Eat to Perform, Part 1: Health-Based Supplements
There’s no such thing as a magic pill but there may be a few things that can help.
Over the years I have fielded a lot of questions regarding supplements. Everyone seems to be looking for that training edge and for a magic pill that will allow them to achieve all of their training goals and dreams. Let me be very clear that there is no magic pill that you can buy over the counter. If something really works it is illegal or banned. End of story. That said athletes can be deficient in many vitamins and minerals because a typical modern diet won’t fulfill an athlete’s needs. Athletes also need more vitamins and minerals than your average person. There are some vitamins and minerals that can help an athlete stay healthy and strong so that a platform of performance can be built upon that.
I have compiled here 5 basic supplements that have been shown to help with health and immunity. These are vitamins and minerals I take regularly. None of them is magic and none of them focus on actual performance. These promote general health and will help you recover better, sleep better, and have a strong immune system; all important aspects of training.
All of these supplements are completely legal, relatively inexpensive, and have little to no health risk associated with them when used correctly.
These are not in any particular order of importance. Just what I take regularly
1) Vitamin D
Almost every cell in our body has a vitamin D receptor. Without enough vitamin D in the body, calcium cannot be absorbed. Calcium is essential for signaling between brain cells and also in the development of bones and teeth .Low levels of vitamin D in the body may be associated with increased risk of cancer, low levels of immunity, increased inflammation, higher blood pressure, and the loss of muscle mass and strength. It also plays a role in testosterone production. It is estimated that 30-80% of the US population is deficient in Vitamin D. Athletes, especially indoor athletes are vulnerable to Vitamin D deficiency.
Dosage: Doses of around 1,000 IUs per day — even as high as 2,000 IUs a day are regarded as safe. Some people prescribe as much as 10,000 IUs daily but you need to be careful because high levels in the body can be toxic.
Brand: Carlson’s, Twinlab, Designs For Health
2) Green Stuff/Antioxidant
Taking an antioxidant supplement can assist the body in ridding itself of free radicals. Free radicals are formed through natural human physiological processes as well as from the environment. They may be the result of diet, stress, smoking, alcohol, exercise, inflammation, drugs or exposure to sunlight and air pollutants. Free radicals are also produced every time you breathe. While there are many types of free radicals that can be formed, the most common in aerobic (oxygen breathing) organisms are oxygen free radicals, often referred to as Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS). During exercise, oxygen consumption can increase by a factor of more than 10. This leads to a large increase in the production of oxidants and results in damage that contributes to muscular fatigue during and after exercise. The inflammatory response that occurs after strenuous exercise is also associated with oxidative stress, especially in the 24 hours after an exercise session.
Antioxidants can help reduce the number of free radicals in the body and deal with this oxidative stress. This may help promote overall health and also aid in recovery. There are thousands of different substances that classify themselves as “antioxidants”. The most familiar ones are vitamin C,beta-carotene, vitamin E, coenzyme Q10, flavonoids, polyphenols, green tea and many more.
The best source of antioxidants is from real food or supplements made from real food. Antioxidants from real food are more bioavailable than those made in a lab. Fresh organic vegetables, fruits, herbs and spices, and organic green tea are among the best sources of antioxidants.
If you find yourself lacking the normal amount of fresh vegetables and fruits then using a supplement may assist you, especially during the winter when fresh produce is hard to come by. Also note that our food industry has changed the quality of our fruits and vegetables so you may need to take a supplement to help offset.
Brands: Green Vibrance, Udo’s (Flora Health), Amazing Grass
Dosage: Depends on brand
For your stomach to work properly it needs to have healthy bacteria. Probiotics help move food through your body. Assist in Irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, infectious diarrhea, and antibiotic-related diarrhea. Some research has even found that probiotics assist in things like skin health, allergies and prevention of the cold, oral health and urinary and vaginal health. Probiotics have been found to enhance synthesis of B vitamins and improve calcium absorption, and it helps keep balance of intestinal microflora. If you are going to take a probiotic make sure your probiotic contains effective bacterial strains like Lactobacillus acidophilus DDS-1 along with a wide variety of strains (because different strains have different effects on the body). Also pay attention to the availability and the shelf life. The probiotics will die off and the supplement will be less effective.
Probiotics naturally occur in certain foods such as; kefir, kimchi, yogurt, sauerkraut, aged soft cheese, sour pickles. If you choose to take probiotic supplement make sure you get a wide variety of strains, because different strains have different effects on the body. Also pay attention to the availability and the shelf life. The probiotics will die off and the supplement will be less effective.
Brands: Udo’s, Green Vibrance
Dosage: Depends on brand
4) Omega 3
Scientists have given essential fats (a.k.a. essential fatty acids or EFAs) their name because the body must have them to survive, but cannot synthesize them from any other substance we eat, so a direct food source is required. Hence, the name essential. Every cell, tissue, gland and organ is dependent upon the presence of Essential Fatty Acids or EFAs. Your body needs these foundational fats, but cannot make them on its own. They must be obtained through dietary sources. Unfortunately, the modern Western diet is often quite deficient in omega-3 EFAs
There are many kinds of fats, but only two kinds of essential fats: omega 3 (omega-3 or w3) and omega 6 (omega-6 or w6), both of which are unsaturated fats. Each EFA is turned into several derivatives by the body, provided enough omega-3 and omega-6, in the right ratio are supplied. All other fats, such as omega 9 (monounsaturated), omega 7, and saturated fat, are non-essential because the body can produce them from sugars and starches.
Omega 3s help with anti-inflammation, brain health, lowering of blood triglycerides, enhancing the immune system, lowering the risk of chronic diseases, speed recovery, and influence all sorts of hormonal activity. They can also help reduce body fat and build muscle.
Fish Oil is high in EPA and DHA and is preferred by the body because your body doesn’t need to convert anything and it is essentially mainlined into the system. ALA (which is found in plants) can be converted into EPA and DHA. Therefore plant sources can be an effective source of Omega 3s as well.
Dosage: The equivalent of 1-3 grams (EPA + DHA) daily
Brands: SFH, Carlson’s, Udo’s, Vega
There are over 300 reactions in the body that rely on magnesium. Magnesium is needed to synthesize proteins, DNA and RNA. Magnesium plays a role in our metabolism, and cells use magnesium to transport calcium and potassium ions across cell walls. Maintaining healthy magnesium levels are important to critical processes such as nerve function, muscle contraction, and healthy bones. Magnesium can help you cope with stress and also help you get a better night’s sleep. Food sources of magnesium are dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds, fish bananas, dark chocolate, and avocado. Many athletes and people overall are deficient in magnesium. If supplementing, choose a chelated magnesium or magnesium citrate, which is more bio-available but not magnesium oxide because it doesn’t absorb well.
Brands: Natural Calm
As stated above none of the above supplements is a magic pill. These are based on improving general health which in my opinion builds a solid platform for performance. If you sleep better, get sick less, and feel better then you can train harder.
In my next article we will examine some supplements that focus more on the performance side of things and have an actual ergogenic effect so you can get the most out of your training sessions.