As a sports dietitian, I am frequently asked about supplements to support workouts. There are thousands of supplements available to consumers—so how do you know which ones to choose? To make it more complicated, many products claim to “boost energy, burn fat, and build muscle” without any proof. Navigating the unregulated supplement world can be challenging. I am here to simplify the process and guide you to your best supplement decisions.
People typically want to know what they should take as a “pre-workout” and what they should use to recover after exercise. There are many great supplement options available, but I want to touch on nutrition and diet first. If you haven’t spent time on your eating habits, I would suggest that you fine-tune this before you spend money on supplements. For anyone to exercise and recover at their best, a nutritionally adequate diet and sufficient hydration are critical. Supplements might enhance performance only when they add to, but do not substitute for, this dietary foundation. You can find tips on healthy meal prepping here and a food-first approach to performance nutrition here.
If you’re already eating healthy, drinking lots of water (½ your body weight in ounces per day) and looking for other ways to maximize your workouts, let’s talk supplements. Of the thousands of supplements out there, only a few have proven benefits surrounding workouts. We can split them up into four categories: pre-workout, during workout, post-workout and recovery aids.
|Supplement Type||Benefits||Product Recommendations||Directions|
-May endurance & high intensity exercise >20 min.
-Coffee or tea (cheaper & just as effective as pre-workouts)
Drink 8oz 30-45 minutes prior to exercise.
Beetroot juice/ powder
-Acts as a vasodilator to increase blood flow & oxygen to working muscles
Mix 2 scoops with 8oz water & drink 30 minutes prior to exercise.
-Provides fluids, electrolytes & carbs to maintain hydration & mental focus
-Skratch Labs Sport Hydration Drink mix
Only necessary when workouts are longer than 1 hour or exercising in hot temperatures.
Take sips as needed.
-Provides ~20 grams of carbs during long workouts where extra energy is needed (i.e. long distance running)
Eat 2-3 chews or 1 gel (gu) per hour.
-Supports muscle building & muscle repair from exercise
-Replenishes muscle tissues with glycogen (energy)
Garden of Life Sport Grass fed Whey
-Plant-based: Garden of Life Sport
Aim to get 20-30 grams of protein
Add powder serving size to a shaker bottle with 8-10oz water. Shake and drink within an hour after exercise.
-Increases ATP (energy) in muscles which allows more force to be produced
-Increases uptake of glycogen into muscles, improving recovery
Take 3-5g per day pre- or post-workout. Can be added to water, sports drink or protein shake.
DHA + EPA)
-Reduces exercise induced inflammation
-Nordic Naturals Ultimate Omega
Take 2 capsules in the morning with breakfast.
Tart cherry juice
-Reduces muscle soreness
-May help with sleep due to natural occurring melatonin
Drink 8-12oz in the evening, 45 minutes before going to bed.
I have no affiliations with any of these brands/companies and fully believe in their efficacy.
Again, you should start by shaping up your nutrition with real foods (lean protein, whole grains, fruits and vegetables) before you spend your money on supplements. Supplements should be used to support a healthy diet, not to replace it.
If you do buy supplements, it’s important that they have been third-party tested. This ensures that the products actually contain what is on the label, and no other questionable ingredients. All of the above supplements mentioned are third-party tested. NSF, USP and Informed Choice are all companies that keep supps. safe. Instead of google searching “best protein powder,” head to nsfsport.com to find your top options. Your gains will thank you later ;)
Nutrition for the Win,