Dietary Supplements For Exercise And Athletic Performance
by Dr. Surya Bhagwati on Mar 15, 2021
To reach peak performance, you need to be well-nourished and adequately hydrated. Dietary deficiencies and poor hydration can severely impair performance. For athletes who engage in high intensity or endurance activities, it can be hard to get adequate nutrition from dietary sources alone, which is why dietary supplements are so popular. As per the USFDA classification of dietary supplements, these can include ingredients like vitamins, minerals, amino acids, enzymes, herbs or other botanicals, and other metabolites that may be synthetically produced or plant-based.
10 Popular Dietary Supplements for Enhanced Athletic Performance:
1. Protein Supplements
Protein is the most vital nutrient for muscle growth and maintenance, making it essential for athletes and bodybuilders. Getting a good amount of protein gives you all of the essential amino acids or EAAs needed for muscle growth while limiting protein breakdown in muscles. Athletes have higher protein requirements of about 0.5 to 0.9 grams for each pound of body weight per day. When engaging in high-intensity training these requirements can be even higher. Getting adequate protein from dietary sources alone can therefore be tough, making protein supplements so helpful. Whey protein is generally regarded as the best protein supplement, providing all the EAAs.
2. Creatine Supplements
Creatine has long been popular with athletes and bodybuilders who are looking to boost performance in high-intensity activities like sprinting or weight lifting. Creatine is stored in the muscles, providing them with a supply of energy, improving strength and power. While evidence shows creatine to be extremely helpful at boosting performance in such short bursts of intense activity it does not help with endurance activities like running a marathon or swimming.
A few decades ago, Ashwagandha was barely known outside of the Ayurvedic community, but it has rapidly emerged as one of the most popular dietary supplements for athletes worldwide. This is because Ashwagandha works through a variety of mechanisms, improving resistance to both physical and mental stress, lowering cortisol levels, and boosting testosterone. These actions are believed to boost muscle growth, but more importantly, research shows that regular supplementation can also improve cardiorespiratory endurance, boosting performance in both high intensity and endurance activities.
4. Caffeine Supplements
Caffeine supplements have been popular among endurance athletes for decades, commonly used to increase alertness and boost performance. Evidence does suggest that caffeine supplementation can help with endurance activities, but is not of much help for short, high-intensity activities. The performance boost from caffeine is also mild and can vary among individuals. Moreover, a high dosage of caffeine is known to cause side effects that can be counterproductive to performance, causing disturbed sleep, irritability, and anger. Extremely high doses of 10,000 mg or more can even be fatal.
5. Branched-Chain Amino Acids or BCAAs
These dietary supplements for performance have become quite popular with athletes and they come with amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and valine. This means that they are only helpful if you aren’t getting enough dietary protein or high-quality protein supplements. Based on the evidence it also appears that these supplements can help with muscle growth and strength when used with weight training. The benefits would therefore mainly help with performance in high-intensity activities, rather than with endurance.
6. B Vitamins
When thinking of dietary supplements for performance, most of us overlook the importance of nutrients like B-complex vitamins. The B vitamins include nutrients like thiamin, folate, riboflavin, and vitamins B6 and B12, all of which are important for performance in athletes. While dietary intake of nutrients is always preferable to supplementation, if your diet is lacking in B vitamins, it would be a good idea to take vitamin supplements like B complex.
Gokhru has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for millennia, but it has also become popular in the west for potential bodybuilding and athletic performance benefits. Now better known to many athletes as Tribulus terrestris, the herb can be helpful as it boosts testosterone and androsterone levels, also promoting improvements in anaerobic muscle power. This makes it particularly helpful as a performance-enhancing supplement for sprinters, bodybuilders, and other athletes engaging in high-intensity activities.
8. Iron Supplements
Like B vitamins, iron supplementation is rarely given much thought when it comes to athletic performance. However, adequate iron intake is essential because of its role in oxygen delivery throughout the body, including the muscles. Iron deficiency anaemia is known to increase fatigue and impairs athletic performance, whether engaging in high intensity or endurance activities. Of course, iron supplementation will only offer benefits if your diet is lacking in iron. Instead of iron supplements, you can also treat iron deficiency anaemia with Shilajit, which is known to offer other health benefits as well, raising energy levels and boosting performance.
9. Beetroot Supplements
Beetroot is a widely consumed tuber in India and it’s also highly recommended in Ayurved to relieve fatigue and conditions that cause weakness. Beet powders and supplements are now also gaining popularity with athletes as they are one of the best sources of nitrates, which the body converts to nitric oxide. This causes blood vessel expansion, improving blood flow and oxygen supply to the muscles, reducing muscle fatigue and boosting performance in endurance and aerobic activities like distance running and swimming.
Quercetin supplements are not as well-known as most of the others on this list, but they are increasingly being used among some athletes to improve performance. This compound, which is found in several foods and herbs like amla increases energy production in the muscles and also enhances circulation through the body. The benefits of quercetin supplementation are thought to be marginal and it would be best to consume food and herbs to get this nutrient.
While these are some of the most commonly used dietary supplements for performance, there are other dietary supplements that you can also consider using. These can include glutamine, arginine, and herbs like Shatavari or Safed Musli. Most importantly, ensure that your diet is balanced with a variety of foods to give you adequate calories, carbs, and fluid to regulate blood sugar and glycogen levels, as well as protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals.
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