Mitochondria, nutritional support, aerobic, anaerobic, phosphagen, ATP, ADP, AMP, glycogen, lactic acid threshold, coenzyme Q10, L-carnitine, succinate, inosine, DPG, Xtra Mile

Catch a Second Wind

Catch a Second Wind

Runners are familiar with a phenomenon called "catching a second wind”. It describes the experience of having reached a point in the run where one is gasping for breath and has to slow down. Many find that after a few seconds they feel recovered and are able to once again pick up the pace.

While exercise physiologists do not agree on what accounts for the phenomenon, there is no doubt about its existence. The body, it seems, has the ability to increase energy production when demand requires that it do so. A young, physically fit person is likely to reach the point of gasping for air only with intense exertion. Older individuals or those with conditions that limit their ability to supply oxygen to their cells often experience shortness of breath or labored breathing at much lower levels of activity. No matter at what level it appears, all who experience air hunger long to catch a "second wind” – to be able to perform at a higher level for a longer period of time.

Shortness of breath occurs when the body is not receiving the amount of oxygen required to meet its energy needs. The obvious answer to providing a second wind is to increase the amount of oxygen available. This is generally accomplished by breathing air containing a higher percentage of oxygen. It is not uncommon to see a football player breathing from an oxygen tank along the sidelines following a long run nor is it unusual to see a person with emphysema or heart failure using an oxygen tank as he or she attempts to ease the shortness of breath experienced with routine daily activities.

An alternative to oxygen administration as a means to provide a second wind exists. Increasing the efficiency of oxygen utilization by the body can be as effective, and in some cases more effective, than providing additional oxygen.

Every cell of the body comes equipped with power plants called mitochondria. Cells with high energy demand, such as heart muscle cells, may contain thousands of mitochondria. Cells with low energy needs may contain a few dozen. Mitochondrial energy production is absolutely essential for producing physical strength, stamina, and sustaining life. Even a slight drop in energy output can lead to weakness, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating.

The body is equipped with three energy producing methods. Under most circumstances energy is produced by what is called aerobic (oxygen dependent) metabolism. The level of activity that can be performed aerobically is determined by several factors. These include the volume of air moving in and out of the lungs, the efficiency of oxygen exchange between the alveoli (lung air sacs) and the hemoglobin molecule in red blood cells, the effectiveness of the heart in circulating blood throughout the body, and the ability of mitochondria, the energy-producing factories of cells, to function efficiently.

Breathing correctly by making full use of the diaphragm to move air, is the first step in increasing one’s capacity to perform physical activities. In circumstances where the amount of available oxygen is low, such as living at a high altitude, the body will respond by manufacturing a greater number of red blood cells to improve the exchange rate. Regular physical activity can significantly improve the heart’s ability to pump blood throughout the body. In addition, the needs of the mitochondria can be supported nutritionally.

When the amount of oxygen supplied to mitochondria is insufficient to meet the body’s energy needs, the mitochondria can implement the second method of energy production, which is anaerobic (non-oxygen dependent) metabolism. Increasing the volume of air moved, improving oxygen uptake by the red blood cells, and enhancing circulation will not boost anaerobic metabolism significantly. Supporting mitochondrial function can, however, increase anaerobic capacity.

The third method of producing energy is called the phosphagen system. This method of energy production is of very limited capacity and can only be maintained for approximately 8 to 10 seconds. It is beneficial to allow sudden exertion, but it cannot be relied upon to supply energy for sustained activity. Little, if anything, can be done to increase the efficiency of the phosphagen system.

The energy source common to all three methods is a substance called adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP is made up of one adenosine molecule to which three phosphate ions are attached. ATP contains large amounts of potential energy. This energy is released when phosphate ions are separated from ATP to produce either ADP (an adenosine with two phosphate ions attached) or AMP (an adenosine molecule with one phosphate attached).

When the body is relying upon the phosphagen system for energy production it is burning the ATP that is immediately available in its cells and ATP that can be created quickly from a substance called creatine phosphate. (Creatine phosphate is a naturally occurring substance and should not be confused with the creatine supplements advocated by some body builders.) Since cells can store limited amounts of ATP and creatine phosphate, the ability to produce energy in this manner is extremely limited.

Cells contain larger quantities of glycogen, a source of glucose that can be used to produce ATP without the use of oxygen. Glycogen stores are generally adequate to produce enough ATP to supply energy needs for approximately 1 ½ minutes. A byproduct of the conversion of glycogen to ATP in this manner is a substance called lactic acid.

Lactic acid is used to produce more ATP and fuel muscular activity. As long as adequate amounts of oxygen are available it is burned completely for energy or converted to glycogen for energy storage. When oxygen demands cannot be met, however, lactic acid accumulates.

