Although many athletes swear by their supplement routine and there are some that I personally recommend, let me begin by saying that supplements are just that—supplementary. Whether you’re working to lose weight, gain muscle, or just maintain energy and well-being in your day-to-day life, the majority of your diet should be made up of healthy, nutritious whole foods. No supplement can compensate for a poor diet or an unhealthy lifestyle. Any supplement you take should only be an addition to a healthy and well-planned nutrition program.
That said, there are supplements that can benefit your overall health and support your fitness goals. Here are the ones I suggest:
Protein is important in everyone’s diet and it’s best to get most of your protein from whole foods like lean meats, fish and eggs. However, protein shakes are a great way to help you stay compliant with your nutrition plan. On those days when you don’t want to eat or don’t have anything prepped, they can be a lifesaver. I tell my clients, “Better a protein shake than pizza & ice cream or skipping a meal.”
Shakes are so helpful because they are portable, they taste good, and you can’t screw them up – no calorie counting or label reading – just a quick meal on the go.
Make sure you do not replace all your meals with shakes, but use them as a helper to boost your protein intake. It will jump-start your efforts to lose fat or build surplus muscle.
Especially right now during the pandemic, while we are all cooped up at home, Vitamin D supplements are extremely important. Vitamin D is a driver for the human immune system and it can make an enormous difference in maintaining control of your health. A daily supplement helps to bridge the gap between how much Vitamin D your body needs and all that sunlight you’re not getting while you stay isolated at home.
Vitamin K is important for your general health. It helps your body build special proteins that are essential to help your blood clot normally and to build healthy bones. These proteins also help prevent the hardening of your arteries that can lead to heart disease.
Although Vitamin K is produced naturally in your body, it is also broken down very quickly and passes in your urine and stool. You can get Vitamin K in green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale, but it’s difficult to get enough of this micro-nutrient through diet alone.
Vitamin K works together with Vitamin D, so they should be taken together.
Fish oil is a good source of Omega-3 fatty acids, which are beneficial for your heart, joints, and muscle recovery. They can lower the level of triglycerides in your blood, which can reduce your risk for heart disease.
Eating salmon, cod, and other fish is great, but it can be difficult to get enough Omega-3s through food. Even if you did manage to eat that much fish, remember that we live in a polluted world. Whether it’s wild or farm-raised, fish often has heavy metal contamination or some kind of organic pesticide contamination. Therefore, I take an Omega-3 supplement and recommend it to my clients.
The main reason for taking glutamine is that it helps your body recover from your workouts. Glutamine is an amino acid, one of the building blocks your body uses to make proteins. These proteins are used throughout your body to build muscle, transport nutrients, and support your immune system.
Your body produces glutamine naturally, but sometimes it can’t produce as much as it needs, especially when you are healing from an injury or illness. Glutamine is the main source of fuel for immune cells like white blood cells and certain cells in your digestive system. When your body needs more glutamine than it has circulating in your blood, it can break down muscle in order to release it. Taking glutamine can help reduce this breakdown and ease the soreness and fatigue you feel after exercise.
Creatine is frequently recommended for improving workout performance. It helps athletes gain more muscle mass and strength, speeds up their recovery, and helps them work harder at the gym.
Creatine occurs naturally inside your muscles. It helps your muscles produce more energy by forming a compound called ATP. Your muscles burn ATP very quickly when they’re working at maximum intensity and when they run out, you lose energy. Creatine supplements make more ATP available to your muscles so you can maintain your maximum effort longer. You’ll be able to do more reps of heavy lifting or longer intervals of high-intensity work.
Creatine also helps your muscles recover faster from your workouts because it prevents some of the muscle breakdown that normally occurs. In addition to improving the effectiveness of your workouts, Creatine also has protective effects in your brain and can help reduce issues like high blood sugar, diabetes, and fatty liver disease.
As you’ve seen, supplements can support your body inside and outside the gym. I wouldn’t say you absolutely have to use them, but now that you know what they have to offer, you can choose whether they are right for you.
However, before you go let me warn you: stay away from protein bars. It may say on the label that they contain 25 grams of protein, but sometimes that measure is bogus. Some companies add biologically useless proteins like collagen and gelatin to bump-up their numbers. I wrote earlier about protein bars so you can learn more about what’s really in them and why they don’t compare, gram-per-gram, to the benefits you’d get from lean meats or whey.
If you’re curious about collagen, stay tuned, because later this month I’ll explain why it’s not a good replacement for dietary protein, but what it’s actually good for and how to best use it.
Until then, eat well, work hard, and enjoy your body!