You’re on a quest to look and feel your best. Yet stress, low energy, stubborn weight plateaus, and even the anxiety of achieving New Year’s resolutions can challenge that resolve. However, proper nutrition and supplementation can help avoid unhappy headwinds to health.
But which supplements should you choose?
If you’re new to the supps aisle, keep in mind that the right mix of certain common ingredients, and a few lesser known ones, can help cover your bases and reveal the physique you’re craving. Whether you’re interested in adding muscle while trimming trouble zones, recovering faster, or just want to go from skinny-fat to stronger than ever, here are 14 great supps to get you started.
GOAL: BE HEALTHIER OVERALL
Multivitamins cover all your bases. They typically contain the recommended daily allowance of most essential vitamins and minerals, including vitamin A for eye health; B complex for red blood cell and nerve health and energy; vitamin D for strong bones, cancer prevention, and mood balance; and zinc, which can get low with intense training, to maintain lean muscle mass.
OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS/FISH OIL
These supplements contain healthy fats that help reduce inflammation that can lead to joint pain and even cancer. Study results also show that omega-3s can curb aortic (heart) pulse pressure, which is great for those who engage in intense workouts regularly or those at risk for heart disease.
Similar to a multivitamin, a “green” supplement—which may contain dehydrated vegetables like kale, bell peppers, spinach, and broccoli, plus fruits like tomatoes and pineapple—will give you many of the daily vitamins and minerals you need, sometimes in even more bioavailable forms than a typical multivitamin, so your body can absorb them more easily. Often sold in powder form, try adding it to your daily smoothie.
PROBIOTICS & PREBIOTICS
Probiotics are the beneficial bacteria that can help keep your digestive system healthy; and prebiotics are the indigestible carbohydrates that act as food for this bacteria. Together, they can help restore gut health, which is an often overlooked foundation for well-being. A balanced gut microbiome can lead to so many positive health outcomes (like allergy relief and better nutrient absorption) when it’s at the right levels. By the same token, you may experience negative effects when it’s out of whack. A regular probiotic and prebiotic supplement, or even yogurt, can help assist in restoring this intestinal cornerstone of health.
Boost your immunity, which can take a hit when training often and with intensity, by taking a vitamin C supplement. Because it’s water soluble you don’t have to worry about it building up in your system.
GOAL: SHED FAT/ BUILD MUSCLE
Supplements that help you shed fat and gain lean muscle mass work in a variety of ways. Some help your body avoid storing fat or carbs as you would normally; others contain the much-needed amino acids to form lean muscle; and still others work simply by giving your metabolism a steady boost.
Protein is the baseline for all things related to muscle health and strength. That’s because the muscle you’re working so hard to build is primarily composed of the amino acids that come from protein. Protein powders are a high-quality, easily absorbable form of these. Key sources include whey protein isolate or concentrate, casein, and plant-based proteins like pea and soy. Protein powder is also convenient: It’s recommended to have a protein drink within 30 to 60 minutes of weight training to reap the muscle-building benefits. This long-held practice helps you get in nutrients when your cells can most easily absorb them. But the true golden rule of protein: Get more of it! When starting to weight train intensely, as you will in this 12-week beginner’s plan, research shows that getting up to twice the recommended dietary allowance of protein (currently 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight daily, or 0.36 grams per pound, for sedentary individuals) is best for new lifters.That can mean as much as 1.2 and 1.7g/kg of body weight for strength training athletes.
Note: Protein is sometimes paired post-workout with simple carbs because they help reset your blood glucose levels, which are depleted during exercise. If you trained hard, aim for 20-30g of protein and up to 1.5g/ kg of body weight of simple carbs immediately afterward.
This hot pepper extract is a non-stimulant thermogenic compound that gives metabolism its boost and even helps you eat less, according to research from University of Adelaide’s Centre for Nutrition and Gastrointestinal Disease. That’s why you’ll frequently find it in fat-burning supps.
GREEN TEA EXTRACT (GTE)
Tea may not be as much a part of Americans’ daily habits as coffee is, but the extract from several types of green tea have shown promising results for those on a quest to shed more fat. In research from Clinical Interventions In Aging, those who consumed a type of green tea extract for 20 weeks lost more fat from their arms, legs, and hip/ belly region, as well as lowered their body mass index. This and other studies also show that subjects who take GTE see improvements in cholesterol. The extraction process removes the caffeine—which is great for those who are sensitive to it.
CONJUGATED LINOLEIC ACID (CLA)
Conjugated linoleic acid is an essential fatty acid and antioxidant that has been shown to improve endurance and may reduce fat mass. Plus, some research shows that it can activate the genes associated with both fast-twitch and slow-twitch muscle fibers, which may help develop more balanced muscles overall.
Another key product you’ll find in many forms (from candies to powder) in a supplement store are BCAAs, or branched-chain amino acids. Referring to the amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and valine, BCAAs are used to help improve endurance and overall strength. Research isn’t conclusive, but some studies like one in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition demonstrate that supplementing with BCAAs while on a calorie-restricted diet helps participants lose fat mass while maintaining lean mass and preserving skeletal muscle.
GOAL: HAVE MORE ENERGY
Tackle your day with more oomph with ingredients that will increase your overall endurance via multiple energy pathways.
Cordyceps mushroom (or Cordyceps sinensis) is an overall health booster, often cited for helping to stop the signaling pathways that cancer cells use and as an excellent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent. A study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that cordyceps helped boost subjects’ metabolic threshold (the level at which lactic acid starts to build up in the body faster than it can be cleared), which can increase exercise endurance. It even helps clear lactic acid out of muscles more quickly. Cordyceps has also traditionally been used to help increase energy and enhance libido.
This nonessential amino acid is produced by the body, but when taken as a supplement it helps produce carnosine, which aids in muscular endurance. So it may not produce a “rush” of energy, but you may be able to work out longer and stronger.
Changed into L-arginine and nitric oxide in the body, the nonessential amino L-citrulline (also found in watermelon) does dual duty as a blood flow booster and helps bolster your immune system.
That favorite buzz you, and 83% of Americans, get from a morning cup of joe is not only a ritual to get the day going but, in small doses as a supplement, may be a suitable source to help you boost energy throughout the day and improve memory and mental function. Some research has found that low daily doses (just 3 milligrams) of caffeine can also lower your perceived muscle soreness in the days after intense exercise. That bonus will go a long way with all the training you’re doing in this program!
by Cat Perry