Supplements can allow you to see significant gains as an athlete. But which ones should you take? We break down everything you need to know.
How was Muhammad Ali able to float like a butterfly and sting like a bee? How did Jordan take off from the free throw line? Have you seen that one handed catch by Odell Beckham Jr.? Crazy.
Athletes dedicate their entire lives to becoming the absolute best at what they do. They wake up before the sun, spend every available minute learning and perfecting their craft, and when everyone else has gone to bed, they’re still awake, practicing under the streetlights.
It’s this level of dedication that has got them to where they are.
But, there is something else that helps them achieve success and push them over the edge - supplements. While this may not necessarily be the case for Jordan, Ali or Beckham, most of the worlds greatest athletes include supplements in their daily routines.
No, there isn’t a supplement you can take that will give you the dedication these athletes have, but there are plenty of supplements on the market that can help you achieve our own athletic goals. Your goals may not be the same as the world's top performing athletes, but you can still benefit from the supplements they use.
What supplements should athletes take for improved performance?
First things first. What supplements do the world’s best athletes take on a regular basis?
The overwhelming majority of athletes are taking supplements to aid in there performance. There are many legal supplements available today that can help athletes gain an extra edge in their respective sports. But what vitamin supplements for athletes are the most important?
Omega 3 fatty acids are one of the most well known and most used supplements on the market. Omega 3’s may improve cardiovascular health and function, improve lipid profiles, improve brain function and mental acuity, and have powerful anti-inflammatory properties. When taken correctly, Omega 3’s can provide you with the biggest bang for your buck.
B-Vitamins are another popular supplement that can increase your energy production, improve your mood, and help your body detoxify. If you’re doing heavy workouts that may damage your muscles, it is a good idea to take B-Vitamins to help your body in the rebuilding process.
Magnesium is one of the most recommended supplement for athletes because it’s essential to our biological systems and most athletes are likely deficient. A recent study suggested that up to 80% of Americans are deficient in magnesium, and that number is likely higher among athletes. Magnesium is important to athletes because it regulates heart rhythm, allows muscles to contract and relax properly, and reduces blood pressure. Every athlete should be taking magnesium.
Vitamin D is more like a hormone than a drug. Your body produces vitamin D when you’re exposed to the sun, which means you’re probably not producing enough. Unless you’re walking around naked in the sun for a few hours a day, you probably aren’t getting enough Vitamin D.
Vitamin D can help reduce inflammation, improves mood and upper respiratory health and allows the brain to release melatonin so you can fall asleep easier. If for nothing else, vitamin D is important so you can get a good night's sleep after a long day in the gym.
Protein is probably the most popular and well known supplement for athletes. It’s almost second nature for people starting to train and workout to look up what protein shake they need to be drinking. If taken within 10 minutes of training, protein will reduce the amount of stress hormones released.
Protein should be eaten from animal sources throughout the day for best results. Too much protein can cause problems in the body, but the right amount repairs tissues and reduces muscle soreness.
Vitamin C is used by most people to help them get over a sickness. And while vitamin C can help protect the immune system, it also helps athletes recover from intense workouts. Vitamin C is found in most fruits and is nearly impossible to overdose on. Take vitamin C during your post workout to help your body start repairing your muscles immediately.
Coenzyme Q10 may not be well-known, but it’s essential. CoQ10 is the only antioxidant found within cells, and it gets rid of lactic acid and other wastes. CoQ10 should be more widely known because of what it does for your heart.
There have been a number of young, healthy distance runners that have died of cardiac arrest recently, and it’s been found that there was a lack of CoQ10 in their hearts. This in turn caused scarring and damage from years of training. If you’re doing any kind of serious training, you should take CoQ10. The most usable form of CoQ10 is ubiquinone and delivered in oil. Just be sure not to take it at the same time as your fish oils because that could inhibit the absorption rate.
Branched Chain Amino Acids are said to be the best recovery supplement to take for athletes. Sipping on BCAAs during your workouts is shown to speed up the recovery and repair process. Research suggests that participants who ingest BCAAs experience significantly less muscle soreness and damage following a high-volume workout.
