These days, a trip to the local health store is an overwhelming and confusing journey. Even in the rare event you know what to search for, there are a ton of options on the shelves. Every capsule and powder is claiming to ensure the health of your joints, make you have stronger lifts or prolong your life. How do you separate fact from fiction?
But with some research behind you, you can save your hard-earned money on supplements that don’t do what they say they will, and buy products that will indeed add benefit to your workouts and your life overall.
According to The Council for Responsible Nutrition, there are five common types of supplements: vitamins and minerals, specialty, herbal, weight management and sports nutrition. Here we will go through each type and let you know what to look for in each one, backed by examples.
Vitamins and Minerals
There’s a supplement out there for every vitamin and mineral, each with its own purpose/ All of them help to facilitate the many metabolic reactions in our bodies. If you have a deficiency in any of them, you could experience illness or poor performance.
Vitamins and minerals are the most overused of all the supplements. A poll by the American Osteopathic Association revealed that 86 percent of Americans take vitamins, but just 21 percent experience a deficiency.
Let’s say you’re getting enough Vitamin C from your regular diet. In this case, you don’t have to take a supplement. In fact, if you take too many unnecessary vitamins and minerals, you could experience nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting, while increasing your cancer risk.
You have to eat enough of each nutrient without going over the daily recommended allowance. Check out the most popular vitamin and mineral supplements and what to know about each.
These are the most popular supplements in the nation. The Council for Responsible Nutrition says that 58 percent of users take one. A multivitamin is basically many vitamins in one pill or capsule. This is a form of one-stop shopping for all micronutrient needs, if you will.
There are multivitamins out there for everyone: men, women, kids, athletes, adults over 50…you name it. The nutrient makeup of each supplement will depend on who is taking it. For example, a multivitamin for kids likely has more Vitamin A, important for growth, and older adult multivitamins likely have B12 to prevent fatigue.
The evidence is mixed as to whether or not these work. According to the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, multivitamins didn’t lower the risk of diseases or cognitive decline.
Another study done in 2012 said that men who took a multivitamin lowered their cancer risk by eight percent, when compared with those who only took a placebo.
Your nutritionist or doctor can let you know if you need to take a multivitamin. If you do, make sure to take the proper dosage.
Without enough Vitamin D, you can’t absorb calcium properly. That’s why this vitamin is so great for healthy bones, teeth, and muscles. The Council for Responsible Nutrition says this is the second-most popular supplement, behind multivitamins.
In addition to food and supplements, another popular source of vitamin D is the sun. Studies show that Vitamin D supplementation is beneficial, particularly for older people who have a fall risk. One study revealed that a high dosage of vitamin D can reduce injuries from falls by nearly 20 percent when taken with calcium. Other studies say it boosts muscle strength which in turn prevents falls.
We are all told to drink lots of orange juice or take a Vitamin C vitamin during cold and flu season to boost our immune systems. But vitamin C does a lot more than that. Getting enough Vitamin C makes sure your skin, cells, blood vessels, and bones remain healthy. Plus, you can hasten wound healing.
But again, if you’re getting enough vitamin C through your diet, you don’t need to take a supplement. Did you know Vitamin C absorption drops by 50 percent when you take more than 1,000 milligrams? There is also an adverse effect for those who take more than 3,000 mg, with side effects including diarrhea and kidney stones.
Specialty supplements treat a specific cause, unlike a mineral or vitamin, which are designed to address many ailments at once. The Council for Responsible Nutrition says these supplements address blood pressure and rheumatoid arthritis issues.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
You may have heard about “good fats vs. bad fats,” and Omega-3 fatty acid is one of the good ones. There are three types — EPA, DHA, and ALA. The first two are present in fish, and ALA is present in seeds and nuts.
You may know these supplements as fish oils, which lower blood pressure or reduce heart disease risk. Omega-3 fatty acids can boost your “good” cholesterol or high-density lipoprotein (HDL).
If you are getting enough seafood, olive oil, seeds and nuts through your regular diet, you don’t need these supplements.
There are many benefits of fiber, as it helps to maintain bowel health, lowers cholesterol, and makes you feel fuller for longer periods of time.
You can’t find fiber in many processed foods, such as potato chips, pastry, and fried foods. That’s why only five percent of Americans get enough fiber and must resort to supplements. Studies show that fiber supplements boost overall and intestinal health, but getting fiber in a pill isn’t as efficient as getting it from food.
These include green teas and ashwagandha, St. John’s Wort, turmeric, mushrooms, garlic and tart cherry juice. You can even take greens powders, composed of ground-up vegetables and herbal supplements for better bioavailability. People have been taking these supplements for thousands of years in South America and China, and claim they have medicinal benefits to help with anything from joint issues to halting the formation of blood clots.
Many doctors in America don’t openly endorse herbal treatments, saying there is a lack of conclusive evidence in regards to benefits. Some researchers say they can be complementary to one another to result in therapeutic effects.”
This ginger commonly comes in powdered form in the spice aisle of your local grocery store. This form is used commonly in Indian and Southeast Asian cooking in dishes that require curry.
But it also comes in supplement form as a way to treat heart disease and Alzheimer’s. Researchers say more studies must be done regarding effectiveness in lowering blood pressure and cardiovascular disease though. Right now, there is no conclusive scientific evidence saying it can lower the risk of Alzheimer’s.
