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One of my very first Blog posts written 5 years ago was titled The Top 5 Supplements to Take (or top 3 if you are on a budget).
OTC (over-the-counter) supplements for athletes come in 3 different categories: (1) for health reasons, (2) for recovery, and (3) performance. There’s a 4th category, and that’s for weight loss, but most Track athletes don’t have to worry about this.
In a perfect world, everything you need for your body is at the grocery store. Jeremy Wariner doesn’t take supplements, and neither does Usain Bolt with the exception of Vitamin C.
I have since changed the order of priority. For those on a limited budget and can only afford one item, then take the first one on the list. If you can afford 3, take the first 3 on the list:
1. Fish Oils
There’s enough research out there that proves fish oils, or omega-3 fatty acids, are beneficial for overall cardiac health benefits, and well as reducing inflammation. It also keeps your omega-6 : omega-3 ratios in balance since we eat too much of the omega-6 variety in processed and fast foods.
Omega-6 is normally very high in North American diets, and I believe ratios are important, thus supplementing with Omega 3 makes a lot of sense. The ideal ratio of Omega-6 : Omega-3 is a probably around 2:1 or 3:1, but the average North American diet with fast food and restaurants is probably about 20:1 <gasp!>.
There are some major differences in flax oil (primarily alpha-linolenic acid) and Omega 3. Flax seed or oil is not enough. Flax is mainly alpha-linolenic acid, and the conversion of alpha-linolenic acid to linoleic acid (or EPA/DHA to be exact) is marginal.
So I believe healthy average people who eat crushed flax seed and plenty of fish are probably getting enough Omega 3, but athletes may want to supplement with fish oils.
2. Post Recovery workout drink
This doesn’t have to be a supplement, as I prefer real food any day. But sometimes a liquid snack is more portable and convenient. The question is, what ratio of carbs : protein should you consume? 1:1? 2:1? 4:1? And there’s the chocolate milk theory too (my McGill alumni teammates will understand this).
For further reading, see the Post Workout Drink Controversy.
3. Protein shake
We all agree protein powders have an edge for convenience. Some are RTD (ready to drink), and some require cold water and a shaker. But natural wholesome food sources have extra benefits beyond powders. Beef has iron. Fish has Taurine, Omega 3 oils, and B12. Dairy products have calcium.
Again, I prefer real food, and if you have access to chicken breast and broccoli, great. Or beef jerky. But sometimes when hunger strikes, you are better off with a protein shake than a carbohydrate loaded pastry and a coffee at the office.
There are many factors you should consider when choosing protein. Read Why Food can be Better than Protein Powders.
Your recovery is as important as the training. This means rest days and proper sleep. The amount of hours is important, but the quality of sleep is equally as important. There’s a new and improved ZMA-5, which is simply ZMA + 5HTP + B9.
As far as sleep strategies, try to sleep in multiples of 90 min REM cycles such as such as 6, 7.5 or 9 hours of sleep to avoid waking up groggy. Here are 4 different sleep strategies.
5. Ergogenic Performance Aids
There are 4 types of supplements in this category, which would make this list 9 items long, but luckily there is a single product that has all 4, and that is SNAC’s latest supplement called PED. (Yes, you read that right, but it stands for Performance Enhancement Drink)
Here is a short list of legal supplements you can take on race day to improve your 400 meter times.
- Stimulants: coffee & caffeine
- Nootropics: Redbull, 5 Hour shots and Vitalyze
- Lactic Acid buffers: Beta Alanine and baking soda
- Nitric Oxide: L-Arginine, Viagra and vasodilators
6. Honorable mention: Powered Greens
Nothing can replace the macronutrients in real food. But for those who feel you must eat your veggies, then powdered greens may be your answer. If you plan to travel, and you know you’ll be eating out at restaurants, then carrying a small tub of powdered greens might be helpful.