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What's in a supplement?

Fitness & Spa

The supplement industry has been booming in recent years. Let’s take a closer look at the potions, lotions and powders you can add to your health regime.

Pre-workout

Everyone needs that extra kick to get them going before a workout. Whether that takes the form of a good old fashioned coffee or a personal ritual, it all helps. In regards to pre-workout supplements though, only some things are actually any good for you.

The staple of any pre-workout supplement is caffeine which has been shown multiple times by science to be of benefit in enhancing workout routines. A 2010 review by  Astorino et al. showed that it was best for those of us doing long distance endurance activities, but it also had benefits for those of us doing short term/distance exercises. You just need to take a break from it so that your body can remain sensitive to the
effects of caffeine.

Other pre-workout ingredients include creatine which has been shown to increase endurance, strength and overall skeletal muscle size, though the latter part is usually just down to water retention. Volek et al. have shown the effects of creatine supplementation to spread from long distance athletes to short distance, as well as improving ability when strength training.

The next most widely used pre-workout ingredient is Nitric Oxide which is a vasodilator (encourages blood flow) which we produce naturally, often labelled as a “pump matrix”. Unfortunately, research shows that there was little to no evidence that nitric oxide stimulating supplement actually has any significant effect on performances and a lot of the responses from subjects can be seen as a placebo effect.

Peri-workout 

Peri-workout refers to all aspects of nutrition but is often used when describing the nutrition we intake during workouts. When a marathon runner has a high glucose/carbohydrate drink during a run, that can be considered peri-workout supplementation. The two most common forms of intra-workout nutrition are the aforementioned high sugar/carbohydrate drinks that are taken to replace the muscle glycogen lost through all forms of exercise. The other being Branch Chain Amino Acids or BCAAs. The science showing their importance is a bit patchy with some claiming they work, while others claim that any benefit is down to the sugar that accompanies a lot of supplements. In that instance, it really is best to trial them and see if they work for you.

Post-workout

Finally we come to the staple supplement in most people’s workout routine… the protein shake! In the average protein shake you will find the whey variant of protein. The reason whey is used ahead of other variants is that it is more readily absorbed by the body than its other common counterpart, casein. The primary reason for this is it is higher in the 3 essential amino acids: valine, leucine and isoleucine.

A protein shake isn’t essential and neither are amino acids as you tend to get enough from your diet. However, when exercising, you need more than the average individual
which is why you can supplement your diet with extra protein in the form of shakes, bars, etc. Do try to get most of your protein from food though as it is processed more
effectively.

Some protein shakes will include creatine as well, but this will only help your overall creatine levels for your next session, rather than enhance your recovery as shown by
Rawson et al. in 2007.

So next time you’re wondering which supplement to take make sure you’re not just wasting your money on some fancy sounding words. Try getting the majority of your energy and nutritional requirements from good old fashioned food first. As ever, please speak to one of the fitness team to discuss supplements and nutrition.

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