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Supplements for boxing is a HUGE topic!

“What supplement should I use?” is one of the most common questions asked on our @boxingscience_nutrition Instagram page, along with…

Should I use a pre-workout supplement for sparring?

What supplements will help me lose weight?

Are protein shakes good for a boxer?

Is Creatine good for Boxing?

In this article series, we’ll delve into the benefits and applications of supplements for boxing – boosting your performance and aiding recovery.

Supplements for Boxing Part One | Health supplements

In this first part of the supplements for boxing article we’ll focus on supplements for health. Health should be your number one priority in a sport that can have serious consequences if training and nutrition are suboptimal.

We’ve identified the following supplements that can help you maintain a healthy diet if you’re restricting energy intake to make weight.

  • Vitamin D3
  • Probiotics
  • Omega 3
  • Iron
  • Calcium

NOTE : We advise that all professional and amateur athletes to ONLY consume supplements batch tested by Informed Sport

Want daily tips on Nutrition and supplements for Boxing? Follow our Instagram page @boxingscience_nutrition

Vitamin D3

Vitamin D3 is an important supplement for boxing. There’s an increasing body of evidence for multiple roles of vitamin D throughout the body. Vit D assists in bone and immune health as well as cardiac and muscle function (Owens, Allison and Close 2018). Many athletes have been shown to be at risk of vitamin D insufficiency (< 30 nmol/L).

Factors that can affect vitamin D status include, ethnicity, dietary differences, sunlight exposure and clothing/ lifestyle (Marley, Grant and Barbara 2020).  

Low vitamin D status assessed by serum 25- hydroxyvitamin D [25(OH)D] has been related to poor bone health. Vitamin D impacts osteoblast and osteocyte regulation in the process of bone remodelling and osteoblasts respond to a variety of resorptive signals including Vitamin D.

Vitamin D has also been known to regulate an immunomodulatory effect in T and B lymphocytes and improve natural killer cell activity in acquired immunity. There is a negative association between vitamin D concentrations and upper respiratory tract infections in athletes. Those who had higher vitamin D concentrations reported less incidence and severity of infection compared to those who had lower concentrations (<30 nmol/L) (He et al. 2016). 

Finally, Owens et al. (2015) investigated supplementation of 4000 IU of vitamin D3 per day for 6 weeks in 20 males with insufficient (45 + 25 nmol/l) serum [25(OH)D] concentrations on recovery following muscle damaging exercise. The study found that vitamin D3 supplementation improved recovery and myotube hypertrophy.

Boxer weighing in after supplements

These studies provide evidence that maintaining serum [25(OH)D] above 75 nmol\L with supplementation of 4000 IU per day can improve bone health and immunity.

There is also emerging evidence that vitamin D can assist improvements in fitness and recovery from damaging exercise. It is important that you get your vitamin D3 checked by local GP to assess your serum [25(OH)D]. This is one of the assessments that we undertake at boxing science to help inform our performance nutrition strategy. 

Plasma total 25(OH)D 

  • 12-30 nmol/L= deficient 
  • 30-50 nmol/L= unadequate
  • 50-120 nmol/L= adequate
  • >120 nmol/L= optimal.

Conclusion 

Supplement with 4000 IU per day especially during winter months. This can help maintain bone health and immunity whilst potentially improving your recovery when dieting.

Probiotics

Probiotics will be a fairly new supplement for boxing that not many readers will be familiar with. Research suggests probiotics play a vital role in immunity as well as nutrient digestion in the small intestine. This is one of the reasons why it is highly important we consume a fibre rich varied diet that contains prebiotics and probiotics. Prebiotics stimulate the growth of good bacteria which can improve digestion and strengthen the immune system. Whereas probiotics are live microorganisms that help restore the natural balance of good bacteria.

Probiotics improve health status by enhancing intestinal permeability, regulating the immune system, improving the composition of the microbiota and competitive exclusion of pathogens (Sivamaruthi, Kesika and Chaiyasut 2019). 

Only certain strains of probiotic supplements have been shown to reduce the risk of upper respiratory tract infections (URTI) in athletes during intensified training as well as reduce GI distress during exercise.

Gleeson, Bishop and Struzczak (2016) found that a probiotic drink (Yakult) reduced UTRI rates and improved anti-body production in endurance athletes. In addition, Pugh et al. (2019) found that probiotic supplementation reduced GI distress during a marathon race.

