Are sports supplements needed towards better results in your training?
If you are involved in fitness or have ever been to a gym, you would have heard conversations about the ever-increasing hot topic - sports supplements.
I am often questioned as to which ones are best to take and when, and my first question back is "what does your current eating plan consist of?"
Too many gym goers are too quick to turn to enhancements for speedy increases in their results, but these seemingly harmless supplements can have adverse or no purposeful changes on the body. Instead, they can just "eat" into your bank balance and leave feeling empty, wondering why you aren't reaching the goals you've been promised by the multi-million-pound industry of sports supplements.
I usually advise individuals who are just looking to keep fit, to utilise as many nutrients from substantial foods as possible. The common supplements you find on the shelves, will simply not give you the nutrition your body needs to maintain the highest level of performance you are capable of. Yes, they can help but only as an addition and not the main part of your diet.
Think food, food, food, then supplement to meet your body’s needs. Especially if you're using multiple calories daily through exercise. If you feel your training has reached a level where supplements may give you the edge, let's look at some of the most widely used and how they might aid you.
Please be aware, we are called individuals for a reason and all have our own different make up which makes us who we are and for that reason, not all supplements will have the desired effect and you might not see the same results as others who take the same products.
Be open minded and take the supplements if you think they can benefit your training but give them time, Rome wasn't built in a day.
I have separated them into different categories for ease of use, so let's look at the first category.
Put simply, Whey is a by-product in the process of making cheese. Hope this doesn't put you off before we start but it's the left-over liquid after the milk has curdled and then drained. Once turned into powder, it is then readily available to the paying public. The main reason for its popularity in the fitness and more so, the bodybuilding world, is the speed in which the body digests and absorbs it into your bloodstream and then transports it into your muscles at a rapid rate, which is important post workout to kick start the recovery process. The crucial elements towards this healing process, is the branched chain amino acids which are abundant in whey and are the building blocks for muscle. They provide the repair of damaged muscles which have been broken down during exercise. Ease of use is also at the forefront of this supplements selling point, due to the need for a quick protein fix after a workout and the lack of energy & enthusiasm to cook a meal post training.
But always remember, it is called a supplement for a reason. They are designed to join the dots of your varied diet. Gaining benefits from whole foods, such as essential vitamins, minerals and nutrients are a must and therefore not overlooked. Eat well and add supplements where necessary.
Following on from Whey which already contains these muscle building blocks, BCCA stands for branched chain amino acids and includes leucine, isoleucine, and valine in this category. They are a cluster of essential amino acids, which play a vital role in energy production and protein synthesis (muscle growth). The main benefits include increased muscle building, decreased muscle breakdown during intense exercise and aid recovery through the increased protein synthesis reaction. I personally use this supplement more seriously when I'm reducing my body fat and am burning excess calories. With its ability to slow down muscle break down, it’s a great tool to use when you're looking to maintain muscle mass whilst cutting fat. It also helps to increase workout intensity when calories are low, and you need an energy boost.
If you have been following so far, you might have noticed a common theme with the muscle building supplements - Protein Synthesis. Creatine is no different as it has two main effects on the body during exercise. In simple terms it builds the body and increases protein synthesis (muscle building). The size gain is caused by the water retention of cells that store creatine. During protein synthesis, creatine can help with the recovery of muscle (decrease soreness). During this recovery time, it provides extra energy, so muscle cells can speed up protein absorption and prepare the body for the next workout.
Arginine Alpha Ketoglutarate (AAKG) is a cell volumizer, simply put - expanding your cells. This can lead to a greater delivery of nutrients including oxygen, amino acids and glucose. These nutrients just so happen to be needed during your workout to help boost stamina, muscle endurance and protein synthesis (again with the synthesis). So, by allowing faster delivery, AAKG has proved to increase all of the above and become a popular choice amongst gym goers and bodybuilders alike. Have you ever noticed the person with veins protruding from every part of their body and thought "steroids", well think again. The increased vascularity could be a product of AAKG's capability of expanding blood vessels and mighty muscle pump.
A few of the above, including BCAA and Creatine can be counted in this category but for now we'll stick to two important supplements aimed at recovery after an energetic training session.
During exercise we greatly deplete our energy, vitamin and mineral stores (amongst a few). This seriously decreases strength, stamina and recovery. It could take up to 6 days for Glutamine levels to return to normal after intense exercise and with such a key role towards protein synthesis, it is important to replenish levels quickly. Studies show that by supplementing L-Glutamine you can minimize the breakdown of protein (muscle) and improve protein metabolism (growth through rest & repair).
ZMA is a supplement derived from natural minerals which is made up of zinc, magnesium aspartate, and vitamin B6. Zinc supports your immune system and muscles, while Magnesium plays a role in metabolism, muscle health and towards better sleep. B6 has been shown to boost energy in some individuals. Claims have been made that ZMA might increase these nutrients in your body, which can build muscle strength & stamina, faster muscle recovery, and improve the quality of sleep. But as with other supplements, there's not much research to back it up. My sleep has been better as a result though.
Fat Reduction (Breakdown)
There are many supplements that have "fat burning" capabilities but some have never been proven by the masses. Mainly due to the reasons explained previously. Everyone is an individual and these added supplements may not work the same for everyone. I have picked a couple that I believe have worked well for me and have good possibilities towards fat breakdown when used correctly in a well-balanced diet.
Carnitine (L-carnitine) is a nutrient that helps the body break down fat and turn it into energy (GREAT I KNOW). It also increases the activity of certain nerve cells in the central nervous system. I use this post workout to restore my energy levels and quickly increase my brain functionality after depleting high levels of glycogen (brain and organs first port of call for energy) during intense exercise. If you've ever felt dizzy, sick or any kind of fatigue after training, it is most likely down to the decreased levels of electrolytes (sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium and chloride). This why a balanced post workout meal is so crucial to balance these levels and restore brain and organ functions. Low blood sugar also plays a part to fatigue, so fast acting sucrose (dextrose, maltodextrin or corn starch) could be an option 30 mins (post workout) before a solid meal, to increase sugar levels.
This carries much debate within the fitness industry due to the lack of evidence-based trials on human subjects but have a read and see if the proposed benefits suit your needs but always do further research if you feel undecided. Conjugated Linoleic Acid appears to block fat cells through growing bigger or swelling by influencing enzymes that affect fat growth. CLA has also shown it increases the speed of fat burning. It has also shown to increase oxygen consumption and energy expenditure in the body which can lead to an increase in the bodies fat breakdown capabilities. It has not only shown the capacity to reduce body fat but also help in removing fatty deposits from your muscles. The jury is still out but studies show it does help with fat reduction and it has certainly worked for me and others in the industry.
If you are still unsure about any of the supplements mentioned above or others you have heard of, always seek advice from a medical professional, such as your doctor. All my advice is self-taught and works for me but as explained, it might not work for you in the same way, so supplement with caution and follow the appropriate instructions advised by the pro's.