Athletes should eat a healthy diet — and consider supplements.
Some people train in the gym to drop a few pounds and build muscle. High school athletes work out with the goal of optimizing their performance on the field or on the court of play. Whatever your training focus is, you should use a “whole foods” approach to fuel your performance, recovery from workouts and for your overall health, says Kaylee Jacks, a registered dietitian with Texas Health Sports Medicine in Dallas.
However, supplements can be helpful for some individuals. “In certain instances, sports supplements can assist achieving optimal fueling when whole foods are not available or sufficient,” she says. Before you start taking a supplement, check with a registered dietitian or health care professional about the safety and efficacy of the product, she advises.
Here are nine supplements that can be helpful for athletes:
1. Beetroot juice
This juice increases plasma nitrate concentration, which can improve stamina, Jacks says.
Increased nitric oxide levels can produce these benefits:
— Increased blood flow.
— Stronger muscle contractions.
Research suggests that endurance athletes who drank beetroot juice were able to improve their speed and reduce their maximum oxygen output. For example, a meta-analysis research published by Bridgewater State University in 2019 concluded that beetroot can “aid in athletic performance.”
Beetroot juice also contains potassium, which helps prevent fatigue.
A meta-analysis published in 2019 in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research concluded that consuming beta-alanine supplements can help the physical performance for athletes who engage in several types of competitions.
Researchers wrote that the supplement can help individuals who compete in these events in particular:
— 4-kilometer cycling.
— Rowing, 2,000 meters.
— Swimming, 100 and 200 meters.
3. Branched-chain amino acids
Also known as BCAAs, branched-chain amino acids can help athletes obtain all the essential amino acids they need if they are on a special diet or aren’t obtaining enough from whole foods. BCAAs can be used as energy, which may help athletes spare muscle tissue and increase muscular endurance, Jacks says.
Some people rely on the caffeine in their first cup of coffee to get going in the morning. Caffeine may also help some endurance athletes, Jacks says. “It serves as an ergogenic aid by stimulating the central nervous system and delaying fatigue,” she says.
It’s important to keep in mind that there are NCAA regulations that can disqualify a competitive athlete for having too much caffeine in his or her system. College athletes who are considering taking a caffeine supplement should consult with their trainers.
This supplement may help fuel anaerobic activities that last three to six seconds, Jacks says. They can be helpful in sprinting and doing box jumps, for example. “Creatine supplements may support explosive power and strength in athletes, leading to increased muscle mass and potentially improved body composition.”
Some athletes use creatine to help speed up their recovery time during high-intensity intermittent training.
6. Vitamin D
When she’s working with athletes, Yasi Ansari, a registered dietitian nutritionist based in Los Angeles, often recommends vitamin D supplements. Vitamin D supplements are especially helpful for athletes who train indoors and have little exposure to the sun. “Vitamin D can help increase calcium absorption, which helps support bone health,” says Ansari, who is a national media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “That helps decrease injury risk.”
Ansari typically recommends taking up to 2000 IU (international units, a form of measurement for fat-soluble vitamins) a day. Fatty fish (like salmon), fortified dairy products and cereals are also good sources of vitamin D.
Vitamin D also helps:
— Promote cell growth.
— Support immune function.
— Reduce inflammation.
This supplement prevents muscle breakdown and enhances muscle synthesis, Jacks says. HMB — also known as beta-hydroxy beta methylbutyrate — courses through the bloodstream in small amounts after the body breaks down leucine.
Leucine is an amino acid found in an array of protein sources, including:
An HMB supplement can help athletes improve their:
— Muscle breakdown.
— Body composition.
Consuming sufficient protein can help support your immune system and muscle growth, Ansari says. Protein also helps prevent muscle breakdowns. “Getting enough protein after training can help with repairing and building muscle tissue,” she says. “Athletes tend to have higher protein needs than the average person; supplementation like protein powder can help fill the gaps if they are unable to meet all of their needs through food. I would take a food-first approach and incorporate (a protein supplement) if it’s appropriate or necessary after assessing one’s food intake.”
Fueling the body with enough carbohydrates, fruits, vegetables and protein during post-workout recovery can help reduce muscle soreness.
9. Sodium bicarbonate
Also known as baking soda, sodium bicarbonate can be used in mouthwash and as a treatment for canker sores. As a supplement, it may help delay fatigue, improve stamina and enhance energy output by buffering lactic acid buildup, which leads to muscle soreness. This supplement is available in pill, powder or capsule form.
Sodium bicarbonate is considered safe when taken in a dosage of 90 to 135 milligrams per pound of body weight, says Lisa Jones, a registered dietitian nutritionist based in Philadelphia. Jones advises taking smaller doses spread over the day or three hours before exercise. It’s best taken with water or as part of a meal.
Research suggests this supplement can be useful for people engaged in high-intensity interval training. More research is needed.
To recap, here are nine supplements that can be helpful for athletes:
— Beetroot juice.
— Branched-chain amino acids.
— Vitamin D.
— Sodium bicarbonate.
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