Gym’s across the UK have opened their doors once more, and hopefully this time it sticks.
While a small part of us will miss those bedroom burpees, I think we’re all chuffed to be able to squat in a squat rack again or bench without using some homemade death-trap.
We were almost tempted to do an ab only workout just to use as an excuse to go to the gym!
As we continue to move towards regularity again, health enthusiasts are finding themselves fitting seamlessly back into their previous routine of goal-focused dieting, adequate sleep and better managing their stress (which we believe the gym goes a long way to helping with).
Returning to our performance levels pre gym-down is a major focus for many, as we aspire to get back to our best and excel far beyond what we’d previously achieved.
Nailing your supplement stack can go a long way to help you achieve these lofty goals and so we’re going to lay out the supplements you should consider incorporating into your daily routines to enhance, not only your performance, but your health as well!
Peri-workout supplement considerations
Peri-workout simply refers to the pre-, intra- and post-workout periods; each having its own unique considerations to optimise performance and recovery.
We’ve outlined the supplements which we’d consider to provide the most “bang for your performance and recovery enhancing buck”.
Here’s what you need to feel all fired up for those first workouts back. We know it’s going to be a big adjustment for a lot of you, so if you need a little extra energy, or motivation to get you through, then these supplements are here to help.
Pre-workouts (with and without caffeine)
Pre-workout supplements are full of ingredients designed to get the most out of your session (as well as contributing to recovery and adaptation post session too!).
Our pre-workouts have been designed with evidence-based dosage recommendations in mind. Loaded with ingredients to help improve blood flow (such as l-citrulline), buffer lactic acid by-products allowing you to increase your time / reps to exhaustion (beta-alanine) and even increase power output (betaine anhydrous) to name a few of the training benefits you can expect.1,2,3
Caffeine is an awesome addition to any pre-workout stack with a whole multitude of benefits, ranging from increased calorie expenditure to improved performance.4
I’m sure you’ve all heard of creatine monohydrate but for those that haven’t it’s one of the most effective performance benefitting supplements available. Essentially acting as an energy “recycler” (it recycles our body’s unit of energy ATP), creatine supplementation has been shown to improve performance, increase lean body mass, and improve recovery.5
It takes time for creatine to exert its effects as it must first accumulate in our system. When it comes to supplementing with creatine, and in order to reach this stage of accumulation, we’d recommend following one of these two protocols:
Loading protocol (if you would like to see benefits faster)
20g per day split into two 10g servings for 10 days
4 – 6g per day in one serving (post workout preferably but not essential) for three weeks
Repeat this cycle and no need to ever stop taking it
Consistent intake protocol
5 – 6g per day on a consistent, day by day basis
Again, no need to ever stop taking it and it may be good to mix it with juice (or some other form of flavoured drink) as it doesn’t have any flavour and may not be particularly pleasant on its own.
Beta–alanine is like a complimentary piece to creatine. Beta–alanine acts as a buffering agent of the by-products of lactic acid breakdown (lactic acid accumulates the longer we exercise) which may allow you to perform more repetitions / increase time to failure.6
These benefits may be of particular importance when performing volume work, work to failure and or AMRAPs (as many reps as possible).
The ideal protocol for beta–alanine supplementation would be:
3g before training and 3g post training (however, we would recommend you start with 1.5g either side of training as it will give you a tingly feeling if you’re naïve too it and could disrupt training)
Intra-workout supplementation is catered towards the preservation of performance and providing a readily available source of energy for our body to use during longer workouts.
Whilst the regular gym enthusiast may not benefit mightily from most intra-workout products, those who engage in more demanding activities may reap many performance and recovery related rewards from getting this part of their supplement routine spot on.
Carbohydrate powders and gels would be the most frequently used (and associated) intra-workout supplement.7 As we exercise our body uses its own stores of carbohydrate, glycogen, to provide energy to the working muscle (and for other processes too).
The longer and more intense we exercise the more glycogen we deplete, which can ultimately have a detrimental effect on our performance and recovery.
Using a carbohydrate powder or gel can provide a readily available source of carbohydrate to reduce the use of glycogen. Up to 60g of carbohydrate an hour would be advised, as this is the maximal rate of absorption (although you may be able to exceed this with multiple carbohydrate sources).
