Whether you are new to the gym or an athlete that has been playing a sport for years, what you consume plays an important role in how you fuel and recover from your workouts (learn more about the best foods for pre- and post- workout nutrition here). You should aim to meet your daily nutrient and energy needs from whole foods. However, the use of supplements could help take your fitness goals to the next level. Here are ten of the best supplements for athletes:
Caffeine is a nervous system stimulant that naturally occurs in plants such as tea leaves, coffee beans, and cacao plants. In the fitness community, caffeine is commonly found in pre-workout and energy drinks. It can produce an ergogenic effect, making it popularly used by athletes to influence and enhance physical performance and outcomes. The ergogenic effects held by caffeine can be especially beneficial when participating in endurance activities. Caffeine has a direct effect on adipose and peripheral vascular tissues. It also has indirect effect of stimulating epinephrine release. The release of epinephrine helps promote the use of fatty acids as fuel during moderate to high intensity exercise. This allows for glycogen in the liver and muscles to be spared for later use and assists intense endurance performance.
2. Protein Powder
Protein is a macronutrient that is essential in helping rebuild the damage done to your muscles during exercise. There are two sources of protein, animal protein and plant protein. Examples of animal protein include meat, fish, eggs, and poultry. Sources of plant-based protein include edamame, tofu, seeds, and nuts. Animal protein sources are “complete” or “high-quality” protein sources because they contain all nine essential amino acids. Plant-based proteins are not high quality and are “incomplete” proteins, unless you combine different sources to obtain all nine amino acids.
Consuming high-quality protein for both pre- and post-workout nutrition can help build muscle more rapidly. For this reason, protein powder has become a very popular supplement. There are various protein powder supplements on the market, but whey protein is one of the most beneficial for athletes. Whey protein contains a high amount of leucine, an essential amino acid shown to help with muscle anabolism/synthesis.
Recommendations for protein consumption includes eating 20-30 g of protein per meal, spread consecutively throughout the day. The RDA for protein is 0.8-1.0 g/kg a day. However, if you actively participate in endurance or resistance training, you may require up to 2.0 g/kg of protein a day.
BCAA’s are branched chain amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. There are 20 different amino acids that help make up the human body. Nine of these twenty are essential and therefore must come from the foods we eat. Three of these nine amino acids are considered branched chain amino acids. These amino acids are named after their chemical structure and include leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Foods that are rich in these amino acids include dairy, eggs, and meat. Studies show that supplementing your diet with BCAA’s, along with participating in resistance training can help decrease muscle soreness and increase muscle growth. Other benefits of BCAA’s include improving energy levels, decreasing fatigue during exercise, increasing power output, and improving post-workout muscle recovery.
Creatine is one of the best supplements for athletes. It is a safe and natural supplement that has been widely studied, with creatine monohydrate being the most studied form. Creatine is derived from amino acids and stored in our muscles and brain. Foods such as seafood and red meat are rich in creatine. Creatine is also synthesized in the pancreas, liver, and kidneys. Supplementing creatine into your diet can help provide short bursts of energy to athletes. Creatine supplementation allows our bodies to produce more ATP for energy during high intensity exercise. Studies also show that supplementation of just five to seven days can cause an increase in muscle size and lean body mass. Current recommendations state to take three to five grams of creatine for about 4 weeks in order to fully saturate the muscles.
Beta-alanine is a non-essential amino acid that combines with histidine to form a dipeptide known as carnosine. Carnosine is stored in the body’s muscles and acts as an intracellular buffer to help reduce muscle fatigue during exercise. The supplementation of beta-alanine can help increase the level of carnosine in the body. By increasing carnosine stores, the incidence of muscle fatigue is reduced and athletes are able to train more intensely for longer periods of time. This improvement in physical performance can also cause an increase in muscle mass and strength.
Beta-alanine may cause a tingling sensation throughout the body, known as “paresthesia”. Paresthesia is not a severe side effect and usually only lasts a few minutes. Recent studies have shown that 3-6 grams a day for at least 4 weeks is most beneficial to see performance benefits.
L-glutamine is a non-essential amino acid that is stored within the muscles and released into the blood stream when we experience physical stress. This includes high-intensity resistance training and long-distance endurance exercise that depelets L-glutamine levels. L-glutamine has many roles within the body but two of its main functions include improving immune system function and being a glycogenic amino acid. Being a glycogenic amino acid, L-glutamine can undergo the process of glycogensis. Glycogenesis is the process of converting amino acids into glycogen to use as energy when glucose stores in the body are low.
