So why do we as athletes use supplements? In case the name didn't give it away, they should supplement what should already be a well-rounded diet. No matter who you are, there will always be gaps and deficiencies that can be filled through the use of supplements.
When I first dipped my toe into the watering hole that was the supplement market, I admittedly was very overwhelmed. You probably feel the same when you step foot into a Vitamin Shoppe or GNC. Something that helped me tremendously when it came to supplement shopping was doing my own research.
After doing some reading, and testing out the products myself, I have developed my own personal stack that I take on an (almost) daily basis. Below are simply my observations on supplements that I have been using for the past year. By no means am I a doctor, so if you are at all wondering if these products are right for you, please consult your primary care physician.
1. Protein Powder
You'd be surprised by how many people are not taking in the amount of protein they need to grow and maintain muscle. When I was early on in my macro-counting I realized I was nearly 40-50 grams short of protein on a regular basis. No wonder I wasn't developing any muscle!
For those of us who are athletic (which is most likely why you are reading this in the first place) we require more protein in order to repair our muscles after a grueling workout (especially if you weight train). A nice rule of thumb is to eat between 0.6 and 1 gram per pound of body weight of protein per day. There are some days that I find it incredibly difficult to get that much in my day from regular whole foods. This is where protein powder comes in.
I drink hydrolyzed whey, which is quickly broken down into free form amino acids for better absorption, which is great for anyone whose stomach is more on the sensitive side.
2. Creatine Monohydrate
Yes, the infamous creatine. Some people will tell you it is a steroid. Let me be perfect clear and say that it is nothing of the sort. In fact, it is one of the most researched, naturally-occurring supplements on the market.
In essence, creatine is like an instant energy source for your muscles. I won't go into too much depth about the science of it, but creatine helps to load your muscles with more water, making them appear fuller, and increasing muscle endurance.
If you do decide to try creatine, go for a monohydrate, which tends to work for the vast majority of people (and it is cheaper!) Be sure to drink a lot of water, otherwise you may experience what other people call "the creatine bloat".
3. Branch-Chained Amino Acids (BCAAs)
BCAAs (leucine, isoleucine, and valine) are the building blocks of muscle - and supplementing them before, during, and after your workout can work wonders on muscle growth and improving your immune system.
BCAAs are digested differently than the amino acids present in protein supplements - they bypass the liver and are sent directly into the bloodstream. BCAAs provide you with an increased power output and reduce soreness after a difficult workout.
L-carnitine is considered an "amino acid-like" compound that can be found naturally in meat and other animal products, and in avocados and soybeans. The role of L-carnitine in the body is to transport fat, particularly long-chain fatty acids, into the mitochondria of cells. Once there, they can be used as fuel to generate energy.
5. Fish Oil
An oldie but a goodie! Fish oil contains Omega-3 fatty acids, which are very important considering our bodies do not produce them naturally. As athletes, supplementing fish oil can help with muscle growth, improved fat loss, and joint health.
As a daily nighttime supplement, magnesium is something that I highly recommend, especially if you are an evening workout person. I always take magnesium right before bed, and it helps my body to decompress and relax.
Magnesium regulates heart rhythm, allows muscles to contract and relax properly, reduces blood pressure, and is necessary to produce ATP (the main source of energy in our cells).
Seems simple, but multivitamins are SUPER important. Especially if you follow any kind of "diet" like Paleo or Zone. More often than not, we find ourselves deficient in some sort of vitamin or nutrient because we simply can't eat 5 pounds of spinach in one day. They are super easy to find, and you can get gender-specific multivitamins to meet your needs.
Again, I'm not a doctor, and you should consult your primary care physician before investing in your own supplement stack. And remember - similarly to exercise, you cannot out-supplement a bad diet. Taking L-Carnitine will not magically make that double cheeseburger and 3 vodka cranberries flush away like they never happened. If you want to actually see the results of using of these supplements in your training, you have to look at the full picture of your overall health and understand that supplements are simply one piece of the puzzle.