regular use also has been suggested to improve mood and inhibit cancerous tumor growth. It’s important to understand that gotu kola is not the same as kola nut and, unlike the latter, contains no caffeine. Gotu kola contains chemicals called triterpenoids that may be responsible for its feel-good properties. If available, fresh gotu-kola leaves, which are also called pennywort, from Asian grocery stores are an excellent addition to salads.

Dosage: Take two or three capsules (900 to 1,350 milligrams) twice daily with meals or 1 to 2 ounces of fluid gotu-kola extract a couple of times per day.


Sometimes referred to as “Indian ginseng,” ashwagandha is considered an adaptogenic herb that helps the body cope with stress. Being overwhelmed by too many of today’s stressors can make it feel like you’re confronting each day with an empty energy tank. A recent report in the Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine found that subjects who were chronically stressed experienced noticeable reductions in their stress levels after taking 300 milligrams of ashwagandha daily for two months. The herb might contain chemicals that calm the brain. What’s more, a 2012 experiment conducted by Indian scientists found that elite athletes who received 500-milligram capsules of ashwagandha twice daily for eight weeks experienced significantly greater improvements in endurance capacity than those who took only a placebo. In short, taking ashwagandha could make it feel like you have energy to spare when working hard in the gym.

Dosage: Try taking 500 milligrams of ashwagandha once in the morning and again later in the day.


Guarana (pronounced gwa-ra-NAH) is a plant native to the Amazon. Its seeds contain more caffeine (4 to 8 percent) than what is present in coffee beans (1 to 2.5 percent), so it’s widely used for its stimulatory effects. To date, much less research has been conducted on guarana than coffee, but initial reports are that it also can improve alertness, memory and resistance to fatigue. For these reasons, guarana is a popular addition to energy drinks. One investigation by scientists at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center suggests that guarana can reduce dangerous blood clotting, thereby potentially offering some protection from heart disease.

Dosage: To test how you respond, start with 200 to 400 milligrams of guarana extract with breakfast and again with lunch, if desired. If you tolerate it well, you can take up to 600 milligrams twice daily. Those who are pregnant or have insomnia, hypertension or diabetes are generally not encouraged to supplement with guarana.

Rhodiola Rosea

Rhodiola rosea is an adaptogenic herb that grows in the arctic regions of Asia and Europe. In Scandinavian countries and other places where it flourishes, Rhodiola has long been used to combat fatigue, lessen anxiety, improve mental clarity and boost general vitality. Canadian scientists recently reviewed several studies involving Rhodiola and determined that there indeed is evidence that the herb can help alleviate physical and mental fatigue. It also may help you breeze through your workouts. In a 2013 Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research study, subjects were instructed to consume either Rhodiola or a placebo one hour before taking part in an endurance bicycle ride. It was discovered that when the herb was consumed, the time the volunteers took to complete the cycling time trial was shorter and the perceived effort during the exercise was lower than when Rhodiola was not used. Overachieving Rhodiola also has been shown to possess potent antioxidant activity to help combat the free-radical-induced cell damage that can lead to poor exercise recovery and chronic diseases like cancer.

Dosage: Start with 500 milligrams a day taken about one hour before exercise or early in the day to avoid any interference with sleep. If you don’t feel too revved up, you can work up to 1,500 milligrams daily.

Coenzyme Q10

Coenzyme Q10 is a compound present in the mitochondria of nearly every cell in the body, where it’s involved in the production of adenosine triphosphate, the cell’s major energy source for everything from digestion to muscular contraction during exercise. A number of studies have shown that supplementing with CoQ10 can improve muscular function and power during exercise by enhancing energy production and allowing muscle cells to use oxygen more efficiently. This is particularly true as we age because CoQ10 levels tend to diminish with passing years. CoQ10 also functions as an important antioxidant, helping mop up those cell-damaging free radicals that prowl through our bodies.

Dosage: Take 100 to 200 milligrams daily with a meal containing some fat for optimal absorption because coenzyme Q10 is fat-soluble. Cholesterol-lowering statins can interfere with natural CoQ10 production in the body, so many health-care practitioners encourage people taking these drugs to supplement with CoQ10 to keep their levels up.