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Walking into a GNC completely clueless can be pretty intimidating. As you’re browsing the endless selections all you can think is, “What supplements should I take?” It’s a good question and one that most health-conscious people don’t know how to answer. Harvard Health noted that 114 million American adults take at least one type of supplement. That’s half the U.S. population!
From multivitamins to protein shakes and injections, it can be bewildering to know where to start. We at TheMindedAthlete understand how overwhelming it can be for new or even veteran athletes to determine what they need. Similar to the effort you put into each workout, you want to see results from supplements. But just as you wouldn’t jog to work your arms, each type of supplement has a specific purpose. For that reason, it’s important to know what those are.
What Supplements Should I Take?
Supplements come in a wide variety of formulations and make any number of claims. For example, supplements claim to help with everything from enhancing an athlete’s endurance to improving digestive health, increasing fertility, boosting weight loss, and increasing brain function. They are viewed as a way to “close the gap” that your diet may leave. Some think nutrition can only take you so far. National Institutes of Health (NIH) newsletter consultant Carol Haggens points out that healthy foods provide you with the nutrients you need, so you don’t have to take supplements.
Nutrition is at the forefront of reaching your athletic goals. Whether that’s training for the half marathon coming up in six months or making the varsity soccer team this year. The NIH summarized the importance of a healthy diet by putting emphasis on how much your body needs proper hydration and a nutritionally adequate diet. Something that no supplement can replace. Healthline agrees, stating there is plenty of evidence that supports the good a diet of healthy foods can do for your body. Nutrients found in wholesome food help prevent a variety of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.
Above all, supplements should not be a replacement for a healthy diet but rather added to it for maximum dietary benefits. For athletes and regular gym goers, sports supplements can be the catalyst to gain one more mile or one more rep. Which brings us back to our original question: What supplements should I take?
It all depends on what type of performance you’re looking to improve. In other words, what kind of athlete are you?
What supplements should I take: focus area
We’ve all heard the saying “some exercise is better than no exercise” — and it’s true. Just as some supplements can be better than no supplements. But be sure to have a focus area. Someone working on bodybuilding has drastically different supplemental needs than someone looking to shed a few pounds and get toned. Therefore, it only makes sense that you focus on taking the supplements for the specific results you’re trying to achieve. All the while maintaining a healthy diet.
Supplements meant for sports enhancement are different from one-size-fits-all multivitamins. Different vitamins do different things. Between the powders, capsules, bars, pills, and liquids, it can be a dizzying experience trying to figure out the difference. Especially if you have a GNC employee hungrily eyeing you from the next aisle over.
When you ask yourself, “What supplements should I take?” remember they can give you a decent boost towards fulfilling your physical goals. It’s also important to remember that sports supplements are not an all-powerful magic pill. Unfortunately, you’re not going to pack away some protein powder and wake up looking like Thor. Sorry.
Rather, think of it as a way of providing your body with a stepping stone to achieving optimal health that diet alone can’t provide. But there’s some debate over whether or not supplements actually work.
What Supplements Should I Take: The Breakdown
Dr. Thomas Sherman a professor of Pharmacology and Physiology at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, D.C. sheds some light on the effectiveness of supplements. He warns of the importance of not expecting “dramatic results” when taking them. A warning the NIH agrees with, citing that athletic performance will vary after supplement use. There are many factors that affect an athletes outcome including the level of training, how intense the activity is, the duration, and conditions of the environment. This also includes the athlete’s nutritional preparation and, of course, dietary supplements.
Certainly, you wouldn’t take a caffeine shot right before a yoga session. Similar to how you wouldn’t carb load before a 10K race. As stated earlier, if you’re going to go through the effort of taking supplements for specific outcomes, it’s important to make sure you’re making the correct choices.
We’ve done our homework and here are the results. We’ve narrowed down the sports supplements into the five critical intakes that those interested in improving their performance should consider.
Affectionately known as the “body-builder” supplement, creatine is first and foremost a chemical found in muscle cells. In case the name didn’t give it away, creatine is most commonly taken to help “create” muscle mass. It also occurs naturally in seafood and red meat.
