Athletes work hard each and every day to maintain their physical strength, endurance, and athletic skill. Whether you’re a competitive athlete, a weightlifter, or just a fitness nut, you likely know that maintaining athleticism is a huge boost to overall health. In general, athletes are healthier than the general population, both in terms of physical wellness, and often mental health and wellbeing, as well!
If you’re reading this, chances are there’s no need to tell you too much about the benefits of staying fit and healthy. What you’re probably more interested in learning about is how you can use supplements to improve your fitness and health. Today, we’re here to talk about the best supplements for athletes and how they can help you reach your goals.
Supplements for Athletes
Athletic supplements are a broad category of health products and supplements that aim to give athletes and fitness enthusiasts a helpful boost. Popular athletic supplements include things like protein powders, which help improve post-workout recovery, creatine and BCAAs, which can help to improve athletic performance, and even regular old multivitamins, which help to support overall health.
There are a lot of good supplements for athletes, with each offering unique benefits. Our goal with this guide is to give our readers an in-depth look at the world of athletic supplements. We’ll also go over individually each of the top 10 supplements for athletes, giving you a close look at what supplements are worth taking, and why!
How Can Supplements Help Athletes?
There are so many good athletic supplements that each offer their own unique set of benefits. So, supplements can help athletes in a wide variety of ways. While there’s certainly an impressive list of benefits, keep in mind that no single product can offer all of these effects. This is simply an overall list to give you an idea of what you can expect from effective supplements for athletes.
Why Should Athletes Consider Supplements?
Many people wonder whether or not taking supplements is really necessary. The answer is simple: fitness supplements are not necessary, but they can provide a lot of great benefits which can make reaching your goals easier. You can certainly find success as an athlete without using supplements, but you will likely find it easier with the help of good athletic supplements. Here are some of the top reasons why athletes should consider using supplements:
- Athletes need more nutrients than the average person – due to the increased physical stress and strain caused by exercise, athletes generally need more nutrients than the average sedentary individual. Depending on what type of exercise/sport you like to do, your nutritional needs can vary greatly. However, generally speaking athletes need more protein, more carbohydrates, and more vitamins and minerals. And while you can certainly get more protein, carbohydrates and vitamins from your diet by eating healthier (and eating more), supplements provide a much easier, more cost- and time-effective method.
- Athletes want to improve – generally speaking, athletes are athletes not only because they enjoy their particular sport/exercise/activity, but also because they want to improve upon their skills, strength, and endurance. Training and exercise itself are obviously the key component of athletic progress, but the best athletic supplements can help, as well. For example, creatine is one of the best supplements for athletes because it can help temporarily increase strength and endurance, which allows you to train harder and build more muscle. No supplement can make you a better athlete if you don’t put in the work, as well, but adding supplements to your diet can help give you a competitive edge and a boost in the right direction.
- Athletes need to recover properly – after workouts, proper recovery is absolutely essential. In fact, many would argue that recovery is just as important as exercise itself. Allowing your body the time it needs to recover, and giving it the nutrients it needs to heal efficiently, is vital to success as an athlete. Better recovery means more muscle growth, better strength and dexterity, reduced risk of injury, and more. Many of the best supplements for athletes that we recommend are designed to help improve your post-workout recovery efforts.
- Many benefits and few drawbacks – while researching for this guide, we specifically focused on the best athletic supplements that offered the most benefits with the fewest side effects. There are some supplements out there that can cause a lot of unwanted side effects. With that said, some negative effects are always possible, which is why we list common side effects for each supplement we recommend!
10 Supplements Athletes Should Consider Taking
Now that you’ve read about how good athletic supplements can benefit you, it’s time to look at the individual supplements available to you. Below, find our list of the top supplements for athletes available today!
What are Protein Powders?
Protein powders are extremely popular health supplements that provide large, concentrated doses of high-quality protein in an easy package. There are several types of protein powder, each with unique benefits. All of them share one thing in common: they are a great source of protein, and as you likely know, protein is vitally important for athletes of all types. Protein is essentially the building block of many cells in the human body. Your body uses protein to build new cells, and repair damaged ones – making protein a key part of the recovery process.
