Three nutritional products that have very different mechanisms of action are antioxidant vitamins, carnitine, and choline. Antioxidant vitamins do not appear to have a direct effect on physical performance in well-fed people but have been touted for their ability to detoxify potentially damaging free radicals produced during exercise. Carnitine purportedly enhances lipid oxidation, increases VO2max, and decreases plasma lactate accumulation during exercise. However, studies of carnitine do not generally support its use for ergogenic purposes. Choline supplements have been advocated as a means of preventing the decline in acetylcholine production purported to occur during exercise; this decline may reduce the transmission of contraction-generating impulses across the skeletal muscle, an effect that could impair one’s ability to perform muscular work. However, there are no definitive studies in humans that justify choline supplementation. Much of the scientific data regarding the aforementioned nutrients are equivocal and contradictory. Their potential efficacy for improving physical performance remains largely theoretical.
Mitchell M. Kanter is with Gatorade Sports Science Institute, 617 W. Main St., Banington, IL 60010. Melvin H. Williams is with the Human Performance Laboratory, Old Dominion University, Norfolk, VA 23529.