What are your fitness goals?
When participating in some form of exercise, most, if not all, people go in with a target-driven approach. Whether it’s to run a mile under a certain time, gain more muscle, or lose a couple pounds, setting a specific goal is a proven method to achieving it. And, though these goals are set, our bodies sometimes need an extra push to accomplish them.
Performance supplements, also referred to as ergogenic aids, claim to improve strength, endurance, exercise efficiency, and tolerance to more intensive training. In 2018, Americans spent over $2 billion for these performance supplements, with the various forms available in capsules, tablets, and powders. Here are the most scientifically-proven and popular performance supplements.
As one of the most well-known supplements to enhance athletic performance, muscle building, and fat loss, protein is available in different types and forms.
Whey protein is the most abundant version of the protein supplement category. This quickly absorbing protein provides more branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) than most vegan sources, which has been linked to lean body mass, muscle synthesis, faster recovery, and stronger immune health. But, which whey do you choose if you’re looking for…
- …Support with muscle synthesis? Grass-fed whey is the better option as it contains leucine, an essential amino acid for biosynthesis of proteins.
- …Faster recovery? Whey isolate is a powder that contains 90% pure protein, which is a large jump from concentrate that ranges between 75-80%. There is also glutamine, an amino acid that helps repair muscle tissue.
- …Fat loss? Carnitine is a compound that breaks down fatty acids and helps increase energy.
Besides whey protein, there are plenty of other protein supplements available. For vegan or other dairy-free diets, plant-based protein such as rice protein, hemp protein, and pea protein are the best options as they provide similar benefits to whey. A recent newcomer to the market is bone broth protein, which is rich in amino acids and can build major structural protein collagen.
The most studied and beneficial supplement for building strength is pure creatine monohydrate. The supplement supports the body to produce more energy, which can increase your capacity to push for more reps in an exercise, your work out intensity, and the water retention in your muscles (also referred to as cellular swelling). These benefits can lead to potentially improving lean body mass, supporting training adaptations, and regenerating adenosine triphosphate (ATP) faster. With all of these added benefits, we can see how creatine is a prominent supplement for bodybuilders and other athletes.
As seen in one study, training athletes had higher recovery rates and reduced soreness when taking BCAAs than compared to the placebo. This is because BCAAs are composed of three essential amino acids (leucine, isoleucine, and valine) that make up over a third of the essential amino acids in muscle protein, making them a key source for muscle recovery and fatigue.
Additionally, a meta-analysis also found that BCAAs can support various exhaustive and damaging forms of exercise, which is done by its ability to slow protein and muscle breakdown. This makes it a perfect supplement to take before and after your work out.
Generally, exercise is considered to be a positive activity; however, it can also have adverse effects on the body. Oxidative stress occurs from intense, strenuous, and/or over-exercising where free radicals overpower the body’s antioxidant defense. For athletes, maintaining strong antioxidant levels is critical.
Research has found that antioxidant-based supplements are a great solution. Glutathione, also known as the antioxidant master, is one of the most popular as it controls inflammation and other functions for optimal athletic performance. Containing three amino acids (cysteine, glutamic acid, and glycine), glutathione can be synthesized by the body to reduce risk of disease. Another popular option is ashwagandha because of its ability to reduce inflammation and support the immune system. As an adaptogen, ashwagandha can normalize specific bodily functions to enhance physical performance, brain health, and stress relief.
Though these supplements have a wide range of benefits, it should be noted that performance supplements are not a replacement for well-balanced diets, but an addition to your diet and exercise.