Ah, supplements. It’s a near $20 billion industry, and as any mindful shopper knows, there are a lot of red flags on the shelves. Many supplements are sold as magic pills or instant fixes; “Lose weight without lifting a finger!”, “Sprout Hulk-like muscles overnight!”. Yeah, it doesn’t work like that.
But if you’re here on the PKRS blog, you’re probably past that point of naivete. You know that good things come with hard work, and you’re not looking for a shortcut. Good, because there are no shortcuts! With that said, supplements can have a role to play in reaching peak performance. It’s just important to remember their role – they’re supplements, supporting characters, not the stars of the show.
Diet and training are the determinants of your fitness and performance, and supplements exist to patch up a hole or compensate for a weakness – not to turn you into a beast overnight. Remember to do your own research when shopping for supplements, always double-check ingredient lists and nutrition labels, and when in doubt, chat with your doctor, nutritionist, or PKRS coaching staff for specific advice.
Without further ado, here are PKRS top picks for supplements to help you reach your fitness goals.
1. Fish Oil
Fatty fish oils come in at number one, not because they are a magic workout pill, but because they are incredibly helpful for recovery, as well as for your general health and wellbeing. Most fish oil supplements include docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) which are both types of Omega-3 fatty acids.
These acids can act as a natural anti-inflammatory, helping to ease joint and muscle soreness, which can be a regular barrier to peak performance. Beyond the training regimen, fish oil consumption has shown to be excellent for blood circulation and overall heart and lung health. However, as we’ll say throughout this article, you will benefit most from simply adding fatty fish to your diet – you’ll get your Omega-3s, as well as a healthy dose of protein, beta-alanine, and other essential vitamins and minerals. If you don’t have time to prepare fish for yourself, practice a diet that prevents you from eating fish (vegan fish oil supplements exist!), or just simply don’t like fish, then consider taking this supplement.
Protein is essentially the building material that your body uses for muscle development, so if you’re building muscle, you need protein! Most of the protein you need should come from your regular diet, but a protein supplement can come in handy, and depending on your fitness goals and regimen, it may play a regular role. Protein is essential for the repair, construction, and maintenance of your muscle mass. Additionally, when you exercise for prolonged periods of time, your body turns to protein as an additional source of energy.
As a general rule, aim to consume approximately 1 gram of protein per pound of lean body mass. If your diet comes up a bit short, you can boost your protein intake by making dietary alterations, or turn to a protein supplement. When shopping for a supplement, look for simplicity – fewer ingredients, lower calories, and high protein content – don’t get sucked in by a supplement cocktail with numbers and symbols in the name.
3. Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)
BCAAs are a combination of vital amino acids – leucine, isoleucine and valine. These are essential to muscle repair and recovery, but also help to decrease lactate production (which can help boost your endurance capacity) and inhibit the release of certain neurotransmitters that contribute to fatigue during endurance exercise.
They’re incredibly useful for endurance athletes, but again, can be found in protein-rich foods and it’s possible that you get enough without supplementation. Do your research, consider your diet, and if post-exercise soreness or rapidly onset fatigue are frequent issues for you in your training, BCAAs might be the answer.
Another naturally-occurring amino acid, Beta-Alanine is significant due primarily to its interaction with carnosine, a molecule concentrated in your muscle tissues. Carnosine works in your body to prevent the build up of acids, thereby preventing the onset of muscle strain, fatigue and corrosion.
However, your body can only produce as much carnosine as it has available beta-alanine. More beta-alanine means more potential carnosine production, which means more stamina when you need it most. To see the best results, it’s recommended to take beta-alanine in small doses throughout the day – try 3-5 grams per day, spread across 3-5 doses.
Arguably the most common of the “magic powder” solutions, creatine has promising results in high level studies, and though its effects seem to vary significantly from person to person, it can potentially be a gamechanger. Helpful in providing short bursts of speed, strength, and energy, creatine can allow you maximize your high-intensity training sessions, translating to a higher peak on the big day.
It’s a naturally-occurring nitrogenous acid that’s in all of our bodies at all times, helping in the production of ATP, which is partially responsible for muscle repair and growth. By supplementing your levels of creatine, your body can produce more ATP and improve its anaerobic performance. As always, research carefully and don’t fall into a creatine “cocktail”, with countless additives and unnecessary chemicals that may be harmful to your health – look for simplicity and don’t overdo it. More isn’t always better!
Though not an extensive list, these are five supplements we definitely recommend taking a closer look at. Others you might consider are glutamine (helpful with recovery and restoration), sodium phosphate (known to boost blood oxygenation and ventilatory threshold), and even your trusty pal, caffeine.
Remember to always research any and all supplements thoroughly, read labels and facts to ensure that you know what you’re taking, and try to focus on adding one supplement into your routine at a time – in the event of a negative or positive reaction, you’ll know that only one thing in your regimen has changed. Avoid supplement cocktails, neon-colored bottles with crazy names, and anything that claims to be an all-in-one solution – supplements are not one size fits all, and certainly not the only thing your body needs. Eat well, work hard, and supplement when needed.
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