The Complete Beginners Guide to Exercise Nutrition Supplements
Getting back in the gym can be a difficult and grueling process. If you, like many Americans, are setting weight loss and fitness goals, and are determined to get back in shape, it can be challenging. It requires discipline, energy, focus, and determination. It’s also easy to get discouraged; the key is to keep moving toward your goal. The number one strategy for preventative medicine is, and always should be, a good fitness routine. The importance of both cardio and strength training on your health and well being is observed in just about every medical publication you will find on the subject. A few benefits include:
Reduces your risks of developing heart disease
Reduces your blood pressure
Regulates cholesterol, lowers LDL and raises HDL
Reduces your risks of developing many types of cancers, including:Colon cancer, Breast cancer, Endometrial cancer, and other types
Reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression
Lifts mood and energy levels
May decrease your risk of developing dementia
We could go on and on about the health benefits, but let’s jump to the chase. What natural strategies can I utilize to help me with my performance in the gym? That’s the million dollar question. Nutritional strategies to enhance your workouts and fitness levels can be broken down into 3 categories: Pre-workout, workout enhancement, and post workout recovery. Each category is important and should be taken serious. The good news is there are natural strategies and nutritional supplements that can enhance your experience in the gym and give you an advantage over your peers.
Before we get into strategies, it is important to list a few prerequisites. First, it is important to make sure your heart is healthy enough for activity. This doesn’t apply to the majority of us, but should be considered with your doctor. Secondly, proper form is always important in all exercises you do. To prevent injuries, seek the advice of professionals whenever possible to make sure you're executing your workouts properly. I recommend getting a personal trainer for a few sessions to gain insight on proper form and then take what you learned to the gym on your own. I cannot stress this enough. Thirdly, proper stretching is key. Before and after workouts, it’s important to stretch those muscles out, particularly your trouble areas. Fourthly, a healthy and well balanced diet is absolutely critical. We won’t go into specifics in this article but make sure you are consuming unprocessed foods, high in healthy fats, rich and nutritious fruits and vegetables, and organic meats. Lastly, be sure to make SMART achievable goals, read more about SMART goals here.
Often times overlooked, caffeine is a great way to provide the energy you need to get over the initial hump. Caffeine is available as a supplement in the form of caffeine anhydrous. This ingredient is cheap and widely available so you will see it in many pre-workout formulas. We have found that this is good to boost your workout but it may cause a post workout crash. The better option is to drink a cup of green tea, or take a green tea extract with caffeine.
Beta-Alanine is a non-essential amino acid. It is not used to synthesize proteins, unlike other amino acids. Instead, it is present in your muscles where it is used to create a compound called carnosine. Carnosine reduces lactic acid build in your muscles. Recall that lactic acid is what causes soreness in your muscles. This has been shown to increase your athletic performance by decreasing your recuperation time between workouts and lessons muscle fatigue during workouts. Some data suggests that Beta Alanine may benefit body composition by increasing lean muscle mass and promoting muscle growth.
Beta Alanine can be consumed through food with the top sources being beef, poultry, and fish. It is also commonly consumed as a nutritional supplement and is a common component of many workout formulas on the market. Beta-Alanine is considered safe but may cause a sensation called paraesthesia, or “tingling of the skin”. There is no evidence that this is harmful in any way and the sensation decreases with prolonged use.
Branch Chain Amino Acids are a core part of most fitness supplement regimens. They are called essential amino acids because your body cannot synthesize these on their own; we have to consume these in the diet. Unlike other amino acids, BCAA’s are mostly broken down in the muscles, rather than the liver. Because of this, they are theorized to play a large part in energy production during exercise.
Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. Every muscle in your body is made of long strands of amino acids. During exercise, you need more building blocks to build more muscle. BCAA’s provide your body with the nutrients it needs to build muscles, along with their ability to create energy and reduce fatigue. Many BCAA powders on the market are formulated to have a good flavor profile. Be careful here, not all brands are pleasant.
Coenzyme Q-10, or Co-Q-10, is a master antioxidant that is utilized in every cell in your body. Each cell generates energy by producing a molecule called ATP. This process takes place in your mitochondria and the process is called oxidative phosphorylation. Mitochondria are the power house of the cell, right? Co-Q-10 is a critical component of this process and is considered a rate limiting factor (i.e. not enough Co Q 10, not enough energy). For cells with high energy demands, such as the heart, this can be a problem. In the case of strenuous exercise, supplementing Co-Q 10 can provide more energy production at the cellular level.
Co-Q 10 is available as a supplement and should always be purchased in a soft gel, or fat soluble extract. 100-200mg is enough to provide you with energy support. Bonus, Co-Q-10 is also great for your cardiovascular health, and statin drugs are known to deplete this essential nutrient. Co-Q-10 is also known for its antioxidant properties.
Not typically considered by many as a work out enhancing strategy, we’ve included them for a few reasons. First, Fish Oils are an amazing source of omega 3 fatty acids and most people underestimate the roll that healthy fats play in energy production mechanisms, especially in low to moderate exercises.
Fish oils are also known to assist in the inflammatory response and the reduction of inflammatory compounds. High strenuous workouts create microscopic tears in your muscle fibers, leading to muscle damage and inflammation. Taking fish oils regularly can reduce the inflammation in your muscles and increasing your body’s ability to recover quickly.
Lastly, fish oil provides nutrients to your joints. Prolonged exercise can put stress on your joints and fish oil lubricates them providing pain relief. When choosing a fish oil, source matters. Not all fish oils are created equal. You want high quality oil, from quality wild caught fish. A company with high manufacturing standards will also ensure their products are not rancid or oxidized.
