5 Supplements to Consider for Sports & Fitness
Since the beginning of sports, athletes have always been looking for an edge. And with the popularity of sports and fitness in today’s society, it’s not surprising that the dietary supplement business has grown into an $18 Billion dollar industry!
Athletes and people of all ages and fitness levels turn to supplements to help achieve their goals. Some take supplements to lose weight or get lean. Others may be trying to boost energy and endurance. Often these substances are taken to enhance recovery, maximize training, or improve performance in competition. Whatever the reason, there may be risks because the majority of these substances are NOT strictly regulated by the FDA! At best, you may be spending lots of money for something that isn’t necessary or doesn’t work as advertised. But at worst, you could be taking something that is potentially harmful to your health or even life-threatening. And depending on your sport and level of competition, some of these substances may be banned by your governing body.
However, there are some supplements which have been scientifically proven to be effective in certain contexts, are relatively safe, are affordable, and are, of course, legal. Here are a few you may want to consider.
1. Protein Supplements
Protein supplements are found in a variety of forms including shakes, powders, and bars. A healthy person should only need 10-15% of their total calories from protein and a maximum daily consumption of about 1 gm per pound of body weight. The truth is one can get everything needed from a few small changes in your diet, but many like the convenience of these substances. One instance when you may want to consider extra protein is when undergoing a calorie deficient diet. Your muscle will burn protein for energy when caloric fuel is scarce. Also a number of scientific studies have shown that digestion of whey protein within 30 minutes after exercise, specifically resistance exercise, helps reduce muscle damage and promote muscle growth.
2. Amino Acids
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Branched- chain amino acids are three amino acids that muscle protein uses for fuel. Used in many serious medical conditions, these have been shown to reduce muscle breakdown and enhance muscle recovery. Therefore athletes often take these after a workout for the same effect. They are available in powder, softgels, or capsule form.
3. Carbohydrate-Electrolyte Beverages
Replacement of fluid lost during exercise by beverages containing carbohydrates and electrolytes has been shown to improve performance. Runners who drank these during high intensity exercise showed improvements in times for a 20 meter sprint and longer runs to fatigue following the exercise. For optimal performance, take these during your workout periodically. The best results are with a 5-7% concentration amount. Any less isn’t effective and any more can cause GI upset due to delayed gastric emptying.
Perhaps one of the oldest and most used substances, caffeine is technically a stimulant. It is found in a variety of products and has been proven to enhance performance. Two recent studies documented decreased times in cyclists and rowers in controlled studies. So its use can have a positive effect. Too much caffeine, however, can cause side effects as can caffeine withdrawal. It should be noted that there are limits imposed on athletes competing in the NCAA and the IOC.
If you are a sprinter or a weightlifter, creatine may be worth consideration. It is a naturally occurring substance that your muscles use for short bursts of exertion during high intensity exercise. It hasn’t been proven helpful for prolonged activities such as marathon running or swimming. One common side effect is weight gain which is mostly due to fluid retention. And high doses may be harmful to your kidneys, liver, or heart. But in general it is considered safe for healthy people.
These are but a few in a long list of supplements commercially available to today’s athletes and fitness participants. Depending on your goals, the ones listed are those that are considered safe and have some proven science to demonstrate their effectiveness. But before using any of these products, always read the label and consult your physician. And remember, nothing can take the place of dedication and hard work.