Are you unsure about taking supplements? If you decided to take them, then which one? This guide will provide you will a list of different supplements and the most common ones taken by athletes.
Supplements are exactly what the name suggests: it is to supplement your dietary intake. It can be used for different reasons and can come in different forms – tablets, capsules, powder, liquid, or bars.
There are over-the-counter supplements such as Vitamin D, C, zinc, omega-3, probiotics and much more, but that is not what this guide will cover. This guide is focused on supplements targeted at athletes who are looking to get extra benefits to get fitter, stronger or healthier.
The rule you should follow is simple: read the label of whatever you buy. Know what you are putting in your body before consuming it.
Disclaimer: Before taking a supplement or changing your dietary habits, consult a doctor who can diagnose your case specifically. This article is intended for information only and should not replace the advice of a medical specialist.
What Are Supplements?
Supplements do what its name suggests: it supplements the intake of a specific substance – the substance differs from what you are trying to achieve.
A person looking to lose weight or gain muscle would be taking different supplements from someone who is looking to increase its endurance.
With so many options on the market, it is easy to get confused about which supplements to take and for what purpose.
Who Usually Takes Supplements?
Most commonly, supplements are taken by:
- Elite athletes
Nowadays, however, many people add some sort of supplement to their daily routine.
It is important to know that, for most people, it is not necessary to take any supplements, as a balanced and healthy diet should provide enough nutrients and minerals for the body to function properly, create muscle and lose body fat.
Bodybuilders, weightlifters and elite athletes take supplements to increase their performance, however minimal it might seem. A CrossFit athlete, for example, might need help to reach peak performance for the CrossFit Games and can only do it by eating a lot of calories every day and a huge amount of it being carbs (for energy) and protein (for muscle mass).
If your job is not related to building muscle or performing some form of sports at a high level, you probably do not need to take supplements. However, we have compiled a list of the most common supplements available.
Perhaps the most common and affordable supplement on the list. Protein is one of three macronutrients and the one responsible for muscle growth.
You can find protein in eggs, meat, fish, almonds, broccoli, quinoa, milk, and much more. But to gain that extra help to build muscle, people turn to protein supplements to increase their daily protein intake.
According to the American College of Sports Medicine, between 10-35 per cent of your daily energy intake should come from protein to maintain muscle mass. For a normal person on a 2,000 calorie diet, it means that 700 calories (around 100 grams) should come from a protein source, which is not always easy to do.
That is why some people turn to protein supplements to achieve that sweet spot of minimum percentage of protein taken every day.
Find out how much protein do you need, why, and where it should come from. It is not recommended to take more than 3 grams of protein per kg bodyweight.
Protein supplements are easy to find in supermarkets and pharmacies and they can come in different forms as well:
- Protein bars
- Protein shakes
- Protein powder
You have seen it before and probably have eaten once or twice even without knowing it was marketed as a protein bar. Protein bars are usually sold in supermarkets right next to other cereal bars.
As a rule of thumb, do not consume more than 3 protein bars per day as it can cause more harm than good. That is because most protein bars are packed with calories, not only protein, and it will lead to weight gain. Besides that, protein bars also come in fruit flavours and their sugar could increase your risk of diabetes and fatty liver disease.
Protein shakes are also widely available in supermarkets. Like the protein bars, they are a quick fix for those who want to increase their protein intake fast with no hassle.
Keep in mind that some protein shakes are labelled for weight loss, while other claims to increase your muscle mass. Make sure to read the label and its ingredients thoroughly.
Like with protein bars, the protein shakes can be high in calories and could have added sugar which is not beneficial for most people. Although it has protein, it does not mean necessarily that is only protein and could pack other nutrients that will make you gain weight or increase your risk of diabetes.
Protein powder is the more reliable source of protein supplements and the preferred option for most people. Why? Because the industry of protein powder (usually) labels exactly what is in their product so that even elite athletes can take them without risking ingesting an illegal substance and being banned from their sport for doping.
