There are a few questions I get asked a lot from athletes: What is a good pre-race meal? What is an ideal warm-up? Do my socks have to match my kit every ride? But more than anything I get asked about supplements. Athletes are bombarded by ads from sports nutrition companies telling them that they can go faster, recover quicker, and be healthier with a little pill. Most of products are not supported by independent studies or only contain trace amounts of nutrients. There are some supplements I recommend for athletes, and really most people, but before we get into that I think there are few important points about supplements we need to go over first.
The main thing to remember with supplements is that they should be supplementing an already healthy diet. It doesn’t matter what you take if you are eating nothing but candy and fast food. You can’t fill those nutritional gaps or balance out your diet with a pill. Eat some friggin veggies before you start looking to supplements.
If you are an athlete competing in any Olympic sport, even at the amateur level, you need to only purchase NSF (National Sports Federation) certified supplements. That certification states that any product only contains what it says on the label and is not banned by the World Anti Doping Agency. All athletes are responsible for everything that goes into their body and the NSF certification is the best way to know that you are actually taking what you think you are taking. Even if you aren’t a competing athlete, you may still want to look for the little NSF logo on your supplements to make sure you are getting higher quality products.
Here are my core suggestions for athletes, fast paced or stressful lifestyles, or for anyone wanting to maximize their health and fill common nutritional deficiencies:
- A good, food based, multi-vitamin. This is a good insurance policy to make sure you don’t have any big nutritional holes in your diet. My main suggestion here is the EXOS Fuel Multi-Vitamin Elite. This is a higher potency vitamin that is separated into a day and night dose so that nutrients are not competing for absorbency, and calming minerals like magnesium are prioritized in the evening.
- Fish oil. I have written about fish oil in the past, but this needs to be repeated. In general terms, omega-3 fats found in processed foods and in vegetable oils are inflammatory. Omega-3 fats primarily found in fatty fish and flax-seed are anti-inflammatory. Most people eat way too many omega-6 fats which need to be balanced out with omega-3s. That is where a good quality fish oil can help. I would recommend Nordic Natural’s Triglyceride based fish oils, or the EXOS Omega-3 fish oils.
- Curcumin. Many of the metabolic disorders we are seeing on the rise are being connected to high levels of inflammation. Just as the omega-3 fats help control inflammation, so does curcumin. Curcumin, an antioxidant derived from turmeric, has been shown to help maintain the body’s normal inflammatory response while also supporting joint, liver, gastrointestinal, and cardiovascular function. Phenocane and EXOS Fuel’s Curcumin supplement are my two recommendations here.
- Magnesium. Most athletes and people with demanding lifestyles are magnesium deficient. Recent studies have shown that only 30% of all americans get adequate amounts of magnesium. One of the benefits of supplementing with magnesium is better sleep which is why I would recommend only supplementing with magnesium in the evening. Specifically I would recommend CALM Brand Magnesium before bed.
- Vitamin D. Just like Magnesium, vitamin D deficiency is pretty rampant in today’s society. I could write an entire article on vitamin D and the biological processes it is needed for but for simplicity, vitamin D is crucial for recovery and performance. Since vitamin D is fat soluble and can become toxic with over supplementation, this is one that I would ideally recommend getting some lab work done first to see where your vitamin D levels are currently. If they are low then supplementing with a good quality Vitamin D3 balanced with Vitamin K2 would be a very good idea. There are lots of good quality D3 supplements on the market now. Just make sure it is D3, which is the biologically active form of vitamin D. I take EXOS Fuel’s Vitamin D3 just from simplicity in ordering everything from the same source. EXOS products are also made by Thorne Research which creates pharmaceutical grade supplements and is the industry leader when it comes to quality and purity.
These are the big hitters in the supplement world that I feel makes the biggest impact in most people and athletes. Of course there are a lot of other products that may be useful for your unique physiology but I would suggest getting some basic blood work done first to see where you might be deficient and supplementing accordingly. In the future, I will go through the research on supplements that may directly help performance as well.