By Ru Anderson | BSc (HONS)
Performance Nutritionist, Author, Speaker,
Competitive Athlete & Owner of Exceed Nutrition
Supplements can be a minefield these days, with so many different options and promising claims, it can be difficult to know what exactly we should be taking and if it will even work.
There are a number of supplements that have been scientifically researched and field tested to show they work. The supplements recommended below are merely vitamins, minerals or oils that can be sourced to natural origins.
Why should we supplement when following a healthy eating plan?
Well the research shows that increasing levels of certain vitamins and minerals is required in order to get the most benefit from them. Usually these levels are much higher than we can typically get from our food sources alone, even when eating high quality foods. We should also consider the overall quality of our foods in today’s society; pollution is higher, crops are sprayed more and many items are heavily processed before reaching us. The quality of our food is not up to scratch any more and is lacking some of the key nutrients they can be regarded for.
Further, many of us are also training hard. This can be depleting on the body, adding further external stressors while also requiring extra energy and nutrients to recover from in order to force the body to adapt to the stimulus.
As you can see, boosting some natural vitamins and minerals via supplementation is important for our optimal performance and health. Providing our nutrition is dialed in and you are eating correctly with high quality foods, research suggests they can be of benefit to us.
#1 Vitamin D
Benefits: Health, Strength, Muscle Builder & Potential Fat Loss Supplement.
Most of us in the UK are deficient in this vitamin due to the lack of sunlight we get. It has been shown to improve mood, aid immune function, fight off cancers, burn body fat, and improve bone health. It’s also been shown to boost muscle strength and growth, mainly due to it s potential to increase testosterone levels in males.
How to take
For moderate supplementation, a dose of 1,000-2,000IU vitamin D3 is sufficient to meet the needs of 50- 95% of the population and should be seen as the lowest effective dose range. Higher doses based on body weight are in the range of 20-80IU/kg daily, with the lower half of the range being a dose taken during periods of high sun exposure and the higher range being taken during periods of little or no sun exposure. (2)
#2 Omega 3 Fish Oil
Benefits: Health, Fat Loss, Muscle Builder & Strength Supplement.
Fish oil contains the essential omega 3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, which are known to provide a number of health and performance benefits due to its highly anti-inflammatory properties. From a health perspective these fatty acids appear to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke while from a performance aspect they can help to prevent muscle breakdown, enhance joint healing, improve brain function and achieve greater fat loss.
How to take
All the below numbers are based not on omega-3, but on combined EPA and DHA.
For primary prevention a dose of 250mg or above seems to be the minimum. For more acute and dramatic effects, such as reducing soreness or attempting to increase metabolic flux of muscle cells, a higher dose nearing 6g may be used over the course of a day. (2)
#3 Whey Protein
Benefits: Mass Builder, Strength, Energy Production, Fat Loss, Health.
Whey protein makes up to 20% of the protein in milk; it is the most effective protein for increasing muscle protein synthesis, the process in muscle cells that results in muscle growth!
There are numerous reasons why whey is so effective, such as:
✓ The high content of branched-chain amino acids (BCAA’s)
✓ The ability to boost blood flows to muscles.
However, the most important characteristic of whey is it’s rapid rate of digestion. Whey protein is the fastest-digesting protein source that you can get. This is a critical property for a pre-workout and post-workout protein.
Pre-workout: this means that the amino acid from the whey will be available to your muscles during the workout, which is when they need them the most.
During workout: muscles that have been provided with amino acids will have more energy and will experience less muscle breakdown. Getting a fast-digesting protein is also a great idea after workouts, to drive aminos to muscle tissue, promoting recovery and growth.
How to take
Dosage | Typical recommendations are 20-40g first thing in the morning, within 30 minutes before workouts, within 30 minutes after workouts, and between meals as needed.
Benefits: Health, Strength, Muscle Builder & Potential Fat Loss
This is a combination of zinc, magnesium and vitamin B6. Its benefits are supported by clinical research as it has been shown that hard training individuals (people who sweat a lot) may be deficient in these important minerals. You should see improved hormone levels with ZMA – potentially aiding better recovery, sleep and strength.
How to take
Zinc is most commonly dosed in either the ‘low dosage’ range of 5-10mg or the ‘high dosage’ range of 25-45mg. (4)
Magnesium doses range from 200-450mg Magnesium. (5)
#5 Green Tea
Benefits: Fat Loss, Energy Production & Health Supplement.
Green tea contains compounds called catehins, including EGCG, the primary active ingredient for its thermogenic properties. EGCG has the ability to inhibit an enzyme that breaks down norepinephrine, the neurotransmitter involved in regulating metabolic rate and fat burning. Green tea also contains caffeine, which helps boost energy levels and provide further fat burning actions. It can also serve as a great anti oxidant, and may help reduce certain cancers and provide other health benefits such as improved joint healing.
How to take
Fat burning: Significant effects in humans are noted only at high doses, such as 400-500mg EGCG equivalent per day. (3)
Take Home Message
Lastly, I often get the question, ‘Can I just take a multi vitamin instead?’
The answer to that is no. Again, multi vitamins do not have high enough quantities to provide the benefits that the higher dose protocols can. Just like our food, the quality of our supplements matter too.
Always buy the highest quality product to match your budget!