Protein powders aim to provide a dose of 15-25+ grams of pure protein in one easy package. They’re sold as powders that can be mixed into drinks or shakes. There are a few different types of protein powders, detailed below:
- Whey protein – the most popular, fastest digesting protein
Whey protein is the most popular form of protein powder, by far. Derived from dairy, it offers the fastest digestion rate, allowing muscle-repairing amino acids to hit the bloodstream in as little as 15 minutes. This makes it one of the best forms of protein for post-workout recovery. It’s best to take immediately after your workouts. It also offers a fantastic amino acid profile, full of many of the most helpful amino acids. There are several forms of whey protein, such as isolate, concentrate, etc.
- Casein protein – the slowest digesting protein
Casein is another protein that is derived from dairy. In contrast to whey, casein digests very slowly. This makes it a good choice to take before going to bed, as it can keep your muscles fed throughout the night. It’s also useful for post-workout recovery, and it’s also beneficial for dieting because it can help you feel full for longer. We will discuss casein protein in detail in our #10 recommendation.
- Soy/plant protein – the dairy-free option
Soy protein and various plant-based proteins are commonly used as well. They’re particularly common amongst vegans and people with sensitivity to dairy products. They typically don’t offer as good of an amino acid concentration as dairy-based whey and casein, but they are still beneficial recovery supplements.
There are certainly other types of protein powders, but these are the most common.
How Protein Powders May Help Athletes
Protein powders are primarily used to help recover from workouts and to promote muscle growth. Protein is a key ingredient in muscle repair and growth, which is why most fitness experts recommend consuming a protein-rich meal as soon as possible after exercise. Protein powders top our list of the best supplements for athletes because they are super quick and easy to take, and because they provide a good amount of protein in an easy-to-digest form.
You likely get a good amount of protein from your diet, but with athlete’s bodies demanding tons of protein, diet alone might not be enough. In addition, not everyone has time to cook a meal after their workouts, and protein shakes can provide many of the same benefits in a convenient way.
Additionally, protein powders can be helpful if you’re dieting. They make it easy to have a quick and nutritious protein shake. Eating more protein can help make you feel fuller for longer, and protein powders are a convenient way of boosting protein intake.
How to Take Protein Powders
Protein powders must be mixed into liquids, and the most common method is to make a protein shake. If you’re using protein powder for post-workout recovery, you’ll want to consume a protein shake as soon as possible after exercising – and whey is typically the best form of protein for post-workout shakes. If you’re making a shake before bed to keep your muscles fed and happy through the night, you should use casein protein. If you have a sensitivity or dietary restriction that makes using dairy-based protein powders impossible, use a plant-based protein/soy protein.
Protein Powder Side Effects
Protein powder side effects are mild and rare in occurrence, if they occur at all. Bloating/stomach discomfort is the most common negative effect. If you’re lactose intolerant, you’ll want to avoid whey, casein and other dairy-derived proteins.
What are Multivitamins?
Multivitamins are daily vitamin products that contain a good amount of the most essential vitamins and minerals. They contain most or all of the vitamins and minerals that are needed for overall health. They are meant to be a supplement to a healthy diet, aiming to fill any nutritional gaps you may be suffering from due to your current eating habits. Multivitamins are good supplements for athletes because they help support better recovery, keep joints and bones healthy, and support overall health.
How Multivitamins May Help Athletes
We added multivitamins to our list of the best athletic supplements because they can provide a wide range of benefits to athletes. But really, multivitamins can be beneficial for almost anyone, so the benefit extends far beyond the athletic community.
Multivitamins help the body function as it’s meant to function, because it provides many much-needed nutrients. In an ideal world, multivitamins may not be necessary because we’d be getting all needed nutrients from our diet alone. However, with modern farming and food production practices, and the increasing popularity of over processed foods, many of us simply don’t get the nutrients they require from their diet; and multivitamins can help with that.
