As we head into the first month of the new year, New Year’s resolutions will be at the top of everyone’s lists. Many of us will be tackling fitness and/or weight loss/gain goals or simply taking better care of ourselves, inside and out. Nutrition is the best basis for wellness, but there are a few supplements which can improve and support your fitness goals while you do the leg work.
You’re probably familiar with many of them, but there are a few supplements you may be surprised to learn have a role in fitness.
We hear this everywhere and are constantly being told we are not getting enough protein. You can find added protein in just about everything, but it can still be hard to get it all in, especially if your protein needs are higher due to strenuous workouts or a physically intensive profession. Protein is important for muscle recovery after workouts because you are producing microscopic tears in your muscle tissue as you exercise. The amino acids found in proteins are necessary to synthesize new muscle and repair existing muscle.
Protein powders are available from many different sources: soy, whey, and pea protein are some of the most common ones. I really enjoy pea protein because it’s non-dairy and is a good alternative for people looking for protein that isn’t soy based. My first introduction to pea protein was in Ripple milks and the Ripple Chocolate milk is so good that now I look for pea protein over other sources in my nutritional supplements! They also offer their pea protein powder in chocolate and unflavored varieties.
- Amino Acids
Like protein, amino acids help your muscles recover faster after strenuous workouts. BCAA’s (branched chain amino acids) are a group of amino acids composed of isoleucine, leucine, and valine. They are essential amino acids, which means that your body can’t synthesize them on its own. It can help muscles from decreasing fatigue to reducing soreness after workouts.
Electrolytes are necessary minerals that help you maintain proper fluid ratios within the body. Sodium, magnesium, potassium, calcium, phosphorous, and chloride all help the muscles in the body contract, work with nerve signals, and maintain proper pH levels within the body. We lose electrolytes in our sweat, and if you haven’t properly replaced electrolytes, you can suffer from headaches, muscle cramps, weakness, and irregular heartbeat (due to the necessity of electrolytes to maintain proper heart rhythm).
Electrolytes are included in most pre-workout/post-workout mixes, but you can also make sure you are getting enough through eating foods high in magnesium, potassium, and calcium. Magnesium and potassium supplements are a great way to ensure you’re getting enough of your minerals.
- Omega 3 Fatty Acids (DHA & EPA)
Omega-3’s get a lot of publicity for heart health, mood, and brain health during aging; but due to their anti-inflammatory properties, Omega-3’s can also decrease soreness and fatigue after exercise. Its benefits for heart health also benefit fitness because Omega-3s help support the health of blood vessels which boosts circulation and oxygen delivery during cardiovascular exercise.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids can be found in fish oil, but plant-based alternatives such as algae oil and flaxseed oil are also a good source and can be found in supplemental form. If you’re not a fan of fish oil or choose not to consume fish, keep reading to see what curcumin can do for your DHA levels.
Curcumin is one of the most powerful anti-inflammatories you can find and is the active ingredient found in the spice turmeric. It inhibits the pro-inflammatory enzymes which cause release of inflammatory cytokines and also keeps immune system cells from being sent to the areas of inflammation.
Curcumin is often used to treat joint inflammation and the same principal applies with muscles and joints that are sore or inflamed from workouts. It is also a great antioxidant and can reduce stress levels. If you’re interested in the benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA) but don’t want to take traditional fish oil or plant-based sources, Curcumin can help you out: it enhances the biosynthesis of DHA in the liver and brain.
Creatine is an amino acid found in the muscle tissue, skeletal tissue, and cardiac tissue of the human body. It can be ingested through meat and seafood in the diet. Creatine is an integral part of forming the energy molecule, ATP (adenosine triphosphate). It also plays an important role in muscle recovery after high intensity exercise or after a period of muscle damage.
You can find creatine in a lot of pre-workout/post-workout supplement packs and mixes, so it’s definitely something a lot of fitness buffs support using—but it may be surprising to you to learn that it’s also a great nootropic supplement. It supplies the brain with extra energy and can be useful in cognitively demanding situations.
Taking creatine with carbohydrates boosts its efficiency, but if you’re trying to cut back on carbs, that could present a challenge. Did you know that you can take creatine with the herb fenugreek? Studies show that it can boost creatine just as effectively as carbohydrates.
Lastly, don’t overlook the importance of a good multi-vitamin to help you achieve your fitness goals this coming year. Remember that supplements are also meant to be just that—a supplement to an already complete and thorough plan, with well-balanced nutrition and movement.
Taylor, Lem et al. “Effects of Combined Creatine Plus Fenugreek Extract vs. Creatine Plus Carbohydrate Supplementation on Resistance Training Adaptations.” Journal of sports science & medicine vol. 10,2 254-60. 1 Jun. 2011