Athletes who are vegetarians should consider this supplement if they’re looking to build muscle. Furthermore, according to experts, creatine is also said to have a positive effect on age-related muscle loss and combating disorders due to low creatine, including neurological diseases. It is also one of the few enhancements allowed by the International Olympic Committee.
After you’ve used creatine to build muscle, you’ll want to make sure you maintain it with appropriate doses of protein, in both food and supplement form. The Journal of Sports Science & Medicine conducted a study on the intake of protein. Individuals selected were those focusing on strength training. After receiving protein for an allotted amount of time they were tested. The study came back with positive results for better muscle protein synthesis and size gains. They were able to conclude that it’s clear that increased protein is beneficial to athletes.
There are many different types of protein powders on the market, all of which have a high concentrate of either animal or plant sources. The three different forms of powders are concentrates, isolates, and hydrolysates. The most commonly available proteins are whey, casein, egg, pea, hemp, brown rice, and mixed plant proteins.
Fish oils are next up in our quest to answer the question, “What supplements should I take?” Omega-3 fatty acids may sound more like a sorority house than a supplement. However, they are actually essential components for cellular health. In fact, one of these acids, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), is one our body cannot create. Meaning we can only get it from external sources: either the foods we eat or the supplements we take. The most common form of Omega-3 supplements is fish oil capsules.
In a study published in the Journal of Sports Medicine, eleven participants received Omega-3 in a specific dosage for a week. The study reported that the supplements decreased localized soreness that results from inflammation. Not only do Omega-3 fatty acids help reduce inflammation (something any type of athlete would benefit from), they also combat rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, and Crohn’s disease. Fair warning though: you’ll have fish-flavored burps for a few hours afterward.
Those who are familiar with any sort of exercise know all too well the burning sensation in your muscles. That feeling of you’ve given all that you can and there’s nothing left. That feeling is thanks to your muscles producing lactic acid. Beta-alanine is reported to help reduce the buildup of lactic acid, reducing muscle fatigue and preventing loss of force production. However, the research on the usefulness of beta-alanine as a supplement is modest at best.
Virginia Tech Human Nutrition professor, Janet Rankin Ph.D. points out that the studies for the type of benefits from Beta-alanine are still in their infancy, therefore not entirely conclusive. What they have been able to conclude is that Beta-alanine has, so far, shown improvement for athletes focused on anaerobic glycolysis. Such as cycling, running, and resistance exercises.
Athletes running long distances use up large amounts of energy over time and could potentially benefit from a caffeine supplement. Everybody knows drinking a steaming cup of coffee right before a soccer match isn’t ideal. Instead, you can ingest the caffeine as tablets, sports gels, or shots. The main benefit of caffeine is its ability to reduce your perception of pain and exertion. It also stimulates your nervous system. The caffeine will actually trick your body into thinking it’s more awake, accompanied by a boost of energy. Think of it as a tool for endurance athletes.
The NIH reviewed 33 studies on the effects of caffeine on athletes. They determined that caffeine improved performance in most athletes and a small number were impaired. Citing that there was an increase 17.3 percent for some and a decrease of 0.7 percent in others. Certain factors also came into play when affecting performance. Such as the timing of ingestion, the form of caffeine and how much the athlete generally ingests.
What Supplements Should I Take for Success?
So, the answer to the question, “What supplements should I take,” is simple: whatever you need to fill in the gaps of your diet as decided by your physician. Hippocrates left us with the notion that food should be the medicine that fuels our bodies. The human body thrives when treated with optimal health in mind. This includes a regular sleep cycle, healthy habits both physically and mentally, and of course proper nutrition and regular exercise. Proper nutrition and the use of supplements is key to achieving your best performances for any professional or recreational athlete.
Above all, at TheMindedAthlete we want you to look and feel your best. We know it can be difficult to figure out where to start. Understanding nutrition can be confusing. Especially when you are trying to maximize your results. With this new knowledge, you’ll be able to pinpoint what type of athlete you’re striving to become and what products will help get you there.