It goes without saying that good nutrition is essential to overall health. But for competitive athletes or others dedicated to their training program, good nutrition can be a make-or-break factor in their success. A good sports nutrition regimen is invaluable to the athlete, as it will support everything an athlete needs; strength, agility, endurance, mental sharpness, and a positive state-of-mind.
Sports nutrition supplements will always yield better results when used by those who have established a solid nutritional foundation. A good nutritional foundation needn't be complex or expensive, either; simply eating a well-rounded diet based on whole foods (vegetables, fruits, whole grains, healthy nuts and seeds, and lean proteins), plenty of water, and a few basic dietary supplements is a very good foundation. There are three types of foundational dietary supplements we recommend for every athlete and fitness-minded amateur. These 3 products supply the most essential nutrients everyone needs and will maximize the results seen with specialized sports nutrition supplements.
Multivitamin/mineral formula will cover all the vitamin and mineral bases. Men and women may want to take additional calcium and magnesium, since these are under-supplied by most multis, compared to other nutrients.
Omega-3 fatty acid supplements such as fish or flax oil, supply this indispensable nutrient which most multis and diets lack.
Protein powder is essential for the athlete who needs substantial amounts of protein. Protein powders provide fast, convenient, easy-to-absorb and 'cleaner' protein than protein from meats, fish, dairy, etc.
Nutritional Deficiencies Undermine Performance
Deficiencies of any essential nutrient such as B-vitamins or iron can impede athletic performance. Deficiencies like these can be diagnosed by a health care provider, but most athletes simply take a few basic supplements like a multi and fish oil on a consistent basis to virtually eliminate the possibility of a deficiency of any one nutrient. Endurance athletes and vegetarian athletes in particular are strongly advised to use, at the very least, a multivitamin to protect against nutrient deficiencies for best possible health and performance. Other types of nutrients athletes may lack include electrolyte minerals to replace those lost through perspiration, antioxidants to help the body handle the increased oxidative load of intense training, and amino acids and protein which are needed to rebuild, strengthen and maintain tissue health. Additionally, female competitors and exercisers may want to consider a calcium supplement given calcium's importance to bone health and the fact that few multis provide robust amounts of calcium.
Caffeine and other thermogenic stimulants may help improve exercise endurance by boosting energy. It is important to be safe and use these and all dietary supplements as directed.
Antioxidants such as vitamin C, green tea extract and vitamin E may help the body recover from vigorous exercise by helping to neutralize damaging free radicals. These are typically supplied in only small amounts by multivitamins, making separate antioxidant supplements worth considering.
Creatine supplementation has been shown to help boost exercise performance in certain activities involving short bursts of intense exertion such as sprinting, jumping, basketball and weight lifting. Creatine has also been shown to help recovery from exercise, both speeding muscle repair and easing pain and soreness. In short, creatine has been one of the best sports nutrition supplements ever developed. Creatine is a natural and safe compound but seems to be misunderstood by many people. Creatine is not a hormone or a steroid or a stimulant. Unless you have liver or kidney disease, the chances are very good that you can use creatine. Of course, everyone should use creatine sensibly and according directions, but it's one of the very best and most legitimate sports nutrition supplements. Be sure to drink plenty of water when using creatine, or any other time you train for that matter.
Creatine is a key ingredient in many of the top pre-workout and post-workout formulas. Like their name suggests, pre-workout formulas get your body ready for training using proprietary formulas with unique combinations of ingredients, each specific to one product. Because of this, many people will want to try a several pre-workout products over the course of a few months to find which one is best. The 'proprietary blend' approach to ingredient labeling that pre and post-workout formulas use really isn't specific enough to evaluate the product. In most cases, users will simply have to try the product to see what kind of results it delivers. Most pre-workout formulas contain thermogenic stimulants but there are also several good stimulant-free choices also, such as the Lemonade flavor Fast Twitch by CytoSport.
Bars, protein shakes and meal replacements are convenient, often pre-portioned sources of fast nutrition. These products are especially useful for athletes with time limitations who may not always have time to prepare or select nutritious meals. Those wishing to gain weight may also find protein supplements and meal replacements to be a pleasant alternative to consuming large amounts of food. Bars, protein shakes and meal replacements should always be used in addition to, not in place of, a healthy and well-balanced diet.
Be Smart and Beware
When choosing a dietary supplement, beware of disreputable companies that make outrageous or false claims. Steer clear of manufacturers that use words like "amazing," "miraculous," or "secret," or that make promises that seem too good to be true (they probably are!). Look for well-established companies with a physical address (not just a P.O. box), and that have a diverse line of products, and can back up research claims with valid scientific studies. Studies conducted on dietary supplements should be done by a separate and trustworthy organization that has no monetary interest in the supplement manufacturer.
Sports Nutrition: Summary
The performance of any athlete, whether professional or amateur, is greatly influenced by their nutritional status. A good diet is important, but cannot supply everything the body needs. A solid nutritional foundation would include a multivitamin, fish or flax oil and a good protein supplement. Onto that foundation, athletes can pick and chose among specialized supplements for their own circumstances, for example; pre-workout formulas and thermogenics for increased energy and intensity, glucosamine and other joint supplements, and creatine for increased muscular power in almost any sport. There are other types of products that could be considered sports nutrition supplements also, such as testosterone boosters and specialized types of amino acid supplements like BCAAs and glutamine. There are many products to consider and great results to be had when you find the combination that's right for you. Some people are hesitant to use sports nutrition supplements, possibly because of the taint from the illegal steroid controversies in professional sports. But relying on good nutrition for performance enhancement isn't cheating, it's the smart way to go.