Before you start thinking about creatine, branched chain amino acids, beta alanine, HMB, protein shakes, caffeine etc, all of which have merits as ergogenic aids, I want you to think about getting your basic nutrition needs covered. First off – food comes first, but this is an article about supplements so what do we need to take? Unfortunately the idea of a well balanced diet providing all the nutrients, vitamins, minerals or fibre that you will need each day to be healthy is a myth. Our food supplies enough for us to survive but not enough for an athlete to thrive
In 2005, the independent Food Commission’s Food Magazine reported that fruits and vegetables were 20% lower in mineral content in 1980 compared to 1930. More specifically it suggested vegetables contained 24% less magnesium, 46% less calcium, 27% less iron and 59% less zinc. Additionally in 2006 the Food Commission reported 47% less iron, 10% less magnesium and 60% less copper when comparing mineral content of meat from the 1930s to food tables published by the Government in 2002. There was also 25% less magnesium, 90% less copper and 15% less calcium in dairy products.
Volume 5 of The National Diet and Nutrition Survey conducted by the Department of Health in 2004 reported the average daily intake of vitamins and minerals for adults in the UK. Over the years these reports have demonstrated the proportion of men and women with low intakes of vitamins and minerals from food sources. Dietary analysis demonstrated there were low intakes of vitamin A, vitamin B2, vitamin B12, folic acid, vitamin C, vitamin D, calcium, zinc, magnesium, potassium, copper, iodine and iron.
So the best place to start with “sports supplements” is to take a multivitamin and mineral. Beyond that i would suggest athletes take extra magnesium, zinc, vitamin D and omega 3.
Magnesium is the forth most abudant mineral in the body and is involved in over 300 chemical reactions from energy production to protein synthesis to the prouction of cortisol or serotoin. Magnesium is considered a relaxing mineral, it helps relax and widen the arteries to lower blood pressure, it helps to relax the bowel and aid constipation, it calms the mind and aids sleep. Magnesium is also very important for cardiac muscle function helping to regulate the heart beat. Magnesium is therefore a great recovery supplement to take after exercise.
Zinc is another mineral that is involved in over 300 chemical relations in the body, ranging from supporting the immune system, regulating homocysteine to protein synthesis and energy production. Zinc is also required to make testosterone – you main anabolic hormone. Prasad et al (1996) found that inducing a specific marginal zinc deficiency in normal young men lead to a decrease in serum testosterone. They also found that zinc supplementation to marginally zinc-deficient elderly men increased serum testosterone levels. So this clearly suggests that zinc plays a role in regulating testosterone secretion, which in athletes will help repair muscles and bones after exercise.
Vitamin D is not a vitamin but a pro-hormone, very similar in action to steroid hormones such as testosterone, DHEA, oestrogen and cortisol. It is produced by the action of sunlight on the skin, which causes cholesterol to be converted into vitamin D3. D3 then circulates in the blood and it is further activated in the kidney and liver to a compound that is extremely important for bone health, muscle function, neurological health, weight loss and the immune system – all important for an athlete to monitor. Unless you get a lot of exposure to sunlight or eat lots of oily fish chances are you are vitamin D deficient. The best way to find out your vitamin D levels is to get a 25(OH)D blood test.
There are many foods that are claimed to prevent disease and keep us healthy. One particular food that has received a lot of attention as being healthful is oily fish. Along with the good sources of protein, B vitamins and certain minerals that fish provides, it is the essential fatty acids EPA and DHA in the fish that are so important for our health. Omega 3 fatty acids help to reduce and manage inflammation (that athletes can get after exercise) and they help to regulate the heart beat. So omega 3 is another important recovery supplement.
Once you have these basics on board should you think about the other ergogenic supplements.