Supplements Explained: From Production to Plate
Elevate your athletic journey with the right knowledge. Dive deep into the world of supplements and discover what fuels champions.
What’s in this article:
- How Are Supplements Manufactured
- Why Athletes Take Supplements
- Do Athletes Really Need Supplements?
- Supplements for Optimal Athletic Performance
- Recommended Time to Take Supplements
- The Best Foods to Eat Instead of Taking Supplements
- Can Supplements Contain Allergens?
- Potential Side Effects of Supplements
- One-Day Meal Plan
- Navigating the Supplements Spectrum
How Are Supplements Manufactured
Ever held a supplement bottle and thought about where it began? Generally, supplements trace their roots back to nature, whether they’re plant-derived, from animals, or extracted from minerals. Before being made available to the public, these foundational substances are meticulously scrutinized for their quality, safety, and effectiveness.1 Once cleared, they’re processed into the familiar formats of capsules, tablets, or powders, ensuring each dose is consistent, potent, and safe.
The manufacturing process abides by stringent regulations, ensuring that what you consume is both effective and safe. These processes often incorporate the latest technology and research, ensuring that the supplement industry continually evolves in the pursuit of optimal health and wellness.2
Why Athletes Take Supplements
The drive for excellence pushes athletes to their limits. To keep up with these demanding regimens, they sometimes turn to supplements. These can provide a concentrated dose of essential nutrients, ensuring their bodies remain primed for performance.
Beyond just filling dietary gaps, supplements can offer benefits such as improved recovery, enhanced endurance, and muscle growth. However, while they can be incredibly beneficial, they’re a tool among many in the vast landscape of sports nutrition.3
Do Athletes Really Need Supplements?
The allure of supplements is undeniable. However, the foundation of any athlete’s diet should be balanced, nutrient-rich food. A supplement, as its name suggests, is meant to supplement, not replace. Scientists and doctors propose that food first should mean come from whole foods and drinks rather than from isolated food components or dietary supplements.4 Many athletes maintain a healthy diet and meal plan to cover all their nutrient needs however when working out at high intensity and to avoid overeating supplements can add a much needed supercharge
For some elite athletes, their intensive training can sometimes create nutritional gaps that are challenging to fill with food alone. In such scenarios, supplements can play an essential role in providing the specific nutrients they might be lacking.5
Supplements for Optimal Athletic Performance
Certain supplements have become popular in the athletic world due to their proven benefits. Creatine, for instance, is recognized for its potential to boost muscle power. Beta-alanine can play a pivotal role in improving muscle endurance. 6Another noteworthy supplement that has gained traction among athletes is glutamine. Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in the human body and plays an essential role in various metabolic processes. Intense training and exercise can deplete our natural glutamine reserves, which may influence recovery and muscle tissue repair. Additionally, glutamine has been shown to promote a healthy immune system7, which is crucial for athletes undergoing strenuous training regimens. While it’s present in foods like beef, chicken, and dairy products, supplementation can provide a more concentrated dose, ensuring athletes maintain optimal levels, especially during periods of elevated physical stress.
However, it’s crucial to remember that individual needs can vary. Not every supplement is suitable for every athlete. It’s essential to consult with professionals and tailor any supplemental regimen to one’s unique requirements.
Recommended Time to Take Supplements
Timing can influence the effectiveness of a supplement. For instance, consuming protein post-workout can aid in muscle repair and growth. On the other hand, creatine can be taken both pre-workout for energy and post-workout for recovery. Timing can be a pivotal aspect, not just in athletics, but also in how our bodies metabolize and utilize supplements. For instance, fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K are best taken with a meal containing fats to ensure optimal absorption.8 Meanwhile, some minerals like iron may be best taken on an empty stomach, but this can cause stomach upset for some individuals, thus making it more appropriate to consume with a small meal.9
Probiotics, those beneficial bacteria for our gut, often find their best time slot in the cooler part of the day or before bedtime, as the stomach’s acidic environment is somewhat reduced. Always ensure you consult with a healthcare professional about your specific needs and any potential interactions, as personal biology and the medications one might be taking can impact the ideal timing for supplement consumption.
While general guidelines can be helpful, it’s essential to remember that everyone’s body is different. Listening to your body and making necessary adjustments based on personal experiences is key to optimizing supplement usage.
The Best Foods to Eat Instead of Taking Supplements
Nature’s bounty offers a plethora of nutrient-rich foods. Lean meats, fish, legumes, and leafy greens are all packed with essential nutrients. Foods like these can often provide many of the vitamins and minerals that one might seek from supplements.
However, while these foods are nutrient-dense, they might not always provide the concentrated doses that some athletes require. Supplements can offer a targeted and efficient way to consume specific nutrients, especially for those with specialized dietary needs.10
Some easy to find and delicious nutrient packed foods are:
- C: Oranges
- A: Carrots
- D: Salmon
- Calcium: Dairy products
- Iron: Spinach
- Magnesium: Avocado
- Omega-3: Walnuts
- Omega-6: Sunflower seeds
Incorporating these foods can naturally boost essential vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids in your diet.
Can Supplements Contain Allergens?
