One of the first questions I get asked when I begin helping a friend or teammate help optimize their diet is: “What supplements do you take?” This question indicates to me that they do not truly understand the function of supplements and what they can do. Supplements will not compensate for poor nutrition, lack of sleep or hard work in your training. As the name implies they can only supplement or help bolster the results you will gain from a well designed training program accompanied with sufficient recovery.
However, do not get me wrong supplements can make a significant difference and help give you a competitive edge if used correctly. So how do you use supplements appropriately? Firstly, do not use supplements to try and mask a deficiency in other areas such as lack of sleep. Secondly I like to follow the principles of the KISS method (Keep it simple stupid). Lastly, a safety message realize that in biology the greater the benefit with a supplement or drug is going to be accompanied with increased side-effects. You get nothing for free in biology. An example is some of the smart drugs currently out on the market. They can dramatically improve your cognition and memory, but it comes at an dramatic costs to your brain and overall health. If some supplements seem to good to be true, it probably is and will result in long-term damage to your body.
So if your working your butt of training, and taking care of recovery which select few supplements would I highly recommend and posit are essentially necessary for elite athletes. (Note: Please see your physician before taking any supplements. Please don’t do anything that would result in you killing yourself as that would make both of us very sad.)
So here are the three must have supplements for any aspiring athlete.
1. Whey Protein – This is a must have for any athlete that wants that extra edge in supporting the building and maintenance of lean body mass. It has been well substantiated in the literature that you want the building blocks of muscles (protein) in the blood stream after a workout as your body is in a highly anabolic state than. However, many people do not see results when they take their protein shake after a workout. They should not. The reason is because it takes about ~ 30 minutes for ingested liquids to get into the blood steam (from experimentation with blood glucose monitor and orange juice). Therefore, to take advantage you need to take the protein shake before or during your workout so it is in the blood during this anabolic window. The protein shake company I recommend is Biox Whey Protein Powder as it not only taste greats but they use the highest quality sources of protein while most manufactures cheap out on the protein source they use. You pay for what you get. However, please feel free to use whatever company you prefer as long as you can ascertain the quality of whey protein isolate used.
2. Krill or Salmon Oil (Krill is preferred because more bioavailable) – It seems every other day we hear an add touting the benefits of Omega 3’s Fatty acids. Geek Alert: Omega 3 Fatty acids are just a type of unsaturated fatty acid. Omega in greek means the end. So Omega 3 means that there is a double bond 3 carbons away from the terminal end of the fatty acid. Why is it an essential fatty acid? Because only plants have the enzymes to place a double bond at the 3 carbon sugar. Geek Alert over. So is Omega 3 the panacea for inflammation and cognitive decline? NO. However, in the vast majority of people who follow the SAD (Standard American Diet, which makes you SAD) diet there ratios of Omega 3 to 6 are completely out of whack. The average ratio of Omega3:Omega6 in today’s population is ~ 1:20 and it should be closer to 1:4. Therefore, supplementing with Omega 3 is vital to get this ratio in balance and decrease excessive inflammation in your body which will be impeding your ability to recover and become the best athlete you can be.
3. Vitamin D (Please see a physician before taking) – The effects of Vitamin D deficiency are well documented and quite severe. It is called a Vitamin because our body can not produce it, but it acts a hormone. It has wide ranging effects which are vital for any athlete hoping to optimize their performance. Many people tend to vastly overestimate their vitamin D production due to the sun. Recent research by Dr. Holick (Dr and professor at BU who found the active form of Vitamin D), that for any northern countries, such as the great white north (Canada) you can not receive vitamin D from the sun for half the year because the angle of the Sun relative to the horizon prevents UVB rays from getting in the atmosphere. UVB rays are the only UV rays which can cause photoreceptors on your skin to convert Cholesterol into Vitamin D. (Another reason to NOT avoid healthy animal fats!). This can be especially problematic for athletes who train indoors and have a darker complexion (such as myself) because having darker skins means that you will have more melanin which will prevent some of UVB rays from being involved in the production of vitamin D. So how can you combat these many problems? I definitely recommend getting a Vitamin D test sometime to establish a baseline. However, you should be fine to start taking ~ 400 IU of vitamin D (it takes much more vitamin D than we used to think to result in toxicity). Although I am NOT a listened physician yet so please do not take my recommendation without consulting a physician at some point. The next most important thing is too make sure you know when your body can and can not produce vitamin D from the Sun’s rays. To figure this out Dr. Holick created a great iphone app called the Dminder (which has a free version). I highly recommend it.
So there you have it, three very important supplements that can give you that extra edge to push you over the top. I would recommend that you get rid of any non-medically related supplements (not prescribed by a physician) and stick to the basics unless you get further blood testing that substantiates further supplementation. Lastly, remember that whole foods, enough good quality sleep and appropriate recovery time can not be replaced by supplementation.
As always please always feel free to reach out to me on facebook or linkedIn (Pavan Mehat) or shoot me an email at email@example.com with any questions for future topics you would like for me to discuss. Blogs such as these are much more fun and helpful if there is interaction.