In the world of strength and conditioning, dietary supplements will always remain a hot topic. Whether it be to improve physical or cognitive performance, reducing bodyfat or gaining lean mass, or improving metabolic health, athlete’s love to discuss their latest supplement stack. Sadly, most supplements have yet to prove themselves when tested in rigorous conditions and what most athletes are experiencing is known as the placebo effect. Yes, it is very much a real thing (1).
While there are a few supplements that are tried and true (e.g., whey protein, creatine monohydrate, beta-alanine), there is one supplement that has mostly flown under the radar until recently. Work from my lab and others have shown this supplement to have the potential to enhance various aspects of performance, metabolic health, and recovery. Even better, we have yet to find any negative side-effects from chronic supplementation. That supplement is known as Astaxanthin (pronounced: As-tuh-zan-thin) and my lab is leading the research on this unique compound in the USA.
A little background on astaxanthin – it is grown from algae, although you can find small amounts of it in salmon and shrimp, and it is what gives these animals their reddish color or those animals which eat them (like flamingos). Getting sufficient amounts from the diet would be tough though, as the recommended dose is 6-12 mg per day, which equates to about ~8-12, 6 oz salmon fillets…daily!
Astaxanthin and the Power Athlete
Astaxanthin is a powerful antioxidant, maybe the most powerful antioxidant we are aware of. Unlike other antioxidants which can only serve their role outside or inside the cell, astaxanthin can penetrate the cell wall, the mitochondrial wall (that organelle that produces energy), and the blood brain barrier (that organ that is allowing you to digest this blog) and combat free radicals both inside and outside the cell, simultaneously (2). This ability allows astaxanthin to keep inflammation low (think any metabolic disease) and due to its ability to protect the mitochondria, it is also a key nutrient for increasing an athlete’s ability to produce energy and burn fat during exercise (3).
These findings are now starting to reveal that astaxanthin can serve the athlete in other ways, like decreasing delayed onset muscle damage post training (4), so think – less sore and quicker recovery time. We are finding that it reduces lactate build-up during exercise which helps with fatigue management and for my athlete’s who train but still find their cholesterol or blood pressure numbers just are not improving – yep, it helps improve those as well (5).
Where’s Yo Head At?
My lab and others, are now beginning to study this supplement in a new light though – cognitive performance. Due to astaxanthin being able to protect the various cells in the brain from free radical damage and possibly even when an athlete experiences a traumatic brain injury, my team and I believe that astaxanthin may serve the athlete by reducing cognitive fatigue which all athlete’s experience during strenuous periods of competition. Just think (no pun intended) – the athlete that can keep his/her wits about them later in the game will be the better athlete. Better decision making and faster reaction time will always reflect the better athlete, cognitively.
While I do not have ties directly to any company that sells astaxanthin, two brands that sell the algae derived form (the form you want and not synthetically created in a laboratory), are DoubleWood and Now Foods. A daily dose of 6-12 mg per day taken with food is ideal, since its fat soluble (e.g., it needs a fat to get to your cells). We’ve seen it takes about 7 days for the cells to become saturated with astaxanthin and about ~4 weeks to really start noticing effects such as improved recovery or better lipid panels.
There are not many supplements I stand behind. Creatine monohydrate, a basic whey protein and a methylated multi-vitamin are a few, but I’ve since added astaxanthin to that mix. We’ve seen no negative side-effects so far and either null or positive effects in most everyone we’ve tested it in.
If optimizing performance and health is of interest to you like it is to all Power Athletes, I’d recommend trying this dietary antioxidant and see if you don’t notice an improvement in your performance or overall wellbeing. For more information on training, nutrition, dietary supplement stacks, or optimizing performance, check out Power Athlete HQ where you can read up on similar blogs, listen to the latest podcasts episodes, or even enroll in Power Athletes education courses.
- Hurst, P., Foad, A., Coleman, D., & Beedie, C. (2017). Athletes intending to use sports supplements are more likely to respond to a placebo. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise (MSSE).
- Fakhri, S., Abbaszadeh, F., Dargahi, L., & Jorjani, M. (2018). Astaxanthin: A mechanistic review on its biological activities and health benefits. Pharmacological research, 136, 1-20.
- Brown, D. R., Warner, A. R., Deb, S. K., Gough, L. A., Sparks, S. A., & McNaughton, L. R. (2021). The effect of astaxanthin supplementation on performance and fat oxidation during a 40 km cycling time trial. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 24(1), 92-97.
- Barker, G. A., Parten, A. L., Lara, D. A., Hannon, K. E., McAllister, M. J., & Waldman, H. S. (2023). Astaxanthin Supplementation Reduces Subjective Markers of Muscle Soreness following Eccentric Exercise in Resistance-Trained Men. Muscles, 2(2), 228-237.
- Fassett, R. G., & Coombes, J. S. (2012). Astaxanthin in cardiovascular health and disease. Molecules, 17(2), 2030-2048.
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Hunter Waldman is a former DII collegiate linebacker who found his passion in Nutrition and Exercise Physiology during his undergraduate years. After working as a Strength and Conditioning coach/personal trainer for several years, Hunter pursued his doctorate in Exercise Physiology while also serving as a Sweat Scientist for the Gatorade Sport Science Institute (GSSI) in Florida. Hunter is now a Professor of Exercise Science at the University of North Alabama, Researcher, Director of the Exercise Biochemistry Laboratory, and Power Athlete Block-1 Coach. Hunter's research area is in Nutrition and Metabolic Health/Performance, where his lab is attempting to understand how to increase cell stress resiliency via nutrition, supplements, and exercise.
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