As an athlete, eating well-rounded, healthy meals is crucial to keeping your body in tip-top shape, and in keeping all your organs functioning to support you in your sport. Even though we may exercise regularly, stay hydrated, and eat all the right things, sometimes it isn’t enough on its own for one reason or another.
Supplements can help bridge the gap and keep your body in balance. Supplements include vitamins, minerals, herbals, enzymes, and amino acids––all of which come in many forms, and they all claim to deliver strong health benefits. It can get confusing, especially if you’re not sure where to start.
To help you, I put together my list of well-rounded supplements you could consider making part of your fit life. But just be sure that before you take any supplements, you consult with your doctor first, and check for any possible interactions.
Calcium and Vitamin D
Calcium and vitamin D usually go hand-in-hand––they’re a perfect combination! You can often find one supplement that combine both of them together, such as the Cal-EZ calcium + vitamin D powder (which I personally use). Your body needs calcium for strong bones and teeth, for sending nerve signals between the brain and muscles, and to help your blood flow throughout your body. Vitamin D acts as a hormone, and aids in calcium absorption, forming and maintaining bone strength, and increasing immunity.
Often, people who engage in sports that include high-impact and/or movements, such as running and basketball, are more likely to experience stress fractures. Personally, taking calcium and vitamin D has helped me prevent stress fractures for several years, after a long history of stress fractures.
Athletes, postmenopausal women, women with amenorrhea, people with lactose intolerance, and vegans are at a higher risk for low levels of calcium. Especially for this group, supplements are recommended to prevent injury, especially to the bones that could take you away from your fitness routine (and nobody wants that!). Whatever brand you buy, just know calcium is absorbed best when a person takes no more than 500 mg at a time, so consider taking it twice daily.
Iron is one of those basic minerals that play a not-so-basic role in your body. It helps make hemoglobin, which is necessary for carrying oxygen into your bloodstream and then into your muscles in order to provide more oxygen for muscle function. This allows you to run, lift, and cycle stronger and longer. If you don’t get enough iron, your muscles may have inadequate oxygen levels resulting in fatigue and tiredness, as well as decreased immune system strength. Your body needs enough iron to keep your muscles ready for all your put it through.
Magnesium has been a huge help in reducing instances of muscle cramping. Before I started taking a daily magnesium supplement, I suffered from cramping in my calves during long runs. It was frustrating and often cut my runs short, which can be beyond frustrating! But taking magnesium daily has eliminated those cramps, and allowed my muscles to perform endurance activities for longer periods of time before reaching fatigue.
Magnesium is crucial for muscle and nerve functions, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels. If you are deficient in magnesium, it can result in numbness or tingling, muscle cramps, weakness, fatigue, and even nausea. These are all things you don’t want as you’re trying to complete that marathon!
If you are someone who lifts weight, does Crossfit, or performs short bouts of intense exercise like sprinting, creatine monohydrate is a supplement to consider taking for high-intensity exercises. Creatine occurs naturally in your body to make ATP, which transports chemical energy within cells for metabolism, providing your muscles with the energy it needs for contractions.
Even though it occurs naturally, supplements can be used up during a long workout with high repetitions. More creatine in your body will allow you to lift for longer periods of time, which in turn can result in improved muscle tone and strength. Creatine has also been shown to aid in recovery after a high-intensity workout like circuit training or boot camp.
EPA and DHA in omega-3 fatty acids, which are present in fish oil, are essential for recovery and for supporting a healthy immune response after a tough workout. If the body has an appropriate immune response, it can help to reduce post-workout muscle soreness that comes after a tough lifting session, long training run or cycling ride, or fitness class. Less soreness means you can get back to your workouts faster, with less down-time for muscle recovery.
Protein supplements can be found in many forms: bars, powders, and gels/chews. Protein aids in muscle development (you have to exercise for it to be effective), and provides amino acids, which are the building blocks of muscles, cartilage, and bones.
Protein helps repair muscles and maintain muscle mass by increasing protein synthesis rates when you consume it after a tough workout. For runners, it is recommended, though, that protein supplements be taken within 30 minutes after completing a long, tough run. For all forms of fitness, you shouldn’t wait too long after a workout to consume protein––you’ve got to start the muscle repair right away!
Probiotics are live, healthy yeasts and bacteria that primarily work by promoting a healthy digestive system. While probiotics don’t directly impact muscle growth, strength, or endurance, they do support a proper immune response in the body for normal inflammation in the body after a tough workout. A healthy immune system also helps to keep you healthy and virus-free when you’re pushing your body to the limit.
If you’re a runner, you know that your immune system takes a hit during long runs, but probiotics can help keep you from getting sick. They have also been shown to increase absorption of antioxidants, which fight those body-harming free radicals. Additionally, many athletes report digestive issues during and after a training cycle, such as training for a weight-lifting competition or marathon. Probiotics can reduce inflammation in the intestine, nausea, and bloating that are common in athletes. Probiotics can help to manage these GI issues for a healthier gut.
Everyone is different and have their own needs. Consider these supplements as part of a healthy diet and fitness routine to support your body’s performance, and to make your fitness routine more comfortable and productive! As an athlete, time is crucial. So ensuring you reduce recovery time and maximize your workouts will help you achieve your fitness goals in so many ways! Fitness starts from within your body, so take care of what’s inside!