9 Supplements to Aid Recovery and Boost Fitness Performance
No matter your level of fitness, vitamins and supplements can play a role in exercise performance, recovery, and injury prevention. In addition to a healthy diet, supplementation may give your fitness routine that extra boost you’ve been looking for, and provide your body with the nutrients that the increased demands of exercise place on it. But with all the options available, how do you know which supplements you need? Consider adding a few of the following to your daily routine to help you reach your fitness goals and maintain healthy levels of nutrients.
Magnesium is a mineral used in over 300 cellular processes throughout the body. Not only does it help relax your muscles, including those of the heart, it also counters the muscle contraction effects of calcium that lead to cramps or spasms. Our bodies require about 300-400 mg of magnesium daily, which we can get through dietary sources. However, it’s estimated that nearly 70 percent of individuals don’t get the recommended dose, making supplementation a good way to make up for that deficiency. There are several forms of magnesium, all of which are used to treat different conditions. Magnesium sulfate, also known as Epsom salts, is commonly dissolved in bath water to soothe sore, achy muscles. Oral supplementation with magnesium glycinate or magnesium orotate is popular amongst athletes to aid with sore, tense muscles.
Carnitine is an amino acid that plays a critical role in energy production. It can improve fitness performance by helping the body to burn fat as energy, prevent fatigue by inhibiting lactic acid build-up, and reduce metabolic waste during workouts, which decreases post-workout recovery times. Carnitine is primarily found in animal sources, and plant-based eaters may especially benefit from supplementation. Although considered relatively safe, carnitine at high doses may cause gastrointestinal symptoms such as abdominal cramps, nausea, and vomiting. Some research has indicated that when carnitine is metabolized by intestinal bacteria it produces a substance called trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO), which may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, particularly amongst meat eaters who already have adequate stores of carnitine.
Creatine is one of the most popular supplements that has gained recognition over the last decade or two. Found abundantly in many foods, additional supplementation of creatine may enhance athletic performance, particularly with rigorous exercise. It has also been shown to reduce the risk of injuries and speed up recovery times when injuries occur. Despite numerous media reports claiming creatine is unsafe, the research has demonstrated otherwise when used correctly. This is a good supplement for high intensity exercise, competitive athletes, and individuals who engage in activity regularly.
BCAAs, also known as branched-chain amino acids, consist of leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Amino acids are used to make proteins, the building blocks of every cell, tissue, and organ. When taken prior to exercise, BCAAs can reduce exercise fatigue, improve endurance, increase metabolism, lower substances that damage muscles (lactate dehydrogenase, for example) and therefore aid in muscle recovery, decrease body fat, and help maintain muscle mass. If you’ve suffered from DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness), a distinct muscle soreness that occurs after starting or restarting intense or unfamiliar exercise, peaking 24–48 hours post-activity, BCAAs can combat the cramping-type pain. They need to be taken consistently to be effective and individuals eating a hypocaloric diet may benefit the most from BCAAs. Typically, when restricting calories for weight loss, individuals lose not only fat but muscle mass; in an 8-week study examining weight loss, individuals taking BCAAs were able to lose fat without muscle-wasting.
CoQ10, a naturally occurring substance made in the body, and found in the mitochondria of the cell, plays a vital role in the body’s energy production. There is a substantial amount of research demonstrating the benefits of CoQ10 supplementation for heart health, and newer research also points to its energy-restorative capabilities in endurance athletes. Older individuals stand to benefit the most from supplementation, as mitochondria decrease with age. Unfortunately, food sources of CoQ10 are minimal, so the best way to benefit from them is to supplement. There are two forms of CoQ10, ubiquinone and ubiquinol; ubiquinol is the active form that the body utilizes readily whereas ubiquinone requires conversion to be utilized. CoQ10 is a fat-soluble substance, and should be taken with food for optimal absorption.
GREEN TEA EXTRACT
Green tea extract (GTE) contains catechins, primarily epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which may have an impact on weight loss beyond exercise. Research has shown when GTE/EGCG is used before exercise it can increase whole body fat oxidation (burning) during activity. Other studies have demonstrated that it spares glycogen energy stores and decreases plasma lactate concentrations during aerobic activity, resulting in improved endurance. Overall, green tea extract improves body composition by decreasing weight, body mass index (BMI), waist-to-hip-ratio, and body fat percentage. It also has profound anti-inflammatory effects, and therefore may help reduce pain throughout the body.
Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, including DHA and EPA, are known for their anti-inflammatory effect on the body and have a beneficial role in exercise performance. When we exercise we experience oxidative stress which depletes our antioxidants and can lead to chronic inflammation. Omega-3s contain various compounds that reduce inflammation and lower the risk of muscle damage due to activity. With endurance exercise, omega-3s aid in vasodilation, which increases the amount of oxygen going into the muscles. They also help improve nerve conduction, which plays a vital role in muscle activation during strength training. Studies have demonstrated that EPA/DHA supplementation before weight training leads to more repetitions, better range of motion, and lower levels of inflammatory markers.
Capsaicin is derived from hot peppers and is an ingredient in over-the-counter topical pain relief preparations. Although it is not fully understood, it is thought to work on substance P (SP), a chemical that transmits pain signals to the brain. Capsaicin depletes local stores of SP resulting in fewer transmissions of pain signals through the nerve fibres. Capsaicin has become a popular treatment choice for conditions such as arthritis, and minor aches and pains related to injuries such as backache, sprains, or strains. It is particularly useful when used alongside other pain relievers or as an alternative for people who do not tolerate other pain-relief options.
Arnica, an herbal medicine that has a long history of use dating back to the 1500s, is typically applied to the skin to soothe sore muscles, reduce acute inflammation, and heal wounds. Popular amongst athletes for aiding with sprains, muscle aches, joint pain, swelling, and bruises, arnica is generally safe when used externally. However, for those who are sensitive or allergic to the Asteraceae (daisy) family of plants, it should be avoided.
For appropriate dosing and supplementation, it’s best to consult with a naturopathic doctor or other certified healthcare provider to see what’s right for you. It’s important to get a complete assessment so your ND can better tailor a supplement plan based on your unique needs, while taking into consideration possible interactions or depletion of nutrients from medications, dietary sources of vitamins, and recommended daily requirements of nutrients.