L-Arginine is an amino acid that is commonly used to enhance a workout experience. The mechanism is fairly straight forward. Arginine is a precursor to nitric oxide. This molecule reacts with receptors in your blood vessels and causes your blood vessels to expand, or dilate. This causes more blood flow to occur.
The process we discussed earlier regarding energy productions in the mitochondria is also reliant on the presence of oxygen. So, arginine causes vasodilatation, increasing blood flow. Blood carries oxygen for tissue consumptions, and more blood flow equals more oxygen to be present for energy production. Simple right? Why does our body need oxygen? For energy production! For this reason, we often see arginine used to help with hypertension as well as erectile dysfunction.
Creatine is a substance found naturally in muscle cells and is primarily used in the recycling of ATP. Recall we discussed ATP above and it’s created by the mitochondria in every cell to do work. Your body stores creatine in muscles cells specifically for high strenuous activity, such as weight lifting or cardiovascular work. Creatine is one of the more common supplement strategies for enhancing your workouts.
Studies show that it can increase muscle mass, strength, and performance. Creatine is considered very safe and is one of the most tested supplements on the market.
Creatine is typically available as creatine monohydrate. It is usually inexpensive and can be consumed as a powder or in capsules. I stress this often but quality always matters. Purchase from a brand you trust.
BHB, or Beta-Hydroxy Butyrate, is a new comer on the market. BHB is a source of exogenous ketones (not produced in the body). Your body uses these ketones as fuel. In fact, your body is very efficient at burning ketones; this process is the basis of the ketogenic diet, read our article on the ketogenic diet here.
Because your body is very efficient at burning blood ketones, exogenous BHB is a great strategy for boosting your workouts. BHB powders are a new craze in the market, are great for energy production, and assisting in weight loss goals. I particularly love taking BHB’s for the boost I get in mental energy and focus.
Post Workout Recovery
Perhaps the most important part of exercise nutrition is post workout recovery strategies. Your body goes through a lot during workouts and your body needs to repair and rebuild. Assisting your body to become more efficient at this process is smart to decrease the time it takes for full recovery. Below are our favorite strategies.
Don’t underestimate the need for rest for post work out recovery. If you are plateauing or if you are having a hard time recovering from workouts, you may need more sleep. Sleep needs vary from person to person and you may have a bigger sleep debt the more intense your workouts are. During sleep, you will naturally cycle through different sleep stages, called light sleep, deep sleep and REM sleep. All stages are important and different people will typically spend varying amounts in each sleep. Deep sleep is particularly important for rebuilding muscle as the majority of anabolic metabolism occurs during this phase. The take away here: get your sleep. If you are having difficulty staying asleep or getting to sleep, discuss this with your integrative practitioner as there may be some underlying causes.
This is a rather straight forward approach. To build protein you need to eat protein. Many individuals drink a protein drink post workout. For individuals who are really trying to build muscle and are heavy into weight training, drinking a protein drink before bed can provide additional building blocks during the night when your body is building muscles as discussed above.
Whey protein is always a great tasting option. Dairy protein is a known allergen for many individuals so this can potentially add inflammation and can be counterproductive. If you do consume whey protein, be sure to buy whey derived from grass fed cows. Luckily, there are many options available that are vegan, chiefly pea protein, rice protein, and hemp protein. When going with a vegan protein, it is important to get a blend of two or more of these sources. This is because vegan proteins typically do not have a full amino acid profile so they do not contain all 20 essential amino acids. Bone broth protein is an option that has recently increased in popularity. Bone broth protein is prepared by making a bone broth from either chicken or beef, dehydrating this and removing most of the fat content. This leads to a great tasting product with a full amino acid profile. Bone broth protein is also rich in connective tissue and is very nutritious for your gut and joints.
Glutamine is an amino acid that speeds recovery by making your muscles more efficient at carbohydrate intake post workout. This lends to a decreased recuperation time and increasing muscle mass. Glutamine has also been shown to increase the integrity of your gut lining, reducing gastrointestinal symptoms and helping to heal leaky gut. I prefer a powdered glutamine. 5-10 grams post workout is a good place to start.
During intense, calorie torching exercise, we tend to do a lot of sweating. This process can deplete your electrolytes, mainly potassium, sodium, and calcium. These electrolytes are critical to cellular signaling, nerve conduction, and normal muscle contractions and relaxations. Replenishing these electrolytes post workout is a quick and easy strategy for proper recovery.
Curcumin is an herbal extract derived from turmeric root. Used for centuries, this extract is known for its potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. As discussed above, strength training causes microscopic muscle tear as you build more muscle. Curcumin is a great way to speed the recovery of these sore muscles by acting as an anti-inflammatory.
Curcumin is known to have difficulty absorbing through gut epithelial tissue. The presence of black pepper extract, a known bio enhancer, along with curcumin can increase the rate of absorption into your blood stream by a factor of 10 compared to curcumin alone.
Hyperbaric Oxygen Chamber
Hyperbaric therapy is an advanced strategy for post workout recovery. Most peak athletes have these devices in their home. They work by pumping concentrated oxygen into a pressurized chamber. The oxygen diffuses into the muscle tissue and oxygenates cells. This enhances your body’s ability to recover from strenuous exercise. They are also great for healing soft tissue injuries.
The problem with these therapies is that they are expensive. Most regular Americans can’t afford to buy one for home use and going to your local clinic that use these devises is inconvenient at best. If you have tried multiple strategies to decrease your recovery time and are still struggling, try hyperbaric oxygen therapy.
There are obviously multiple strategies to help you achieve your fitness goals. It is a good idea to try one or a few of these options and see how you respond. Experiment with these and see how they work. There are many formulas that combine many of these nutrients into easy to take powders or pills. The take away is this. If you are getting back into the gym, there are supplements and strategies that can increase your chances of hitting your goals.
- Tags: Diet and Exercise
- Joshua Lovern