The Unrecognized Importance of Nucleotides for Athletic Recovery & Performance
Last month I attended the Functional Sports Nutrition Conference in London, an event that brought together the areas of nutritional therapy and functional medicine with athletic health and performance. This insightful day forced me to look at sports nutrition beyond the usual academic mindset, focusing not only on the quantitative approach but also the quality of foods, lifestyle factors and individuality that impact on an athlete’s recovery and performance.
I enjoyed all the talks but one that really stood out for me, as I’d barely touched on the topic and its underlying research before, was a talk by Dr Peter Koeppel on the importance of nucleotides in sport. Nucleotides are the building blocks of DNA and RNA and consist of a base (purine or pyrimidine), a sugar (ribose or deoxyribose), and phosphates. They play a key role in cellular development and immune function. Nucleotides are also used as second-messenger molecules in our cells, serving as co-factors for many enzymatic reactions in our body that metabolise fats, carbohydrates, and proteins, and may also be a source of energy. What astounded me was the fact that doubling a cell requires at least 3 x 109 nucleotides. Considering that we replace 2 x 108 blood cells every day, this equates to 600,000,000,000,000,000 nucleotides per day purely for the formation of red blood cells!
Although we can source our nucleotides from a recognised salvaged pathway (from DNA and RNA degradation), this is only 75-80% effective. They can be synthesised de novo but there are some cells that lack the ability to do so, such as blood, gut, and immune cells. Nucleotides are also absorbed from our diet but there is a low bioavailability in the gut and a low content and imbalance found in the foods that we consume. Offal is considered the best source; however it has a high purines-to-pyrimidines ratio that creates a large imbalance. To respond to these challenges, Dr Koeppel designed an effective registered and tested supplement (nnnSPORT®X-Cell) that has a balanced formulation of active ingredients, ensuring optimal uptake in the gut, and meets the demands of the athletic body while taking into account the nucleotides obtained from dietary sources.
There are a few key human studies exploring the benefits of nucleotide supplementation in athletes. A study by McNaughton et al. found that lactate build-up after a 90-minute cycle was seven times lower for the nucleotide-supplemented group than the placebo group, suggesting that the supplement might aid training for longer. In addition, they found a significant decrease in cortisol in the supplemented group, suggesting that supplementation may reduce the physiological stress of exercise. The same effects were observed after high-intensity type exercise in well-trained athletes. Recently, a study by Sterczala et al. found that nucleotide supplementation attenuated both creatine kinase levels (a marker of muscle damage) and decrements in peak isometric force after a specific resistance training exercise protocol. These findings – namely the potential to support longer training periods, reduce physiological stress, attenuate muscle damage and preserve muscle function – are quite remarkable and it surprises me that research into nucleotides lags behind that for other forms of supplementation. As these studies definitely point to benefits in terms of athletic recovery and performance, it is an area of research and development that sport and exercise nutritionists would do well to monitor over the next few years.
The Functional Sports Nutrition conference will be held again next year. If you’re interested, you can sign up to be notified at http://www.sportsnutritionlive.co.uk/. There is also an affordable online magazine linked to the conference (http://www.fsnmag.com/), which I find very useful as it keeps me up to date with recent research and also has case studies and interesting interviews with athletes, showing how they approach nutrition and life in sport. It’s definitely worth it!
McNaughton, et al. (2006). The effect of a nucleotide supplement on salivary IgA and cortisol after moderate endurance exercise. J Sports Med & Phys Fit. 46:84-89. Link: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16596104
McNaughton, et al. (2007). The effects of a nucleotide supplement on the immune and metabolic response to short term, high intensity exercise performance in trained male subjects. J Sports Med & Phys Fit. 47(1):112-8. Link: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17369807.
Sterczala et al. (2016). Physiological Effects of Nucleotide Supplementation on Resistance Exercise Stress in Men and Women. J Strength Cond Res. 30(2):569-78. Link: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26270693.