5 Secret Weapons for Fitness Gains

If you’ve got serious #GymGoals for 2018 (and don’t we all?), these supplements can help.

5 Secret Weapons for Fitness Gains

One slight change in your nutrition game plan can take your workouts from meh to amazing. Whether your goal is to get stronger or shed pounds (or both!), these proven fitness boosters can help you get there.

1. Plant-based protein powder

You’re spoiled for choice when it comes to these protein powders. This allows you to cycle through different kinds to reap different benefits.

Soy protein powder is easily digestible and offers every essential amino acid for muscle building. Hemp protein is high in fiber. Brown rice protein powder is hypoallergenic and full of B vitamins, while pea protein can give you some extra help using carbs as energy. (Note that pea and brown rice proteins aren’t complete proteins, so they work best combined with other protein sources.) Mixes of different plant-based proteins are also available, so you can get the best of all worlds in a single powder.

What it’s good for

According to naturopathic doctor Christina Christoforou, “If you exercise intensely, you’ll need to consume greater amounts of protein than someone who is inactive. Prolonged, intense exercise damages proteins faster.”

When to take it

For best results, supplement with protein before and after physical activity.

2. Glutamine

Glutamine is an amino acid your body produces naturally. Yet during times of high stress, cortisol spikes and causes glutamine to deplete faster than the body can restore it. Heavy long-term exercise suppresses glutamine production by up to 20 percent.

What it’s good for

Endurance athletes, listen up: glutamine supplements may help revive your immune function to its peak levels, as glutamine is a major fuel for immune cells.

When to take it

Take glutamine immediately after exercise when the immune system is most depleted.

3. Omega-3s

Omegas-3s are essential polyunsaturated fats. “Essential” means our bodies need them, but we can’t produce them on our own.

What they’re good for

These fats prevent muscle soreness and pain after exercise due to their anti-inflammatory effects. EPA, a type of omega-3, has the most profound effect on muscles. It reduces inflammation and strengthens neuromuscular function, which can help stave off fatigue.

You can easily find algae-based omega-3 supplements that contain both EPA and DHA, another healthy fatty acid. “What matters most is the EPA count in omega-3s. Look for sources with 1,000 mg of EPA to reduce inflammation and muscle soreness,” says Christoforou.

When to take them

Take your omega-3s at the same time every day. “Consistency is the most important factor, because it takes a while for the benefits to begin,” Christoforou says.

4. Creatine

Creatine is a protein building block that’s stored in muscle cells. During short bursts of high intensity exercise, it helps increase your production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), your body’s major energy source.

What it’s good for

Some studies show that creatine increases lean muscle and improves strength during brief and intense bursts of exercise, like fast and hard uphill cycling or power lifting.

When to take it

Take creatine after exercise with carbs or a carb and protein supplement. Some research shows it’s most effective to load with a higher dose of creatine for several days, and then switch to a lower dose for maintenance.

5. BCAAs

Branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) are a highly concentrated form of three specific amino acids. Unlike most amino acids, which stop at the liver to be metabolized, BCAAs go directly to your muscles. (And yes, there are plant-based sources available.)

What they’re good for

During and after exercise, BCAAs prevent protein from being broken down. They reduce muscle damage during exercise. They may also reduce fatigue, as they interfere with our absorption of tryptophan, the amino acid that makes us sleepy.

When to take them

Take BCAAs as a supplement just before or during exercise. “It can help with muscle breakdown during intense exercise and ward off fatigue immediately because it goes directly to your muscles,” Christoforou says.

Keep in mind that the best supplements for you may vary depending on your current fitness level and nutrition habits. Check with your doctor or other health care practitioner to find the right dose for you.

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