How to Take Multivitamins
Multivitamins are typically recommended by the manufactures to be taken once a day, regardless of your exercise or athletic activity that day. You can choose to take them at any time of the day that is convenient for you, but typically you should take them with food to increase absorption.
Multivitamin Side Effects
The most common side effect of multivitamins is stomach upset/discomfort, which is more common when multis are taken on an empty stomach. Avoid this by taking your dose with a meal, or at the very least with a snack. Other side effects are possible, but uncommon.
What is Creatine?
Creatine is an organic acid that is naturally present in the human body, primarily in muscle tissue. It’s also found in large concentrations in various meats, particularly in red meat. In supplement form, creatine is a powdered health product that aims to increase natural creatine levels in your body, which can produce a wide range of beneficial results. For athletes, creatine is mostly known for its ability to boost physical strength, athletic performance, and endurance.
How Creatine Helps Athletes
Creatine may just be the most popular supplement for athletes. It’s certainly one of the best supplements for athletes looking for a boost in the strength department. While many health products claim to help boost strength, creatine is one of the very few that is actually shown to increase physical strength.
Without a doubt, creatine is one of most helpful supplements for increasing muscle mass. Obviously, increasing muscle mass and strength is a goal of many athletes, particularly those who like to strength train. Creatine is most effective for “short burst” activities, such as lifting weights. It’s not as effective for increasing performance in long-term endurance activities, such as running, but it’s still a useful tool for most types of athletes.
How to Take Creatine
Creatine is usually recommended to be taken on a daily basis. Typically, experts and manufacturers alike recommend a dose of around 5g per day. This can be taken in one dose, or split into several throughout the day. Creatine comes in a powder, both in flavored and flavorless versions. Simply mix it into water, and you’re good to go!
A few things to note when taking creatine: first off, you’ll want to drink plenty of water as creatine can cause dehydration in some folks. Additionally, many experts recommend that you cycle on and off of creatine, meaning that you should take it for a few months then take a break of a few weeks to a month.
Creatine Side Effects
Creatine is typically considered safe to take as a dietary supplement. That said, side effects are possible, with the most common issue being bloating/weight gain. This is caused by creatine’s tendency to increase water absorption in muscle tissue (which is part of the reason creatine helps boost muscular energy levels). The problem is that this increased water weight can lead some to feel somewhat bloated, or to notice a few extra pounds on the scale. This water bloat is temporary, and typically your body will get used to it once you’ve been taking creatine for a while. Additionally, creatine can cause dehydration, so make sure to drink enough water.
What are Protein Bars?
Protein bars, often called energy bars or snack bars, are nutritional food products that contain large concentrations of protein. You’ve surely seen them in stores; the PowerBars, the Clif Bars, etc. Depending on the brand and type, protein bars can contain 7-20+ grams of protein in each bar, which is a substantial amount of protein. They are a quick, healthy, protein-rich snack and/or meal replacement that can help athletes reach their goals.
How Protein Bars May Help Athletes
Protein bars are great for athletes for a variety of reasons. They serve as a great healthy snack or meal replacement that can help keep your diet on track, and they provide a lot of high quality protein in an easy package.
Primarily, protein bars are used by athletes for healthy snacking. In our busy schedules, we don’t always have time to cook a healthy, wholesome meal. But, reaching for a tasty and pre made protein bar is simple and quick. Plus, they’re generally very high in protein, and fairly low in fat and sugar, making them a great choice for athletes wanting to stay slim and fit. Many folks also use energy bars as meal replacements, which is another good use if you’re looking to lose weight.
How to Take Protein Bars
This one’s pretty simple: just pick the flavor you like, and enjoy! As noted, typically each protein bar will contain around 10-20 grams of protein. Keep an eye on the amount of sugar in the bars you’re considering, as some lower-quality brands have quite a bit of sugar and carbohydrates. While carbs aren’t necessarily a bad thing, refined sugars should be kept to a minimum.
