Many people assume all supplements are safe, but that is simply not true. Companies are constantly coming up with new, proprietary formulas that they advertise as safe ways to make athletes bigger and stronger. Too often, one or more of their ingredients, never properly tested, could trigger a failed drug test for an NCAA or pro athlete.
Nutrition experts agree that athletes should concentrate first on eating properly, before even considering supplements. If a nutrient deficiency still exists with a balanced diet, a supplement can be used to remedy it.
When supplementing your diet, stick with nutrients found naturally in food or produced by the body. Don't ingest mysterious substances that could have unknown consequences. This way, you will maximize strength gains at the same time as you cure dietary deficiencies.
Listed below are several common supplements.
Multivitamins. Multivitamins provide a variety of vitamins and minerals essential for the body's daily activities. Few people consume the right amount of all essential vitamins and minerals through their regular diet, which makes multivitamins more important. Proper intake of these nutrients improves recovery and increases endurance, energy and aerobic capacity.
Flaxseed Oil. Flaxseed oil is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids (O-3FA), an essential fat. Because the body cannot produce it, O-3FA must be consumed through diet or supplementation. Adequate O-3FA intake speeds recovery and reduces muscle inflammation after workouts and competition. It also improves cardiovascular function and overall health. Some studies have linked O-3FA with increased strength levels, but further research is necessary.
Vitamin C. Few things negatively affect performance more than illness and disease, so a healthy immune system is essential. Vitamin C is great for boosting the immune system and overall health. It is also critical for sustained muscle contractions, improved endurance and aerobic capacity; and it helps repair connective tissue—a major benefit for strength-training athletes.
Protein. Protein is vital for repairing muscles after they've been broken down by intense exercise or competition. The amino acids in protein are the body's building blocks for making muscles bigger and stronger. Without adequate protein intake, this process cannot occur. Protein supplements, such as whey powder, supply protein without delivering significant amounts of fat or calories—an added benefit to athletes concerned about fat loss.
Glucosamine. Supplementing with glucosamine is a way to keep your joints loose and lubricated, therefore healthy and feeling good. It increases water absorption into tissues, which decreases stiffness in joints and improves their shock-absorption capability. According to a study in The British Journal of Sports Medicine, people who took glucosamine supplements daily for 12 weeks experienced a decrease in knee pain.
Beta-Alanine. Beta-alanine is a naturally-occurring amino acid that delays fatigue. It works by reducing the effects of lactic acid, the source of that uncomfortable burning sensation you feel when exercising at your limits. It doesn’t directly stimulate muscle growth, but it can improve the quality of your workouts by allowing you to perform additional reps to challenge your muscles.
For more information on supplementing your diet, check out these STACK articles:
The Lowdown on Supplements
Supplement Labels and the NSF-Certified Seal
Unravel the Mystery of Protein
The Benefits of Glucosamine