Protein powders are concentrated sources of protein from animal or plant foods. To make things harder, protein powders are divided into three common forms:
- Protein concentrates – produced by extracting protein utilising heat, acid or enzymes. Typically 60-80% of the product is protein with the remaining composed of fat and cars.
- Protein isolates – the concentrated protein is further filtered to remove fat and carbs. In the end, 90-95% of the product is protein.
- Protein hydrolysates – these types of protein are absorbed more quickly by the body and muscles.
Protein powder can be further divided into several forms, depending on where it is extracted from and how.
- Whey protein – comes from milk and digests quickly to increase and create muscle and help the recovery process.
- Casein protein – also comes from milk, but it is digested slowly by the body.
- Egg protein – usually made from egg whites, the protein quality is incredibly high, but you might not experience being full for longer compared to whey and casein protein.
- Pea protein – popular among vegetarians, vegans, or people with allergies to dairy or eggs. It is made from split pea, a high-fibre legume that has all but one of the essential amino acids. It is absorbed faster than casein protein, but slower than whey protein.
- Hemp protein – rich in omega-3 fatty acids, although not considered a complete protein supplement as it has low levels of lysine and leucine amino acids.
- Beef protein – obtained from the tissues of livestock. Popular among people who follow the paleo diet.
- Brown rice protein – considered inferior to whey protein to build muscle, although not much research has been done about this protein.
BCAA stands for branched-chain amino acid. There are three BCAAs : leucine, isoleucine, and valine, and it accounts for 35% of the essential amino acids in muscle proteins. These amino acids cannot be synthesised by the body and must come from dietary sources.
BCAAs in supplement form should not be used to replace natural protein sources.
BCAAs that are ingested before exercise can be used as energy for the physical activity, reducing liver activity. It improves recovery time and minimises muscle breakdown, helping repair damaged muscles and reducing the feeling of soreness.
BCAA supplements can come in powder, capsules, or liquid form.
EAA stands for Essential Amino Acid. There are 20 amino acids, 9 of which are considered essential:
Essential amino acids are not produced by our bodies, but are crucial, and have to be obtained through ingesting food, supplements, or both. As you may have noticed, the BCAAs are a smaller more focused portion of EAAs.
All BCAAs are EAAs, but not all EAAs are BCAAs.
EAAs are usually taken before or during physical activity. It helps in building and recovering your muscle tissues.
Since BCAAs are part of EAAs, many people wonder:
Creatine improves performance by maintaining your energy level during short-term high-intensity events, such as sprints, a series of squats, jumps, and short metcons. It may also help speed up your recovery process between workouts.
Besides the protein powder, creatine is perhaps the supplement in this list most widely backed by research.
Creatine is naturally found in meat, so vegetarians and vegans are usually tempted at taking creatine supplements.
The most common and well-researched form of creatine is called creatine monohydrate. Creatine can come in powder or tablets.
There is no evidence that creatine harms the liver or kidneys, although people with pre-existing conditions should consult a doctor before taking creatine.
Beta-alanine is a non-essential amino acid naturally produced by the body. Its main goal is to aid in the production of carnosine, which in turn help reduce muscle fatigue and increase endurance.
It is usually sold in powder form or capsules.
More research is needed to conclude if beta-alanine scientifically helps the performance and endurance of athletes.
Some studies suggest that beta-alanine does not increase strength, but rather allows an athlete to perform at his/her own capacity for a longer period, before feeling exhausted.
Quality and active ingredients in beta-alanine supplements can vary from company to company and it has not been standardised as of yet.
HMB stands for Hydroxymethylbutyrate, a chemical that is naturally produced by the body when it breaks down leucine (an important part of protein).
People take HMB to build more muscle or to prevent muscle loss. It may also improve aerobic exercise performance and increase gains when combined with high-intensity interval training.
A general consensus states that a person should a maximum of 3 grams per day of HMB. Research suggests that HMB should be taken an hour before exercise.
HMB is usually sold in powder form or capsules.