Although no studies to date have investigated probiotic supplementation using boxers, it is likely that during a training camp a boxer will undergo periods of intensified training when dieting which increases their susceptibility to illness. Also, following a weigh-in many boxers report GI distress probably due to dehydration and consumption of foods that they have been unaccustomed to during a training camp.

We feel it is important that our athletes supplement with probiotics to protect their immunity to reduce the risk of training days missed.

Conclusion 

Supplement with 1-2 Yakults per day or a probiotic supplement that contains 20-50 billion cultured units of Bifidobacterium Bifidum during a training camp to reduce the risk of becoming ill and GI distress.

Probiotic supplement for boxing

Omega 3

Is Omega 3 a beneficial supplement for boxing?

Omega 3 fatty acids are essential in the human diet as there is no mechanism in humans for producing these fats from other substances. High Omega 3 foods include oily fish such as salmon, trout and mackerel. Omega 3 fatty acids serve as a precursor to prostaglandins which are powerful hormone-like substances that reduce inflammation and improve blood flow.

Omega 3 fatty acids in the dosage of 3g per day with a ratio of 2000 mg of Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) and 1000 mg Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) have shown to reduce symptoms of muscle soreness following eccentric exercise as well as having anabolic properties (Smith et al. 2011; Tiraki-sonmez, Schoenfield and Vatansever-Ozen 2011).

Furthermore, it is now believed that omega 3 supplementation can reduce concussion symptoms following traumatic brain injury. The majority of the brain tissue is lipid and omega 3 DHA makes up a large amount of this tissue. In rodent model studies, traumatic brain injury has been shown to reduce DHA in the brain (Wu et al. 2013).

Also, animals who were supplemented with DHA following traumatic brain injury had improved cognitive outcomes compared to placebo (Desai et al. 2014). Although these studies have not used human participants it is hard to investigate omega 3 supplementation on traumatic brain injuries and concussion in humans for ethical reasons.

Due to brain injury and concussion being high risk in boxing especially during sparring and actual fights we like to recommend 3g of a high strength omega 3 to help maintain the health of our athletes. 

Conclusion 

We encourage a high strength omega 3 supplement for boxing with a high ratio of EPA and DHA as this can potentially improve recovery by increasing muscle protein synthesis and reduce traumatic brain injury symptoms.

Iron 

Is Iron a beneficial supplement for boxing?

Iron is essential for human health and athletic performance, yet iron deficiency is one of the most common deficiencies in sport. Especially in females and vegan athletes who reduce the consumption of red meat (Pedlar et al. 2018).

Female athletes under the age of 50 are at particular risk of iron deficiency due to menstruation, therefore they require high daily amounts (14.8 mg) compared to males (8.7 mg). A reduction in iron stores and subsequently iron deficiency can lead to headaches, tiredness and fatigue, as well as reduced oxygen transport and utilisation that can impair aerobic performance.

Female boxer iron supplement

Ferritin iron is regularly assessed to determine iron levels and a ferritin iron value below 30 ug/l is classed as being deficient. Vitamin C can improve the absorption of iron whilst calcium and phenolic acids such as tannins in red wine, tea and coffee can inhibit the absorption of iron. 

Several studies have assessed iron deficiency below 30 ug/l on aerobic exercise performance and found reduced performance. Dellavalle and Haas (2011) found that female iron-deficient rowers had slower 2 km rowing times compared to non-deficient females.

More recently, Burden et al. (2015) performed a meta-analysis and systematic review on iron supplementation in iron-deficient but non-anaemic endurance athletes. The study concluded that iron supplementation improves iron status and aerobic capacity of endurance athletes.

 Aerobic endurance performance is an important aspect of boxing thus iron deficiency can reduce boxing performance.

Iron supplementation of (200 mg per day) can improve iron status following deficiency after 4 weeks of supplementation. However, iron supplementation does have known side effects of GI distress including constipation and nausea.

With all of our athletes we use a food first approach to reduce the risk of iron deficiency. We recommend to eating 3 servings of red meat per week with vitamin C rich foods such as peppers and tomatoes or adding a fruit dessert such as strawberries and pineapple.

It is essential that you have a blood test assessed by your local GP to look for blood ferritin deficiency < 30 ug/l. Only at this point would we recommend iron supplementation to our athletes. This is why we like to perform this test as part of our performance nutrition strategy at boxing science.

It’s important to note that no studies have found health or performance improvements with iron supplementation with non-deficient participants and chronic high dose of iron intake can cause serious health problems.

