By: Lindsey Guard, Owner of Peak Functional Nutrition & DHP Director of Performance Nutrition
At PFN, we generally don’t like to push too many supplements onto our members. We believe that there is a lot more power in gaining your micronutrients from your diet. Gaining your micronutrients primarily from your diet (the foods in which compose your diet) usually influences the types of food you eat, setting you up for a much more impressive whole food profile. Micronutrients are also more bioavailable in their whole food forms. This means that your body knows how to better digest, utilize and store the micronutrients in whole foods than it would in pill form.
That being said, dealing with athletes puts the necessity of supplementation in a completely new light. As an athlete, you are increasing demands in your body, as you may have noticed through your energy intake. With this increase in demand, there is a certain level of depletion that occurs systemically that may necessitate supplementation in your recovery and performance as an athlete.
I am going to explain the three most recommended supplements we advise at PFN for some of our athletes. Unless we suspect, or lab results show a significant deficiency or indication of other health concerns, we usually stick fairly close to this supplementation protocol as we have seen the best results. Also, the supplements listed are “clean” meaning there is no risk of doping or messing with PEDS (performance enhancing drug supplementation) in which one could experience extreme side effects.
75% of the North American population is deficient in magnesium along with other minerals that are essential components of performance and recovery. That being said, in addition to working out, your chances of being deficient increase significantly.
Physiological effect of Magnesium:
Magnesium plays a most significant role in an athletes recovery as it is a cofactor (a substance whose presence is necessary for the activity of an enzyme) in a multitude of enzymatic functions such as; energy metabolism, cell growth, glycolysis, and protein synthesis. Magnesium bonds with ATP (ATP is a molecule that energy is essentially liberated from) which forms a complex (MG-ATP) which is indispensable for physiological functions such as; nerve conduction (motor and sensory nerve reactions), muscle contraction, and blood pressure regulation.
So you can see, a deficiency in magnesium could easily contribute to a multitude of transient or chronic issues. Specifically, research has shown a strong correlation between neuromuscular dysfunction (e.g. persistent muscle cramping) and a deficiency in magnesium. So, in addition to cell growth, protein synthesis, and energy metabolism with a high rate of deficiency, there is not a wonder why we advocate for athletes to take magnesium. Magnesium also has a low toxicity rate, the most sure sign of over consumption of magnesium (as it has a laxative effect) is diarrhea.
How much and which kinds of magnesium?
From our experience at PFN, we like to take magnesium at night since some have experienced a sedative effect from taking it. In our experience, as athletes and coaches, we have found that the most immediate efficacious magnesium supplement is in liquid form. Calm is one brand we have used and liked before.
There are also different kinds of magnesium, which is something to be aware of, make sure you get magnesium citrate as this is more easily absorbed by your body. Magnesium citrate is bonded to citric acid, which is what makes it more easily absorbable (citric acid is a natural acid commonly found in citric fruits like lemons).
Recommended dosage is anywhere from 200-500 mg/daily.
Many people who start supplementing with any vitamin or mineral usually have an expectation to experience this miraculous feeling of health and energy after a week or so. Honestly, the health benefits with supplementation are very gradual and seldom acute or miraculous. More so, you may experience feeling “normal” or just recovering better. This may be different for every individual though, depending on levels of deficiency and necessity.
Omega-3 fatty acids are a great way to combat the stress of inflammation that training can put on your body. Unless you are living like a king, eating wild caught fish 5 times a week and other seafoods, this will be necessary for most athletes. I like to advise clients (that can stand the taste of fish) to implement wild-caught fish twice a week into their diet. The North American diet’s omega-3: omega-6 ratio is profoundly off-balance (6 winning the ratio count). If you refer back to the first blog on fat, you can better understand what foods are good for supplementing a low inflammation diet and why it is important to consider this as well as supplementation.
Anybody in the CrossFit community knows what a buzz fish oil has been. What I have seen happen over time is athletes and others pick up a fish-oil supplement that will claim “1000mg of fish oil”. Be careful, and don’t go buying the “great deal” on fish oil just yet. There are some very important factors to consider when buying your omega-3’s, I’m going to unveil some of the common mistakes people make about supplementing with these anti-inflammatory fatty acids.