The build-up of lactic acid in muscles causes them to become stiff and sore, forcing a decrease the intensity of the activity. The point at which lactic acid begins to accumulate is referred to as the lactic acid threshold.

As mitochondrial energy production becomes more efficient, the lactic acid threshold will rise. This can be increased by regularly participating in physical activities that push the body’s limits. This is why distance runners can improve their performance by incorporating short sprints into their training regimen. Supporting mitochondrial nutritional needs can augment the benefits of physical training.

One of the first mitochondrial supports to be introduced was ubiquinone, more commonly known as coenzyme Q10. Discovered in 1957, coenzyme Q10 is critical to the production of ATP. It acts as a transporter of electrons in the critical reactions that allow mitochondria to produce energy.

Coenzyme Q10 is manufactured by the body, but production begins to decline around the age of 30 and levels continue to fall as people age. Deficiencies of coenzyme Q10 are associated with a number of conditions including congestive heart failure, muscular dystrophy, gingivitis, and cancer. Supplementation of coenzyme Q10 is capable of producing dramatic results.

The severity of heart disease is commonly defined by determining an individual’s capacity to perform activity. Four functional classes exist. People with Class I disease are able to perform ordinary activities without difficulty. Those with Class II disease are comfortable at rest or with mild exertion, but cannot do many common activities, such as climbing stairs or walking across a parking lot, without experiencing shortness of breath or excessive fatigue. Class III disease is characterized by marked limitation of activity. Comfort is achieved only by remaining at rest. Individuals with Class IV disease are prone to symptoms such as shortness of breath even at rest and are unable to perform any physical activity.

In a University of Texas study involving 424 patients, 58 percent improved by one functional class, 28 percent by two classes, and 1 to 2 percent by three activity classes when given coenzyme Q10! Nearly 90 percent of them experienced a significant improvement in their quality of life. Not only were they able to significantly increase their physical activity, 43 percent were able to stop taking between 1 and 3 prescription drugs!

Consider what those results mean to individuals with heart disease. A one class improvement, achieved by over half of those taking coenzyme Q10, will allow a Class IV individual to go from being uncomfortable at rest to being completely free of symptoms at rest. A person with a Class II disability is able to resume normal activity. Imagine the experience of the individuals who move up three functional classes. Those people go from being uncomfortable at rest to being able to perform normal activities with ease!

L-carnitine is another nutrient that is helpful in improving energy production. L-carnitine is responsible for carrying fats, such as triglycerides, into the mitochondria where they can be converted to energy. This is important in all muscles, but it is especially important in the heart, since the heart relies more heavily upon fatty acids as its energy source than do other tissues. L-carnitine has been shown to improve recovery after intense exercise and to improve stamina and exercise capacity in people with ischemic heart disease. As beneficial as coenzyme Q10 or L-carnitine have proven to individuals with compromised mitochondrial function when given separately, the combination of the two often brings about even greater improvement.

Two other nutrients that have shown the ability to work together to support mitochondrial function are alpha ketoglutaric acid and L-malic acid. When anaerobic (low oxygen) conditions exist, these substances enhance the production of a chemical called succinate. When oxygen becomes available the mitochondria are able to use succinate to bypass a rate limiting step and rapidly increase the aerobic production of ATP. This translates into a more rapid recovery when oxygen levels are restored.

Increased succinate levels are believed to enhance athletic performance. Improved succinate availability has also been shown to reverse cases of respiratory failure and a condition known as MELAS (mitochondrial encephalopathy, lactic acidosis, and stroke-like episodes). Supplementation of alpha ketoglutaric acid and malic acid appears to be one of the most effective ways to increase mitochondrial succinate levels.

Alpha lipoic acid is receiving increasing attention as a mitochondrial support nutrient. Best known for its effectiveness as an antioxidant, alpha lipoic acid plays a significant role in mitochondrial production of ATP. Animal studies have demonstrated that it can reverse age-related mitochondrial decline. Activity levels in older animals, which were initially one-third that of younger counterparts, were significantly increased by alpha lipoic acid supplementation. In a separate study, the mitochondrial activity of liver cells, which declined in non-supplemented animals, remained steady in those receiving alpha lipoic acid.

Another substance, inosine, is believed to enhance mitochondrial energy production and improve the delivery of oxygen to body tissues. Claims associated with inosine supplementation have included increased energy levels, improved endurance, enhanced ATP production, increased oxygen delivery to tissues, reduced lactic acid accumulation in muscles, and improved muscle development.

