8 DIETARY SUPPLEMENTS TO MAXIMISE YOUR WORKOUTS
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“I want to train hard, but I don’t feel my best today. Is there anything I can do to be able to work harder and have more focus during my workouts?”
Have you ever had those thoughts cross your mind?
Let’s talk about nutrition for exercise today, and, to be more specific, dietary supplements and how they can improve your performance in the gym.
WHAT ARE DIETARY SUPPLEMENTS?
Supplements can be purchased in a form of:
- and tablets.
Most commonly, you will find protein, caffeine, amino acids, or creatine, to be their main ingredient. Sometimes, they are referred to as workout supplements - it is one of the categories of dietary supplements.
This article will cover 8 popular workout supplements among gym-goers and how they affect our bodies and performance in the gym when ingested.
Protein comes in many forms but the most popular are:
- protein bars;
- protein shakes;
- protein powders;
Protein helps your muscles recover after you have trained and broken those muscles down. It also keeps you fuller for longer. As a rule of thumb, we need between 1.2 - and 1.8g of protein per 1kg of body weight. However, if you do a lot of strength training, you may want to increase that number.
Use protein when:
- you are not getting enough protein through your diet;
- your goal is to build muscle;
- you crave a sweet snack - a good protein bar will satisfy your sweet tooth.
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They are a great post-workout snack. You can find fast-digesting carbohydrates in:
- some protein bars (ones that are higher in calories than a normal “low carb” bar);
- energy gels;
- weight gainers;
As well as protein, carbohydrates aid muscle recovery. When you exercise, your body is using glycogen. Glycogen is a form of glucose stored in your muscles. Hence, you want to replenish glycogen stores - ideally, as soon as possible after your workout by consuming high GI (glycemic index, or fast-digesting) carbs. The good news is if you are craving some chocolate, this would be the best time to have it. That’s a win-win.
CAFFEINE (ENERGY DRINKS, TABLETS AND PRE-WORKOUT)
Like a cup of coffee? Here is how else caffeine can be consumed:
- energy drinks;
- pre-workout shots;
- pre-workout powders;
- cacao is a source, too!
Caffeine stimulates your nervous system, makes you focused, and reduces fatigue. Most of the time, we take it before working out. It can maximise performance when doing endurance and/or high-intensity training.
A word of caution. It is easy to overdose on caffeine, because some pre-workout supplements may exceed this amount (400mg) in a single serving. Always know how much caffeine you are taking before actually doing it.
Coachmag.co.uk point out that the optimal dose is 3mg per 1kg of body weight, and you should take it about half an hour to forty-five minutes before you want it to start working.
BRANCHED-CHAIN AMINO ACIDS (BCAAs)
BCAAs can be purchased in a form of pills or powder which is often flavoured. You can take BCAAs either before, during, or after the workout.
Branch-chain amino acids are 3 types of essential amino acids - leucine, isoleucine, and valine - that are used by your body to make up protein. Roughly 50% of the protein in your muscle are BCAAs, however, those amino acids cannot be produced by your body so it is important to get them from food (for example, chicken, eggs) or powders mixed with water.
- reduce muscle soreness by minimising muscle breakdown during the workout;
- fight training-related fatigue;
- promote muscle growth after the workout.
Have you ever felt that tingling sensation in your fingers or ears after taking a pre-workout shot? One of its ingredients must have been beta-alanine.
Beta-alanine is another amino acid; it is produced in our liver. You can also get it from fish, meat and poultry, or as a dietary supplement. When taken daily for several weeks, this amino acid is believed to maximise performance if you are training which involves short bursts of activity such as HIIT or sprints.
Now, think of the muscle burn you feel when you push yourself. That is the lactic acid being produced due to the lack of oxygen in your muscles. Beta-alanine increases carnosine (a molecule) in your muscles which in turn works to reduce the acidity (that burn).
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Electrolytes are chemicals - sodium, potassium, and calcium - that you can take by mixing with water. They keep you hydrated by replacing fluid; all three work to help muscles contract properly. That means you can get more out of your workout.
However, we lose electrolytes whilst sweating - this is where sports drinks and electrolyte energy gels come in. It is recommended to use them if you are doing endurance training that lasts an hour or more, i.e. long-distance run, or sporting contest such as a triathlon.
This may be new to you, but it turns out that many athletes use shots of concentrated beetroot juice a few hours before their race. It is known to deliver oxygen to the muscles more efficiently.
Some of the benefits of beetroot juice are:
- helps preserve energy needed to do specific exercise - you will be able to do more overtime;
- you will have more power for longer;
- you will be able to complete more repetitions when doing resistance training;
Anitabean.co.uk suggest that “the optimal dose is likely to be 600mg nitrate, equivalent to 2 x 70 ml concentrated beetroot ‘shots’.”
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And, lastly, let’s touch on creatine. Creatine is a molecule that provides energy for the muscles and tissues. About 50% is produced naturally in our kidneys and liver, and 50% comes from our diet (milk, red meat, seafood).
If you want to take creatine as a supplement, it may help you to:
- increase power output if you do “power” exercises (explosive movements, i.e. box jumps, Olympic-style lifts);
- gains strength and muscle mass;
- may reduce muscle cramping and injuries.
Opt for creatine monohydrate when buying this supplement, and make sure to read the label for dosage instructions.
Remember that dietary supplements cannot substitute for a good nutritious diet. Use them only to complement your balanced nutrition and structured training routine or try out different things to see how they affect (fingers crossed, improve) your performance and results.
If you only had to choose one supplement, we recommend you look into protein powders or low-carb protein bars to use as a snack, especially, if you are looking for ways to increase your protein or calorie intake, which in turn will lead to better performance in the gym and greater strength and muscle gains!
Do you use anything from the list? How is it helping you with your goals? Let us know by commenting below.
P.S. Do not try to use them all at once - you won’t know what works and what doesn’t :)