Confused when it comes to supplements? You’re not alone. Supplements are big business and it’s easy to get caught up in slick marketing that takes a toll on your wallet. But there are benefits to aiding a well-rounded diet and, with the right supplements, you can improve energy, recovery, overall health and performance.
There are generally two camps when it comes to supplements: those who think they’re all a waste of time and money and those who think they’re just one or two products away from reaching the next level.
Neither of them are right of course. The answer falls somewhere in the middle. Supplements are not a quick fix or a cure-all and not all brands are created equal. (There is no FDA regulation in regards to what actually goes in that bottle you buy or what the outside label says!) But it’s also nearly impossible to get to some of the recommended levels of vitamins and minerals without supplementing and there have been studies to back up positive performance and health benefits of certain supplements.
With the help of the experts over at IN3 Nutrition (and some of our own research) here is a look at what you need, what to try and what you may want to pass on.
(Disclaimer: It’s important to note that science and research is ongoing and always changing and this is not a medical prescription designed to cure anyone. Consult with your nutrition coach/doctor/dietician before making any drastic changes.)
Where to Spend Your Money…
How’s your Omega 6:3 ratio? For most of us with modern Western diets, the balance is way off as we’re consuming an inordinate amount of Omega 6s (vegetable oils, cheaply processed meats, salad dressings, nuts and seeds, etc.) causing an inflammatory response in the body. Fish oil helps reduce this ratio, thus reducing information by giving our body some much-needed Omega 3. W
e discussed the issues with excessive inflammation before.
The key in selecting a good fish oil is looking at the quantity of EPA/DHA. IN3 recommends a dose of .25g EPA/DHA per 10lb. of bodyweight.
Magnesium is cheap, readily available and can be a game-changer for athletes who have trouble sleeping, recovering and maintaining energy levels. Why is it so critical for athletes?
Magnesium —found in leafy greens and seafood— allows muscles to contract and relax properly, reduces blood pressure, regulates heart rhythm and is necessary to produce ATP. But as athletes, we burn through our levels quicker, making magnesium supplementation essential for overall health and performance. (More details and recommendations here.)
VITAMINS C & D
Vitamin D is incredibly low in most athletes, making supplementation necessary given it’s link to improved performance and recovery. It also helps regulate your hormones.
Dosage will vary but athletes typically require more -much more— than the average recommendation. IN3 recommends anywhere from 2,000-5,000 daily units as a safe, effective dose.
As for Vitamin C, you’ve likely heard about its effect on our immune system and overall health. It’s also been linked to cortisol regulation and —like magnesium— is almost impossible to get solely from food.
Take at night and make sure you are taking a non-acidic, buffered form to avoid an upset stomach. Or another option is to invest in a a good multi-vitamin to hit C & D at once.
Creatine is safe, cheap, effective and has been studied a ton. No, ladies, it won’t make you bulk up. It has been shown to increase power output but you have to be consistent with it so it gets into your skeletal muscle. It’s tasteless so throw 3-5 g into your pre or post workout shake.
Creatine Monohydrate is the ONLY form of creatine that has been extensively tested and deemed safe, absorbable into your muscle cells and effective in performance and body composition. Other forms (such as HCL) don’t have the same amount of research or support these claims. So make sure you are using the monohydrate form.
Not Essential But Still Important…
We’ve written in depth about the effects of CBD and if it were cheaper we’d probably push it up higher. High-quality emp extract oil is rich in phytocannabinoids and used to help support calm and focus, and—what’s of particular interest to athletes—recovery from exercise-induced inflammation. As a supplement, CBD oil is a natural source of Vitamins A, C, E, magnesium and several other essential nutrients.
You get what you pay for when it comes to CBD oil so do your research on THC count. Individual needs vary but you should start small and work your way up in dosage as tolerated. We like to take it at night to aid sleep.
Gut health is a big buzz word right now and rightfully so. If you aren’t keeping your digestive system healthy, your immune system and energy levels are going to suffer. And, once again, poor health is a huge factor in excessive inflammation. What you want is a high quality probiotic that has at least 5 billion CFU and is multi-strain.
Think of this as helping to align and restore your system. Here’s a good example.
Zinc is the second biggest mineral deficiency after magnesium and has some terrific benefits for athletes, including aiding in muscle repair and hormone production. Take it in the morning. (We don’t suggest pairing it with Vitamin C or Magnesium –like brands often do– for that reason.)
If Money Isn’t An Issue…
This hasn’t really been shown to aid performance, but glutamine has had positive effects on the GI system. If you’re on the fence about glutamine, don’t think about it for it’s recovery benefits. Think about it as an aid for gut health.
If you’re taking a probiotic and other steps to keep your gut in check, though, glutamine isn’t essential.
The reality is HMB has to be taken in very high doses to see any kind of result. If you can afford taking 6-8g daily, which is what IN3 recommends, HMB —a metabolite of leucine— can help reduce the rate of muscle damage and breakdown as well as increase the rate of protein synthesis.
It’s great for when you’re injured and returning to training. But taking such large doses can be a hit on your wallet.
Most people can get enough BCAAs from protein-rich foods and their post-workout shake. (If yours doesn’t, it’s time to upgrade.) So supplementing with additional BCAAs isn’t essential for an athlete, though they may help you if you workout fasted (morning training for example) or are in a caloric deficit. BCAAs help with lean tissue acquisition.
If you like the taste and need a little buzz, a lot of people have preworkout powders in their gym bags to power them through a training session. Be careful here though as a lot of version have fillers and artificial colors in what mainly boils down to caffeine and BCAAs. (Here’s one with minimal fuss.)
You also want to be smart with dosage. If you’re working out late in the evening you need to assess how long those stimulants are going to be working and either adjust the dose or not use them at all if it’s going to effect your sleep.