Spending a vacation on the slopes, training for your first 5K or marathon, or simply doing several high-intensity workouts during the week can feel like you're putting your body through the wringer. When you're kicking your fitness up a notch and feeling sore in places you've never imagined, is it worth considering a bit of extra nutritional support?
Experts say it's not a bad idea. "Exercise is an important component of health for everyone, but physical activity does put additional stress on the body when it's happening—especially for those with higher-than-average activity levels," says Rebekah Blakely, RDN. "So, while you can usually meet your nutritional needs through a healthy diet, you may need some additional support to help with recovery and performance."
Adding supplements, according to Brittany Michels, M.S. RDN, LDN, is common for people with active lifestyles. Below, she and Blakely—both registered dietitians and nutrition coaches—break down the top supplements for energy, endurance, and recovery.
The best supplements for active lifestyles:
"With their powerful ability to fight inflammation and free radicals, omega-3 fatty acids may help decrease exercise-induced muscle soreness and fatigue, as studies show," says Blakely. "And since omega-3s also support a healthy heart and blood vessels, athletes can get an extra benefit when it comes to circulation and oxygen transport."
The most popular way to supplement omega-3s is fish oil (plant-based options such as algae oil and flaxseed oil are also common), but make sure it's sourced cleanly if you're shopping. The wild-caught and U.S.-sourced Premium Wild Alaskan Fish Oil from Vthrive™ The Vitamin Shoppe brand, which contains full-spectrum omega-3, is put through over 300 rigorous quality-assurance steps and has its ingredient purity and potency verified by independent third-party labs.
As the active ingredient in turmeric root, curcumin is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory that has been shown to help reduce stress from physical activity. Think of this potent yellow spice as an herbal aid in recovery: "Studies show curcumin may relieve joint discomfort associated with exercise or overuse," says Blakely, "which can help you get back in the gym for your next workout faster!"
Protein plays a major role in fitness recovery. "Working your muscles actually produces tiny tears in the muscle that, when healed, help you build strength," explains Blakely. "Consuming protein post-workout provides the amino acids the body needs for muscle synthesis and repair."
"The most effective way to supplement with protein is powder," says Michels, "since it would take a ridiculous amount of protein capsules to meet a protein serving." When choosing a protein supplement, Blakely advises looking for a short ingredient list to avoid any unnecessary fillers and preservatives. "It should just be protein—from whatever source you choose—plus a few other optional additions, like natural flavorings and sweeteners, enzymes, and probiotics."
And importantly, look for a complete protein powder, "one that provides all nine of your essential amino acids," Blakely adds. "These are the amino acids our body can't make on its own and must get from your diet. You need them all in order to maximize muscle synthesis." The New Zealand Grass-Fed Whey Protein from Vthrive™ The Vitamin Shoppe brand is a wholesome powder that's ethically sourced from the milk of pasture-raised dairy cows on New Zealand farmlands. Both Vanilla and Chocolate flavors are rich in naturally occurring essential amino acids (EAAs) and branched-chain amino acids (BCAA) and free from unnecessary magnesium stearate, stearic acid, and titanium dioxide as well as synthetic bovine growth hormones, gluten, and soy. One scoop in your glass of water or a smoothie gives you 25 grams of high-quality protein for supporting muscle growth and recovery.
4. Amino acids
BCAAs refer to three specific amino acids—leucine, isoleucine, and valine—that help you push through strenuous exercise and, post-workout, play a role in efficient muscle recovery. But your levels deplete during strenuous activity, according to Michels. Supplementing with BCAAs, in particular, is "especially helpful for newer athletes, or anyone doing prolonged activity or fasted workouts," says Blakely, since they "can help reduce time to fatigue and promote muscle synthesis."
Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid that your body makes, but again, intense or prolonged exercise can deplete your levels. Having adequate levels of glutamine, some studies show, can help reduce muscle soreness and speed up recovery time. "It can also help strengthen the immune system after intense activity," says Blakely.
5. A multivitamin
RDNs point out that your "antioxidant, vitamin, and mineral needs may increase based on the intensity, duration, and stress of exercise," so Michels often recommends a multivitamin as an easy all-inclusive supplement to support coverage. "Exercise creates free radicals, which can damage cells," according to Blakely. "So, antioxidants like vitamins A, C, and E can help reduce cellular damage from free radicals."
Another multi option formulated for energy production is the Bioactive B-Complex from Vthrive™ The Vitamin Shoppe brand, which provides a dose of essential B vitamins, including vitamin B12 and folate. Each serving comes in two veggie capsules that are non-GMO, gluten-free, and soy-free.
Electrolytes are minerals in the body—sodium, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, chloride, and calcium—that help regulate body fluids, pH levels, nerve signals, and muscle contractions. And they're a great addition to your workout routine if you tend to sweat a lot or are doing an outdoor workout in hot weather, says Michels.
"We lose electrolytes through body fluids like sweat and urine," Blakely adds. "If electrolytes become imbalanced, like they can after a heavy workout where you've sweated a lot, you can find yourself with some unpleasant side effects like headaches, dizziness, weakness, irregular heartbeat, and muscle cramps. Putting an electrolyte replacement in your water during or after workouts can help replace these necessary nutrients."
Creatine is an organic compound found in the muscles and is used to help recycle ADP back to ATP for energy production in the body, according to Blakely. If you're working out for strength or lean mass gains, creatine may be beneficial: "Creatine has been shown to increase strength and power output, which can help with noticeably greater muscle gains," she says.
Not sure which supplements, if any, could benefit your lifestyle or fitness routine the most? Get a free virtual consultation with a certified nutritionist like Blakely and Michels when you sign up for Healthy Awards® at The Vitamin Shoppe®.
If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or taking medications, consult with your doctor before starting a supplement routine. It is always optimal to consult with a health care provider when considering what supplements are right for you.