If you’re looking to get healthy, stay fit, achieve weight loss, prevent muscle loss, work on body composition, or make serious muscle gain, you probably know that nutrition—vitamins and minerals—is the key.
The gym is obviously where you need to be to work on your fitness, but the kitchen is where you nourish, heal, and support muscle growth. Not getting enough vitamins and minerals can impact your workout gains — and that’s exactly where workout supplements come into play.
Supplements can help with muscle growth and recovery while also boosting your general health and wellbeing. In short, supplements are worthy additions to your healthy lifestyle.
Ideally, you would get every single one of the nutrients you need from the foods you eat. Unfortunately, that can sometimes be hard to do—partially because the standard American diet favors processed over fresh foods. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention states that “Most people have vitamin B6, iron, and vitamin D deficiencies.” That’s a lot of deficiencies, but the good news is that you can find more information on what your body needs to function directly from the US Office of Dietary Supplements.
Luckily, supplementation comes to the rescue, especially with regards to fitness and working out. You’ll want to first focus on getting adequate protein, carbs and fat—which are called macronutrients—as well as nutrients and mineral (also called micronutrients).
A registered health coach, trainer, and doctor can help you determine what you should focus on for your specific health and fitness goals—everyone’s needs are different!
Myths About Supplementation: To Supplement or Not?
One common supplementation myth is that all proteins are equal. Not true! According to Muscle and Fitness, “There are thousands of different types of protein at the molecular level. It appears there are two sides to every protein debate: isolate vs. concentrate, quick release vs. sustained release, and whey vs. casein. The absorption rate is the speed at which protein is digested. Quick-release proteins like whey hit your muscles faster, ideal for post- or intra-workout shakes when your muscles are literally starving. Sustained-release proteins like casein have a much slower absorption rate.”
Other myths? First, supplements work even if you don’t go to the gym. Answer: not true—both exercise and nutrition are required.
Another myth: all fitness supplements contain steroids. That is false. You can work out and make gains without steroids. While some athletes do take a form of steroids—known as anabolic-androgenic steroids or just anabolic steroids (like testosterone)—to boost their muscle growth, strength, and endurance, there are plenty other kinds of supplements on the market.
There are plenty of other myths out there, and they’re all important to get past to unlock your fitness and health potential.
What Are Some Supplements for Beginners and Advanced Athletes?
Beginners may want to focus on a few things in their supplementation regimen: protein, carbs pre- and post-workout, greens, creatine, and fish oil. More advanced bodybuilders may want to focus on BCCAs (branch-chained amino acids), glutamine, and citrulline malate, among other items.
Some popular pre-workout supplements include creatine, caffeine, beta-alanine, and nitrate—helping you power through your workouts.
Vegetarian? You can take part in all of this too! If you want to stick to plant-based nutrition in your workout, there are plenty of plant-based proteins available, usually focusing on pea protein, hempseed, and more.
The Best Supplements for Fitness
This one is known as the sunshine vitamin. It helps calcium absorption and regulates over 200 genes in the human body. It also acts like a hormone, helping with protein synthesis.
Once ingested, vitamin D helps to improve nutrient absorption, support insulin, promote repair of the muscles and even lower the risk of depression. Most people could benefit from a vitamin D supplement as it’s a very common nutritional deficiency. When hungry, opt for foods such as fatty fish like tuna, mackerel, and salmon, and other options like soy milk, beef liver, egg yolk, and cheese.
Also, keep in mind that when taking a vitamin D supplement, you may want to find one that include vitamin K2 with vitamin D3. According to Healthline, vitamin D ensures that your blood levels of calcium are as high as your body needs them to be. Vitamin K steps in to help direct the calcium to the parts of your body that need it.
Vitamin B12 is a key player in muscle growth and contributes to red blood cell production, which helps delivering oxygen to the muscles.
Since this compound is found mostly in animal foods, vegans and vegetarians are at higher risk for deficiencies in B12. If that’s your case, consider taking vitamin B12 supplements. You can also eat lean meat, fish, poultry, and dairy foods, which are all packed with vitamin B12.
A lot of bodybuilders and fitness models load up on vitamin B3 (also called niacin) before photo shoots because it helps promote muscle growth and gives you better pumps.
Its benefits go well beyond athletic performance, though. This bodybuilding-friendly vitamin promotes glucose, metabolism, supports growth hormones and the increase of good cholesterol. Focus on adding this into your diet via eggs, bananas and meat. Easy!
If you haven’t noticed, the family of B vitamins are essential when it comes to bodybuilding and muscle repair. B6 is sort of like its counterpart, B12. It can help promote blood cell production, and glucose metabolism, and it can also support athletic performance and muscular growth by increasing nitric oxide levels.
