If you've spent anytime in the world of fitness and health, you'll know that a word has become one of the most common busswords: supplements.
As athletes, fitness enthusiasts, and general health geeks strive to optimize their performance, the role of supplementation has started to gain popularity. Today, we are going to delve into the intricate landscape of supplements, highlighting potential benefits, considerations, and their potential role in supporting muscle growth, athletic performance and overall health.
Understanding Fitness Supplements:
Fitness supplements, sometimes also known as dietary supplements or health/wellness vitamins, encompass a massive array of products that are designed to complement or enhance a healthy lifestyle and fitness regimen.
Everything from a daily multi vitamin/mineral product to protein powders or performance enhancers, many supplement providers aim to bridge potential nutritional gaps and boost specific aspects of the mental and physical well-being of individuals.
The Versatility of Fitness Supplements:
Vitamins and Minerals:
One of the most common supplements that the general public uses is the basic daily multi-vitamin. A multi-vitamin (which also supplies minerals) may help address micronutrient deficiencies which may occur due to either diet restrictions or incredibly intense training routines.
A downside of a multi-vitamin is that it uses a broad brush stroke to try and address as many issues as possible, which isn't ideal for everyone. There are more targeted vitamin/mineral supplements that can help shore up your defenses, like vitamin D paired with calcium to support bone health or magnesium to help aid how your muscles function.
Protein supplements are a staple for muscle growth and recovery. Whey, casein, and plant-based proteins offer convenient sources of amino acids that aid muscle repair and growth.
As science has progressed, protein powders have as well, extending beyond just dairy and plant based proteins. There are many reputable brands out there that have egg based protein or even meat/beef based proteins that are better on certain peoples digestive systems.
Pre-Workouts and Performance Enhancers:
These supplements often contain ingredients like caffeine, creatine, and beta-alanine, which may enhance energy, strength, and endurance during workouts.
A good pre-workout formula isn't just limited to the AMOUNT of caffeine that is put into it, they are well formulated to focus on different branches of improvement. Some put a heavier emphasis on getting a great pump in your session, while others will put nu-tropics in, which helps increase mental clarity and focus.
It's always fun to try different training session combinations with different pre-workouts to see what works best for you.
Amino Acids and Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs):
Amino acid supplements can support muscle preservation, reduce exercise-induced fatigue, and aid in recovery.
There are also EAA's that people add to their intra-workout shakes that help keep them fueled and let their muscles continue to grow as they put their all into their training sessions.
Benefits and Considerations:
One of the biggest benefits that supplements can provide is to act as a valuable tool to fill in nutritional gaps, especially if you have specific dietary restrictions or preferences.
Many of these supplements, like a protein powder or iron vitamin, can help keep you strong and ready to go in and out of the gym.
However, we do recommend that you check into eating a healthy, balanced diet whenever possible. If you are wanting to learn more about healthy eating, take a look at our article HERE.
Another major advantage of supplements, like a protein or 'mass gainer' shake is that they offer a convenient way to consume nutrients when a balanced or well timed meal isn't feasible.
Many people on the go constantly with travel or work, who find it hard to get a minute to themselves may benefit from supplements as a way to ensure that they stick to their nutritional plan or for getting the most out of the training if that is their goal.
While these aren't perfect replacements, getting something into your system is better than going hungry and will always keep you trucking forward.
Some supplements are formulated to address specific fitness goals, such as muscle gain, endurance, or fat loss.
However, it's essential to approach supplements with caution and understanding. Supplements are not a substitute for a balanced diet, and they should be considered as part of an overall healthy lifestyle.
The Science Behind Supplements:
Scientific research plays a crucial role in evaluating the efficacy and safety of supplements. Studies published in reputable journals provide insights into the potential benefits of certain supplements:
A study in the "Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition" (2017) explored the effects of protein supplementation on muscle growth and recovery in resistance training.
Research published in the "Journal of the American Medical Association" (2019) analyzed the impact of vitamin and mineral supplements on overall mortality and cardiovascular disease risk.
Cermak, N. M., Res, P. T., de Groot, L. C., Saris, W. H., & van Loon, L. J. (2012). Protein supplementation augments the adaptive response of skeletal muscle to resistance-type exercise training: a meta-analysis. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 96(6), 1454-1464.
Jenkins, D. J., Spence, J. D., Giovannucci, E. L., Kim, Y. I., Josse, R. G., Vieth, R., ... & DASH Collaborative Research Group. (2019). Supplemental vitamins and minerals for CVD prevention and treatment. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 73(23), 3168-3176.
Making Informed Choices:
Making an informed decision about what you are putting into your body will always be of the utmost importance. So here are a few things to take into account when picking what to take or even if you SHOULD take supplements.
Consult a Professional:
We always recommend that before taking any new supplement that you consult either a healthcare provider, registered dietitian or read peer-reviewed articles to make sure that what you are looking to take is appropriate for you specifically.
Quality is king when it comes to supplements. It is up to you to pick a reputable brand that has undergone third-party testing to ensure purity and potency.
Some lesser known and even large brands have gotten away with lower quality products because of how they word their products, with one specific phrase leading to exaggerated/unsubstantiated claims: Proprietary Blend.
If a brand is unwilling to tell you exactly what is in their products, it is usually best to avoid them, because while they can say they have X supplement, it may not be in recommended or helpful doses.
Dosage and Timing:
It is recommended that you follow timing and dosage instructions on any supplements you are looking to take to avoid over-consumption and potential side effects.
Many supplements will have these recommendations right on the label to assist you in making a judgement call, or you can do a quick Google search to see if there is any information that you can find.
A lot of this will depend on bodyweight and other physiological factors so take to to understand yourself and the product.
When it comes to fitness supplements, they have massive potential to play a supporting role in your health journey, but should be approached with knowledge, caution and a focus on providing a balanced diet.
While many supplements can address specific nutritional needs or support your fitness and performance goals, they should never replace whole foods as the foundation of a healthy lifestyle.
What supplements do you regularly rotate into your nutritional program?