The right supplements, taken at the right time, can enhance your workout and help you perform at your best.
Athletes are always looking for the competitive edge, and there’s no shortage of dietary supplements that claim to help them prepare for exercise, enhance performance and boost recovery.
To properly supplement, though, there are a few things to keep in mind. For one thing, supplements are called that for a reason – they’re designed to be used on top of a healthy, well-balanced diet, not to take the place of a poor one. Secondly, timing is everything. To get the most from your sports supplements, you’ll want to take them at the right time to get the most benefit.
Workout Supplements: Before Exercise
Carbohydrates are the body’s primary energy source. They’re readily available from the bloodstream (as blood glucose) and are also stored in the muscles and liver (as glycogen) where they can be tapped for fuel. But athletes who train hard may have difficulty maintaining adequate carbohydrate stores, which is why carbs are so vital for pre-workout, especially for those who will be engaging in prolonged bouts of high-intensity activity.
Creatine is an amino acid which is stored primarily in the muscles as phosphocreatine (PCr) – a compound that is vital in generating energy during the first few seconds of intense exercise. Creatine supplement use is usually associated with strength and power athletes – such as weightlifters and sprinters – but it can also be beneficial to those who engage in sports that involve prolonged intermittent activity, such as football.
Arginine and citrulline are amino acids that are used in the production of nitric oxide (NO). NO is a gas produced at various sites in the body, and is involved in several processes related to exercise, including the regulation of muscle contraction and expansion of blood vessels, which promotes blood flow and delivery of oxygen and nutrients to working muscles.
Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAS), which consist of leucine, isoleucine and valine, are considered essential because the body cannot manufacture them – they have to be obtained from outside sources. Working muscles can use BCAAs for energy during exercise. Leucine in particular plays a role in muscle growth.
Workout Supplements: During Exercise
Carbohydrate supplementation can help keep the muscles and central nervous system adequately fueled during prolonged exercise. This can help prevent glycogen stores in muscles and liver from becoming depleted, and also helps to keep blood sugar levels up so that activity can be sustained.
Electrolytes are commonly known as “body salts” and include the minerals sodium, potassium and magnesium. These nutrients help support muscle activity, which is why muscle cramping and weakness can occur when these minerals are lost in body sweat. Many sports beverages are designed to provide both carbohydrate and electrolytes to the athlete, which makes them a convenient way to meet the needs for both nutrients during extended activity.
Workout Supplements: After Exercise
Milk proteins whey and casein are particularly well-suited for promoting muscle protein synthesis and are important proteins for exercise recovery. Whey protein is rich in the BCAA leucine, which is rapidly taken up by cells. That’s why it is often used immediately after a workout. Casein, also a rich source of BCAAs, is digested more slowly and may be more useful as a bedtime supplement to help with muscle repair during sleep.
Carbohydrates need to be replenished after a workout. Since body stores of carbohydrate will have dipped, it’s important to replenish those supplies – ideally, within 30 minutes of finishing activity. This helps the body to recover and build glycogen stores back up in preparation for the next round of exercise.