Navigating the world of sports supplements can seem daunting, but if you’ve got clear priorities then it becomes easier to make decisions about what to take, and why. Here are five popular supplements that can help you hit the most common sports goals and improve sports performance.
1. Build endurance and stress resilience – rhodiola complex
If you’re a long-distance runner, cyclist or swimmer, or you’d just like to be able to exercise for longer, then rhodiola rosea could give you the edge. It’s what’s known as an ‘adaptogen’, which means it helps your body adapt to stress, rather than fight it, by redressing hormonal imbalances. In particular, it helps modulate the build-up of the stress hormone, cortisol.
One 2010 study suggested that rhodiola rosea can also act as an antioxidant, reducing toxin build-up and muscle tissue damage after an aerobic training session. What’s more, this incredible herb has also been linked to brain health, and treating mild to moderate depression with great success.
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2. Increase brain and body power – creatine
Trying to get the max out of that last heavy lift? Or want to add another couple of 400m sprints to your session? Consider giving yourself a boost in the form of creatine monohydrate.
Often thought of as being just for bodybuilders and sprinters, creatine is actually a well-researched supplement. It is commonly used by sportsmen and women in all disciplines, both professional and recreational. Essentially, creatine is a form of fuel, the type used in short, sharp powerful movements. It’s found in foods such as meat and fish, but also produced by your body.
However, the body only stores a small amount of creatine in the muscles. Taking part in any exercise characterised by repeated short bouts of intense effort, such as resistance training, sprinting, and powerlifting, means creatine stores can become depleted over the course of a workout, leading to a reduction of performance.
Research shows that supplementing with at least 3g of creatine in pill or powder form every day has positive effects on resistance training and high-intensity intermittent training. It may also benefit aerobic endurance exercise of over 150 minutes, and even boost brain functioning.
We’d need to eat at least 750g of (raw!) meat and fish to take on board just 2g creatine so a supplement could be the answer, especially if you’re vegetarian or vegan.
3. Maintain and build flexibility, with healthy joints – fish oils
Our joints take a real knock when we run, jump, play impact sports or simply walk for long periods. They also get stuck when we sit for hours and, if we’re carrying any extra weight, the issue becomes worse whether seated or on the move.
When they’re unhappy, joints (we have more than 300 of them) get stiff, painful and inflamed. If you want to maintain flexibility, staying active and moving your limbs through entire ranges of motion with activities including yoga and swimming is important.
Studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids, found in oily fish including sardines, herring, mackerel and salmon, have a role in protecting against many conditions, including heart disease. They also have a positive impact on our joint health by helping reduce inflammation caused by heavy training or other kinds of stress on the body.
Purified omega-3 in the form of pills or liquids (best kept in the fridge) enable us to take more on board, especially if you don’t eat oily fish as part of your diet.
4. Recover quicker – magnesium
Magnesium is used for more than 300 reactions in the body, including the production of energy, the uptake of oxygen, and the balance of electrolytes. One of its main functions is to help the muscles and nervous system, which gets hyped up by exercise, to switch off. The more intensely you exercise or do sport, the harder it can be to relax, and very tired muscles can also hurt and twitch at night, disrupting sleep.
We need high-quality deep sleep for our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing, and to help us bounce back from training. Evidence shows that supplementing magnesium in pill form is helpful in reducing insomnia. Magnesium is found in leafy green vegetables and dark chocolate but unfortunately, most of us don’t have as much of this all-important mineral as we need, so supplementation is a good idea.
5. Build lean muscle – whey protein
When people talk about wanting that ‘ripped’ or ‘tight’ look, they are really talking about getting lean. The common misconception is that this simply involves losing fat, but it’s as much – if not more – about building lean muscle tissue. Lean muscle also burns more calories at rest than fat, which can improve your metabolism.
Targeted, regular training in the form of bodyweight and barbell-style exercises is the best way to build muscle. For speedy, noticeable change, we need to eat enough protein as that’s what the body uses to rebuild tiny tears in the muscle fibres caused by exercise.
Up-to-date research suggests that the general guidelines around consuming 0.8g of protein per kg of body weight every day is not sufficient for those with sports goals, and that we should aim for a minimum of 1.4g to 2g. Supplementing meals with whey protein is a convenient, affordable way to top up your protein levels.
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Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please consult a doctor or healthcare professional before trying any remedies.
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