Adequate hydration is incredibly important with as little as 2% dehydration significantly impairing stamina, fatigue resistance, and performance (both physically and mentally).8
Most assume that hydration simply revolves around how much fluid you take in. While this is important, it’s not the only important consideration to make.
Electrolytes play a very important role in our hydration status. Electrolytes are minerals found within the body. They essentially work to transfer electric signals throughout the body, important for maintaining healthy functionality and regulate everything from your heartbeat to allowing muscles to contract for functional movement.
Training for extended periods of time, at high intensities or in warmer, humid climates can all lead to loss of electrolytes; they’re easy to prepare and have, so it’s worth sipping on them during your workouts!
Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) refers to three amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, and valine.
For people with low dietary protein intake, BCAA supplementation can promote muscle protein synthesis and increase muscle growth over time. However, most people achieve adequate intake from their diet, especially those who are health conscious and consume a higher protein intake.
However, supplementation of BCAAs extends beyond muscle protein synthesis. Levels of BCAA decline during exercise which can result in mental fatigue and loss of focus making it difficult to perform at your best (or even complete a workout!).9
Supplementing with BCAAs prevents a decline in BCAA levels, which can have a protective effect on performance.9 It may be of most benefit to those who are training in a fasted state and haven’t had a meal containing protein for an extended period of time.
Post-workout supplementation is arguably the most important of the peri activity nutritional strategies (in terms of enhancing recovery, adaptation to exercise and guaranteeing consistency in the following session).
These supplements should be focused on increasing muscle protein synthesis (for repair of the damaged muscles post-exercise) and reducing muscle protein breakdown. It may also be worthwhile incorporating some carbohydrate post-workout which can help restore any lost glycogen and contribute to reducing muscle protein breakdown.10
One of the few supplements that you could actually give the title “superfood” to and not think twice. A calorie efficient source of protein offering a complete protein source providing all the building blocks required to repair and promote the development of more lean muscle mass and improved body composition after an exercise session.11,12
Aiming for a serving of between 20 to 40g post-workout would be recommended.
There are also vegan-friendly options available too.
Casein is a slow-digesting protein, and is the key protein in dairy products. Because it releases amino acids slowly, people often supplement with it before bed to help with recovery and reduce muscle breakdown while they sleep.13
Looking after your general health
While getting the absolute most of your performance and optimising your recovery is clearly very important, one aspect of supplementation in relation to these two aims often forgotten about is… your general health!
You won’t be able to perform or recover at your best if you’re simply not operating at your peak state of health!
Supporting your immune system
Now, not sure if you’ve heard, but having a well-oiled immune system may be of benefit for the foreseeable future. One supplement that may be worth considering adding into your routine that’ll contribute to an effective immune system, as well as a whole host of other benefits, is vitamin D.
Vitamin D is amazing — it can aid with everything from bone mass density, cognition and even immunity as we mentioned.
While supplementation for general health is rarely ever exciting, it’s clearly very important. Here are a few other considerations you may want to factor in to ensure you’re at your healthiest.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3s benefit everything from cognitive health to helping to regulate blood sugar levels. Many of us lack adequate levels of omega-3 in our diet and so incorporating a supplemental source may have a lot of benefit.14
A well-rounded multivitamin
Multivitamins are not “crutches” to an unhealthy lifestyle but more of a dietary “safety net”, catching any possible deficiencies that may arise (particularly helpful for those of you who may be on a fat loss focused phase and are more restricted in your food intake). They may not necessarily improve your health if you’re already healthy, but they may help keep it there!
Take home message
It’s like Christmas morning — gyms are reopening, leggings are being purchased, tank tops are being fitted. It’s all very exciting and we’re looking forward to see not only a whole bunch of happy faces but an increased sense of camaraderie in the gym.
Make the most of this excitement with a focused approach. Get your dietary intake right based on your goals, get adequate, quality sleep, manage your stress and incorporate some of these supplement suggestions into your routine.
It’s hard to appreciate how much we love training in the gym until it’s been taken away from us (twice), so let’s make the absolute most of it now and really push the boundaries on what we can achieve with both our physiques and performance.