Like any processed product, supplements can contain allergens. Common culprits such as soy, gluten, and dairy might be present. For individuals with known allergies or sensitivities, reading labels and seeking allergen-free products is essential.11 Moreover, some supplements might contain trace amounts of allergens due to the manufacturing process. For those with severe allergies, it’s always best to consult with a healthcare provider or nutritionist before introducing a new supplement. It is crucial if you have any complications from the allergens to seek out the supplements that avoid these contaminants. After all, why become sick when you ‘re trying to stay healthy!
Potential Side Effects of Supplements
While many enjoy the benefits of supplements without issues, there’s always the potential for side effects. These can arise due to over-consumption, interactions with other supplements, or medications.12
It’s crucial to be informed. Researching, understanding potential interactions, and staying in communication with healthcare professionals ensures that supplements can be enjoyed safely and effectively.
One-Day Meal Plan
Dive into a day of delicious dishes designed to power you through every rep, sprint, and leap!
Breakfast: Oatmeal topped with mixed berries, chia seeds, and a dollop of almond butter. Partnered with a protein-packed smoothie with spinach, banana, Greek yogurt, and almond milk.
Lunch: Grilled chicken breast on a bed of quinoa salad, loaded with colorful veggies and drizzled with an olive oil vinaigrette.
Snack: Hummus with carrot sticks, celery, and whole-grain pita chips.
Dinner: Pan-seared salmon with steamed broccoli and a side of sweet potato mash.
Snack: A small handful of mixed nuts and a square of dark chocolate.
Hydration: Ensure you’re drinking plenty of water throughout the day. Green tea or herbal tea can be a great evening relaxer.
Navigating the Supplements Spectrum
Navigating the realm of supplements, particularly in the world of athletics, can often feel overwhelming. From their origin to their role in optimizing performance, understanding supplements is pivotal for those aiming for peak performance. When integrated judiciously into one’s regime, they can certainly fill nutritional gaps, bolster recovery, and enhance overall physical prowess.
Yet, a core takeaway remains: supplements are an adjunct, not a replacement, for a well-rounded diet. Consuming them responsibly, with an awareness of their source, function, and timing, can indeed be transformative. Moreover, individual variability underscores the importance of tailored choices, made in conjunction with professionals.
Natural food sources remain a treasure trove of essential nutrients, and while supplements can provide concentrated doses, nothing quite replaces the holistic nourishment derived from a balanced meal. For those stepping into the vast world of supplements, the journey is one of continual learning, trial, and fine-tuning. Informed choices, made with both heart and science, can pave the way for a healthier, stronger, and more empowered athletic journey. Stay nourished, stay informed, and let your supplements truly supplement your drive to greatness.
- National Institutes of Health (NIH). (2018). Dietary Supplement Fact Sheets. Office of Dietary Supplements
- National Institutes of Health (NIH). (2023)Strengthening Knowledge and Understanding of Dietary Supplements. Multivitamin/mineral Supplements
- Tabata, S., Yamasawa, F., Torii, S. et al. Use of nutritional supplements by elite Japanese track and field athletes. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 17, 38 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-020-00370-9
- Close, Graeme & Kasper, Andreas & Walsh, Neil & Maughan, Ron. (2022). “Food First but Not Always Food Only”: Recommendations for Using Dietary Supplements in Sport. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism. 32. 10.1123/ijsnem.2021-0335.
- International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 2018, 28, 139-158D. Volume 28 Issue 2. Enette Larson-Meyer, Kathleen Woolf, and Louise Burke
- Trexler ET, Smith-Ryan AE, Stout JR, Hoffman JR, Wilborn CD, Sale C, Kreider RB, Jäger R, Earnest CP, Bannock L, Campbell B, Kalman D, Ziegenfuss TN, Antonio J. International society of sports nutrition position stand: Beta-Alanine. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2015 Jul 15;12:30. doi: 10.1186/s12970-015-0090-y. PMID: 26175657; PMCID: PMC4501114.
- Calder PC, Yaqoob P. Glutamine and the immune system. Amino Acids. 1999;17(3):227-241. doi:10.1007/BF01366922
- National Research Council (US) Committee on Diet and Health. Diet and Health: Implications for Reducing Chronic Disease Risk. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 1989. 11, Fat-Soluble Vitamins. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK218749/
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). Office of dietary supplements – iron. NIH Office of Dietary Supplements. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iron-Consumer/
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.-a). Office of dietary supplements – dietary supplements: What you need to know. NIH Office of Dietary Supplements. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/WYNTK-Consumer/
- Foti C, Calogiuri G, Nettis E, De Marco A, Stingeni L, Hansel K, Di Bona D, Carlucci P, Romita P, Barbaud A. Allergic contact dermatitis from vitamins: A systematic review. Health Sci Rep. 2022 Oct 3;5(6):e766. doi: 10.1002/hsr2.766. PMID: 36210883; PMCID: PMC9528950.
- Or F, Kim Y, Simms J, Austin SB. Taking Stock of Dietary Supplements’ Harmful Effects on Children, Adolescents, and Young Adults. J Adolesc Health. 2019;65(4):455-461. doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2019.03.005