It was only recently the Institute of Medicine discovered a key nutrient supporting a myriad of essential health functions. While your liver can produce modest amounts, your diet provides the overwhelming intake of this crucial vitamin. If you're looking to take your performance, or health, to the next level, getting enough choline into your nutritional arsenal is an absolute must. Unfortunately, there is a 90% chance you're deficient in this essential vitamin, compromising how well you perform at work, at home and in the gym.(1)
Choline is a water-soluble essential nutrient, an organic compound that isn't really a vitamin or a mineral, but generally considered to be part of the B-complex group of vitamins. It doesn't get the same fanfare of popular B-vitamins like niacin, folate, or vitamin-B12, however choline plays many key roles in the body, in particular in building a better brain and body.
Choline has many essential functions in the body; healthy brain development, supporting circadian rhythm and nervous system function, muscle development, metabolism, keeping cell membranes strong and communication between cells, DNA synthesis, ferrying triglycerides (e.g. body fat) to the liver. Its the building block for the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which plays a fundamental role in keeping your memory sharp and muscles firing on all cylinders.
Let’s take a closer look at how choline can impact your health and performance.
Choline & Strength Gains In The Gym
Your nervous system is a crucial for improving maximal strength. Gains made in the lower rep ranges are primarily due to improvement in neurological function and recruitment, therefore to increase your heaviest you need to have your nervous system hitting on all cylinders.
Choline is a precursor to acetylcholine and a recent study looked at the effects of increasing acetylcholineline levels via supplementation on upper-body and lower-body strength. The athletes added supplemental alpha-glycerylphosphorylcholine, better known as alpha-GPC which is a precursor to acetylcholine, in the morning and evening for seven days. The researchers found that after only one week, the supplemental alpha-GPC group generated significantly greater power during the lower-body dominant exercise (i.e. mid-thigh pull) compared to the placebo group.(2) Increasing maximal strength in the lower body via pulls, squats, deadlifts, lunges, or Olympic lifts is crucial for increasing athletic performance, augmenting lean muscle and even supporting a lean body composition,
Choline, Stress & Circadian Rhythms
Competitive seasons can be long and grueling. It's extremely difficult to maintain high energy levels and performance throughout an entire season or competitive year. The shorter, darker, and colder days of winter are a lot more taxing on your body, and when combined with a high work load in the office or school, result in increased cortisol stress hormone production. Not to mention you're at increased risk of cold and flu during this time as well, further taxing your immune system and capacity to recovery.
Choline plays a fundamental role in building resilience via its impact on your brain. The hippocampus area of the brain is responsible for setting your daily cortisol circadian rhythm, crucial for maintaining health and supporting recovery. (It also plays a key role in converting your short-term to long-term memory, so if you’ve been struggling to remember things at work or school, where you put your cellphone, or what to pick up for dinner, these are all potential signs stress is impacting your brain in a negative way.) Stress damages the hippocampus, throwing off this daily circadian cortisol pattern, leaving you tired upon rising (perhaps struggling to get out of bed or hitting snooze multiple times) or “tired but wired” at bedtime and unable to fall asleep.
Increasing Dietary Choline In Your Nutritional Arsenal
A recommended daily intake has not yet been established for choline. However, the Institute of Medicine has set values for Adequate Intake (AI) across the population. In general, adult men should consume 550mg per day and women 425mg, however the right amount for each individual can vary considerably.(3) Choline deficiency can cause liver and muscle problems, and is especially important to avoid during pregnancy, as deficiency can increase risk of neural tube defects. Low choline levels can also be a problem; athletes performing long bouts of training, people who consume too much alcohol and post-menopausal women are those with the highest risk of low choline levels.
How do you know if you might be deficient, or have insufficient intake to meet the demands of your busy work and training schedule? Common symptoms include short-term memory loss (i.e., you can’t remember where you left things), losing your train of thought mid-conversation, reduced reaction time, reduced appetite for exercise, increased cravings for fatty foods, irritability, mood swings, and fatigue.
Adding more choline-rich foods to your diet should be your foundation for increasing acetylcholine levels and supporting superior brain and muscular function. Choline is also essential for healthy ageing and longevity, playing a major role in fighting off age-related dementia and cognitive decline.(4)
Dietary choline is typically found in the form of phosphatidylcholine, a type of fat that has choline as its main building block. Eggs are a fantastic option for boosting your choline intake. Each egg yolk provides over 100 mg of choline — another great reason to not be afraid of the yolk! Organ meats are another great option, a 3oz. portion of beef liver providing approximately 250 mg of choline.
Here is a list of food high in dietary sources of choline:
· Eggs – 110 mg choline per yolk
· Beef liver – 250 mg choline per 3 oz.
· Wild Salmon – 224 mg per filet (with skin)
· Pumpkin & sunflower seeds – 60 mg per cup
· Cruciferous veggies (e.g. Broccoli, Cauliflower, Asparagus) – 75 mg per cup
· Dairy – 45 mg choline per 8 ounces (note: pasteurization destroys 70-80 percent)*
Your dietary choline levels are linked to the rate of acetylcholine production, so ensuring you get enough choline in your diet is the first step toward upgrading your levels. If you want to quickly increase your intake in the short term for physical or mental performance gains, adding an alpha-GPC supplement (250-500mg daily for 4-8 weeks) may be beneficial.
Other health benefits of choline include reduce risk of heart disease - as choline is required in the conversion of homocysteine to methionine -and elevated homocysteine levels are associated with increased risk of heart disease and stroke.(5,6)
Bottom Line: Choline is the unsung essential nutrient that plays an essential role in brain, muscle and nervous system function, as well as other key areas of health. Most clients will benefit from adding more choline-rich foods in their diet - via eggs, organ meats and cruciferous veggies – to help lay the foundation for getting stronger in the gym, upgrading your memory and cognitive function, and increasing your capacity to cope with stress. Kick-start your health by getting back to traditional foods choked full of this essential nutrient.
Dr. Marc Bubbs ND, CISSN, CSCS