Over the years I have fielded a lot of questions regarding supplements. Everyone seems to be looking for that training edge and for a magic pill that will allow them to achieve all of their training goals and dreams. Let me be clear – there is no magic pill you can buy over the counter. If something really works it is illegal or banned. End of story.
That said, athletes can be deficient in many vitamins and minerals because a typical modern diet won’t fulfill an athlete’s needs. Athletes need more vitamins and minerals than an average person. There are some vitamins and minerals that can help an athlete stay healthy and strong while building a solid performance platform.
A strong pyramid of performance is built on a foundation of health and wellness.
I have compiled a list of five basic supplements that have been shown to help with health and immunity. These are vitamins and minerals I take regularly. None of them are magic and none of them focus directly on performance. These promote general health and will help you recover better, sleep better, and have a strong immune system – all important aspects of training.
All of these supplements are completely legal, relatively inexpensive, and have little- to-no health risk associated with them when used correctly. These supplements are not in any particular order of importance. They are simply what I take regularly.
Supplement #1: Vitamin D
Almost every cell in our body has a vitamin D receptor. Without enough vitamin D in the body, calcium cannot be absorbed. Calcium is essential for signaling between brain cells and also in the development of bones and teeth. Low levels of vitamin D may be associated with increased risk of cancer, low levels of immunity, increased inflammation, higher blood pressure, and the loss of muscle mass and strength.
“Let me be clear – there is no magic pill you can buy over the counter. If something really works it is illegal or banned. End of story.”
Vitamin D also plays a role in testosterone production. It is estimated that 30-80% of the United States population is deficient in Vitamin D. Athletes, especially indoor athletes, are vulnerable to Vitamin D deficiency.
Dosage: Doses of around 1,000 IUs per day, or even as high as 2,000 IUs a day are regarded as safe. Some people prescribe as much as 10,000 IUs daily, but you need to be careful because high levels can be toxic.
Supplement #2: Green Stuff/Antioxidants
Taking an antioxidant supplement can assist the body in ridding itself of free radicals. Free radicals are formed through natural human physiological processes as well as from the environment. They may be the result of diet, stress, smoking, alcohol, exercise, inflammation, drugs, or exposure to sunlight and air pollutants. Free radicals are also produced every time you breathe. While many types of free radicals can be formed, the most common in aerobic (oxygen breathing) organisms are oxygen-free radicals, often referred to as Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS).
There’s no magic pill but there are some things that can help you improve.
During exercise, oxygen consumption can increase by a factor of more than ten. This leads to a large increase in the production of oxidants and results in damage that contributes to muscular fatigue during and after exercise. The inflammatory response that occurs after strenuous exercise is also associated with oxidative stress, especially in the 24 hours after an exercise session.
Antioxidants can help the body deal with oxidative stress and also reduce the number of free radicals. This may help promote overall health and also aid in recovery. There are thousands of different substances that classify themselves as antioxidants. The most familiar ones are vitamin C, beta-carotene, vitamin E, coenzyme Q10, flavonoids and polyphenols, alongside many more.
The most familiar [antioxidants] are vitamin C, beta-carotene, vitamin E, coenzyme Q10, flavonoids and polyphenols, alongside many more.
The best source of antioxidants is real food or supplements made from real food. Antioxidants from real food are more bioavailable than those made in a lab. Fresh organic vegetables, fruits, herbs and spices, and organic green tea are among the best sources.
If you find yourself lacking the normal amount of vegetables and fruits then using a supplement may assist you, especially during the winter when fresh produce is hard to come by. Also note that our food industry has lessened the quality of our fruits and vegetables, so you may need to take a supplement to offset this.
Dosage: Depends on brand
Supplement #3: Probiotics
For your stomach to work properly it needs to have healthy bacteria. Probiotics help move food through your body. They help with irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, infectious diarrhea, and antibiotic-related diarrhea. Probiotics also assist in things like skin health, prevention of allergies and colds, oral health, and urinary and vaginal health. Probiotics have been found to enhance synthesis of B vitamins and improve calcium absorption, and to keep balance of intestinal microflora.
“Athletes can be deficient in many vitamins and minerals because a typical modern diet won’t fulfill an athlete’s needs.”
If you are going to take a probiotic, make sure it contains effective bacterial strains like Lactobacillus acidophilus DDS-1 along with a wide variety of strains, since different strains have different effects on the body. Also pay attention to the availability and the shelf life. The probiotics will die off and the supplement will be less effective.
Probiotics naturally occur in certain foods such as kefir, kimchi, yogurt, sauerkraut, aged soft cheese, and sour pickles.
Dosage: Depends on brand
Supplement: #4 Omega 3
Scientists have given essential fats (a.k.a. essential fatty acids or EFAs) their name because the body must have them to survive, but cannot synthesize them from any other substance we eat. We have to obtain them directly from a direct food source. Every cell, tissue, gland, and organ is dependent upon the presence of EFAs.
There are many kinds of fats, but only two kinds of essential fats: omega-3 and omega-6, both of which are unsaturated fats. Each EFA is turned into several derivatives by the body, provided enough omega-3 and omega-6, are supplied in the right ratio. All other fats, such as omega-9 (monounsaturated), omega-7, and saturated fat, are non-essential because the body can produce them from sugars and starches. Unfortunately, the modern Western diet is often deficient in omega-3 EFAs.
While there are some supplements you can take to assist in health in training, there is nothing that can replace
old-fashioned, hard work.
Omega-3s help with anti-inflammation, improve brain health, lower blood triglycerides, enhance the immune system, lower the risk of chronic diseases, speed recovery, and influence all sorts of hormonal activity. They can also aid reduction of body fat and build muscle.
Fish oil is high in EPA and DHA. Fish oil is preferred by the body because it is simply mainlined into the system without needing to be converted. ALA (which is found in plants) can be converted into EPA and DHA. Therefore plant sources can be an effective source of Omega-3s as well.
Dosage: The equivalent of 1-3 grams (EPA + DHA) daily
Supplement #5: Magnesium
Over 300 reactions in the body rely on magnesium. Magnesium is needed to synthesize proteins, DNA and RNA. Magnesium plays a role in our metabolism, and cells use magnesium to transport calcium and potassium ions across cell walls. Maintaining healthy magnesium levels is important to critical processes such as nerve function, muscle contraction, and healthy bones. Magnesium can help you cope with stress and empower you to get a better night’s sleep.
“These recommendations are based on improving general health, which builds a sound platform for performance.”
Dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds, fish bananas, dark chocolate, and avocado are all great food sources of magnesium. Many athletes are deficient in magnesium. If supplementing, choose a chelated magnesium or magnesium citrate, as they are more bio-available. Avoid magnesium oxide because it doesn’t absorb well.
Brands: Natural Calm
Building a Solid Platform
None of the above supplements are magic. These recommendations are based on improving general health, which builds a sound platform for performance. If you sleep better, get sick less, and feel better, then you can train harder.
In my next article we will examine five more supplements that strongly relate to your performance and have an ergogenic effect to help you get the most out of your training sessions.
More like this:
- How Do We Know If Supplements Work?
- 4 Supplements That Are Good For Your Life, as Well as Your Lifting
- How to Fend For Yourself in the Wild West, a.k.a. the Supplement Aisle
- What’s New on Breaking Muscle Today
Photos courtesy of Gym Jones.