Protein Bar Side Effects
Protein bars are commonly used food products and do not typically cause side effects. There is always the possibility of you reacting negatively to a particular ingredient, so if you have any dietary sensitivities be sure to take a close look at the ingredients label.
What are BCAAs?
BCAAs are a class of amino acids known as the “branched chain” amino acids. The name refers to their molecular structure, but unless you’re into chemistry and biology, you probably care more about the actual benefits of BCAAs than you do about their structure! Well, BCAAs are known for their ability to help extend workouts and improve post-workout recovery efforts. The three aminos in this category are leucine, isoleucine and valine. Each offer unique benefits, but together they are one of the best supplements for athletes out there.
How BCAAs May Help Athletes
As you may know, amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, and therefore are essential for hundreds of functions within the body. We could write a whole guide about the functions of amino acids in the body, but again, you’re probably more interested in their benefits for athletes.
BCAAs can be found in protein powders, health supplements, and in foods like red meat. So why are specific BCAA supplements necessary? Well, first off, these products isolate the three BCAAs, which are widely considered to be the best amino acids for muscle recovery aid. So, instead of getting a 5g dose of various amino acids, you can get a 5g dose of pre-selected, highly effective BCAAs.
How to Take BCAAs
You can find good BCAA supplements in pill/capsule form, or in powder form. There’s no “best” type, so it mostly comes down to personal preference. Pills may be more convenient, but powders can be mixed into shakes you’re already making, and allow for more customizable doses.
Regardless of the form, you’ll want to take BCAAs either during or shortly after your exercise session. Where these aminos really shine is during post-workout recovery, when a solid dose of BCAAs can help kick-start your recovery.
BCAAs Side Effects
Side effects from BCAA supplements are possible. Most people who do notice some sort of negative effect report feelings of nausea/stomach upset, and/or dizziness.
What is Fish Oil?
Fish oil is a health product that is popular for a wide variety of people. Essentially, it’s just what the name implies: oil extracted from fish. Specifically, fish oil manufacturers use specific types of fish that are high in the ultra-healthy omega 3 fatty acids. We are often told to avoid fats, but omega-3’s are essential fats, meaning they are needed in order for the body to function properly. And since we cannot make them on our own, we must consume them through our diet. If you eat a lot of fish already, you most likely won’t need to take fish oil; if not, the benefits you can experience from adding a fish oil supplement to your diet are tremendous.
How Fish Oil Helps Athletes
The benefits of omega-3 fatty acids are plentiful, as these fats are an important component in many biological processes. They play so many roles in the body that it’s difficult to list all the benefits here. Fish oil is widely considered to be one of the best (and most affordable) sources of high quality omega-3’s, which is why many recommend fish oil for athletes
Some key benefits to take note of are fish oil’s ability to help post-workout recovery efforts. It’s obvious how these kind of effects could benefit athletes, particularly those who push themselves to the limits.
How to Take Fish Oil
Fish oil comes in large gel caps, and generally you’ll want to take 1-2 doses per day. It’s best to split up the recommended dosage into two or more servings, rather than taking multiple capsules at once. With that said, different products are formulated and packaged in different ways, so be sure to read the instructions on the product you’re using. It’s best to take fish oil with a meal in order to improve absorption, as well as to reduce potential side effects (see below).
Fish Oil Side Effects
For some people, fish oil can cause nausea and stomach upset, particularly when it’s taken on an empty stomach. In addition, some people experience a fishy aftertaste/fishy breath, which can also usually be avoided by taking the supplement with a meal.
What is Magnesium?
Magnesium is a common mineral that is important for many processes in the human body. It’s found naturally in some foods, but most people do not get enough magnesium from their diets. It also may be in your multivitamin, if you’re taking one, but generally at a pretty low dosage. Magnesium deficiency is very common, and can cause a number of health problems. Consequently, magnesium supplements are recommended for people who may not be getting enough magnesium in their diet naturally, and they can be particularly helpful for athletes.
