A couple of pills a day keeps the injuries away
The best way to approach supplements is to first think about them for what they really are, getting rid of any preconceptions you may have. All a supplement is, is something that you take "supplementary" to what you already regularly take. It's something you add to enhance whatever you're already having.
With this definition you can begin to see that anything can really be a supplement and we are not exclusively talking about chemicals and pills.
Supplements shouldn't be thought of as 'magic fixes', we all have a unique biological makeup and different substances effect people differently. However, there are likely to be certain supplements that give you good benefits, some common ones and some more specific to enhance your current diet.
How to use supplements
Clearly there are a lot of different supplements and each comes with their own benefits, positive / negative side effects and other factors. It's important to remember that there are a lot of different supplements; some drugs are supplements, but not all supplements are drugs. So it's not always useful to lump them all in under one category and this is probably how term 'supplements' can carry some stigma behind it.
In this sense a vitamin can be a supplement but also so can an illegal steroid - always remember we're talking about such a wide range of substances when we use this term.
It's also important to realise there is some overlap within this article and within the nutrition article; some supplements may be a necessity to meet your nutritional requirements (e.g. if your diet does not contain an adequate amount of protein). So there are such things as necessary supplements but also supplements which are not necessary to meet your base macronutrient requirements but they can still provide enhanced benefits.
The rules to supplement taking are simple:
Understanding - Don't take what you don't understand. This is your body, your life and your health. If you want to improve yourself it stands to reason that you should invest a little bit of time to research and fully understand what it is you are ingesting.
Moderation - Different supplements can be taken for different lengths of time with different consequences. This is a direct off-shoot of the first point [understanding]. You need to understand how much or how little of whatever you're taking your can use to achieve the desired effect and how much is too much. This is crucial to taking any supplement so make sure you're getting this right.
Experimentation - Different supplements effect different people in different ways. The only way to know if something works for you is to try it. You should be open to trying new things and never close yourself off thinking you know enough or have tried enough, constantly strive to improve and see what helps.
What sort of supplements are popular with athletes
Caffeine is the most popular psychoactive drug in existence today. It works by stimulating the brains and central nervous system and it's main effect is 'alertness', the feeling of being awake and energetic.
Protein is one of our 3 main classes of food (along with fats and carbs) and are known as our cells 'building blocks' protein is made from amino acids and is essential to repair our cells.
Creatine is a naturally created substance formed of amino acids. Creatine provides energy to your muscles and will allow you to perform with more strength & intensity.
Omega 3 fatty acids are a type of fat that is essential but we do not naturally create it. Omega 3 is found mainly in fish and contributes towards good cardiovascular health and health in general, a common benefit is reduced inflamation and improved flexibility.
COQ10 is naturally produced in our bodies and serves to provide energy to our cells, it's an antioxidant and has been attributed with providing numerous performance and health benefits.
Ashwaganha is an ancient Ayurvedic herb that has been linked to a number of health benefits ranging from decreased anxiety to increased muscle strength. A recent study has shown it's positive benefits on endurance in a group of professional cyclists.
The supplements above are by no means an exhaustive list, just a few of the most commonly used. In any health store or supplement site you will find these plus hundreds of others, you can't try them all but you should definitely try some.
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