- Omega-3 math: The first and most complex suggestion I have is paying attention to the amount of omega-3’s you are ingesting instead of just “fish oil”. Just because it says 1000 mg of fish oil, does not mean is has 1000 mg of EPA/DHA. EPA and DHA are the inflammatory-mediating fatty acids (omega-3’s) that we are most primarily concerned with when supplementing.
How do I know how much omega-3 I am getting?:
If you look closely at the back of your bottle, you will see a breakdown of your supplement content that should have:
“Total fish oil”, “EPA”, and “DHA”
Add up the amount of EPA and DHA.
This is your total amount of omega 3’s within your supplement, which is the number you want to use when calculating your total amount of fish oil you had daily.
Let’s take our 1000 mg fish oil bottle. Serving suggestion is 3 pills with 30 servings at 20.00.
Total Fish oil: 470mg
Total EPA: 320mg
Add the EPA and DHA (320+210= 530mg) convert that to grams= .530 grams IN THREE PILLS!
You are really only having about .5g of omega-3 in three pills.
We recommend athletes having closer to 2-3 grams of total EPA and DHA daily.
Thus, you would have to consume 9 pills in order to meet the minimum dosage of omega-3’s which turns your 30 day supply into a 10 day supply. 20 bucks for 20 days doesn’t seem like as much of a deal if you ask me.
- Sustainable and trustworthy resources: Make sure you are getting your fish oil from a sustainable source. Not only is this better for the environment, but it’s also better for you. Wild caught fish oil vs farm sourced fish oil has far less antibiotic treatment and is generally better for you. Be careful and do your research about your fish oil supplement before buying.
- Fish oil is not your only option: If you aren’t interested in taking fish oil, krill oil is another option, in which we advise athletes to have 0.5-2 grams of EPA and DHA daily (since the biological composition of krill oil is much more absorbable in the human body). This is not only a good route for dosing lower, but krill oil usually contains much less contaminants and is more sustainable than fish oils. Also, krill oil contains a naturally-occuring anti-oxidant called astaxanthin. Another option is blue algae supplementation for athletes that have a plant-based diet.
We have recommended creatine (creatine monohydrate) supplementation as it is one of the most extensively researched ergogenic sports supplements on the market that has shown little to no adverse reactions and risk factors. There has even been research showing that creatine has been shown to help those who have experienced neurodegenerative disorders (like Parkinson’s and muscular dystrophy).
We all have a natural amount of creatine found primarily in our skeletal muscle. Creatine is also available in whole food forms as well. In order to obtain 1 gram of creatine though, you would need to eat about 1 pound of red meat or seafood, which may compromise the integrity of your health and wallet. We can maintain a homeostatic level of creatine as we naturally lose some through the excretion of urine and gain some within our diet. To reap the advanced benefits of creatine, supplementation with ~5 grams has been the most efficacious and safe rate in research.
That being said, creatine supplementation has been shown to enhance post-exercise recovery, injury prevention, thermoregulation, and rehabilitation. Not only does it help in an athlete’s recovery and injury prevention, but most athletes that have introduced creatine as a daily supplement of ~5 grams have been able to endure heavier training loads as well. Athletes using creatine have shown an increase in high intensity and repetitive exercise performance by 10-20%.
We suggest creatine monohydrate because it is relatively inexpensive compared to other forms (e.g. micronized creatine). All creatine packages will recommended “loading” your creatine, which is unnecessary and a waste. Go about the normal dosage, no loading, and no expensive alternatives. Make sure to drink ample amounts of water with your creatine as some have a tendency to feel a little dehydrated. You may retain a little more water with creatine, but this is usually an initial reaction to introducing the supplement.
There you have it, PFN’s top three. In addition to these, I would argue that protein supplementation can be just as vital to performance and recovery, but most athletes have some idea of the significance of protein.