You might notice various workout supplements at the gym pro-shop and wonder, “Should I be using that?”
Gold’s Gym Wellness Director Connie Cheng and Fitness Expert Andy Coggan say advanced athletes trying to reach their peak performance might benefit from the nutrients in supplements that help with muscle recovery, increase work output, develop muscle mass and delay fatigue.
But they will work only if they are used as intended: as complements to a healthy nutrition plan, not as replacements for getting nutrients from food.
“You have to go 95 percent of the way to your goal with consistent training, good nutrition and proper recovery,” Coggan says. “Supplements can give you that last 5 percent you need to help you reach it.”
What workout supplements contain
Depending on your goals, Cheng says you should check product labels for these ingredients in pre- and post-workout supplements. Be sure to also follow the recommended serving size.
1. Whey protein.
“These proteins are easily absorbed in the body, which helps you build strength and thereby gain muscle,” she says. They can also be found in dairy products such as yogurt (especially Greek yogurt, which has more protein overall) and cottage cheese.
2. Branched-chain amino acids.
For someone who wants to gain lean body mass after exercise, BCAAs can help stimulate protein synthesis and prevent muscles from breaking down. “BCAAs are known for helping with soreness and muscle recovery,” Cheng says. Food protein sources — including chicken, fish, eggs, beans, lentils, nuts and soy products — contain them, too.
This is another amino acid that helps build muscle. Cheng says advanced athletes usually have higher concentrations of it in their blood. You will find it in beef, chicken, fish, dairy products, eggs, beans, beets and cabbage. It’s also found in miso and fermented wheat.
Coggan says this amino acid is taken to improve performance on short (non-endurance, anaerobic) tasks. It helps increase power and strength, promotes recovery and minimizes muscle damage. All animal products contain creatine, Cheng says.
5. Beta alanine.
This amino acid in workout supplements helps delay fatigue by offsetting the lactic acid production in the muscles, which is what makes you feel sore. “Because beta alanine buffers that cycle, you are able to do greater levels of work,” she says. It is also in beef, pork, poultry, chicken broth and fish.
Before using workout supplements
Try incorporating more of the foods mentioned above into your diet and see if you notice a difference in how you feel before, during and after your workouts, Cheng says.
Coggan agrees. “Anyone new to an exercise program or aiming to lose weight should focus on what they’re eating throughout the day,” he says. “If you already have great nutrition, fitness and rest habits, and you’re still looking to optimize your health further or achieve more dramatic changes, then you can turn to supplements.”
As always, know your goal and consult with a health professional who can help you create a nutrition plan and get started safely.
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