You can find it in beef liver, and fatty fish. If you’re a vegetarian, chickpeas and bananas are an excellent source of B6 and will become your friend. For example, one can of chickpeas can deliver over 55 percent of the daily recommended amount of B6, and a medium-sized banana can deliver 20 percent of the daily allowance of B6. A good, professional grade vitamin B6 supplement can help as well.
Vitamin E is well known for its skin-loving properties. However, vitamin E isn’t just for skin. It not only helps slow down aging and scavenges free radicals (substances from the environment or toxins that are harmful to your health and can cause chronic illness), but also helps flush out metabolic waste.
When you exercise, you create oxidative stress (free radicals) within the body. The good news? Vitamin E neutralizes these potentially harmful compounds while also boosting your heart health. Find it in olive oil, leafy greens, fish and nuts.
Anyone looking to make major gains in the gym will also want to turn to vitamin A. That’s because vitamin A synthesizes protein and promotes glycogen production. Additionally, it works as an antioxidant and promotes bone health. Therefore, if you have a deficiency in those areas, it could be linked to excessive alcohol intake, diabetes or a low-fat diet. You can get vitamin A in eggs, carrots, cheese, and fatty fish.
This is probably the one vitamin you know all about; most people started taking it at their mother’s request in childhood! This essential nutrient strengthens your natural defenses, fighting infections and diseases, in addition to working as an antioxidant. It can support tissue growth, which means it’ll help you get back on your feet after a hard session in the gym. Top up your vitamin A by munching on peppers, leafy greens, tomatoes, citrus fruits and broccoli.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
In addition to providing support to cardiovascular, eye, joint, brain, and skin health, omega-3s have also been found to speed up recovery and boost muscle growth. The body gets omega-3 fatty acids from healthy fats such as walnuts, eggs, fish (like mackerel and sardines), and avocados, but can also benefit from a high-quality fish oil supplement.
Vitamin B2 is also known as riboflavin and can help support energy, fat oxidation, and increase post-exercise recovery — an absolute must for athletic performance. With its potential ability to decrease recovery time, B2 a must-have for anyone looking to decrease soreness or pain. Starting a vitamin B2 supplementation is a smart choice, but it can be also be found in lamb, liver, spinach, almonds, and dairy foods.
Vitamin B9 (or Folic Acid)
Vitamin B9, which is often referred to as either folate or folic acid (although they are not interchangeable), is key for muscle growth. The synthetic form of vitamin B9, folic acid, is found in many supplements and foods that have been strengthened with the vitamin. Folate, however, is naturally occurring in food, according to BreakingMuscle.
According to one study, “Energy production and the rebuilding and repair of muscle tissue by physical activity require folate and vitamin B12 as a cofactor.” This benefits growth, synthesis of new cells, and the repair of damaged cells and tissues. Eat plenty of lentils, spinach, avocado, and mangos to increase this one. You can also take a supplement (you will want to consult with your healthcare practitioner to determine which type and amount is best for you).
Many of the vitamins listed above can be found in a high quality multivitamin, which can help promote overall health and fight inflammation. Getting enough vitamins and nutrients every day can help you stay healthy enough to make big gains in the gym.
Are There Any Risks Associated with Workout Supplements?
If you’re looking to start a definitive workout supplementation program, a physician within the BodyLogicMD network can help you do so in a healthy way that takes into account the risks, which can include heart health issues, liver damage, and more.
Your BodyLogicMD-affiliated physician can also help you make sure you’re taking the right dosage and type of each supplement (for example, they can help you decide how many grams of protein powder you should be taking and what ingredients to avoid). There’s a major health and safety benefit to working with a professional and buying only professional-grade supplements.
According to the Better Health Channel (a program of the Australian government), “There are certain situations in which a person might truly benefit from a supplement—including those who are pregnant, have dietary restrictions, take certain drugs, or have chronic health conditions. But these people should only take the type and dosage recommended by their doctor. They may even be able to take a prescription-strength supplement, which must meet the same safety and efficacy standards as other prescription drugs.”
The good news: BodyLogicMD only carries the best quality supplements. How? By working with only ethical manufacturers who produce the safest and most effective products with rigorous testing procedures. You can search for all the supplements you need to stay healthy and fit at shop.bodylogicmd.com.
In the end, make sure you eat clean, sleep well, manage your stress, and prioritize consistent workouts. All of these actions will ensure you stay healthy while making sustainable fitness gains.
Charlotte is a patient care coordinator specializing in bioidentical hormone replacement therapy. She is committed to helping patients who struggle with the symptoms of hormonal change and imbalance explore their treatment options and develop effective strategies to optimize wellness.