Written by Sarah Loogman
When it comes to the world of supplements, there is an overwhelming stack of pills and powders lining the shelves that advertise great promise of weight loss, muscle gain and more. The newly inspired fitness activist or big dream athlete often get lost or misguided in how or what to supplement, leading to confusion, wasted paychecks, and half used bins and bottles tucked away in the back of cabinets and drawers.
Before anyone considers supplementation, they should ensure that they are making meaningful efforts in proper nutrition and hydration. Supplements should be considered exactly according to their name and should only “supplement” what cannot be adequately supplied through common practices of diet. With these things considered, however, here are the top supplements recommended for fitness athletes and enthusiasts seeking higher levels of performance and well balanced health.
Fish oil is a concentrated source of omega-3 fats and is one of the most popular and well-used supplements for good reason. Omega-3 fats have incredible anti-inflammatory properties without the negative side effects of common pharmaceuticals or over the counter medications. Rob Wolf, among other fitness experts, recommends .5 grams of omega-3 per 10lbs of bodyweight, although additional stressors such as high-intensity exercise, lack of sleep or poor diet may constitute dosages of up to .75-1.0 grams per 10lbs of bodyweight. Not all fish oils are the same, however. The quality of the supplement depends on the size, type and/or natural habitat of the fish used as well as how it was processed. Look for a cGMP seal and brands that use smaller, cold-water fish such as anchovies or sardines versus larger fish such as tuna or those harvest in warm water. Labels will also state impurities – look for measures in parts per billion, not million.
Despite it’s popularity in the bodybuilding scene, the incredible benefits of creatine seem to still be diminished or left undiscovered by many in performance athletics. Creatine is naturally found in the body and in some dietary sources, however, these measures are fairly low which is why this is one of the most commonly used and suggested supplements. Creatine helps rebuild adenosine triphosphate (ATP) which is the body’s main source of energy. Adenosine diphosphate results from the breakdown of ATP and if creatine sources in the body are depleted, the ability for the body to reform ADP to ATP becomes impossible. There are many marketed types of creatine, but the most well researched and consistently proven to be most effective is creatine monohydrate. Supplementation recommendations for athletes may range from 10-20 grams per day, depending on the size of the athlete.
Deficiencies in vitamin D can have negative effects on athletic performance and cause feelings of sluggishness and slow rates of physical recovery. Vitamin D is necessary for optimal muscle and skeletal function and has even been shown to improve oxygen uptake. Vitamin D, which is technically not considered a vitamin, is naturally absorbed by the body through sunlight but even a full day in the sun will not likely provide an athletic individual with optimal levels of this hormone. Healthy levels of Vitamin D also promote better absorption of calcium to keep bones healthy and strong. Vitamin D is best taken at night as it can help promote better sleep, just as we tend to rest best after a long day in the sun.
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)
CoQ10 is a disease fighting antioxidant that is naturally occurring in the body. Antioxidants are used by the body to combat free radicals. The presences of free radicals may be increased through high intensity physical exertion so supplementing a compound such as CoQ10 can help in cell growth and maintenance. Potential side effects are mild insomnia with higher dosages. CoQ10 is best taken at separate times from fish oil, as the oil will actually inhibit the absorption rate.
Protein is imperative to muscle repair and growth. Lean protein sources should be a priority to athletes, but most may find it difficult to reach adequate levels of protein through dietary sources alone so protein supplements can ensure proper muscle repair. The body can only digest a certain amount of protein at a time, so servings of 20-30g at a time are best for maximal absorption and reduction of body fat. Taken immediately post workout, protein can greatly reduce the presence of cortisol stress hormones,
Even small deficiencies of magnesium in the body can cause negative impacts on athletic performance. Magnesium is significant in energy production and high-intensity sport athletes are often at a deficit in this key mineral. Magnesium is responsible for many functions of the body including energy production, muscle relaxation, muscle contraction, oxygen consumption, brain and cardiac activity and metabolism. Sedentary individuals are recommended dosages of 600mg per day, but hard training athletes may need to take up to 2,000mg per day and would be best supplemented immediately post workout on an empty stomach.
Supplements should be exactly that, supplements to your diet. Don’t put the carriage before the horse and ignore the basics of proper nutrition, hydration and sleep. When your wellness is balanced, however, these supplements can help get the most out of your performance and optimize your human function and health so that you are better adapted and better recovered to the demands of your training.