Choline – Benefits for endurance sports

Choline – Benefits for endurance sports

Despite needing a very low dose of this substance, a choline deficiency can have serious consequences. In fact, it can trigger neuronal problems, such as cognitive deterioration. That is why so many people use it as a supplement for the memory.

What is choline?

It plays a main role in many physiological pathways, including the synthesis of neurotransmitters (acetylcholine). The signalling of the cell membrane (phospholipids) and lipid transport (lipoproteins) among others. Endurance exercise could enhance some of these pathways, increasing the choline demand as a metabolic substrate.

In addition, it is an important micronutrient for everyone’s health, from sedentary people to elite athletes. It is available in many foods and we can synthesize limited amounts of choline from endogenous sources.

The body can produce small amounts of this essential nutrient.

To do so, it needs to have enough amino acids, specially lysine and methionine, vitamin B12 and folic acid, which is quite weird.

Choline and Endurance Sports

The current research has observed that exhausting exercises like a marathon can trigger a considerable short-term choline loss

Food sources

Although the body can synthesize choline from the food we eat, it is never enough to meet our requirements. That is why it is advisable to meet this lack with dietary supplements. The functioning of this nutrient is quite similar to that of a vitamin.

Eggs are an excellent source of choline, a precursor form of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. A proper supply of choline protects the nerve cells and stimulates the proper functioning of the brain.

This fatty substance forms part of all the body cells and it is essential for our health.

It tends to be called “fat burner” because it helps to lose fats. Moreover, it also prevents them from accumulating in organs or blood vessels by keeping them in a liquid state.

Simultaneously, it provides essential fatty acids to the cells. In addition, it plays an important role in the structure and functioning of cell membrane signals.


It is water soluble nutrient that is essential for our health, it is similar to vitamins, and it is present in many foods. Actually, its function is similar to that of vitamin B12 and it is a component from lecithin and the neurotransmitter acetylcholine.


Its role in our body is quite complex. It plays a functional and structural role in the cells. Free choline can be inside the cells or in the bloodstream. Thus, it plays an important role when it comes to providing a substrate for cell processes, including the synthesis of acetylcholine. A normal concentration of free choline would be around 10-15 nmol/ml. However, this value can be significantly higher after taking choline supplementation.

Choline Properties for the body

On the other hand, bound choline is choline performing its structural function. Thus, it binds to cell membranes, lipoproteins, cell signalling proteins and other biological molecules.


The role of this nutrient in the body is very complex because it can be metabolized with other compounds.

Moreover, the liver can produce it due to the enzyme phosphatidylethanolamine.

For example, these are some of the functions of choline in the metabolism:

  • When combined with acetic acid, it produces acetylcholine, an important neurotransmitter
  • It is a phosphorylate or phosphocholine, a basic element for phospholipids such as phosphatidylcholine. These elements make up the cell membranes and they are essential to transmit signals in said membranes
  • Also, it is involved in the development of acetylcholine receptors
  • It helps with the lipid transport
  • When it oxidizes, it becomes betaine, an important element for the methyl metabolism (homocysteine reduction)
  • Choline also plays an important role in the fat metabolism and other metabolic and detox reactions

The importance of choline for athletes

Properties and benefits

  • Improving the functioning of nerve signals and memory. Acetylcholine controls the mood, emotions and behavior. Moreover, it is also necessary for muscle stimuli, which is why it is involved in vital functions like breathing, heartbeat, blood pressure control, or metabolic processes in general
  • Supporting the synthesis of myelin, a substance that protects the nerves. Therefore, it helps to protect the nervous system
  • Helping with the synthesis of several hormones and enzymes, for instance, melatonin. Moreover, it is involved in the creatine metabolism
  • Transporting fat (triglycerides) from the liver to those areas of the body that need energy. Without enough choline, this vital process stops and the liver accumulates a high fat content. Consequently, it is not capable of performing its detox function on the body
  • Reducing the symptoms of asthma
  • Enhancing the muscle function and improving the mental energy, focus and concentration. It can shorten the time it takes to process movements, enhancing the physical performance.

More benefits:

  • Another property of choline consists of improving the detoxification of chemical products and contaminants. For instance, it helps to excrete the remains of heavy metals, alcohol and drugs
  • It improves the metabolism of fats by transporting the triglycerides and other fats to the tissues. Moreover, it prevents the breakdown of fat and reduces the damage to the liver
  • The choline requirements are higher during pregnancy, since its deficiency can cause fat deposits in the liver
  • Choline is necessary for the proper functioning of the brain. Lecithin and choline increase the acetylcholine levels in the brain and help to enhance the memory. Moreover, they prevent the onset of Alzheimer and other problems that occur with low acetylcholine levels. In addition, choline helps to reduce the stress due to its function as a neurotransmitter
  • It prevents the nervous system disorders and movements disorders caused by acetylcholine irregularities in the brain. Moreover, it also prevents the onset of kidney stones
  • Choline also makes up part of the structure of cell membranes from the entire body while protecting the nerve cells, brain and bone marrow
  • Other benefits of choline consist of reducing the bad cholesterol levels and triglycerides, increasing the HDL cholesterol and avoiding the cholesterol deposits and kidney stones
  • It reduces the risk of suffering atherosclerosis
  • Another effect would be the fact that it regulates the blood pressure. In fact, choline also strengthens the blood vessels and helps to treat tinnitus

Use of choline during physical exercise

The choline metabolism during physical exercise could be altered through several hypothetical mechanisms:

Acetylcholine synthesis

Low concentrations of free choline are associated with a weakened impulse transmission and the deterioration of the skeletal muscle performance. Since choline is an important component of the acetylcholine neurotransmitter, a low free choline could significantly reduce the acetylcholine synthesis. This low acetylcholine production could affect the muscle performance, since it inhibits the ability of the motor neuron to communicate with motor plaque in the muscle excitation-contraction.

