The world of supplements can be a murky one. With much of it being unregulated, it’s hard to know what works and what’s just hype. That’s why writer Amy Beecham has been experimenting with supplements to find out what’s worth taking.
If you’ve been strength training for a while, you’ve probably used some kind of protein, BCAA or vitamin supplement.
Worth an estimated £4 billion, the sports nutrition supplement market is clearly booming. As the experts at Bulk explain on their website, supplementation is a key component of nutrition. With busy schedules and an abundance of processed foods, it can often be difficult to acquire the vital nutrients you need to promote growth and recovery at the exact moment your body needs them.
Despite swearing by my caffeine-based pre-workout to pep me up before I hit the gym and vanilla whey powder to help me refuel afterwards, I’ll admit that I don’t actually know if or how these products are genuinely maximising my training.
Is there more I could be doing – or taking – to help improve my workouts?
Can ‘natural’ supplements increase your energy for workouts?
To find out, I decided to take on a little personal experiment. In a week of heavy resistance training where I was hitting 120kg hip thrusts, 100kg rack pulls and super-setting many of my compound exercises, I decided to swap my usual pre-workout for a natural general health supplement (Thrive from Earths Secret) to see if it would make my workouts better.
As their founder Amy Peacock tells Strong Women, Thrive contains: “a combination of five powerful Ayurvedic herbs that improve vitality, energy and endurance, making it perfect for consumption alongside your workouts.”
Thrive’s supposedly effective ingredient list includes hydrocurc, a nutrient extracted from the turmeric root that is said to “increase the bioavailability of Curcuminoids in the body.” Hydrocurc has been found by multiple studies to aid recovery following exercise-induced muscle damage and pesky delayed-onset muscle soreness – meaning that supplementing it should help you to feel better the day after a heavy workout.
Thrive also contains organic reishi mushroom, which Peacock says is commonly used by athletes for its performance-enhancing properties that are said to boost resilience and physical endurance. “Reishi contains hundreds of biologically active molecules that can promote energy and vitality,” she explains.
And I found that to be true. After swapping in Thrive for a week, I found that I still had the energy I needed to hit PBs during my workout without the jitters or energy crash often associated with caffeine-based sports supplements.
Energy from natural versus caffeine supplements
“Caffeine is a stimulant to the central nervous system that causes us to feel more awake and alert, but this can also lead to increased anxiety and nervousness.Likewise, when people begin to lower their caffeine consumption, a decrease in energy levels can be an unfortunate result,” Peacock explains.
While Thrive didn’t necessarily give me more energy than pre-workout, I definitely felt that my energy was more measured and sustained. On my first day of the swap – a pull day – I completed my entire routine of lat pulldowns, barbell rows and bicep work and still had enough in the tank for a cardio finisher at the end.
Throughout the test week, I found that the supplement didn’t just help me while training, but boosted my energy and focus throughout the day.
Indeed, for best results, Peacock suggests taking two Thrive in the morning to help kick start your day. “You can also take Thrive before or during a workout to give that extra boost.”
The benefits of creatine for your workout
Tash Lankester, a personal trainer at FLEX Chelsea, swears by creatine – a classic bodybuilding supplement – to help her lift more and for longer. “I have been using creatine for almost a year. For me, it is a no-brainer. It is cheap, safe to use, widely researched and has little to no adverse side effects,” she says.
“Creatine is the most scientifically researched supplement,” Lankester claims, “meaning that all of the information we have on it is very reliable. It has been proven to increase lean muscle mass and increase strength and power performance in the gym.
“Taking it, therefore, helps you to be able to move faster, lift heavier and effectively progressively overload your lifts – so you are likely to see enhanced results while taking it as opposed to not taking it.”
This is because creatine makes up an important part of the energy production systems inside your cells. If your muscle cells have more energy when you exercise, you may perform better and experience greater improvements over time.
“Creatine is also known to improve brain function in general, so if you are one who struggles to get your head in the game when it comes to your workout, give it a go,” Lankester advises.
Because it’s a naturally occurring substance found in animal cells, it might sound like creatine isn’t something that’s readily available to vegans and veggies but because supplements tend to be synthesized from sarcosine and cyanamide, many creatine supplements are actually vegan-friendly. Still, it’s worth checking labels before buying if you are plant-based.
Is creatine dangerous?
Despite inaccurate claims that creatine is an anabolic steroid, unsuitable for women and should only be used by professional athletes, the International Society of Sports Nutrition regards creatine as one of the most beneficial sports supplements available.
As trainer Tess Glynne-Jones previously told Strong Women: “There is a recommended daily intake for vitamins and minerals, so it’s worth checking if you’re meeting those targets and adjusting accordingly. You can check out Informed Sport for its register of tested sports supplements to make sure that what you’re buying works.”
However, as with any change in your diet or fitness routine, if you have concerns you should always consult a professional for advice.
Now you’ve got your supplementation nailed, why not sign up for a training plan to put those nutrients to good use?
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