Sports supplements can be a great addition to a healthy diet to support muscle health and performance and increase energy and strength. You may have other goals – boost the metabolism, decrease body fat, lose some weight, and some supplements are better than others to provide these benefits.
Sport supplements are a great addition (not a replacement!) to a healthy, balanced diet, good quality sleep, and regular exercise.
Sport supplements are broadly classified based on their ingredients. There are protein-based supplements, supplements that contain essential vitamins and minerals, herbal products and other adaptogens.
Before going to a nutrition store filled with hundreds of different products, it is important to carefully assess your fitness plan. Working with a fitness professional to get a customized plan for your needs is best.
Some sports supplements protect bone and joint health, relieve inflammation and promote muscle recovery. Before going to a nutrition store filled with hundreds of different products, it is important to carefully assess your fitness plan and choose the best sports supplements for your goals.
Types of supplements
Sport supplements are broadly classified based on their ingredients. Many products, such as protein powders and single or combination of amino acids, are protein-based. Others contain essential vitamins and minerals that support muscle and nerve function. Herbal products like ashwagandha and other adaptogens are becoming increasingly popular either alone or in combination with vitamins and proteins.
The daily amount of protein depends on several factors, including your age, fitness goals, weight, and how active you are. The general recommendation is to consume about 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram, but athletes may need as much as 1.3-1.8 g per kilogram, divided into 3-4 meals. Here is a protein calculator to get an idea about how many grams of proteins you need daily.
- Whey protein powder is one of the best sports supplements for a very good reason. It is well researched and was found to be effective in increasing muscle growth and lean body mass. It seems to better boost muscle growth and control appetite than other protein powders based on soy or casein. A review of multiple studies found that using resistance training while supplementing with whey protein helps reduce body weight and fat. As a post-workout supplement, whey protein stimulates the formation of new muscle tissue. Whey protein isolate is very low in lactose compared with whey concentrate and can be used for those with intolerance to cow’s milk. Whey protein also may help reduce inflammation and cholesterol levels (particularly LDL cholesterol), blood pressure, and blood sugar levels.
- Collagen is the main protein making up the body and supports healthy bones, joints, skin, and hair; and is also important for digestive health. Unlike whey, collagen does not contain branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) needed for muscle growth, exercise performance, muscle recovery, or to improve lean body mass. However, collagen contains glycine, arginine, and other amino acids important for the musculoskeletal system. The best way to reap the benefits of protein shakes from your efforts at the gym is to take collagen along with whey protein or BCAAs.
- Vegan protein shakes contain a combination of plant-based proteins, aiming to provide all the amino acids in animal-based proteins. Pea and hemp protein powder is a popular combination. However, it's worth mentioning that gram for gram, animal protein powders are more complete, better absorbed, bring more nutrients, and typically have fewer calories and carbohydrates compared with plant-based proteins. Animal-based proteins also help build the muscles more effectively.
Amino acids and creatine
Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) include three amino acids. Leucine is more important to promoting muscle building process than isoleucine and valine. Although whey protein is a source of BCAAs, these amino acids can be taken separately as a supplement, especially if you want to boost athletic performance, reduce muscle breakdown, improve recovery time after workouts, and gain more muscle. BCAAs can also help manage muscle pain a few days after a workout (so-called delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS). Those who lift heavy weights and endurance athletes that practice high-intensity training can benefit from extra BCAAs because this supplement increases endurance and fights fatigue. The best ratio between amino acids included in BCAAs appears to be 2:1:1 (leucine: isoleucine: valine).
The amino acid lysine helps maintain lean body mass, supports bone, muscle growth, and muscle repair, helps the body generate collagen, keeps the blood vessels healthy, and uses fat for energy.
The amino acid glutamine helps improve athletic performance, boost metabolism, and speed muscle recovery. Glutamine also supports detoxification from ammonia and other waste products formed during workouts.
The amino acid arginine is best known for producing nitric oxide. It boosts circulation, increases exercise performance, and supports heart health. Arginine also promotes muscle growth and helps eliminate waste products more effectively from the body. Arginine is available as a supplement but taking another amino acid called citrulline may be even more effective in raising arginine levels. Citrulline is also helpful in managing delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS)
Creatine is a natural compound produced in the body from the amino acids glycine and arginine and is a top supplement used to boost performance at the gym. Research studies indicate that creatine increases muscle mass, strength, stamina, exercise performance, and recovery. Creatine is a great addition to whey protein to get faster and better results at the gym.
Multivitamins (with extra Vitamin D) and multimineral
Vitamins and minerals are essential for optimal health and promote strong muscles and joints and fight fatigue. B vitamins are essential to generate energy for bodily’s cells, while vitamin C has strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant qualities.
Minerals like magnesium, potassium, iron, and zinc are also involved in energy metabolism, muscle and nerve function, formation of blood cells, and circulation, which are all essential to optimize athletic performance.
Coconut water with a pinch of salt can replace energy drinks by providing hydration and electrolyte replacements lost through sweat.
Vitamin D deficiency is a common problem that can interfere with getting the best results from a workout. On the other hand, optimizing vitamin D levels helps improve exercise capacity and cardiorespiratory fitness. This nutrient also supports healthy testosterone levels, and testosterone is well known to be associated with muscle growth, increased physical energy, and lesser body fat.
Adaptogens help the body to cope with both physical and emotional stress. Instead of giving quick energy surges like coffee or sugar, adaptogens manage the body’s hormones to respond to stress. Ashwagandha helps increase muscle performance, strengthen coordination and promote faster recovery. It also increases testosterone levels while reducing the levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
Furthermore, ashwagandha supports heart health, a strong immune system, and a healthy weight and may even slow the aging process. The adaptogen family of herbs has many members that offer similar benefits, including ashwagandha, Rhodiola, ginseng, Schisandra, and maca.
- NIH. Before going to a nutrition store filled with hundreds of different products, it is important to carefully assess your fitness plan. Working with a fitness professional to get a customized plan for your needs is best.
- NIH. Effects of whey protein and resistance exercise on body composition: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials.
- NIH. Whey protein stimulates postprandial muscle protein accretion more effectively than do casein and casein hydrolysate in older men.
- NIH. Ingestion of whey hydrolysate, casein, or soy protein isolate: effects on mixed muscle protein synthesis at rest and following resistance exercise in young men.
- NIH. Comparative effects of whey and casein proteins on satiety in overweight and obese individuals: a randomized controlled trial.
Show all references
- DietDoctor. Plant protein vs. animal protein: Which one is healthier for you?
- NIH. Branched-Chain Amino Acid Ingestion Stimulates Muscle Myofibrillar Protein Synthesis following Resistance Exercise in Humans.
- NIH. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: safety and efficacy of creatine supplementation in exercise, sport, and medicine.
- NIH. Effects of creatine supplementation on performance and training adaptations.
- NIH. Examining the effect of Withania somnifera supplementation on muscle strength and recovery: a randomized controlled trial.
- NIH. Coconut water as a rehydration fluid.