I think we all know by now the benefits of exercise. From heart health, to boosting muscle and therefore metabolic function, exercising is an all-around winner for our wellbeing.
The problem many of us face is fitting exercise into our already bursting schedules. Not just that, but when we finally get to the gym after work, we are so exhausted we feel like we aren’t making any progress at all.
The thing is, what we consume plays a mighty large role in how our body adapts to exercise.
Eat or drink the wrong stuff and our body doesn’t have the fuel it needs to grow strong. Add exercise into the mix, where you are breaking down muscle fibres so that they can regrow stronger, and it can be a recipe for exhaustion and injury.
With limited time and energy, we really can’t afford wasted workouts.
So how can we improve our nutrient profile to get the most out of our exercise schedules?
We can boost our consumption of certain nutrients which may improve our performance, recovery, and as such the outcome from our workouts. Many of these nutrients are naturally occurring in our body, and are either manufactured within our body, or from the foods we eat.
We can also get them in the form of supplements, including tablets, liquids, bars, powders, and capsules.
Below we dive into our top 8 supplements which will help you get the most out of your workout.
1. Protein supplements
These are often the first port of call for many people starting a new exercise regime, or finding that they’re not seeing improvements with their current programme.
When we exercise we are causing micro tears in our muscles. Typically, these are not bad or harmful, rather they enable our muscle to rebuild itself bigger and better. Basically, our muscle is adapting to the work we need it to do. The more work we put onto it, the stronger it will adapt itself to be.
Protein helps in this process of rebuilding our muscles.
Now it is really important to realise that our body can only utilise a certain amount of protein. So if you naturally have a high protein diet, also using a protein supplement may not be overly useful.
However many of us struggle to get adequate healthy proteins into our day, so having a shake pre-or post- workout might just be the answer.
There are also many plant based protein supplements made from ingredients such as soy, hemp seed, and pea protein.
Widely considered the number one supplement for increasing exercise performance, particularly in regards to strength and power. Creatine has been shown to increase strength gains from a weight training program by 5 – 10%.
Why is creatine so effective?
Creatine is a molecule naturally found in your cells. It is an important part of energy production for your cells. When muscle cells can access their energy better they perform better, and are able to make gains faster.
The other reason many professionals like creatine is that it has been the subject of a lot of research, and is considered safe to use at the recommended levels.
Branched-chain amino acids, or BCAAs, because the whole name is a bit of a mouthful, are found in high protein foods. As a supplement it is most useful in muscle and strength gain.
Although we can consume BCAAs in food, some people benefit from having it in supplement form as well. This includes;
- Slower long-distance runners
- People who get very fatigued and sore muscles after endurance exercises or weight training
So if you fit into either of those groups, it might provide some benefit for you.
Citrulline is also produced naturally in the body. It is a type of amino acid, which are often referred to as the building blocks of life. Citrulline, in particular, is used to increase blood flow to our tissues. Which is super useful, because blood carried oxygen. And when we are exercising, we really want oxygen to reach our muscles. Another added benefit is that Citrulline appears to improve recovery after exercise.
Understandably endurance exercises see the best results, as they use the most oxygen over a long period of time! One study showed cyclists can go for 12% longer on citrulline, when compared with a placebo.
Interestingly L-citrulline has shown the best outcomes for endurance exercises, whereas citrulline malate is more effective for weight training. Research so far seems to conclude that the supplement is safe to take at recommended doses.
Do you ever feel like you just can’t run any further, or that you simply cannot lift that weight again?
This is partially due to the lactic acid build up in your system, which fatigues your muscles.
Beta-Alanine has been shown to combat this build-up of acid, and increase exercise endurance. Now what is important to note with this supplement, is that it is most effective for exercises lasting 1 – 4 minutes. It is also useful for long term endurance exercise, such as running, rowing, or cycling. It is less effective with weight training where the sets are under 1 minute long.
We’ve already spoken about the importance of good blood flow so that oxygen can reach all of our muscles. Well nitrate is another substance which helps our body achieve better blood flow. It is commonly marketed in the form of beetroot powder or juice. This is because nitrate is found in certain vegetables, such as beetroot.
Nitrate is most effective with endurance exercise, due to the fact that it increases the supply of oxygen to your muscles. It has been found to increase running time before exhaustion, but also speed in short distance runs.
Whilst there hasn’t been a heap of research in this area of sport performance, nitrate supplements are generally considered safe at recommended levels.
This tongue twister, simply referred to as HMB, has been shown to reduce recovery time through restoring structure and function of skeletal muscle cells.
Research to date suggests that HMB is more useful for adults who are just starting out on their weight training journey, rather than those who have been working out for a while.
More research is needed on this particular supplement, but there have been no safety concerns reported when taken as recommended.
A relative new comer in sports performance. Co-enzyme Q10, shortened to CoQ10, is a powerful antioxidant which reduces inflammation. Exercise produces inflammation as the muscles repair themselves, so by consuming CoQ10 it may fight muscle fatigue and aid in a faster recovery period.
CoQ10 also helps to generate energy in your cells. Which, as we’ve already discussed, is beneficial in keeping our muscle cells going during endurance activities.
CoQ10 is a fat soluble vitamin, which means it is absorbed best with fat. So take this alongside avocado on toast, or a salmon salad, to get the most out of it.
Hopefully that has got you thinking a bit about what nutrients you include as part of your workout schedule!