Can supplements really benefit you as an athlete, or are they just another money pit? The short answer is yes and yes. Allow me to explain.
As a young athlete, I had a horrible diet. Like, an “eat a Hostess cupcake and ice cream after every meal” kind of diet. Lucky for me I had a stellar metabolism and was able to build lean muscle quite easily. Even so, I wasn’t even CLOSE to tapping into my potential. And don’t get the wrong idea, I felt the effects of my poor eating decisions once I quit competitive sports in college. Even if you’re nothing like I was and eat kale for every meal, no one has a perfect diet. Thus, no one has just the right balance of nutrients. That’s where supplements can come in to help our bodies function at their best.
There are three supplements that I typically recommend for athletes: fish oil, protein powder, and a multi-vitamin.
Fish Oil contains EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), the two most beneficial omega-3 fats. Consuming these fats aids brain development, nervous system function, cardiovascular function, and immune health. Their anti-inflammatory properties help open up our blood vessels, airways, and decrease pain. That’s right, fish oil could improve your endurance and prevent injuries as you compete. It’s interesting to note that the average North American only gets 1/3 of the recommended daily amount (which is 900 mg). Are your ears perked up yet? You can buy fish oil in capsule form so you won’t taste a thing – and the occasional fish burp is totally worth the benefit you’ll receive.
Protein aids muscle growth, repairs hormones and keeps the immune system healthy. It’s no secret that competitive swimming takes an extreme toll on the body. That’s why it’s absolutely essential that the young athlete get enough protein to repair the muscles as they are broken down. The International Society of Sports Nutrition recommends consuming 1.4-2.0 g of protein per kg of body mass. So, for a 150 lb person that would equal 95-136 g of protein per day. Protein in the form of a powder is a quick pre or post-workout option when paired with the right foods. Get yourself a blender bottle, some water or milk, and boom—down the gullet with little to no effort.
As mentioned earlier, no one has the perfect diet. Multi-vitamins can help fill in where we fall short. They are packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants found in a wide variety of foods – many of which we never even touch. These small but mighty nutrients keep our immune systems strong, aid with recovery, and prevent chronic health conditions as we age. For the competitive swimmer, getting sick is at the bottom of the docket. That’s why getting the right nutrients, in the right amounts is crucial. Not to mention, athletes require additional vitamins and minerals to make up for an increased energy demand. Moral of the story: the little things (like vitamins and minerals) matter when it comes time for competition.
This should go without saying. However, with the overwhelming amount of supplements on the market it’s something that can get lost in the shuffle. A product with killer marketing that looks good on the outside isn’t always good for your insides. It’s important to actually read the label and see what’s in the stuff.
Questions to ask yourself: Do I recognize OR can I pronounce all of the ingredients? Where did it come from/what’s the source? Is it minimally processed? What is the benefit of taking this? What is the negative of NOT taking this?
If the answer to these questions is not overwhelmingly positive, *hint hint*. It’s probably a money pit of doom.
Finally, always keep in mind that supplements are NOT meant to replace a nutrient dense, whole food diet. If you’re currently taking any prescription medications, always check with your doctor or pharmacist before starting a supplement routine. For the youth athlete, less is more when it comes to supplements. Do your research, read the labels, and go forth and supplement.
Brittany Miller, PN1