In the world of Fitness there are many different supplements, for many different “benefits”, out in the market. They all sound like they could help our performance in and outside the gym. How do we know which one is worth it? Or how do we know which one will actually do more good than bad to our bodies? Ultimately, what we are looking for is overall health and longevity.
As we all know, nutrition is the base of fitness. It dictates your weight control, your health measurements and how you feel. Supplements, unlike many athletes think, should be just that: supplementing your nutrition. That means about 90-95% of your intake should be of real foods. The other 10-5% can come from supplements. Therefore, no “superfood” shakes instead of meals, no pills to “make up” for you lack of minerals and no protein shakes 3 times a day. That is easier said than done though, and a real effort must be made in order to achieve all your necessary nutrients in today’s world.
If we look at supplements with health in mind, then we must consider other options. If we look at them with athletic performance in mind, then there are a few that can help us feel and move better. We are going to look at some that can help you inside the gym.
Creatine is one of the most well-known supplements, and for good reason. It is a safe way to increase muscle mass and strength, while improving your high-intensity work capacity.
Branched-Chain Amino Acids are key to helping you recover after a tough training session. It promotes protein synthesis and it can reduce fatigue and soreness.
This is a given. Protein shakes improve your muscle’s ability to adapt after training. That means it works on both recovery and in synthesis of new fibers.
This supplement can improve performance by allowing you to increase your training volume. This is helpful specially on days where you have tough WODs. It flushes extra hydrogen ions, which is what causes the burning feeling in your muscles during exercise.
These supplements are performance supplements and are obviously designed to be used only when exercising. If your goal, which it should always be, is to live a healthy life, then all you need is one supplement. Everything else that I have mentioned above, plus vitamins and minerals (which many athletes lack in their diet), can be consumed through a healthy diet. It is much more important, and healthy, to get the necessary nutrients through your diet, than through supplements.
Before I reveal which supplement is very helpful for your diet there are a couple of honorable mentions you should know about.
This vitamin is synthesized by our bodies naturally when we are out under sunshine. But unless you are outside for a good couple of hours, you will be lacking Vitamin D. Besides working with calcium to improve bone density, Vitamin D helps reduce inflammation, reduce the risk of some types of cancer cancer, improves mood and allows the brain to release melatonin so we can fall asleep easier.
Magnesium is a key elements most athletes lack. This is because we use them as we exercise, so the “normal” intake isn’t enough for the active person. This mineral regulates heart rhythm, allows muscles to contract and relax properly, reduces blood pressure, and is necessary to produce ATP (the fuel for our muscles).
All are important, but the main ones, when it comes to working out, are B-1, B-2, B-6 and B-12. They increase energy production and improve our mood, they also help us detoxify which we need after exercise. The process of building muscles depletes B-Vitamins so you need to take extra if you are exercising regularly.
Now, we finally got to the one supplement you should be taking:
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
They can come in many ways: fish oil, krill oil or flaxseed oil are some of the common ones. Most people know about the improved cardiovascular health and function, improved brain function and mental acuity, improved joint and immune system health and its powerful anti-inflammatory properties without harmful side effects like over the counter products. But it is because of the latter benefit why you should be taking it. Back in our pre-civilization days, our diet had a 2-1 pro-inflammatory to anti-inflammatory ratio. Today, due to processed and packaged food, the ration has skyrocketed to 20-1. Most deaths in the world today are caused by conditions that could be prevented if the inflammation wasn’t an issue.
Overall, our goal is to be healthy for as long as we can. The best way to do that is through a balanced and healthy diet. That way we ensure we get all the macro-nutrients, and micro-nutrients, we need. If you are active, you could use some supplementation to aid your diet. Otherwise, Omega-3 is something that will benefit you and your overall health.