Regardless what kind of physical workout you are planning to do tonight, tomorrow, or next Tuesday, chances are you could use a little boost to help get you going – or to keep your motor running at optimal performance. Eating a healthy diet and getting plenty of rest at night are key to great workouts, but oftentimes you need more, and this is where nutritional supplements can help fill in the dietary gaps. We all have them, even if we think we don't. Proper supplementation is not a one-shot deal, however, or at least it shouldn't be. If you have any sort of exercise/workout program going – or even if you are just getting one started – it might help to know what supplements are out there (pretty much all of which are available over the counter), so you can use them to complement your workout schedule. Use of supplements should not change day to day, or workout to workout. First, though, be sure to discuss this with your physician and/or a nutrition expert before you go off the deep end on any of this stuff. Be careful; stay safe. It helps to know what you are expecting to get out of your supplements. A quick burst of energy? Or something better suited for endurance? Looking to build up your muscles over time? Different supplements provide different benefits, so be sure to check them out thoroughly before using any.
A Pre-Workout Dandy Dozen of SupplementsHere are some dietary supplements to get you properly geared up for workouts. Again, be sure to consult with a health care professional before using any of these (presented in alphabetical order). One other quick reminder: all the supplements in the world won't do much for you if you aren't eating or sleeping right, because as Jason Machowsky, a board-certified sports dietitian and performance specialist says at dailyburn.com, Trying to take supplements when the basics are shot is like putting lipstick on a pig.
- Arginine. An amino acid that once inside our bodies gets converted to nitric oxide, which helps blood vessels expand, paving the way for extra blood, oxygen, and nutrients to reach our working muscles.
- BCAAs. This acronym stands for branched-chain amino acids that include leucine, isoleucine, and valine. These are found in abundance in many foods that contain protein. They might support muscle growth and endurance for longer running events.
- Beta-Alanine. An amino acid much liked for its capacity to ward off muscle fatigue. Known to aid in enhancing intense-exercise performance lasting between one and four minutes, per National Institutes of Health (NIH).
- Vitamin C. This is the go-to-vitamin for anyone who feels a cold coming on, but it's also an antioxidant that can help us deal with metabolic stress – and training is a metabolic stressor, per dailyburn.com. Vitamin C is also a proven deterrent for reducing the chances of coughing or wheezing during a workout.
- Caffeine. Not for everybody, especially those with a history of irregular heartbeats linked to coffee consumption. Otherwise, it has been shown to increase alertness and reduce tiredness, making it a good fit for endurance events such as running as well as intermittent activities, such as soccer.
- Carbohydrates. Carbs can refuel the muscles and get stored in our bodies as glycogen, a shortage of which means hitting the proverbial wall, a phenomenon known well to marathoners. Be careful about carbo-loading, though. If you've ever seen that episode of The Office in which Michael Scott woofs down a plate of pasta before running a 5K, you know that's not a good idea. Yuck. Lesson learned: stick to carb-based supplements.
- Citrulline. An amino acid also found naturally in our bodies, it is capable of boosting blood flow to body tissues. One study has shown it effective for cyclists looking to fend off fatigue over the long haul, while also being able to diminish day-after muscle soreness for exercise enthusiasts.
- Cordyceps. Want a quick strength boost? This Tibetan fungus might be your answer.
- Creatine. Already a popular dietary supplement because of its apparent ability to increase strength and power (think weightlifters and bodybuilders), creatine is a molecule located in our cells, per dailyburn.com. Studies have reported that strength gains from a weight-training regimen are 5-10 per cent higher when creatine is involved.
- Nitrate. This is a molecule found in some vegetables, to include spinach and beetroot. Researchers believe it can reduce the amount of oxygen needed during exercise, such as in the case of distance runners and cyclists.
- Protein. Experts at muscleandfitness.com suggest a whole-food meal 60-90 minutes before a workout, chased by a protein shake. Still, that seems a bit much before a workout for someone other than a highly-tuned, elite athlete accustomed to such a regimen. So, let's just go with the protein shake, using a mix of whey and casein as a provider of workout energy.
- Tyrosine. An amino acid that is supposed to improve mood and enhance focus, which is good considering that our brains could sometimes use a little help during exercise. Note: per muscleandfitrness.com, speaking of workouts, this stuff can also boost sex drive.