How Magnesium Helps Athletes
As mentioned, magnesium supplements are most useful to people who are deficient in this important nutrient. As far as athletes are concerned, the key magnesium benefits to take note of primarily involve sleep and recovery aid. Sleep, as we all know, is vital to our health and wellbeing. People who are deficient in magnesium are much more prone to sleep problems and lower-quality rest.
How to Take Magnesium
Magnesium comes in pill/capsule form, and usually in doses of 100-400mg. 400mg is the typical recommended daily amount, but keep in mind that you may already get some magnesium from your diet. You’ll want to take magnesium with food to increase absorption, although this is not strictly necessary.
For most people, the best time of the day to take magnesium is an hour or two before bed. For some, magnesium supplements may help promote a feeling of relaxation and calmness, which can help you fall asleep faster. With that said, magnesium does not typically cause drowsiness on its own, so it’s fine to take during the day.
Magnesium Side Effects
For some people, magnesium might cause them an stomach upset, vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, and other side effects.
What is Flaxseed Oil?
Flaxseed oil is a nutritional product derived from flax. Like fish oil, it provides an easy way to increase your intake of healthy fats, including omega-3 fatty acids. Flaxseed oil shares many similarities with fish oil, and is a good supplement for athletes.
How Flaxseed Oil Helps Athletes
If you’ve already read our section on fish oil, you’re likely already familiar with the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids. Flaxseed oil provides largely the same benefits, with the added benefit of being vegetarian/vegan friendly.
How to Take Flaxseed Oil
Flaxseed oil can be purchased in capsule form or in liquid form in a big bottle. Either way, you’ll want to follow the dosage instructions on the product packaging. Keep in mind that some forms of flaxseed oil need to be refrigerated.
Flaxseed Oil Side Effects
Flaxseed oil can cause some minor stomach upset. It’s also been shown to reduce or slow the absorption of certain oral medications, so check with your doctor if you’re taking any medications.
What is Dextrose?
Dextrose is a form of glucose, so it’s actually a type of sugar. Derived from corn, dextrose is commonly used in baked goods, processed foods, and carbohydrate supplements. While you may not initially think of a sugar as something that would have benefits for athletes, dextrose has been shown to improve sports performance in some studies. It’s a good supplement for athletes that is worth a second look.
How Dextrose Helps Athletes
Simply put, athletes need fuel, and dextrose is one way to provide that fuel. As a simple sugar, dextrose is easily digested, providing an immediate source of energy and “athlete fuel”.
How to Take Dextrose
Dextrose is unique in that it can be used as a supplement, or as an actual alternative to table sugar. In supplement form, dextrose is usually just in a powder that you can mix into shakes or drinks. For best results, you can use dextrose before, during, and after workouts.
Dextrose Side Effects
As long as it’s taken appropriately, dextrose does not typically cause side effects. However, since this is a sugar there is the potential for fat gain when using this product and all the negative effects of sugar.
What is Beta-Alanine?
Beta-Alanine is a helpful amino acid that is found naturally in certain foods and is also available in supplement form. As a supplement, Beta-Alanine is mostly used by athletes looking for a way to increase their performance during a workout, and improve recovery efforts afterwards. Like many of the best supplements for athletes, Beta-Alanine is beneficial both during and after exercise.
How Beta-Alanine Helps Athletes
As mentioned, Beta-Alanine is also present in some foods, including poultry. Although you likely get some from your diet already, taking it in supplement form provides a concentrated, highly effective dose of this key amino acid.
How to Take Beta-Alanine
Beta-Alanine is typically sold in powder form, but capsules are also available. It’s also a common ingredient in pre-workout supplements, so if you’re already taking a good pre-workout supplement, you might not need to add a separate Beta-Alanine supplement.
Beta-Alanine Side Effects
Beta-Alanine is an amino acid, and does not typically cause any serious side effects. There is one very common side effect. Basically, Beta-Alanine can cause your skin to tingle. This generally only happens when you first start taking the supplement, before your body gets used to it.