Integrity of the cell membrane

Choline could also be added as a phospholipid (phosphatidylcholine) in the cell membranes. The body will take phosphatidylcholine located on the cell membranes when facing a prolonged deficiency. However, this will comprise the integrity of the membrane, allowing the intra-membrane materials from escaping to the surrounding liquid. In fact, increasing the serum phosphokinase creatine that escapes from the porous muscle membranes can be a way of diagnosing a choline deficiency. Consequently, this can also reduce the mechanical stress that these cells can deal with, resulting in muscle damage that could be connected to muscle fatigue, similar to the one caused by a lower acetylcholine availability.

Choline improves the cognitive performance

Changes in free choline concentrations during exercise

In general, free choline concentrations drop during high endurance exercise. Perhaps, the loss of free choline is not connected to the type of exercise, rather, it is due to its duration and intensity. Therefore, long exercises at low intensity or short exercises at high intensity seem not to be enough to spend the free choline concentrations under basal levels. Consequently, to reduce its blood levels significantly, we would have to perform a relatively long exercise (> 2h) at a relatively high intensity (>70% VO2max).

Learn more about the role of Choline and Inositol by clicking here

Choline in terms of nutrition

These are some of the best sources of choline (choline concentration in milligrams per 100 grams of product):

  • Egg yolk: 680
  • Beef liver: 418
  • Chicken liver: 290
  • Wheat Germ: 152
  • Bacon: 125
  • Dry soy: 116
  • Pork Meat: 103
  • Other products rich in choline are: cod, chicken, milk, soy lecithin, cauliflower, spinach, amaranth, quinoa and beans.

People have different needs through their lives when it comes to the daily dose of this nutrient. On the other hand, each person has their own genetic features that may involve a higher or lower need of this nutrient.

It is very difficult to get what the body needs only through food. That is why, apart from taking care of our health, it is also advisable to take choline dietary supplements to prevent a deficiency of this essential nutrient.


Choline supplementation will help you keep normal physiological concentrations of this substance. A study assessed the effect of choline supplementation on the endurance performance of individuals who experienced a significant loss of free choline. The researchers observed how taking 2.8g of choline citrate one hour before and in the middle of a 20 miles race, managed to keep the plasma choline levels. On the other hand, these concentrations dropped in those who took a placebo. The participants who took the supplement also run faster during the race.

Choline supplementation and Running

Recommended Dose

The recommended dose of this nutrient is 550 milligrams for men and 425 milligrams for women.

We suggest taking it with a meal in order to enhance its effects.

Pregnant and lactating women can increase the intake of this substance up to 550 milligrams because their needs are higher.

This those is an approximation and it is always meant for healthy people. In any case, you have to read the information of each product and take the recommended dose.

In general, the maximum dose cannot be higher than 3.5 grams daily.


This nutrient is usually combined with inositol, which is a “pseudo-vitamin from the B group”. Nevertheless, it is essential for our physical and mental functioning and our health.

The recommended daily dose of inositol is the same as choline, around 500mg daily.

Inositol is one of the main components of the cell membrane. Therefore, it is very important for all the tissues of our body. Moreover, it is essential for a proper lipid metabolism, regulating the cholesterol levels and preventing the accumulation of fat in the liver.

Like choline, inositol has a strong connection to the functioning of the brain. In fact, it is very important in terms of neurotransmitter synthesis (mainly acetylcholine and serotonin). In addition, inositol helps to regulate the mood and provides cognitive support.

You can visit the HSN online store in the following link to purchase choline supplement

Choline improves the functioning of the brain

Side effects

A high dose (over 8-20g/day) can produce an unpleasant body smell, like rotten fish.

This smell disappears as long as we stop taking it. Moreover, a choline overdose over ten grams daily can trigger other symptoms, like vomits, increased salivation and hypotension.

That’s not all, an excess over 3 grams daily can cause itchiness, tinnitus or, sometimes, liver damage.

Some people suffer trimethylaminuria disorder (fish smell syndrome) and they cannot process choline properly. This is due to a trimethylamine deficiency, which is why they have to be more careful when taking it.


  • The current research emphasizes the importance of choline for the proper functioning of the body. It seems that having proper concentrations is necessary for an optimal cognitive and muscle performance.
  • In long and exhausting efforts, the free choline levels could drop under basal concentrations.
  • Choline supplementation can help to improve the performance and prevent this drop.


  1. Warber, J.P., Patton, J.F., Tharion, W.J., Zeisel, S.H., Mello, R.P., Kemnitz, C.P., et al. (2000). The effects of choline supplementation on performance. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 10, 170–181.
  2. Zeisel, S.H. (1994). Choline: Human requirements and effects on human performance. In B.M. Shils (Ed.), Food components to enhance performance (pp. 381–405). Washington, DC: National Academies Press.
  3. Jason, T., Penry and Melinda M., Manore. (2008). Choline: an important micronutrient for maximal endurance-exercise performance?. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism. (18, 191-203).

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About Paloma Sala
Paloma Sala
Paloma Sala is an athlete in continuous training to give the best of herself, who has been practising and competing in athletics for more than 20 years.
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