Supplements for sports

We take a look at some of the best supplements to aid sports performance and recovery

Vitamin D

“If you want to build muscle tissue and strength then you should definitely check your vitamin D status,” says Christine Bailey, nutritionist, chef and author (www.christinebailey.co.uk). “Not only is it important for immune health and bone strength, but vitamin D also acts like a hormone in the body, influencing muscle strength. It regulates neuromuscular functioning and affects protein synthesis. Low levels are linked to muscle weakness. High intensity training can suppress our immune system, making us more prone to infections and injuries but adequate vitamin D will help counter these effects. Vitamin D is also involved in insulin function, so if you are trying to burn more fat make sure you have optimal levels. You can get some vitamin D in fortified milk, eggs, liver, oily fish and of course sunlight but in the winter months it is likely you will need a supplement.”

Omega-3s

“Omega-3s are essential fats which the body cannot manufacture,” explains Louise Sinnah Burr, a nutritionist and ambassador for Bio-Synergy (www.bio-synergy.co.uk). “They are derived from foods such as fish (especially oily ones such as salmon, mackerel and sardines), vegetable oils, nuts (particularly walnuts) and flaxseeds, including cold-pressed flaxseed oil.

Not only are omega-3s integral to cell membrane structure, they also play a key role in hormone regulation, blood clotting, artery wall contraction and dilation, and managing inflammation. Hence they provide a number of health benefits associated with heart health, blood pressure and joint inflammation diseases. Research also shows that omega-3s are linked to metabolism control – promoting fat-burning –and healthy brain function.” Louise recommends taking an omega-3 fish oil supplement two to three times a day with meals, particularly a product where the ratio of omega-3, 6, 9 is about 3:2:1.

Magnesium

“Many people overlook magnesium when it comes to sports recovery,” says Emily Whitehead, a nutritional therapist working with supplement company Better You (www.betteryou.com). “But it plays a fundamental role because it’s required for more than 300 enzymatic responses in the body and is needed for nerve function, synthesis of protein, digestion of fats/carbohydrates, muscle contractions and relaxation. Magnesium is lost through sweat during sports and plays an important role in the bio-chemical process to produce ATP (adenosine triphosphate) which is needed for energy. An insufficient amount of cellular magnesium may lead to a build-up of lactic acid which could cause muscle tiredness, cramps and soreness. If you are competing and training on a regular basis, magnesium should be replenished as part of the recovery process. Magnesium oil sprays are available, which are sprayed directly onto the skin, and this process by-passes the digestive system and absorbs immediately into the bloodstream for optimum absorption. Alternatively you could soak in a bath and add some magnesium flakes for all-over body replenishment.”

L-carnitine

“Popular in sports to improve fat-burning and energy production, L-carnitine is formed in the liver and kidneys from the amino acids lysine and methionine,” explains Christine Bailey. “It is stored in muscle, including the heart and the brain. In the diet, it mainly comes from meat and other animal products. L-carnitine helps to transport fat into the mitochondria of cells. Without adequate L-carnitine most dietary fats can’t get into the mitochondria and be burned for fuel – this will affect our energy levels. Taking L-carnitine can therefore improve athletic performance by enhancing fat-burning and reducing fatigue during training. L-carnitine also enhances insulin’s actions on muscle cells, keeping blood sugar lower, making it useful to take with your post-workout meal. L-carnitine increases the amount of testosterone receptors inside muscle cells. This may help to improve muscle growth and strength.”

Creatine

“Creatine supplements provide a number of performance-related benefits to athletes,” says Louise Sinnah Burr. “These include muscle mass/hypertrophy, increased maximal power and strength, greater explosive strength and increased performance intensity. They also promote muscle recovery by reducing muscle cell damage and inflammation. Basically they act as a fuel source for the energy system associated with explosive power – this is known as adenosine triphosphate or ATP. This means that although creatine has traditionally been favoured by strength athletes, the benefits also extend to athletes requiring greater anaerobic capacity, for example cyclists and sprinters. But that’s not all. Recent research shows that creatine supplements may help with age-related muscle loss, which is great news for more mature athletes. As creatine is derived in small amounts from animal protein, supplementation will be especially useful to vegetarian athletes. There are a number of forms of creatine with creatine monohydrate being the most common. The main difference between the different types is their absorption rate. Also, you will need to follow dosage directions specific to the product you choose. I would recommend taking creatine post-workout for the full range of benefits.”

Protein

“Protein is the body’s first choice when it comes to a fuel source, with carbohydrates second and then lastly fats,” says Chris Hall, founder of Hall Training Systems (www.personaltraineroxford.com). “Unlike carbohydrates and fats our bodies are unable to store protein and so we have this constant breakdown and uptake of amino acids (protein). If our intake of protein is insufficient then our bodies will look for alternative ways to increase its amino acid pool, and it does so through the breakdown of muscle tissue. To the everyday person this isn’t too detrimental, although far from ideal. To a sporty person this can be detrimental to both performance and health.

Protein is the building block for skeletal muscle mass as well as our organs, bones, skin, hair and nails. In fact protein makes up about 20 per cent of our skeletal muscle mass. It is also important for hormone development such as insulin, glucagon and growth hormone and it aids detoxification – protein/amino acids are used as part of the detoxification process in the liver. The RDA for protein currently stands at 0.8g per kilogram of bodyweight. For the sedentary population this is fine, however for the population who are physically active this is about half what they should be consuming. The lower your calorie intake and carbohydrate consumption, the greater the need for protein to preserve muscle tissue.”

Glucosamine

“Glucosamine is an amino sugar which is one of the major components of cartilage within the body,” explains sports and exercise dietitian Noor Al Refae RD PgCERT. “Sports and exercise can place high impact on our joints cartilage, leading to wear and tear. Typically glucosamine is known for its role in osteoarthritis, but has now become of more interest within the fields of sports and exercise. Some studies have shown that supplementing with glucosamine prevented cartilage breakdown and improved knee flexion and extension following sports injury. Pain and inflammation was also noted to be reduced following supplementation.

“However, more research is needed within this area to define optimal dosages and determine the full benefits of supplementation.”

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