Inosine is a building block of adenosine, the core molecule of ATP. It facilitates the use of carbohydrate by the heart muscle, making heart muscle less vulnerable to low oxygen states. Inosine also increases levels of 2,3 DPG, a compound found in red blood cells. 2, 3 DPG enhances the release of oxygen from the red cells to the body tissues. In addition it improves the removal of excess lactic acid from muscle cells.

While studies have not demonstrated an improvement in aerobic performance, inosine has been extensively used by world class power lifters and other strength athletes in Russia and the other former Eastern Block countries to increase their bodies’ oxygen-carrying capacity and improve muscle contraction. Inosine’s primary benefits relate to its ability to increase the body’s ability to handle strenuous exercise, intense training programs, and competitive events. By improving muscular energy production and the ability of red blood cells to transport oxygen, recovery times are significantly shortened. Inosine has anti-inflammatory effects, which may account for the finding that less muscle soreness and stiffness is experienced after intense muscular activity when it is a part of the training regimen.

Inosine is also being shown to be protective against nerve damage. It has been patented as a treatment for stroke, as inosine supplementation has been shown to facilitate the rewiring of the brain after injury. Studies of its effectiveness in slowing the progression of multiple sclerosis are promising.

Clearly, mitochondrial efficiency is critical to muscular performance and recovery from intense activity. Loss of mitochondrial function accounts for much of the loss of energy and vitality typically associated with aging. In addition, mitochondrial dysfunction is believed to play a role in the development of many diseases. Some include Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, amylotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease), Huntington’s disease, muscular dystrophy, drug-induced myopathy, myasthenia gravis, autism, attention deficit disorder, depression, bipolar disorder, cancer, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, atherosclerosis, ischemic heart disease, congestive heart failure, cardiomyopathy, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, asthma, COPD (emphysema), migraine, fibromyalgia, and chronic fatigue syndromes.

The leading cause of mitochondrial dysfunction is believed to be oxidative damage. Because of its ability to maintain levels of glutathione, an important mitochondrial antioxidant, N-acetyl cysteine helps maintain mitochondrial integrity. Animals supplemented with NAC maintained significantly higher mitochondrial function over time than non-supplemented controls. The NAC also protected cells from premature death. Ginkgo biloba is believed to prevent age-associated memory loss by this same mechanism.

Omega-3 fish oils have also been shown to be helpful in preventing age-related decline in mitochondrial function. This is now believed to be the major reason that omega-3 supplements protect heart function with aging and make the heart muscle less susceptible to damage from ischemia (lack of oxygen).

Because mitochondrial dysfunction is being recognized as a significant factor in the aging process and the development of degenerative diseases I have formulated a mitochondrial support product, which I have chosen to call Second Wind. Note:  Since this article was originally published the name of Second Wind has been changed to XTra Mile.  Second Wind contains coenzyme Q10, alpha lipoic acid, L-carnitine, alpha ketoglutaric acid, L-malic acid, and inosine. I did not include N acetyl cysteine, as it is found in significant amounts in my homocysteine lowering HCY Formula, nor did I include omega-3 oils as they must be taken separately to obtain the levels that are known to be effective in protecting mitochondria from damage.

A number of individuals agreed to take Second Wind to see if they would notice any change in their condition. The results to date have been as expected. An individual who did not have any condition that would limit oxygen availability or mitochondrial function and who was not exercising at maximal capacity could not detect any change in is exercise capacity or quality of life. I would have been surprised if he had reported dramatic results from the product.

On the other hand, individuals with conditions associated with an inability to provide optimum oxygen levels to their tissues, or who would be expected to have mitochondrial dysfunction have reported moderate to excellent improvement in their quality of life. Several individuals with lung disease have found that they are able to perform normal activities without huffing and puffing as they had been before taking the formulation.

Older individuals have experienced an increase in exercise capacity when using the supplement. An individual who had never been able to exercise because of muscle weakness was able to work out successfully while taking Second Wind. The muscle weakness returned within a few days of discontinuing its use. One individual was able to progress more quickly in cardiac rehabilitation that prior to beginning on the supplement. A man with ALS noted that he had more energy while using it.

Second Wind (XTra Mile) is now available. If you are functioning at a comfortable level, do not have any of the conditions in which mitochondrial dysfunction plays a role, and are not an athlete in training you are unlikely to notice any improvement in your quality of life by taking second wind. If, however, you are a competitive athlete there is a strong likelihood that you will be able to recover more quickly and experience less muscle soreness after an intense work-out. If you are growing older and noting a decline in your energy level, you should notice a greater spring in your step. If you have one of the conditions associated with mitochondrial dysfunction your quality of life should improve and you should be able to slow the progression of the disease. If you fit the criteria, it is time to catch your second wind.

© 2006 Wellness Clubs of


Receive the latest Wellness Updates and News.  Subscribe now at