Many athletes take it for joint pain thanks to the research that backs up turmeric’s effectiveness for those who suffer from achy knees and elbows.
While sport nutrition supplements are very popular, they comprise less than one-third of all supplements that the general public takes. These supplements are designed to improve performance in the gym, strengthen muscles, and make you faster and stronger.
It’s no secret that protein powder has been used by muscle-builders for many decades. Protein is, as you know, the building block of all muscles, so you need as much of it as you can. This can be difficult for bigger people who are looking to build muscle or maintain muscle mass, so taking a supplement is much easier than getting it through the diet.
Protein powder is available in whey, casein, soy, pea and more. When looking for protein powder, search the amino acid profile. Amino acids comprise protein molecules, with each one playing a different role in muscle development as well as bodily functions. When a powder contains low amino acid concentrations, you shouldn’t buy it.
Keep in mind that protein powder with added sugars only serves to add extra calories that don’t help you build up muscle mass, even though they make your shakes taste better.
Protein powders’ effectiveness has been shown in many studies. Some say they can reduce fat and maintain muscle when popped alongside high-protein meals. Others say protein supplements can increase muscle protein synthesis, or how much protein your muscles can absorb.
However, still other studies show that many of the most popular protein powders feature heavy metals that could be toxic. Check out the list at cleanlabelproject.org.
Branched-Chain Amino Acids
Branched-chain amino acids are composed of three amino acids (valine, leucine, and isoleucine) and have varying chemical structures. These amino acids are vital for muscle growth. You can find them in many foods and in powder form that you can mix with water.
Many people like to take BCAAs to lower muscle fatigue and soreness while providing a boost of energy at the gym. One study revealed that BCAAs don’t offer a significant boost in muscle growth or protein synthesis; in fact, many people lost muscle when they took BCAA supplements. Another study revealed minimal muscle growth improvements and said that a proper diet was a better way to improve physique.
Also found in powder form, creatine is made naturally by the body and is present in protein-heavy foods like meat. However, it’s only there in small doses. Creatine helps make adenosine triphosphate — the preferred energy source of the body — to improve performance and improve muscle contractions. It can also increase lean muscle mass and strength while maximizing faster muscle recovery after a workout session.
The effectiveness of creatine has been backed up by bodybuilders and athletes for years, as well as the International Society of Sports Nutrition.
Excessive creatine levels, however, can lower creatine synthesis, which means your body can’t absorb it as well. This can increase the risk of developing kidney disease.
The two types of amino acids are essential and non-essential. You must get the former through your diet because your body doesn’t make enough of it naturally. The latter can be found at higher levels in the body. Beta-alanine is included in the latter.
This amino acid can give you that “itchy feeling,” or acute paresthesia.
Beta-alanine is backed by many studies showing it may increase muscle endurance so you can work out for longer periods of time, which is the main reason it is found many pre workout powders. The International Society of Sports Nutrition supports the use of beta-alanine by athletes, specifically athletes that are engaging in intense training sessions.
Weight management includes supplements that help you to speed up fat loss by lowering your appetite, boosting your caloric burn, and suppressing macronutrient absorption.
Some athletes take caffeine pills after consuming their morning cup of coffee. This is OK as long as you don’t go over the limit of 400 mg of caffeine per day, which is four cups of coffee.
You should avoid taking caffeine powder though, which is super concentrated dehydrated caffeine. You could die if you take too much of this.
Caffeine can boost the body’s metabolism by 11 percent, while increasing fat burning. It can also help with intense, short-term exercises, in which weightlifters use energy drinks before their workouts at the gym.
Do You Need Supplements?
Before you go out and buy a bunch of supplements, pause to ask yourself if you really need them. Look at the word “supplement” itself, meaning it complements or enhances something. If you are complimenting or enhancing nutrition it’s because you want an extra boost or you’re deficient in something.
You should engage in a well-balanced diet to meet all your nutritional needs, ideally. But a 2017 study says 31 percent of Americans have at least one vitamin deficiency, while a 2019 study revealed that one in three adults over the age of 50 weren’t eating enough protein.
Researchers say this could be due to a poor diet lacking in fruits and vegetables, or specialty diets that eliminate certain nutrients. Take the paleo diet, for instance, which is low in calcium and Vitamin D. Adjusting your eating regimen should be done first before you run out and buy supplements.
One particular instance where you may want to take supplements is if you have a certain disease or genetic disorder that makes it hard to absorb nutrients from your food. If you are a vegan, for example, you may want to take a B12 supplement to make up for the lack of plant-based foods. Always check with your doctor first through.
Another instance why you may want to take a supplement is if you are a bodybuilder or like to hit the gym. Bodybuilders who want to hold onto muscle must eat a lot of protein. This can get costly if you are buying a lot of chicken, ground beef and steak. Plus, it’s quicker to take a supplement shake than cook a steak on the grill.
What to be on the Lookout For
Price is a big factor when purchasing supplements. But be mindful of the dosage. It should be potent enough for the money. So don’t buy a protein powder with only 10 grams of protein. Know how much of a certain supplement you should take and research it fully before buying.
The supplements on our list are just some of the supplements you can take for muscle and strength-building.
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