A study in 2019 also explored the potential benefits of supplementing L-glutamine to help combat fatigue in athletes. This study found that L-glutamine supplementation decreased fatigue markers and increased glycogen production in the body. L-glutamine is naturally found in foods like chicken, beef, eggs, dairy, beets, and peanuts, but they can also be taken as a supplement. Click here to get yours today!
L-carnitine is a compound made from the essential amino acid lysine and methionine. It is a form of carnitine located within skeletal and cardiac muscle. Studies have found that L-carnitine is beneficial in increasing oxygen consumption by improving blood flow within the body and reducing carbon dioxide waste produced. For this reason, L-carnitine may be especially beneficial for endurance athletes by improving performance capacity and reducing fatigue. L-carnitine is also widely popular for its weight loss effects. Supplementation of L-carnitine has been seen to cause weight loss through its mechanism of transporting fatty acids into the mitochondria where fat is then used as energy. This saves glycogen stores for later use and improves insulin response. L-carnitine also has a role in the regulation of metabolic pathways that promote muscle protein synthesis, prevent muscle atrophy, and assist in muscle repair and recovery.
L-carnitine has a dosage recommendation of about 500 mg – 3g a day. Supplementation may cause mild side effects such as nausea, diarrrhea, and abdominal cramps. Consult your physician before supplementing with L-carnitine if you take blood thinners, such as Coumadin, due to its potential to increase the effects of these medications.
L-dopa is a compound that converts to dopamine within the brain. It has the potential to increase dopamine neurotransmission by crossing the blood-brain barrier. L-dopa, also known as Levodopa, is commonly used to treat symptoms that affect motor movement in Parkinson’s disease. Parkinson’s disease occurs when there is a loss of 80% or more in the levels of dopamine within the brain. L-dopa forms through a chemical reaction that converts the amino acid tyrosine into L-dopa.
Besdies treating Parkinon’s disease, L-dopa has benefits that can be useful to athletes. These benefits include naturally boosting testosterone levels through dopamine’s ability to inhibit prolactin and increasing the production of human growth hormone (HGH) that may help in the development and growth of muscle, improving mental awareness, and increasing motivation. Mucuna pruriens is a herbal supplement that has high levels of L-dopa. This supplement has the potential to reduce stress, anxiety, improve mood, focus, and libido. L-dopa is classified as a “nootropic” and can be found within different pre-workout supplements or added into your routine separately. Get your L-dopa supplement here.
Ashwaganda is a very important herb in an alternative form of medicine that comes from Indian principles, called Ayurveda. It is a natural herb that has the potential to reduce stress, improve focus, and increase energy levels. Aside from these benefits, ashwaganda may also have benefits on athletic performance. One systematic review focusing on the benefits of ashwaganda shows a VO2 max and strength increase after a couple weeks of supplementation. VO2 max is an important factor in athletics and refers to the amount of oxygen a person consumes during intense physical activity. Ashwaganda may also increase testosterone levels in men, which can in turn contribute to building muscle mass. Dosage recommendations for ashwaganda range from 250-1,250 mg a day.
10. Functional Mushrooms
Functional mushrooms, also known as medicinal mushrooms, have many benefits for overall health. Mushrooms are fungi, and their uses include culinary or health and wellness purposes. Functional mushrooms come in a variety of forms including capsules, powders, or in drinks and pre-workout supplements. They may help enhance athletic performance by containing nutrients that can help promote the delivery of more oxygen into cells.
Cordyceps is a very popular mushroom for improving sports performance and is what the Chinese women’s long-distance running team accredits their 1993 Olympic wins to. Cordyceps improves blood circulation and aerobic capability in endurance athletes by delivering oxygen rich-blood to cells and supporting the production of ATP for energy. There are also other mushrooms, like Chaga, that have benefits for athletic recovery. Chaga is a mushroom rich in antioxidants that can help fight oxidative stress and free-radicals found within the body. Learn more about the benefits of antioxidants here.
If you are looking to get the most out of your workouts and improve your physical performance, you may consider adding supplements into your daily regimen. Focusing on nutrition and exercise is important but through the use of supplements, you could further increase muscle mass, strength, reduce fatigue, and improve recovery time. These the 10 best supplements for athletes looking to take their training to the next level. Make sure to click HERE for a full list of the supplements brands I recommend!*
This article and these recommendations are for educational purposes only. Please contact your health provider before taking any supplements.
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