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A little help from sports supplements

We look at the best supplements for peak performance

Tom Dalton of TD Fitness

If your energy levels are putting a damper on your attitude, morale, motivation, well-being and are not indicative of a mood disorder, it’s worth upping your intake of energy-boosting supplements. Below are four supplements that will get you out of a slump.

What it does: As the fourth most prevalent mineral in the body, magnesium is an essential part of our daily functions. It not only helps to metabolise glucose into energy, but it also fuels muscles with enough oxygen to energise them.

Where it’s found: spinach, fish, pumpkin seeds, dark chocolate, almonds and yogurt.

What it does: Iron is needed to make haemoglobin, which is a substance in red blood cells that enables them to carry oxygen around the body. Tiredness is one of the main side effects of our cells not getting enough oxygen. Upping iron intake can be an easy fix for low energy levels.

Where it’s found: apricots, chickpeas, cashew nuts, eggs and red meat.

What it does: Ginseng contains adaptogens that aid the body’s stress and anxiety receptors, leaving you less susceptible to buckling under the strain of day-to-day stressors.

Where it’s found: teas, tablets and powders.

Vitamin B12
What it does: This vitamin is a necessary part in the production and size of red blood cells, which carry oxygen to every cell in the body. It also regulates the body’s metabolic functions at a cellular level, meaning our foods are metabolised correctly and the right nutrients go to the right places and are used for the right things, such as providing you with energy.

Where it’s found: beef, liver, sardines, mackerel, lamb, feta cheese and eggs.

Gráinne O’Driscoll runs Grá For Fitness offering pilates and fitness classes

With more people taking their exercise seriously these days, it’s important to consider how post-workout nutrition can enable us to capitalise on our hard work. While recommendations vary based on the type of exercise, the length and the intensity and our goals, the basic aims of post-workout nutrition are to replenish energy stores, increase muscle size and tone, help the body repair itself and recover quickly.

Wholefoods are always great, but eating a meal after a training session isn’t always possible, therefore using supplements can help fill this gap. Using a protein powder-based drink as well as a rapidly digested simple carbohydrate to replenish glycogen can be just the thing. There is a wide range of protein powders available with flavours to suit all tastebuds. Whey and casein are the most protein dense with vegan options including pea, soya, hemp and rice. This kind of supplementation is most appropriate directly after a weights, interval or endurance session lasting 45 minutes or longer.

Cherry juices can be extremely useful for post-workout recovery. Research has shown they can aid muscle recovery thanks to their anti-inflammatory, antioxidant compounds called anthocyanins. Likewise omega-3s taken regularly have also been shown to reduce muscle inflammation.

For aching muscles, a good old-fashioned Epsom salts bath is hard to beat. If you don’t have a bath magnesium spray can help ease muscle pain. There are many options, but it’s important to get sound professional advice before using a supplement.

Timmy Burns, Personal Trainer at Clayton Hotel Belfast

Let’s look at four of the most popular supplements and how they work:

Whey protein
Protein is known as the building block of the human body. Muscles, hair and nails are all made up from proteins, making it an essential macronutrient that aids both muscle building and repair. Weight lifting causes tiny micro tears within the muscles which are repaired via a process called protein synthesis using stronger and thicker fibres, hence becoming bigger and stronger. Protein can also be used as an energy source during aerobic exercise, although the body will prefer to use fat and carbohydrate before it metabolises protein. Protein supplementation should only really be used in conjunction with a balanced and healthy diet and not as a quick fix to becoming the next Mr Universe!

Creatine is a substance found naturally in the human body and is primarily used as a facilitator in powerful movements such as sprinting and weight lifting. Whilst it is naturally obtained from amino acids and protein-rich foods such as meat and fish, it’s also one of the most popular sports supplements. Popular with athletes that rely on explosive power, creatine is thought to aid short-term, high intensity repetitive power. Although short-term studies have primarily found it to be a useful and safe supplement, creatine hasn’t been around for long enough to reliably study its long-term effects.

BCAAs or branch chain amino acids are another popular sports supplement. They are not synthesised by our bodies and have to be obtained from our diet, making them essential amino acids as opposed to non-essential amino acids that are synthesised by the body. BCAAs main function is to facilitate protein synthesis, but they are also thought to positively affect hormone levels and fat metabolism. Supplementation with BCAAs can help maintain healthy levels of essential amino acids that in turn help promote lean muscle mass. BCAAs are not recommended for pregnant women or women that are breast-feeding.

Perhaps the most controversial of all our supplements are pre-workout powders and shakes. They have received some negative press of late due to ‘mystery ingredients’ and nasty side-effects, but still seem extremely popular. The idea is to stimulate high levels of energy that sets us up for a better gym session with high concentrations of stimulants such as caffeine and guarana, but what goes up must come down. People particularly sensitive to any of these stimulants should stay well clear.

Plenty of research has asked the question of exactly how beneficial and true many of the claims surrounding the benefits of these supplements really are, but they show no sign of going away. But just remember, everything in moderation and read up about it before making a decision. Look for independent or academic research, and educate yourself. It’s only then that we are able judge for ourselves if using a sports supplement is the right thing to do!

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