You know all about protein, but it’s not the only supplement you should call upon in your quest to get in shape.
Whether you regularly pack a protein shake in your gym bag or just chug the occasional isotonic sports drink, chances are you’ve used supplements at one time or another.
The trouble is, the whole process can get a bit confusing – with every supplier claiming its brand is better filtered, or more efficient, or will pack on more muscle – to the point where you feel as if you need a degree in chemistry to understand what you’re putting into your body.
The science behind some supplements may be slightly baffling, but this list pulls together the latest developments in supplement science: what you need, when you need it, and why.
It’s possible you’ll find something to send your training gains through the roof, or you might just learn a bit more about the stuff you’re already using.
Either way, next time you put in the hard yards at the gym, you’ll know you’re getting the nutritional back-up you need.
WHAT: The muscle pill.
WHY: Branched-chain amino acids, or BCAA, are the best supplement to take during workouts because they help to keep a steady supply of proteins flowing into your muscles.
This helps with muscle building as it reduces the amount of muscle loss during exercise and improves protein synthesis, the process by which new muscle tissue is built.
BCAAs can also help to prevent muscle loss during periods of intermittent fasting.
WHAT: The back-up generator.
WHY: Your body metabolises creatine into ATP, which is used for every initial muscle movement.
It’s therefore vital to have adequate supplies when you’re doing heavy, high-intensity workouts in order to deliver the required energy to your muscles.
In other words, creatine helps you lift harder for longer.
WHAT: The muscle booster.
WHY: The most anabolic amino acid, leucine can independently stimulate insulin secretion and muscle protein synthesis, enhancing the muscle-building process.
At 11%, whey protein is very high in leucine content, which is one reason it’s so effective as a post-workout elixir.
WHAT: The fat shredder.
WHY: If burning fat during a workout is your priority, first you need to mobilise it.
L-carnitine is an amino acid responsible for transporting fatty acids into the mitochondria, our cells’ energy powerhouses.
WHAT: The wonder fluid.
WHY: It’s important to include omega-3 fats in your diet for health reasons, and a supplement can help you to maintain a good ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 – most of us consume too much of the latter.
Studies have shown fish oil supplementation results in decreased body fat and reduced inflammation. It has also been linked with increased serotonin levels, more focus in training and less stress.
WHAT: The gut calmer.
WHY: This amino acid should be present in your body, but if you have problems with your digestion or are training hard, a supplement can help to strengthen the lining of your gut and help protein synthesis.
WHAT: The diet drink
WHY: This is one of the best natural fat-burners around and can give your metabolism a jolt.
Green tea is also packed with antioxidants and regular consumption has even been linked to reducing the risk of a range of conditions, including heart disease and Alzheimer’s.
WHAT: The equaliser.
WHY: Every organ needs magnesium, especially the heart, muscles and kidneys. If you skimp on this vital mineral you can experience anxiety, sleep problems and irritability.
Magnesium also helps to maintain a normal heart rhythm and aids in the body’s energy production.
WHAT: The back-up plan.
WHY: Although you shouldn’t rely on them to make up for a bad diet, a quality multi-vitamin can help to fill in the gaps in an otherwise solid eating plan.
Deficiencies in vitamins can cause mood swings, depression, lethargy and exhaustion, but taking a daily dose will keep you on the up and focused on your goals. There is also evidence a multi-vitamin can help you recover from a tough workout.
WHAT: The sun substitute.
WHY: You should get your vitamin D from the sun, but that’s a forlorn hope for the average desk-bound Briton – 20 minutes’ exposure is enough in the summer, but according to the National Institute of Health it’s impossible to get enough come the winter.
Deficiency is common and linked to lower strength levels and increased body fat. It has also been associated with a number of diseases, including diabetes and depression.