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Health Before Performance: Top supplements to unleash the beast!

The traditional approach to nutritional supplementation, particularly among gym and health fiends, is the more goodies you pump in, the more weight you pump out and the more muscles you sprout. Throw enough s”*t at the wall and some of it is bound to stick.

It’s not surprising then to see that the supplement market is booming, with health stores emerging from the pavements faster than Hussein Bolt out of the starting blocks.

But, whilst there is now an abundance of vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, herbs and spices galore, stacked high on shelves at our convenience, it is important that we take a more tailored and realistic approach to supplementation. No matter what “performance enhancing” nutritional cocktail you chow down on, if your baseline health is not optimal, that concoction will be converted not into speed, power or strength but more likely into extremely expensive urine.

We must also remember that nutritional supplements and performance cocktails serve only to improve on an already immaculate diet.  Do you really believe that a protein powder is going to unleash the beast if you continue to destroy your gastro-intestinal tract by consuming gluten-laden nasties? Or that a fatty acid is the missing link to a lean, shredded physique when you persist in justifying an over-indulgence on carbohydrates? Think again.

Whether your goal is to build muscle, get strong, lean out or just improve your general health, take note of some of the top supplements I use to complement a good diet in my practice for optimal health and performance.

First up is BetaineHCl (hydrochloric acid). Hcl is a component of stomach acid that helps us break down and digest the foods that we ingest, particularly proteins. In my experience, the majority of individuals have what is termed as hypochlorhydria (low stomach acid) and many physicians most often misdiagnose this as an excess of stomach acid. Why? The clinical presentation tends to be similar. But why is HCl so important? Well, forget taking any nutritional supplement or expensive, high quality, nutrient-dense food if you have inadequate HCl. We need HCl to break down protein to provide the building blocks for muscle synthesis. In addition, calcium, vitamin B9, magnesium, zinc, iron, and beta-carotene all require HCl for absorption. Absorption of the antioxidants Vit C and E, without which we risk oxidative stress and chronic inflammation, also require HCl for absorption. The acidic pH in the stomach is also required for the activation of various enzymes, hormones and neurotransmitters in the GIT.

Another great adjunct to a clean diet is a high quality Multivitamin/Multimineral. I recommend all of my clients to take a good, plant-based multivitamin/multimineral. Do, however, beware of the cheaper products, as they tend to have insufficient doses.

Add to the firing line some high dose Vitamin D and you really can’t go wrong! I do suggest all individuals have a Vitamin D level tested by your Functional Medicine physician as the majority of Irish and UK residents have suboptimal Vitamin D levels due to lack of sunlight. Short of relocating to brighter pastures, there is not much we can do other than increasing dietary Vitamin D. Vitamin D is important for bone health, the immune system, skin condition, brain health, prevention of certain cancers, fat loss and maintenance of muscle mass and strength (important if you’re clocking up frequent flyer miles at your local gym).

Time for the big guns, ladies and gentlemen. All hail fish oil! Omega 3 (consisting of the fatty acids EPA and DHA) has been heralded as one of the most effective nutritional supplements of our time. But why the hype?

Omega-3 (EPA and DHA) first and foremost keeps our cell membranes flexible and healthy. This increases the number of sensitive insulin receptors, reducing fat storage in fat cells Similarly, research has shown that Omega-3 fatty acids turn on genes that help us break down fat whilst inhibiting those that cause us to store fat and turning on carnitine enzymes responsible for burning fat.

The anti-inflammatory actions of Omega-3 help manage pain and inflammation from muscle damage, as well as other sources (via metabolites called resolvins). For the gym bunny or muscle man this means better recovery from training thus improved strength over time. And if that wasn’t convincing enough, omega-3 is also important for brain health. Improved perfusion of brain cells, increased focus and motivation as well as aiding memory and cognition are just some of the effects of DHA and EPA.

Add to that the fact that omega 3 supplementation has been shown to improve cardiovascular risk profile, have positive effects on all known disease entities, reduce blood pressure and improve the stress response, and you really can’t deny the importance of Omega-3 in your supplement protocol.

So quit whining about your stagnant progression in the gym. Or on the track. Or on the bike. Wherever. Aww…but you had 20g of BCAA and 10g creatine before your session??

Forget it.

Always, always, always, optimize your existing health before you start looking to improve performance.