Cannabidiol, or CBD, is an active ingredient in cannabis, though it does not cause a “high” effect on people who take it. CBD comes in many forms such as oils, capsules, patches, creams, or even vapes. Most athletes opt for capsules, as it is easier to dose them correctly.
CBD is often taken for anxiety, insomnia, and chronic pain. More recently, bodybuilders have started taking CBD to recover from training and muscle soreness, meaning they can get back to the gym faster and more often.
FDA does not guarantee the safety and effectiveness, but many athletes have joined the CBD gang. As usual, research thoroughly before buying CBD and consult your doctor regarding its possible side effects.
Collagen is one of the most abundant proteins in the body and it has become increasingly common in the CrossFit community.
Collagen will help the elasticity of your skin and help relieving joint pain – the latter is the main reason why taking collagen supplement has become popular among athletes.
If allowed by your doctor, there is no reason why you should not incorporate collagen as a dietary supplement. The problem is that you probably will need to take collagen supplements for months before you can see and feel the lasting results of this product.
More research is needed regarding collagen as most of it is done by companies that make the product, which could lead to bias results.
Now we are venturing into a more obscure, yet easy-to-sell, supplement. Pre-workout supposedly does exactly what it tells you: it is a supplement that you take before working out. It can come in various forms, such as powder, capsules, chews, or drinks.
What is in the product, you may ask. And that can be a problem. Some pre-workouts products do not disclose a full list of ingredients, sometimes labelling as “proprietary blend” – a secret, in other words.
And that can be extremely dangerous. As you know the first rule of taking supplements is to know what you are putting inside your body.
Pre-workouts are a mix of ingredients that should help you increase your energy level and endurance so you can push harder on your next workout.
It is usually a blend of vitamins, carbs and antioxidants, although you should read carefully what the package lists.
Some pre-workout supplement products are thoroughly studied, while others are just trying to surf the fitness wave. For that reason, prefer to buy pre-workouts from reputable brands.
In the United States, pre-workout supplements are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), so keep that in mind.
Post-workout supplements carry the same baggage as pre-workouts. And as the name implies, the athlete should take this supplement after working out.
The main objective of the post-workout supplement is to aid in muscular recovery and muscle building. That means that a post-workout supplement usually includes electrolytes, glutamine, BCAAs and protein.
To build more muscle mass, some people opt for a post-workout with whey protein, since it is digested faster by your body. Another option is to take a post-workout full of electrolytes to rehydrate after a hard cardio workout.
Again, read carefully what is in the package as some post-workout supplements can have potentially dangerous ingredients. Talk to your doctor before taking supplements and always follow the dosage labelled in the package.
Fat burners are supplements that have that eye-catching name, but that most athletes stay away from. And probably there is a reason for that.
Fat burners might contain natural or artificial compounds and it claims to help shed fat so people can get a better looking sculpted body.
There is little research to suggest that fat burners actually work. And if it does work, it will not transform your body. Do not expect any miracles here.
Fat burners do not burn fat, despite its name, but rather try to increase your metabolism, reduce the amount of fat your gut absorbs and suppresses your appetite.
If you are not on a calorie deficit diet, fat burners are not the answer to your problems. As with pre and post-workout supplements, fat burners are not approved by the FDA in the United States, so do your research carefully and consult a doctor before buying fat burners.
SARMs and PEDs
SARMs and PEDs are substances prohibited by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and athletes caught with an illegal substance in their blood cells can be banned from competition.
SARMs stands for Selective Androgen Receptor Modulators and PEDs stands for Performance-Enhancing Drugs. It is substances used to improve any form of activity performance and they varied from anabolic drugs to stimulants.
Be aware that SARMs and PEDs are not considered dietary supplements as it is not supplementing a nutrient that is lacking in your body.
BOXROX does not condone the use of drugs, but be aware and truthful to what you are putting inside your body.
According to USADA, SARMs “have similar anabolic properties to anabolic steroids, but with reduced androgenic (producing male characteristics) properties.”
Click here to find out more about the effects of performance-enhancing drugs, an information leaflet produced by USADA.