Nutrition supplements are a great tool to use to be able to help with things like more energy, faster recovery, or better health in general. This month we discuss probiotics, calcium, vitamin D, BCAAs, and the pre-workout supplements beta-alanine and citrulline. Supplements will not and cannot replace what can be gained by eating a nutritionally balanced diet, but with proper eating, supplements can give athletes an extra edge to help the body perform at its best. There’s so many supplements out on the market and hundreds of brands that it gets overwhelming. Many supplements are perfectly safe and have claims backed by numerous research studies, but it’s difficult to know what the best product is for specific goal and if it’s safe and legal to take as a high school athlete.
Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are beneficial to general health, but primarily improve your digestive and immune system. When you think of bacteria, typically we think of germs, but our body contains both good and bad bacteria. A lot of bacteria thrives in our digestive system and when we consume good bacteria like probiotics, our body can digest and absorb nutrients better. All of the food we eat doesn’t necessarily get completely used by our body if our digestive system isn’t functioning properly. You aren't what you eat, you're what you absorb. Taking antibiotics can kill much of the good bacteria in our gut so probiotics should be taken if you’re on antibiotics. Along with improving our digestive system, probiotics strengthen our immune system. 70% of our immune system is in our gut, so if your digestive system isn't functioning properly then your immune system can become compromised leading to increased risk of sickness and poor recovery.
There’s a few different types of probiotics. Many types of bacteria are classified as probiotics. They all have different benefits, but most come from two groups, Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium.
This may be the most common probiotic. It’s typically found in yogurt, sauerkraut, and other fermented foods or drinks like kombucha. There’s several strains of this type but most will help with diarrhea and may help with people who can't digest lactose, the sugar in milk.
You can also find it in some dairy products. It may help ease the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and some other conditions.
When shopping for probiotics, look for ones that are at least 1 billion colony forming units(CFU). Some products will have as high as 100 billion CFUs, but a typical dosage for general needs would be from 1 billion to 30 billion. Higher dosed products are meant from more serious digestive issues. Since probiotics are living bacteria, they can die off and supplements become less effective. The best forms of probiotics are ones that are refrigerated or freeze dried to ensure that potency is high. The older probiotics get or if they’re kept in hot conditions, there's a greater chance of the bacteria dying. Probiotics from food sources might have less CFUs than supplements but are an easy way to get the beneficial bacteria in for our body to utilize.
Beta-alanine is an amino acid. Supplementing with this can enhance muscular endurance. When we work out, our muscles can have a buildup of Hydrogen ions leading to acidity, causing fatigue. Beta-alanine turns into a molecule called carnosine when consumed. Carnosine is stored in cells and released when our body senses a drop in pH (more acidic). Increased stores of carnosine can delay lactic acid production from exercise to help our body push past normal limits. Beta-alanine is typically taken in a dose of 2-5g either before a workout or spread out in small doses during the day. Many users experience something called paresthesia described as a tingling feeling on the skin. This is completely harmless but can be irritating to some individuals, so it would be better to take in the smaller doses during the day instead of before a workout. As long as it is taken consistently, results will be seen. This is found in many pre-workout supplements, but it’s cheaper and better dosed if you buy this ingredient separately.
Citrulline is also an amino acid. It’s typically found in watermelon, muskmelons, bitter melons, squashes, gourds, cucumbers, and pumpkins. Citrulline is a nitric oxide booster. When nitric oxide is enhanced, it causes our blood vessels to dilate. This enhances blood flow and delivery to our muscles. With the increased blood flow, more oxygen and nutrients can be delivered to our muscles which causes an increase in work capacity, a decrease in fatigue, and a decrease in muscle soreness following a workout. Taking citrulline allows our body to do more volume within a workout without additional fatigue so performance has a greater chance of increasing. Forms of this ingredient are seen as either L-Citrulline or Citrulline Malate. L-citrulline is more pure, citrulline malate is citrulline bound with malic acid that helps increase energy production levels to enhance performance. They can be taken in doses of 2-8g, but multiple studies found the use of 6-8g is most beneficial. Since L-citrulline is pure, less can be taken compared to citrulline malate but the energy enhancement of the malic acid makes citrulline malate the better choice.
A complete protein molecule is made up of 20 amino acids. Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) are a name for a combination of 3 amino acids; leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Leucine is important for muscle protein synthesis (growth and repair), isoleucine triggers glucose (sugar) uptake into cells, and further research is needed to determine valine’s role in a BCAA supplement. BCAAs are found in protein sources. BCAA supplementation is NOT necessary unless an individual is on a low protein diet. When a sufficient amount of protein is eaten per day (1-1.5g per kg of bodyweight a day or more), BCAA use will not have much of a benefit because enough is being consumed from the diet. For people with low dietary protein intake, supplementing with BCAAs can stimulate muscle protein synthesis and increase muscle growth over time. BCAA supplementation can help reduce fatigue. When BCAA intake is insufficient during training, tryptophan, another amino acid, increases in the brain causing our body to produce serotonin, which causes a sense of fatigue and relaxation.
Calcium is a very important mineral that helps our body build and maintain bone strength. Muscle and nerve tissue needs calcium to be able to contract and function properly. Research has shown that calcium, along with vitamin D, may also help protect against cancer, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Our bodies don’t produce calcium, therefore we must get it from other sources. Some good sources of calcium include:
Calcium Carbonate is the cheapest and most commonly used in calcium supplements. It’s an alkaline-based compound found in things like rocks, limestone, shells of marine animals, pearls, eggshells and snails. It contains a high amount of elemental calcium but it isn’t very bioavailable for our bodies to use. Bioavailability refers to the amount of calcium in the supplement that can be absorbed and used by the digestive system. Calcium carbonate is absorbed best when it’s taken with a low iron meal.
Calcium citrate is a better choice because it is well absorbed and tolerated by most people. It has been proven to help bone density and the citrate it's bound with may help to prevent kidney stones.
To absorb calcium, your body also needs vitamin D.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble nutrient. The primary source we get vitamin D from is the sun but it’s also found in foods such as fish, eggs, and added into some dairy products. Supplementing with Vitamin D has many benefits including increased cognition, immune health, bone health, well-being, and can also reduce the risks of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and multiple sclerosis.
The recommended daily allowance for Vitamin D is currently set at 400-800IU/day, but this is too low for adults. The safe upper limit in the United States is 4,000IU/day but research suggests that the true safe upper limit is 10,000IU/day. For moderate supplementation, a 1,000-2,000IU dose of vitamin D3 is sufficient to meet the needs of most of the population. Vitamin D3 supplementation (cholecalciferol) is recommended over D2 supplementation (ergocalciferol), since D3 is used more effectively in the body. Since vitamin D is fat-soluable, it must be taken with meals containing fat or a source of fat, like fish oil.
We just listed some of the top supplements that can be taken by high school athletes. Again, supplements will not and cannot replace what can be gained by eating a nutritionally balanced diet, but with proper eating, supplements can give athletes an extra edge to help the body perform at its best. To be sure you’re taking a trusted brand that’s free of banned substances, check the label to see if it’s NSF (national sanitation foundation) certified. NSF has worked for over a decade with sports organizations, anti-doping agencies and supplement manufacturers to ensure supplement safety through testing and evaluating products to help ensure their quality and safety.