If you're looking to enhance your workout and get the most out of your fitness routine, supplements can be a great addition. But with so many options on the market, it can be overwhelming to know which ones to choose. Here are some of the best supplements to consider when working out, recommended by experts in the field.
What Are Supplements?
Supplements are products that are intended to supplement the diet. They can include vitamins, minerals, herbs, amino acids, enzymes and other ingredients taken in various forms such as a pill, gel, capsule, gummy, powder, drink or food1.
The purpose of supplements is to provide additional nutrients either extracted from food sources or that are synthetic in order to increase the quantity of their consumption2.
Common supplements include vitamins (such as multivitamins or individual vitamins like vitamin D and biotin), minerals (such as calcium, magnesium, and iron), botanicals or herbs (such as echinacea and ginger), botanical compounds (such as caffeine and curcumin), amino acids (such as tryptophan and lysine), and enzymes (such as lactase and amylase)3.
Dietary supplements have been used for many years to fill in nutritional gaps in the diet or optimize a specific body response. Learn all about which supplements you should be using when working out below.
How Can Supplements Help When Working Out?
Supplements can help while working out by providing additional nutrients that may be lacking in your diet.
For example, creatine supplementation increases muscle availability of creatine, which in turn can enhance exercise capacity and training adaptations in adolescents, younger adults, and older adults4.
Caffeine can improve your performance by giving you more energy and mental alertness5.
Beta alanine is an amino acid that reduces acidity in your muscles during exercise, which may help you sustain your workout for slightly longer6.
However, it is important to note that supplements are not a substitute for a healthy diet and exercise routine. They should be used in conjunction with a healthy lifestyle to maximize their benefits7.
Let's take a closer look at some of these performance-enhancing supplements below:
It is an easy way to consume more protein daily and can be blended into a shake or smoothie, sprinkled into oatmeal, or added to baked goods like bread or muffins9.
Protein provides the body with the necessary amino acids to repair and grow muscle tissue after a workout.
Protein is also the only major nutrient that stimulates muscle protein synthesis, the process by which your body repairs and grows muscle.
Similarly, it can improve insulin sensitivity and blood glucose control, support healthy blood pressure and inflammatory response, and reduce age- or inactivity-induced losses in muscle and strength10.
Whey protein is a common type of protein powder, but there are also plant-based options like pea protein and soy protein for those who are vegan or lactose intolerant.
It's important to choose a high-quality protein powder with minimal additives and fillers for the best results.
Protein powder should not be used as a substitute for whole foods. It should be used in conjunction with a healthy diet and exercise routine to maximize its benefits9.
Learn about the minimum daily protein intake for different fitness goals with our graphic below.
Creatine is a natural substance that can improve exercise performance, muscle growth, and brain function.
It provides extra fuel to your muscles, allowing you to exercise harder, longer, and heavier. It may also reduce muscle breakdown, fatigue, and recovery time.
Creatine may also have benefits for certain neurological diseases11.
When you engage in physical activity, your muscle fibers break down. Creatine is used as energy for muscle contractions throughout your body.
It aids your body in making more adenosine triphosphate (ATP), a molecule that gives you energy and can help your exercise performance.
Our body makes only so much ATP, and when we exercise, we tend to run out. Creatine expands your workout capacity by keeping your muscles fueled with energy12.
Creatine supplementation might improve performance during cognitive tasks as well, especially in older adults. It can also help to improve sarcopenia (muscle wasting) and bone health.
Finally, creatine supplementation might help counteract age-related declines in skeletal muscle and bone mineral density13.
It's important to note that creatine may cause water retention and weight gain, so it's imperative to stay hydrated and monitor your dosage.
As always, consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new supplement regimen.
BCAAs (Branched-Chain Amino Acids)
BCAAs are a group of three essential amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, and valine.
These amino acids are not produced by the body and must be obtained through diet or supplementation.
BCAAs can help your body build and repair muscle, regulate blood sugar levels, and prevent muscle wasting or breakdown, which makes them popular choices by athletes and bodybuilders.
BCAAs also provide energy for your muscles during training by preserving glycogen stores14.
Similarly, they may improve endurance and reduce fatigue during prolonged exercise.
The theory behind the benefits of BCAAs is that having them in the body around the time of working out means that they are readily available for use as the body needs them.
This could help repair the muscle and build muscle quickly, leading to more strength and less muscle loss15.
However, it's important to note that BCAAs should not be used as a replacement for a balanced diet and regular exercise routine.
Consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new supplement regimen.
Beta-alanine is a non-essential amino acid that is naturally produced by the body.
It is commonly found in pre-workout supplements and is known for its ability to increase muscle endurance and delay fatigue during high-intensity exercise.
Beta-alanine works by increasing the levels of carnosine in the muscles, which helps to buffer the build-up of lactic acid and delay the onset of muscle fatigue.
It is important to note that beta-alanine may cause a harmless tingling sensation in the skin, known as paresthesia, which can be uncomfortable for some individuals.
You can get beta-alanine from foods like chicken, beef, pork, and fish16.
As with any supplement, it is important to consult with a healthcare professional before adding beta-alanine to your workout routine.
Caffeine is a popular supplement for those looking to enhance their workout performance.
It is a stimulant that can increase alertness, focus, and energy levels.
Caffeine makes it possible for you to exercise harder and longer, which naturally burns fat17.
Caffeine may also help muscle cells absorb more glucose after a workout. By taking up glucose and converting it into glycogen, muscle cells recover more rapidly from a workout18.
Caffeine activates areas of your brain and nervous system to improve focus and energy while reducing fatigue19. It also increases circulating epinephrine (adrenaline), the hormone responsible for the “fight or flight” response19.
However, it is important to note that caffeine can have negative side effects, such as increased heart rate and blood pressure, and can also lead to dependence and withdrawal symptoms.
It is recommended to limit caffeine intake to no more than 400mg per day and to avoid consuming it close to bedtime.
As with any supplement, it is important to consult with a healthcare professional before adding caffeine to your workout routine.
TL;DR: Best Supplements When Working Out
Clearly, there are many different types of supplements that can help improve your workouts. Some work by improving the body's recovery capacity, while others look to stimulate the nervous system and boost energy.
In case the article is too long for you, we'll leave you with a few key points for each supplement that we've gone over today.
Protein Powder is a popular supplement for people who want to build muscle mass and improve their athletic performance. It is a convenient way to increase your protein intake and can help you recover faster after a workout20.
Creatine is another popular supplement that can help you build muscle mass and improve your athletic performance. It works by increasing the amount of creatine phosphate in your muscles, which helps you produce more energy during high-intensity exercise20.
Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) are another popular supplement that can help you build muscle mass and improve your athletic performance. They work by decreasing protein breakdown during exercise and decreasing levels of creatine kinase, which is an indicator of muscle damage14.
Beta-Alanine is another supplement that can help you improve your athletic performance. It increases muscle concentrations of carnosine, which is a proton buffer that reduces muscle acidity during high-intensity exercise, which in turn reduces overall fatigue21.
Caffeine is another popular supplement that can help you improve your athletic performance. It has been shown to increase work output, strength, endurance, anaerobic power, reaction time, focus, and alertness20.
These supplements can help you build muscle mass and improve your athletic performance. However, it’s important to remember that supplements are not a substitute for a healthy diet and regular exercise22.