Conclusion 

Iron deficiency can lead to fatigue and tiredness and reduce aerobic performance when serum ferritin iron is below 30 ug/l. We suggest having a blood test from your local GP to assess blood ferritin and only if ferritin iron stores are below 30 ug/l we advise to supplement with iron. Iron supplementation can have negative side effects therefore, a food first approach may be more viable including consumption of a portion of lean red meat at least 3 times per week.

Calcium 

Is Calcium a beneficial supplement for boxing?

Calcium is an essential mineral that is needed throughout life. The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for children and adolescents is 1000 mg and for adults, it is 700 mg per day. However, these values are directed towards the general population and not athletes and it is assumed athletes may require a higher calcium intake.

Calcium has several important functions including bone and teeth formation as well as regulating muscle activation and blood clotting. Over 99% of total body calcium is found in teeth and bones therefore the skeleton acts as a reservoir for calcium. Dietary calcium intake has a direct impact on bone health with calcium deficiency causing reduced bone mass impacting growth in children and adolescents as well as causing osteoporosis in older adults (Cashman, 2002). 

It is now accepted that athletes partaking in non-weight bearing exercise and/or undergoing periods of low energy availability are at higher risk of bone injuries including stress fractures.

Energy availability is described as the amount of ingested energy remaining to support basic bodily functions and physiological processes including growth, immune function and thermoregulation once energy for exercise has been utilised (Nattiv et al. 2007). Past studies have suggested an energy availability of 45 kcal per kg of lean body mass is ideal to support bone health in an athlete. Moreover, a low energy availability less than 30 kcal per kg of lean body mass has been shown to reduce bone mineral density negatively affecting bone health (less than 2160 kcal for an 82 kg person with 10% body fat).

Sale and Elliot-Sale (2019) suggest that athletes undertaking high volume prolonged exercise may be at risk of calcium loss due to bone resorption mediated by activation of parathyroid hormone due to reductions in serum calcium levels resulting in calcium losses through sweating. The authors state that it is unlikely that calcium lost in sweat would be significant to cause perturbations to calcium homeostasis to the extent that it would affect bone metabolism. Unless, the exercise is excessive, and the athlete has high sweat losses such as those who use dehydration in weight-making sports.

This has high relevance to boxers who are known to undertake excessive exercise and dehydration to lose weight. This is why we at boxing science do not promote excessive exercise and dehydration to boxers due to negative effects on health. 

Greater than 100mg of calcium loss through sweating has been reported during a 2-hour basketball session in professional basketball players (Klesges et al. 1996). Even though no research to date has investigated calcium loss during training sessions in boxers it would be reasonable to suggest that it would be similar to the study in basketball. Furthermore, boxers are likely to be in a negative energy balance towards 30kcal per kg of body mass and exercising more than once per day. This is why when nearing towards making weight in a large energy deficit and exercising more than once per day we would suggest in supplementing with calcium towards 800-1000mg per day.

As well as calcium and vitamin D3 intake being important for bone health it is also known that mechanical loading through weight bearing activity such as resistance training can improve bone health because bone responds to the magnitude, rate, total number and direction of loading cycles (Frost, 1987). This is another reason why we promote strength training at boxing science to aid bone health as well as physical performance.

Boxers are likely to be in a negative energy balance and exercising more than once per day and we suggest supplementing with calcium towards 800 to 1000 mg per day, especially towards the end of a camp, nearing competition.

Conclusion

Boxers are at risk of a negative calcium balance when in a large energy deficit.  We promote a high calcium intake through the consumption of dairy foods and green leafy vegetables. However, during certain periods, we may want an athlete to consume 800 to 1000 mg of calcium per day prior to exercise.

Stay tuned for part 2 where we will discuss performance supplements for boxing as well as dispel myths on certain supplements that boxers often consume including BCAA’s, vitamin C and diet protein powders.

Enjoy Supplements for Boxing?

References: 

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DELLAVALLE, Diane M. and HAAS, Jere D. (2011). Impact of iron depletion without anemia on performance in trained endurance athletes at the beginning of a training season: a study of female collegiate rowers. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism; int J sport nutr exerc metab, 21 (6), 501-506. 

DESAI, Abhishek, KEVALA, Karl and KIM, Hee-Yong (2014). Depletion of brain docosahexaenoic acid impairs recovery from traumatic brain injury. PloS one; PLoS one, (1), e86472-e86472. 

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