Mike O'Donnell identifies some of the supplements you should consider as a sports athlete, which may help you improve your performance in your sport.
Staying competitive as an athlete, whether at a professional level or as an amateur, is rarely easy - particularly for adults with busy lives. There is significant pressure to perform, develop new skills, and outshine the competition.
Sooner or later, your body may plateau, making it increasingly difficult to set new PRs. Maybe your muscles remain sore for longer after workouts, or you experience more common aches and pains. Maybe pulled muscles are typical, or sprains are occurring more frequently than before.
When your performance is not at the level it should be, it might be time to switch up your strategy. While even the best workout supplements will not put you at the top of your sport overnight, the right combination of powders, pills, vitamins, and minerals may be able to give you an edge.
The Best Supplements for Sports Athletes
Here are some of the most important supplements you should consider as a sports athlete, helping you with everything from building bigger muscles to shaving a few seconds off of your mile time.
Creatine is considered a staple for the athletically inclined and is found in most performance-based energy drinks and protein powders. A nitrogenous organic acid, creatine is beloved for its ability to enhance energy, muscle development, and performance.
Anecdotally, there is evidence that creatine is beneficial for athletes taking part in sports that require anaerobic activity (short bursts of energy), like weightlifting or sprinting. Most users begin a creatine regimen with 10 grams to 30 grams a day, followed by maintenance doses of 2 grams to 5 grams.
Creatine can be taken as a supplement but occurs naturally in tuna, salmon, and other forms of fish and poultry.
Magnesium is a critical part of keeping energy levels high, keeping you motivated and focused on a great workout. Without enough magnesium, your muscles are more susceptible to fatigue, and your body will not perform up to its usual standard, leaving you frustrated and plateaued.
Magnesium supplements can soothe the nervous system, reducing muscle fatigue.
If you are tired of being tired, try adding a magnesium supplement to your daily routine – or increasing your consumption of dark chocolate and avocados, which are naturally high in this nutrient. Magnesium may also improve sleep quality and reduce insomnia.
Potassium is an electrolyte that works with sodium within the cells of the body to regulate and balance water content and blood pressure. It also helps to optimize nerve signals to the muscles, enabling them to work more efficiently; while low levels of potassium are associated with an opposite effect - muscle cramping.
Commonly found in fruits and vegetables such as bananas, sweet potatoes, avocados, and melons, potassium plays an important role in carbohydrate metabolism and provides fuel for cells. For all of these reasons, athletes need to ensure they are getting enough of this mineral.
Although taking potassium supplements is an option, a well-balanced diet, including potassium-rich foods, will be enough to maintain adequate levels. If you do decide to take a potassium supplement, be sure to use a dose as indicated on the bottle, as too much potassium can be toxic.
Calcium is an important nutrient for good bone health, making it a crucial dietary consideration for any athlete. Research indicates that when calcium is taken along with protein, potassium, and vitamin D, bone density is dramatically increased - which is beneficial to athletes engaged in any high-impact exercise.
Calcium and other minerals can be depleted through perspiration, which is of particular concern to athletes as they have a higher probability of becoming deficient this way. Like potassium, calcium is necessary for proper muscle function, and a drop in calcium levels can lead to cramping.
Dairy products, green leafy vegetables, almonds, broccoli, and sardines are foods that contain substantial amounts of calcium. Calcium supplements are also a good option for those taking part in sports or other highly physical activities.
Iron is necessary to help red blood cells deliver oxygen to the muscles. In particular, athletes have a higher demand for iron as intense physical exercise increases red blood cell production, which in turn causes a greater need for iron via your diet.
When iron levels become low, oxygen delivery to cells becomes less, causing a reduction in physical performance (especially aerobic exercise). Because iron found in animal protein is more bioavailable than iron found in vegetables, those who are vegetarians or vegan will need nearly double the iron compared to those who eat meat.
Some foods with high-iron content include meat, fish, eggs, fortified bread, and cereals. Iron supplements are also a great way to ensure optimum levels of this nutrient.
