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Feeling old? Tired? Me too.
Which is why I’m not going to lie: When my friend said I should try these completely legal little white pills, claiming they’d help me focus better and maybe even climb harder, I said “Absolutely yes, please give me that.” But then also: “Do they really work?”
Nicotinamide riboside, or NR, is a naturally occurring molecule generated by the body and used with other molecules to produce NAD (nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide), a coenzyme important for cellular energy production. NAD mediates many biological processes, including gene expression, fighting free radicals, promoting cellular repair, and, importantly, countering the effects of aging.
And here’s a fun fact: NAD concentrations within the body fall as you age. A lot. In fact, a 2012 study from the Department of Pharmacology at the University of New South Wales suggested that NAD levels may fall 50 percent by the time you’re 40 to 60 years old. Indeed the correlation between NAD and aging has triggered many other studies about the molecule’s role in the body, and how we can prevent NAD depletion.
In and of itself, NAD is too large a molecule to effectively supplement. It must be broken down before it can pass through cell membranes, which the body does naturally. (All cells in the body require NAD precursors like NR to produce NAD.) NR, on the other hand, can pass on through those cell membranes.
A Sample Size of Two…and Counting
Despite my initial skepticism, I’ve been supplementing NR for about a month now. I’ve been feeling more focused, like I drank an extra cup of coffee, but without the jitters. Actually, if I’m not focused on something, like writing, then I have a hard time sitting still. I’m obviously a sample size of one… well, make that two counting my friend. So let’s look at a few studies.
In a 2020 double-blind crossover study (meaning the subjects were compared against themselves, eventually taking both NR supplements and a placebo, unbeknownst to them), NR supplementation improved isometric peak torque by 8 percent and the fatigue index (the rate at which power declines) by 15 percent in older men. In a 2018 “2 by 6-week randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover clinical trial” (read: very feakin’ well-conducted study), NR supplementation safely and effectively increased NAD in healthy adults between the ages of 55 and 79. The study also suggested that NR supplementation reduced risk factors in cardiovascular health, including aortic stiffness and blood pressure.
Meanwhile, a 2020 study concluded that NR supplementation by overweight and obese adults improved body composition, as well as metabolic rate while the subjects were sleeping.
So will it work for climbers?
You may be wondering, why is a relatively fit 26-year-old rock climber taking old-people pills and touting their benefits, since I’m not even in that 40–60 demographic? NAD depletion doesn’t just happen when you age; it also occurs after strenuous exercise—for example, climbing. Or if you haven’t been getting enough sleep, or likewise stressing your body. Between doing the things that people in their 20s do (partying…duh), training, spending long days climbing outside on the weekend, and the normal life stressors that society has imposed on Millennials, well, I figured I’m a theoretical 40-year-old (I’ll obviously regret saying that in about 14 years).
While there really haven’t been any studies specifically dealing with athletes supplementing with NR, the importance of NAD for muscle health can’t be overstated. One study, published in 2018 in the journal Skeletal Muscle, stated: “Clearly, NAD+ is a major player in skeletal muscle development, regeneration, aging, and disease. The vast majority of studies indicate that lower NAD+ levels are deleterious for muscle health, and higher NAD+ levels augment muscle health.”
In terms of climbing over the past month, my experience with supplementing NR has been the subtle feeling of being able to go just a little longer on endurance climbs and big days at the crag. Maybe this is all just in my head, although science says it’s not.
So let’s circle back to what perhaps should have been question number one: Is supplementing NR safe? Remember, the body makes it naturally. The short answer is yes, it’s safe when taken as recommended. However, the FDA doesn’t regulate supplements the same way it does pharmaceuticals. Scrupulously check out the company and tests conducted on its products before you buy, as there are always going to be fakes in the depths of the internet.
Personally, I went with Tru Niagen, which is both FDA compliant and has been certified as sport-safe by the NSF International (a global, independent organization that tests, audits, and certifies products). Niagen has been on the market since 2013, and there haven’t been any serious associated side-effects in clinical studies. I also haven’t experienced anything adverse. For dosage, I went with 300 milligrams, which was what the FDA supports as being safe to use and is the amount recommended by Tru Niagen. That said, there are human studies that included supplementation sizes up to 2,000 milligrams without reported adverse side effects. Actually, there has been one adverse side effect: a lighter wallet. At $40 a month for daily use, it sure doesn’t come cheap!
I’m no doc. I’m not a scientist, either. Just your humble editor willing to try anything to type a little faster to get out the crag sooner, and once there, hopefully climb a little harder. So talk to your doctor, do your own research and find out what’s best for you. Yada yada yada… Be safe out there!
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