Supplement Series # 2

athletic performanceBest Supplements for Athletic Performance

To keep this from being extremely long, like the nutrition series, I’m going to waver from going into detail on all the supplements that I believe are not necessary, despite the claims that they are absolutely essential.

Without getting into the semantics of sports supplements and dietary supplements, I will refer to supplements as sports supplements in that they are products used to enhance athletic performance that may include vitamins, minerals, amino acids, herbs, or plants (or a combination).

The biggest need for supplements is a result of deficiency. If we are deficient in a particular vitamin or nutrient, then we may benefit from “supplementing” with supplements. The biggest indicator of whether or not we are deficient is to take notice of your energy levels and your ability to focus. If you have sustained energy throughout the day, then you are probably in good shape. So keep in mind, when someone tells you they took such and such supplement and it made them feel alive, or that they had all this energy, it is because they were deficient to begin with. Usually a healthy balanced diet will fix that deficiency before a supplement.

athlete working hard

Supplements and Performance

There are many ways in which Supplements can help in performance. The most common is what I spoke of earlier – reducing deficiencies. It’s not the most exciting way to improve performance, but it works. In today’s world, the food choices are abundant but the food quality is terrible. We have more options than ever, yet the actual foods we have to choose from are mostly “empty.” This is why as soon as we introduce the nutrients we lack into our bodies, they respond accordingly. Something to consider as well is that as athletes we are putting more strain and demand on our bodies than someone who does nothing. The more demand on your body, the more your body will need the proper nutrients to work not only normally, but on a higher level.

Why I recommend supplements:

I may have mentioned this earlier in my nutrition series, but I’m going to take a second to emphasize it now. Much of the confusion in diet and supplement information is due to the contradiction amongst very smart and informed people. Many people, to include nutritionists, will say that if you eat a healthy and whole balanced diet that you do not need supplements. Obviously you are getting the vital nutrients and minerals, as well as the big macro-nutrients from your whole foods. I agree to this theory. slogan

The other side of the debate, again made by very intelligent people in the field of performance, will claim that you cannot get all the nutrients you need by simply eating just food, and that supplement use is necessary. A few of the  reasons for this are insufficient nutrients in our food, poor digestion, poor food preparation, and environmental toxins. I also agree with this.

My nutritional philosophy is to take from both these theories, and I think both sides of the argument would agree with my approach. The number one priority is to eat a healthy balanced diet, obviously. I believe that even with a healthy diet focused on a variety of whole and natural foods, it is possible to miss key nutrients.

If you eat a well balanced and healthy diet, and your energy levels are sufficient and you feel “good” then you may not need any supplements. I am not trying to endorse or put pressure on anyone to use supplements. With that said, here are reasons why I do recommend a few supplement products, or why I think they can be beneficial.

Avoid deficiencies—Like mentioned earlier, we want to avoid any deficiencies, and certain supplements can help ensure that we do not miss vital nutrients that we may have missed in our regular diet. The supplements I recommend cannot hurt you if you get more than you need. Better safe than sorry.

Convenience/Structure—I’ve recommended structure and eating on a schedule, and to eat 5-7 times per day. Sports supplements are a great way to make this easier, while ensuring that we still meet our nutrient needs. By being prepared and having supplements as an easy alternative, we can much easier adhere to our structured eating plan and provide quality nutrients to our body consistently throughout the day.  Supplement shakes are a very convenient way to get vital nutrients when time constraints and workloads are high.

Give the digestive system a break—Eating 5-7 times of real food can basically become tiresome, and hard work. Our digestive system has to work hard to constantly break that food down and digest it. A liquid supplement will give the “gut” a break from having to grind the food up, and you can get a lot of nutrients in a small amount of “liquid food.”

Ensure enough protein—Young athletes are working hard and breaking down muscle tissue. Protein shakes and meal replacement shakes are an effective way to ensure that they are getting enough quality protein throughout the day.

Cost—In truth supplements are actually a cost effective way to engage in a healthy diet. Obviously it can get expensive eating 5-7 times a day, and supplements can allow for 1-3 meals per day. Although supplements are not equal to actual food, the ones I recommend can be a replacement for food. You can drink a protein shake packed full of vitamins and minerals for around a dollar per serving, and these are very good additions.

Common sense—In my opinion, with my hectic lifestyle running around in all directions, supplements just make sense. There are many times when I realize there is nothing to eat, or there is no time to cook something, and grabbing a supplement shake is an easy and effective way to get some nutrients in me.
supp stacksWill supplements make you a better athlete?

Simply, no. They will not make you any stronger, any faster, or more skillful. But like I’ve mentioned earlier, it’s a cycle of healthy habits and training that make for improved performance. Many factors go into your abilities as an athlete –  including your diet, how much sleep you get, genetics and heredity, and your training program. Supplements can aid and be a positive benefit to that cycle, but only in conjunction with all the other important wheels of the cycle. Focus on a healthy diet and a healthy lifestyle, then utilize proper supplements to assist and aid you.

In the next Supplement Series article I will address the types of sports supplements that I recommend, and why.

Supplement Series

1  To Take or Not to Take
2  Best Supplements for Athletic Performance
3  My Supplement Recommendations
4  Supplement Products That I Use and Recommend

Nutrient Timing for Optimal Performance
Post-Workout Supplementation