Creatine Monohydrate is a muscle-building, power-enhancing supplement. It’s one of the best supplements for strength and size, and one of the best supplements for strength gains. If you’re looking to lose weight, creatine may not be what you’re looking for, at least initially, because creatine helps build muscle which makes the number on the scale go up. Creatine also helps maintain energy during workouts, helps speed up your recovery, and enhances the quality of your weight training.
The best recovery drink after any workout is a protein shake. Whey protein is a very popular option, but whey protein doesn’t sit well on some people's stomachs. Because of that, vegan protein shakes are becoming more and more popular. If you’re looking for something to eat after your workout to compliment your supplements, there’s nothing better than some grilled chicken and roasted vegetables.
Best Supplements Specifically For Runners
Probably the most widely used workout technique is running. Every athlete uses cardio in their workouts in some form or fashion, and there's no better cardio workout than a good old fashioned run. If running is a part of your routine, there are some specific supplements you can take to aid in your progression.
First, take the supplements mentioned above. Fish oil, magnesium, vitamin C are all essential supplements for runners, and magnesium carries extra benefits because it helps with endurance, energy, and muscle contraction.
But there are a few others that are recommended specifically for runners.
Caffeine is actually one of the best supplements for endurance athletes like runners. It’s one of the best ways for runners to increase their stamina. Caffeine's ability to reduce perception of effort and help delay fatigue can make those longer runs more bearable. As an added bonus, caffeine can increase fat oxidation, which can help with weight management.
A caffeine alternative to consider is Theacrine, which offers the same benefits of caffeine but is longer lasting and has a much slower buildup of tolerance.
Celadrin helps cushion bones and joints and improve flexibility. You can understand why this would be important to runners given the constant pounding on the joints. It's made from a blend of essential fatty acids and is fast acting and long lasting. It also benefits muscles, tendons and deep tissue.
L-Glutamine is good for runners because glutamine is depleted in the body when it undergoes physical stress. As an amino acid, l-glutamine helps fuel muscles and can stop them from becoming sore during exercise.
Zinc is another supplement that can help us maintain energy. Runners lose zinc during exercise, so it's important to supplement to build levels back up. Zinc also helps maintain a healthy immune system.
When thinking about creatine, most people don’t associate it with running. When you think creatine, you think of heavy lifting and building muscle, not running. However, Creatine supplements can boost the quality of high intensity training, an essential part of a training routine for runners.
None of these supplements will magically turn you into an elite sprinter, but if you take them all as directed, you should begin to see improvements.
Other Supplements for Athletes to Consider
Cissus Extract is an extremely potent anti-inflammation supplement that research has shown to be extremely effective at helping the body to heal from arthritis and joint pain. Most athletes will be injured at some point in their careers, and Cissus can help you to get back in the game faster.
HMB is useful for athletes who find themselves needing to cut weight, as it has been shown to help preserve muscle mass when eating at a caloric deficit. If you need to cut weight, taking HMB while cutting will help your body shed less muscle mass.
Are PEDs and Supplements The Same Thing?
Don’t get supplements confused with performancing enhancing drugs. When talking about PEDs, most people are talking about various types of steroids. These PEDs are in a category all alone, and shouldn’t be confused with natural supplements.
Performance enhancing drugs come with a laundry list of side effects. Depending on what you’re taking, you could develop acne, lose your hair, have severe headaches, increase your risk of stroke, and become much more aggressive and easily agitated.
Even though most PEDs aren’t legal and are extremely frowned upon in professional sports, they are still used, and sometimes more than you’d would think. If you are a baseball fan, you know all about the use of PEDs that rocked the MLB a few years back.
One of America's most beloved athletes, Lance Armstrong, even had his reputation stained when he was caught “doping” for the Tour de France. Every major sport has a program in place to test it’s athletes to be sure they aren't using any banned substances.
The most important thing to remember about PEDs is that they can cover a very broad spectrum of drugs and supplements. Caffeine, creatine and other very good and legal supplements we’ve talked about can all be considered legal performance enhancing drugs, but they are nothing like the illegal steroids people are usually referencing when they are talking about PEDs.
Supplementing your diet and workout routines might not get you to perform “like Mike,” but they do provide multiple benefits that people like me and you should take full advantage of. Whether your goal is to drop a few pounds, train for a marathon, or make the high school football team, adding supplements can do wonders for your workouts and recovery.
Congrats on taking your health into your own hands!
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