Most commonly associated with spending time outside in the sun, Vitamin D is a vital part of a healthy life. However, many athletes are not aware of the benefits of increasing normal Vitamin D levels, particularly for those who experience muscle strains and soreness regularly.
Vitamin D is essential for bone health, and healthy muscles require healthy bones. When taken as a supplement, Vitamin D can support a strong skeletal system. For athletes in more dangerous sports, like football, hockey, or rugby, Vitamin D supplementation can reduce the likelihood of fractures, keeping athletes healthier for longer. Vitamin D supplementation has also been linked to an increase in testosterone production.
There is a reason why virtually every athlete takes protein shakes or supplements before/after a workout. Protein powder is considered the gold standard of muscle development and is seen as non-negotiable among many fitness fanatics.
However, in recent years, whey protein has gained a following due to its role in protein synthesis. For those looking to burn fat and increase mass, whey protein may be of help.
A whey protein shake, taken after a workout, can put your body in an anabolic state, improving muscle recovery and increasing nitrogen retention.
Another popular form of protein supplementation, casein protein can support performance and muscle development to help improve your game.
Casein protein is derived from dairy, similar to whey protein, but has a slower release, meaning that its results are felt in the body for a longer period. This leads to superior muscle development as anabolic amino acids are still in your system several hours after a workout.
Casein also has positive effects on metabolic rate, improving caloric burn for more enhanced weight loss.
For those who do not see results from whey protein, glutamine is a popular alternative for athletes seeking muscle development. As an amino acid produced naturally in the body, glutamine has proven connections to protein synthesis and muscle development.
Also, glutamine assists with fighting catabolism, or the complex process of molecule breakdown within the muscles. It also assists with intestinal health, keeping your gut flora balanced.
Glutamine cannot be stored in the body for long periods, so it is essentially a "use it or lose it" kind of supplement. However, when taken in higher doses pre and post-workout, glutamine can be beneficial for muscle recovery.
While less popular among the average athlete, branch chain amino acids (BCAA's) – isoleucine, leucine, and valine – are considered a vital part of supplementation, particularly for athletes in strength-based sports. BCAAS is touted for its ability in building skeletal muscle, which supports a stronger frame and, as a result, muscular strength.
Also, BCAAs can preserve muscle mass when eating in a calorie deficit for weight loss purposes. By slowing protein breakdown and increasing protein synthesis, BCAAs can ensure you hang on to the muscle you have worked so hard to build.
BCAA supplements are generally dissolved in water and consumed throughout a workout, unlike traditional protein intake.
Found both within fish and in abundance on shelves in health and grocery stores, fish oil is beloved by athletes and non-athletes alike. Fish oil is packed with omega-3s and has been demonstrated to support cardiovascular health, including lowering blood pressure and reducing the risk of heart attack or stroke.
In addition to its cardiovascular benefits, fish oil's also shown to aid strength, muscle development, and performance during exercise. It can also reduce muscle soreness post-exercise, making it easier to work out for longer periods (without the increased risk of injury).
For those who do not enjoy eating fish regularly, fish oil tablets should be taken orally once a day for best results.
This one may seem like just a health supplement, however, taking multivitamins may also positively impact an athlete's performance (indirectly).
Multivitamins are intended to make up for any nutritional deficits that may occur through normal eating, containing full or almost-full amounts of a standard panel of vitamins and minerals, including vitamins C, A, E, K, and D, B vitamins, potassium, and zinc. These components can boost the immune system, keeping you healthier and reducing the risk of illness.
If possible, consider choosing a brand or package that is intended for athletes or physically active men, as these kinds of vitamins may have higher amounts of more beneficial compounds, such as calcium. Keep an eye out for gender-specific vitamins as well, while men and women need many of the same vitamins, there are differences in nutritional requirements.
As an athlete, supplementation may be the difference between setting new PRs or not. With continued hard work and smart supplementation, you may realize that you are a little bit closer to achieving your goals in your respective sport.
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About the Author
Mike O'Donnell is a 40-year-old bodybuilder who has tried many supplements over the years to help him lift heavier weights and set new PRs.