Sports Performance and Recovery: Top 8 Supplements for Athletes

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When I first started exercising and weight lifting to reach specific health goals I didn’t know anything about the benefits of using supplements to optimize my performance and recovery. At that time I was taking a multi-vitamin, a probiotic and vitamin C for general health. Now five years later, I have researched and experimented with a lot of different supplements, protein powders and diet changes in order to find what works best for my body and to help me reach my health and performance goals.

Eating whole, organic foods is a cornerstone of athletic performance, but nutrient-depleted soil, GMO foods, and food transportation practices all increase the importance of supplementation, even for healthy individuals. While supplements should not take the place of food, they have a beneficial role in our nutritional playbook. A growing body of evidence shows that supplements are key players in a sports performance regimen or on an as-needed basis for training recovery.

So what does recovery mean? Recovery is repairing muscle and tissue, removing waste products, and reducing inflammation. It's also replenishing nutrients and energy stores necessary for cellular activity and restoring central nervous system function, which means repairing the communication pathways between the brain and the body. The post-workout recovery process is critically important if you want to continue to stay healthy and active!

In addition to the supplements listed below, there are a few other good habits to include post-workout. Eat a good meal including protein and carbohydrates post-workout in order to give nutrients to your muscles and to avoid excess soreness. Another important aspect of training is sleep. It is important to sleep 7-9 hours per night in order to allow the central nervous system to repair and recover. Sleep is also important for fat loss and muscle building because growth hormone is released during sleep. And lastly, don’t forget water! I recommend drinking at least ½ your body weight in ounces of water everyday (and more if you sweat)!

With the fundamentals of nutrition, sleep, and hydration in place, here are my ultimate 8 supplements to help increase recovery and sports performance.

Supplements for Exercise and Training Recovery

1. Probiotics

Probiotics supply the gut with healthy flora necessary for digestion, absorption, elimination and immune function. If your gut or digestion isn’t operating properly you won't recover properly either, thus slowing the repair of muscle and tissue leading to more inflammation. A healthy target dose for daily health maintenance is between 20 and 50 billion CFUs.

2. Omega-3 Fish Oil

Most known for its anti-inflammatory properties, it is also essential for hormone synthesis and improves bone repair while reducing muscle soreness. I aim for 3-5g daily to maximize the benefits.

3. BCAA's (Branched Chain Amino Acids)

Very well known in the exercise world for enhancing muscle protein synthesis and preventing delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Studies have also shown that BCAA’s are energizing and aid in weight loss. I love using Designs for Health BCAA powder with glutamine, available through our online dispensary Fullscript.

4. Protein

Protein gives your muscles the necessary building blocks to build muscle/strength and prevent muscle wasting, especially when consumed after a workout. It also provides satiation and increases metabolism post-workout by restoring glycogen and reducing cortisol, which naturally rises during a workout. My goal is 20g of protein after each workout. More than 15-20g will not be more advantageous and the body will excrete what cannot be absorbed. If you can tolerate whey protein, it is a great source for muscle synthesis and it is highly absorbable. If you are like me and whey protein does not agree with your body, consider a vegan protein with a rice base or my favorite paleo protein powder source called PurePaleo Protein by Designs for Health, available in our office or online. It is a dairy-free protein with beef collagen, which is great for hair, skin and nails. It is very high in protein (21 grams per serving!) and a great recovery drink. Important note: if your body does NOT tolerate whey, consider taking BCAA’s and protein immediately post-workout.

5. CoQ10

CoQ10, a very important antioxidant used throughout the body, is specifically useful to avoid muscle fatigue in both strength and endurance athletes. It regulates inflammatory pathways in the body that naturally increase during and after exercise. This can be taken any time throughout the day, not needed right after exercise. Bonus: it's also beneficial for cardiovascular health. 

6. Glutamine

Glutamine is an amino acid that speeds recovery by allowing the muscles to intake carbohydrate more readily post-workout. It also increases growth hormone, thus allowing the body to create new muscle mass. Plus, it’s great for gut healing! I prefer powdered glutamine taken immediately after a workout and I use a product that combines glutamine with my BCAA’s (see above).

7. Curcumin

Curcumin is the potent anti-inflammatory component found in turmeric. It reduces pain and swelling when used either topically over sore muscles or taken orally. My favorite curcumin supplement is a liquid supplement called Turmero-Active. It does need to be special ordered, but it is highly absorbable and very potent. Another one that is used frequently and well-loved by patients at Be Well Natural Medicine is called Theracurmin HP by Integrative Therapeutics, available through our online dispensary Fullscript

8. L-arginine

Arginine is another amino acid that stimulates growth hormone, which aids in muscle growth, increased strength and recovery. It is the precursor to creatine, which naturally enhances performance. Arginine can be taken as a powder or a capsule, but I prefer the powder so I can add it right into my protein shake.

These 8 supplements can be added to a daily routine and post-workout meals to help the body recover more quickly after exercise, allowing active people to get back into the gym for the next workout session. Additionally, these supplements can help avoid overtraining, a very common occurrence with athletes and gym-goers today (more to come on overtraining soon)!