6 Supplements every athlete should be taking

In the backdrop of a solid diet plan and making sure you get enough good quality sleep, supplementation can play a significant role in improving performance and decreasing injury risk.

Here are my top 6 “no brainer” supplements to take if you are looking to improve your performance and health.

1) Whey Protein Powder

Whey protein makes up 20% of the protein in milk, with the remaining 80% being casein. Whey protein is one of the highest quality proteins in terms of both digestibility, bioavailability (absorption) and amino acid composition. It is essentially the gold-standard protein supplement for sports nutrition research.

Whey is used as a protein supplement. Its high bioavailability makes it a far superior protein supplement compared to plant protein supplements like pea protein. It is very useful for hitting targeted daily protein goals. Whey is also absorbed faster than other forms of protein, which means it also increases muscle protein synthesis used to break a fasted state.

Whey protein powders are a great way to add some protein into diet when you are in situations where you may not have access to good, clean protein sources (e.g. when travelling). It can also be used to help increase an individual’s protein intake if they are struggling to eat enough protein in their diet and/or their needs have increased due to being an athlete.

Whey also delivers a large amount of the amino acid L-cysteine, which can alleviate deficiencies that occur during ageing and diabetes, as well as other conditions. While whey has also been claimed to increase fat loss, this is a function of protein, rather than the whey itself. This means that the whey itself does not reduce fat, but taking in more protein often aids with fat loss efforts.

Whey does not harm the liver or kidneys, but it can exacerbate pre-existing damage. People with damaged livers or kidneys should exercise caution when increasing protein intake quickly without the guidance of a doctor.

The amount of whey protein to supplement depends on individual daily protein goals. For example:

If you are an athlete or highly active person attempting to lose body fat while preserving lean muscle mass, a daily intake of 1.5-2.2g/kg bodyweight (0.68-1g/lb bodyweight) is a good goal.

If you are an athlete or highly active person, or you are attempting to lose body fat while preserving lean mass, then a daily intake of 1.0-1.5g/kg bodyweight (0.45-0.68g/lb bodyweight) is a good goal.

If you are sedentary and not looking to change body composition, a daily target of 0.8g/kg bodyweight (0.36g/lb bodyweight) is a good goal.

If daily protein targets are achieved through dietary protein alone, supplementation is unnecessary.

Lastly, whey does not contain lactose or casein, therefore if you are allergic to casein in milk (the common allergen in milk that people react to) or you are lactose intolerant, whey protein is fine for you.

2) Zinc

This essential mineral tends to be deficient in athletes due to its high demand and its increased excretion from the body in sweat. Zinc is important for maintaining a healthy immune function, which prevents you from getting sick at inconvenient times during competition.

Zinc is also important for protein synthesis and repair of your muscles, ligaments, cartilage and tendons, therefore it can be a very helpful supplement during times of injury recovery, where repair is important.  Supplementing with 10-35mg of zinc per day (with food) is adequate. Zinc is also high in foods like meat, eggs, oysters, fish, pumpkin seeds and leafy greens.

3) Magnesium

This essential mineral, like zinc, tends to be deficient in athletes as it is lost through sweat and it is depleted due to increased energy demands. Similarly to zinc, magnesium is extremely important for our mood, sleep and cognitive function. It also plays a very important role in energy production, as well as decreasing muscle cramps/spasms during intense competition. Supplementing with 400 – 800mg of magnesium per day is adequate. Try to supplement with the most absorbable form of magnesium called, magnesium biglycinate. Magnesium can also be found in foods like leafy greens, nuts, seeds, cacao (dark chocolate) avocado and bananas.

4) Creatine

The most well researched sports supplement to date. Creatine in research, usually in the form of creatine monohydrate, has been shown to increase power output, increase strength output, decrease exercise induced cramps, increase lean mass, increase mental clarity and decrease post exercise muscle soreness. Supplementing with 3-5g per day is adequate. Some people do an initial loading phase of 20-25g per day for 5-7 days. This just means that the creatine will saturate your muscles quicker, compared to 3-5g per day. There is no better or worse, I guess the loading phase will provide benefits quicker.

Also, despite what you have heard you, don’t need to cycle creatine and it does not cause hair loss or kidney issues. These myths are false conclusions drawn from certain studies.

5) Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble essential vitamin that our skin synthesises when exposed to the sun. It benefits us in many ways, from bone health to mood.

It is one of the 24 micronutrients critical for human survival. The sun is the major natural source of the nutrient, but vitamin D is also found naturally in fish and eggs. It is also added to dairy products.

Supplemental vitamin D is associated with a wide range of benefits, including increased cognition and mood, immune health, bone health and it is also important for maintaining healthy testosterone levels (men take note) as well as muscle mass/power output. It also may increase recovery rates from workouts by helping to decrease post exercise inflammation that usually induces muscle soreness. 

The body produces vitamin D from cholesterol, provided there is an adequate amount of UV light from sun exposure. There is only a sufficient amount of UV light coming from the sun when the UV index is 3 or higher, which only occurs year-round near the equator, between the 37th parallels.

Most people are not deficient in vitamin D, but they do not have an optimal level of vitamin D either, due to a lack of sun exposure during the day, as well as poor dietary habits.

The recommended daily allowance for Vitamin D is currently set at 400-800IU/day, but this is too low for adults. The safe upper limit in the United States and Canada is 4,000IU/day. Research suggests that the true safe upper limit is 10,000IU/day. For moderate supplementation, a 1,000-2,000IU dose of vitamin D3 is sufficient to meet the needs of most of the population. This is the lowest effective dose range. Higher doses, based on body weight, are in the range of 20-80IU/kg daily.

Furthermore, to be more specific, on a blood test, research shows that the optimal range for vitamin D should be around 87-125nmol/L. Bone density peaks at 112nmol/L. Therefore, if you are below 50nmol/L on a blood test, 4,000IU per day for 12 weeks should bring your levels up into the range. If you are over 50nmol/L, then 2,000IU per day for 12 weeks should be fine to bring you up to maintenance levels.

The body is quite sophisticated in the sense that once you bring nutrient levels back up to optimal ranges, it does a very good job at maintaining it at those levels, as long as the nutrient is still in constant supply and not in extremely high amounts. Therefore, after you reach your adequate levels, a maintenance dose of 1-2,000IU per day should support vitamin D levels and your health.

Vitamin D3 supplementation (cholecalciferol) is recommended over D2 supplementation (ergocalciferol), since D3 is used more effectively in the body.

Vitamin D should be taken daily, with meals or a source of fat, like fish.

6) Vitamin C

Supplementing with 500mg – 1g of vitamin C has been shown to consistently decrease the rates of cold and flus in athletes who are engaging in intense training regimes.

BONUSES: Ditch the costly pre-workout supplements and just drink some coffee with beetroot juice and leafy greens.

Have some leafy greens and beetroot before you train. These foods contain high amounts of nitrates, which can increase blood flow to your muscles, therefore increasing performance.

Caffeine in coffee has been shown to increase alertness, energy, strength and power output, as well as glycogen repletion post workout. The effect is greater for people who don’t consume coffee every single day (coffee naïve).

Try these 6 supplements out and let me know how you go!