I’m the first person to admit that there’s a definite hierarchy when it comes to health from a nutritional standpoint and it should be: (1) real food, (2) supplements. I know I’ve said it before on here; supplements are just that – a supplement / support to a good nutritional plan. Most people should be able to get the majority, if not all, of their nutrients from real food.
But, that’s not always the case. People who are taxing their bodies with a lot of stress, like athletes, may need to rely on supplements to help fuel their bodies. If you train a lot (and train hard), your body is going to use and require more nutrients for daily function and health. It may not always be possible to get everything through food – especially if you need to be on a restrictive diet while training, like a bodybuilder.
Another factor to consider within the world of supplements is the cost. It adds up QUICK! If you were to buy every vitamin on the shelf, your bill would be massive. Plus, if it’s a nutrient your body already has enough of, you’re literally just peeing out money.
I’m going to preface this list with a warning – this is what I need. It’s not necessarily what YOU need or should take. I just wanted to outline some of the benefits of these common supplements and explain why I take them. Everyone is different and you should approach everything related to nutrition with that mindset.
The supplements I can’t live without
I’ve broken these lists into two categories, one specific to training purposes, and the other for general health.
- Whey protein powder – Throughout most of the year, I drink a protein shake as my post-workout meal because it’s convenient and my body can quickly put it to use. On my rest day, I don’t have it. I don’t like relying on powders for a meal source outside the post-training window, I would much rather eat food – there’s more benefits in food overall. I experiment with different flavours, but I keep it pretty simple by just mixing it with water, not adding extra calories to it with fruit, yogurt, milk, etc.
- BCAAs – This is my version of fruit juice! But, it’s helpful juice because it actually serves a purpose and isn’t just a glass of sugar… Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and can help preserve muscle during times of low caloric intake or high intensity training. I drink mine throughout training and cardio sessions… or if I’m craving something sweet without calories.
- L-Glutamine – Glutamine is an amino acid found in your muscles and can end up being depleted during intense training sessions. It can take days for glutamine levels to be restored (likely not possible for someone who trains daily), so supplementing with it can help restore these levels to aid with recovery and stamina. I add it to my pre and post-workout drinks, and will sometimes have it before bed during competition prep.
- Vitamin C – Beyond it’s immune-system benefits (the gym is full of germs, be smart here!), vitamin C has also been found to play a role in the growth and repair of the body’s tissues. There’s also been research looking into the role vitamin C plays with testosterone and cortisol levels. I take mine post-workout as well as later in the day.
- Magnesium – Most people are deficient in magnesium, a mineral involved in over 300 biochemical reactions. From muscle function, brain function, vitamin absorption, to helping you sleep better, magnesium tops my list for general health. As a Type A person who is pretty high-stress normally, the fact that mag helps metabolize cortisol (a stress hormone) to manageable levels is a bonus.
- Zinc – The benefits of zinc are endless! It’s necessary for performance, energy levels, and body composition. As a woman looking to build muscle, the most important role it plays is in hormone production. Having adequate zinc allows for more testosterone, growth hormone, and insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) release, all big players in muscle growth. For woman NOT looking to build muscle, this mineral is also important in fertility by assisting with egg development.
- Vitamin D – The sunshine vitamin is usually overlooked by most people, but it shouldn’t be. It plays a role in neuromuscular functioning, specifically protein synthesis and it also boosts immune health – both good things for someone putting their body under training stress. Research has found vitamin D receptors in the muscles, which leads to the question if an athlete is lacking this vitamin, how their strength and performance can be impacted, a risk I’m not willing to take. Considering that my sun exposure ranks pretty low, unless you count what comes through my office window…(none).
- Adrenal support – This falls outside the traditional vitamin and minerals but now that I’ve found it, I refuse to go without it. As mentioned above, being a Type A person, high levels of stress are common place and is how I function at a normal level. While I may not FEEL the impact of this, it can be doing terrible things to my adrenal glands. The mixture of adaptogenic herbs in Adrenergik help keep energy levels balanced, controls cortisol, improves your resistance to stress, and helps your immune function. I started taking it during my last competition prep and noticed a lot of benefits. My emotions were far more controlled (stress didn’t impact me nearly as much as it used to), my energy was pretty good considering my output / input rate, and I stayed healthy.
So, there you have it, the list of supplements I rely on on a daily basis. I take these things on a daily basis without fail. While this list isn’t exhaustive by any means, these are my top choices when someone asks me what I take or recommend. These vitamins and minerals also show up on all our athlete’s plans to help keep their general health at the highest level when they’re pushing themselves to the extreme.
A final note on quality over quantity – we now rely on ATP lab products because we’ve felt the difference between them and drug store versions. Many drug store brands aren’t optimally used by your body, leading to a further waste of money. Specifically, we buy our zinc, magnesium, Omega 3, and my adrenal support from them… but the list is quickly growing!
Eat well, supplement when needed, and stay healthy!!