Omar Gonzalez, the Los Angeles Galaxy defender and likely member of the U.S. National Team heading to the World Cup, takes fueling seriously. But according to Alex Savva, the Galaxy's manager of sports science, his healthy eating habits weren't enough.
"Omar is a very conscientious player—he's very into his health and his diet," Savva says. "Protein was the one thing he was deficient in. I prescribed him a protein shake that allows him to get more protein in his diet to help with recovery."
An athlete like Gonzalez—or you, for that matter—demands more from his body than the average person. It can be hard to meet your body's needs. That's where supplements can help.
But not all supplements are good for you. Many are packed with stuff you don't want to put in your body. Savva took a cautious approach with Gonzalez, and his four tips for smart supplementation can help you determine what's right for you, too.
Rules for Supplements
#1 Know what you're putting in your body
The first thing Savva did when Gonzalez approached him was to inspect the vitamins he was taking to make sure they were all legit. "I told him to check for banned substances," Savva says.
In the world of supplements, this can be tricky. The foods we eat must be inspected and approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but supplements do not have to be approved before they are sold. A less-than-reputable manufacturer could add ingredients that might render you ineligible for athletic competition.
Thankfully, third-party organizations exist that screen supplements to make sure they contain no banned substances. Look for the logo of the NSF (nsf.org) or Informed Choice (informed-choice.org) on any supplement you are considering. NSF distributes an app for iPhone and Android that allows you to quickly check a supplement to see if it's been cleared.
#2 Supplement for your sport, not to get "ripped," "jacked" or "huge"
Sports nutrition stores display rows of supplements purporting to get you "jacked," or some other cool-sounding term for a physique-oriented goal. But before you plunk down your cash, remember why you're there—to support your performance, not swell your biceps.
Savva points out that soccer players need carb-heavy shakes, which are not associated with "shredded" physiques. He says, "Soccer is a high intensity sport—it's not the same as weightlifting. The energy we use in soccer is completely different."
#3 Know when the time is right
Some supplements are best taken before a workout, while others are designed for after training, when they can help speed recovery. That's the case with Gonzalez's protein shake. According to Savva, he takes it once a day, within 30 minutes after practice.
#4 Choose something you'll actually use
If you can't stand the taste of vanilla, don't purchase vanilla protein powder just because it costs five dollars less than the chocolate powder you like. At home, keep the can accessible, and make it part of your routine to pack a scoop or two before you head off to school. "That's the main thing, finding a product that players like," Savva says. "Making sure you can digest it is important, too. Because he liked the flavor, Gonzalez was happy to get on board straight away."
One last thing: Wash your shaker cup thoroughly and frequently. Whey and casein protein are both derived from milk, and leaving that last swig of protein shake in your backpack can produce an awful smell.
4 Athlete-Friendly Post-Workout Supplements
Gatorade Recover Protein Shake
Loaded with carbs and protein in a ready-to-drink bottle, this product is great on the go.
Carbs: 45 g
Fat: 0 g
Protein: 20 g
Muscle Milk Collegiate
Offers a 2:1 carb-to-protein ratio, certified by NSF and compliant with NCAA Bylaw 184.108.40.206.
Carbs: 45 g
Fat: 3.5 g
Protein: 20 g
Clif Shot Protein Recovery
Packs 3:1 carbs-to-protein, perfect for when games go deep into overtime.
Carbs: 33 g
Fat: 0 g
Protein: 10 g
Low-Fat Chocolate Milk
Many studies show that chocolate milk is as effective as most supplements at refueling muscles.
Carbs: 25 g
Fat: 2.5 g
Protein: 8 g