Ok, workout supplements. This is a topic that I get asked about all the time, so I thought I’d put together a post on it for you guys. I think it’s important to say before I dive in that this is only my personal opinion and that every body is different! As a dietitian, I do not believe you need workout supplements in your routine, but I do think they can offer benefits if you’re wanting to see a change/improvement in energy, performance, etc.
Whether you’re just starting a wellness routine or you’ve been in one for a while, I’d recommend taking some time to reflect on your diet and what kinds of workouts you’re doing/how you feel while performing those workouts.
You want to first make sure you’re fueling your body with nutritious foods on a daily basis. Supplements are there to supplement your current nutrition plan. You don’t want to use them to replace eating good, whole foods. If you’re unsure whether you’re getting enough of a certain food group or nutrient, try keeping a food journal just so you can look back on what you’ve eaten and try to narrow in on any holes you may need to fill within your diet. Remember, we’re focusing on a nutrient and energy-dense diet full of colorful vegetables (remember: more colors directly relates to different vitamins and minerals), quality protein (I’m a big proponent of choosing organic, grass-fed, wild-caught, pasture-raised when it comes to animal proteins), and complex carbs to give you extra energy (my go-to is sweet potatoes, yum). If it turns out you’re checking all the boxes through food, next look at your exercise routine.
After you’ve incorporated an exercise routine and have been doing it consistently for some time, check in with your body and see how it’s performing. If you’re noticing your energy is down or you’re struggling to really push through to the end, you may benefit from a little boost of energy. A good quality pre-workout may be for you!
There are a few key things to consider when looking for a good pre-workout. First, I recommend avoiding anything with artificial ingredients and additives… unfortunately, most on the market are made this way. Do your research on products/ingredients and see what will work best for you! If you’re seeing ingredients that end in “tol,” like erythritol, xylitol, sorbitol, maltitol, etc., these are sugar alcohols and can often contribute to negative gastrointestinal side effects if taken in large amounts (gas, upset stomach). Another thing to consider if you’re thinking about testing a new pre-workout is whether or not it’s going to give you jitters! You know, the ones you get when you have too much caffeine pumping through your body? I recommend with any powder to start small and just try 1/2 of their serving size and with something in your stomach, just to be sure.
I’m all about natural pre-workouts and have been using Rootz energizing superfood for the last 5-6 years. I don’t feel any jitters and I feel like it gives me the perfect boost of energy before/during my workouts. It contains all natural ingredients; things like beetroot, turmeric, maca root, bee pollen, goji berry and more. There’s only one flavor they carry, raspberry lemonade, and I can’t say it’s the best tasting thing in the world, but it gets the job done for me. I usually mix one overflowing scoop with 8-12 oz water and ice in a small shaker cup and consume about 30-min before a workout in the mornings. You can use ‘rachaelsgoodeats’ on their site for a discount– it’s not an affiliate code, I don’t receive anything from it, but you guys are always asking for a discount with the products I use, so here ya go 🙂
BRANCHED CHAIN AMINO ACIDS (BCAA’S)
Next up: branched chain amino acids, or BCAAs. They’re essential amino acids, meaning our body cannot produce them on its own so we need to get from our diets. I’ve been incorporating this supplement on and off over the years, but especially the past few months in quarantine. Comprised of leucine, isoleucine and valine, research shows BCAAs are shown to help with muscle soreness, increase muscle synthesis (growth), decreased muscle fatigue and immune regulation (source).
I’ve been loving Tropeaka’s passionfruit BCAA powder during my workouts or throughout the day if I don’t drink it while I workout. It has a very subtle passion fruit flavor and honestly, it helps me drink more water/stay hydrated throughout the day because I don’t always love drinking plain water. I also love that it contains coconut water juice powder and sea mineral complex– both are very hydrating and contain electrolytes!
Of course, I always make sure to consume adequate protein throughout the day and 99% of the time I’ll make a protein smoothie post-workout to help support tissue building, repair and muscle recovery. I look for protein powders with a full amino acid profile (all amino acids are needed for protein synthesis in the body), digestive enzymes for protein digestion, any additional vitamins/minerals and no refined sugars.
I have a few different protein powders I switch off between and I’ve tried a ton so I feel like I have a pretty good idea when it comes to flavor, digestibility, ingredients, etc.
Right now I use Amazing Grass Digest (vanilla/chocolate) and Four Sigmatic Superfood Protein the most. Both are plant based, have great ingredients and don’t upset my sensitive stomach. You can find these both conveniently at Whole Foods, on Amazon, and Thrive Market I believe. The Four Sigmatic protein also has adaptogens, which is great for my immune system, and there’s no fillers so it’s not chalky or weird tasting.
Another I love using is Nutraorganics Clean protein—both the vanilla and chocolate flavors. It doesn’t taste chalky, blends great, there’s no added sugar, tastes delicious in my post-workout smoothies, contains magnesium, zinc, is sprouted, which tends to make it much easier to absorb and unlocks more nutrients. They gave me a discount for you guys to use on their US or AUS website (both sites ship to the US, but only their AUS currently has this particular protein at the moment), it’s RACHAEL15.
In addition to protein powders, sometimes I like throwing a scoop of collagen into my smoothies or baking as well for an extra dose of amino acids. Collagen is the most abundant protein in our body and as we age, we make less and less of it, so I prefer to add it in supplement form. It’s rich in the amino acids hydroxyproline, proline, glycine and arginine. All of which help our body’s connective tissue, skin, hair & nails stay as healthy as possible, in addition to keeping our joints and muscular growth functioning at its highest potential. When it comes to brands I trust, I use Vital Proteins the most (typically their unflavored collagen as it dissolves in ANYTHING, even my Cashew Chocolate Chip Cookie Skillet!!), then Primal Kitchen Collagen Fuel— the vanilla and chocolate are so good in smoothies, and Nutraorganics have a range of flavored collagen as well.
Another supplement that’s crucial in our diet, physically active or not, is magnesium. Most people are actually deficient in this mineral so I always recommend others look to incorporate it some way into their everyday routine, including in supplement form. Magnesium is used in more than 300 enzyme reactions in the body, including energy production, blood pressure regulation, nerve and muscle function, protein synthesis and blood glucose control. It contributes to the structural development of bone and is required for the synthesis of DNA, RNA and the master antioxidant glutathione (source). Supplementing with magnesium also helps us fall asleep naturally. I always make sure to take my magnesium supps whenever I have a tough workout or know I’m probably going to be sore the next day.
Some food sources to consider that contain magnesium: leafy greens, legumes, nuts, seeds
My recs when it comes to supplements:
That’s basically it when it comes to the workout supplements I consume around my training. If you have any other questions about supplements, drop them in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them. But again, make sure you’re getting a variety of different vitamins and minerals through your diet, getting adequate sleep (7-9 hours a night), and then look to incorporating different workout supplements into your diet 🙂