With summer (hopefully) around the corner, social media platforms are filled with memes using catch phrases like ‘summer bod’ and ‘bikini season’. It’s always around this time of year, while yawning, we slowly emerge from our winter slumber, only to realize we’ve lived the last 6 months in sweatpants. The thought of slipping into something a little more… revealing can often send people for the hills, or better yet, the gym. As we all know, abs are made in the kitchen but revealed in the gym. You can workout all you want, but if you’re not fuelling your body with proper nutrients and sleep, inflammation, fatigue and weight gain are most often a result.
That being said, here’re a few of my favourite supplements that can help boost your workout performance and speed up recovery times.
Glutamine is the most abundant free amino acid found in our muscles. In fact, our muscles are 1/3 glutamine. It’s also considered ‘brain food’ as it readily passes the blood-brain barrier – a semipermeable membrane that keeps circulating blood from the brain’s extracellular fluid. Basically, it’s a protective measure, or defence technique, that ensures toxins don’t reach the brain. Glutamine, however, slips right on through and is then converted into glutamic acid, which is needed for brain functioning. It converts into GABA, a neurotransmitter-like amino acid that helps calm the nervous system.
Amino acids, proteins, are constantly being broken down and reassembled in the body. While breaking down, nitrogen is released into the blood. This ‘free’ nitrogen can turn into ammonia, becoming toxic to the brain. The liver protect our bodies by converting this nitrogen into urea, which is then excreted by the kidneys through urine. Another, perhaps more favourable, conversion is if nitrogen attaches itself to glutamic acid, which then converts into glutamine. This protective step helps protect and clear the body of toxic ammonia.
Glutamine helps build and maintain muscle, making it an ideal supplement for athletes. Likewise, glutamine can help prevent any muscle loss or wasting, which can benefit those who are on prolonged bedrest or with muscle-wasting diseases such as cancer, ALS and AIDS. This powerful amino acid can also be used to help treat disorders surrounding the gut. ‘Leaky gut’ also known as a intestinal permeability, is when the tight junction cells of our intestinal lining become permeable and substances can leak into the bloodstream causing allergic reactions. Just 1 tsp of powdered glutamine delivers 5000mg of glutamine, helping to strengthen the intestinal lining.
I like to have a tsp of glutamine on an empty stomach (it can sometime interfere with other amino acids and would benefit more by consuming it alone) with a glass of water after working out and the following morning. It stimulates glycogen synthesis, counteracts the effects of cortisol (stress hormone released from working out) and supports the immune system.
Contrary to glutamine, carnitine is not used for protein synthesis in the world of fitness. Instead, this amino acid helps transport long-chained fatty acids to be burned for energy. In other words, carnitine helps burns fat for energy. Can you hear the heavens singing?
This process is better known as the ‘carnitine shuttle’, and the name speaks for itself. Carnitine shuttles fat into the cells’ mitochondria (the energy powerhouse) and plugs it into the Krebs cycle. As a result, fat is burned, energy is expended and you’re a happy camper.
On top of promoting fat loss, carnitine also enhances aerobic and anaerobic capacity. Furthermore, it increases fat metabolism, thereby sparing carbohydrate stores, again, making it ideal for endurance athletes.
Branched-Chained Amino Acids (BCAA)
Amino acid’s ‘isoleucine’, ‘leucine’ and ‘valine’ make up three BCAA profile. They work synergistically to protect muscle mass and provide fuel for the body. They help increase endurance, prevent fatigue, improved mental performance, and help repair and rebuild muscle tissue. Most protein powders that are geared towards athletes will advertise BCAA on the packaging.
Medium-Chained Triglycerides (MCT)
MCT are fats found in coconut oil. Unlike long-chained fatty acids found in animal products, medium-chained fatty acids are easily broken down in the body and readily used for fuel. This makes them a favourable energy source and can help increase aerobic performance in athletes. Due to it’s rapid breakdown, MCT oil will not likely to be stored as fat in the body.Very soon after ingesting, MCT oil is transported to the liver and converted into ketones, which are then burned for energy. Because of this, it has been said that MCT oil can help burn body fat.
Contrary to coconut oil, MCT oil is liquid due to it’s smaller molecular size as opposed to coconut oil. MCT oil is odourless and tasteless so it’s easy to incorporate it in smoothies. Start off will small doses, though; ~ 1 tsp. Too much too quickly can sometimes results in gastrointestinal upset.
Collagen is booming in the health & beauty industry at the moment. It’s the new ‘buzzword’ that everyone’s talking about. It’s making headlines due to it’s anti-wrinkle properties and overall skin health. Collagen is found in the connective tissues, tendons, bones, etc. of animals. It helps strengthen and increase our skins’ elasticity. Vitamin C is very important for collagen production in the body as well as for tissue repair.
Seeing as collagen is a protein, it is great to include it in your post-workout routine. Since it’s animal derived and not plant, it contains all 9 essential amino acids that your body will break down readily use to repair and rebuild muscle. I personally enjoy using Vital Proteins Collage Peptide products. In one 25g scoop, it delivers 20 grams of collage, 18 grams of protein, 2 billion CFU (probiotics), and only 3 grams of sugar. It has a pretty sweet amino acid profile, too. It has the above mentioned BCAA (leucine, isoleucine, valine) as well as glutamic acid (that converts to glutamine in the body), methionine (detoxifying amino acid), tyrosine (needed to produce thyroid hormone) and histidine (also needed for tissue growth and repair).
Powdered collagen peptide products come in a wide range flavours, making it ideal to add to water or smoothies for easy on-the-go consumption. It’s gluten and dairy free properties makes it ideal for those with allergies and sensitivities.
So wether you’re an athlete looking to increase your endurance, in the gym increasing your strength or at home recovering from a heavy session, these 5 supplements are solid choices that can help boost performance and recovery times. As always, read the labels before consuming to see if the product of right for you. Women who are pregnant or nursing should consult their nutritionist/physician before adding supplements to their daily routines.