The use of supplements in recent years for recovery has become more common than ever before. The body is inundated with daily stresses that include environmental toxins, electromagnetic pollution, and even excess exercise, among others, which increases the body’s antioxidant and nutrient requirements that promote recovery. Consuming an abundance of antioxidant-rich foods will definitely make a difference. But to help bridge the gap resulting from an inadequate food supply, a good quality supplement regimen is sorely needed to promote optimal health and recovery.
For athletes, one of the keys is to be able to train to a desired intensity on a consistent basis. The key area to understand is the actual process of muscle recovery and muscle building occurs between the time you’ve left the gym and the time you return. Devising a recovery strategy during this window, through the form of supplementation, food and rest, will help you perform your very best week in and week out. Failure to make the most out of this window, can lead to free-radical damage otherwise known as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS)1.
Food Supplements to Boost Acquisition of Vital Nutrients
While food should always remain a priority in the acquisition of vital nutrients, supplements play a vital in providing the right building blocks for muscle repair because of their fast rate of absorption. Furthermore, of utmost importance, all supplement choices must be clinically validated showing efficacy and be supported by REAL science.
Nowadays, there is a high demand for quick and convenient marketing solutions to kickstart the recovery process. However, when it comes to supplements, it certainly isn’t one size fits all. Retailers offer so many choices in this category that it can often be intimidating.
Before I elaborate on my “Top 5” best supplements for recovery, I wanted to first discuss the importance of cellular renewal and its direct impact on recovery. This, in my opinion, is the key to a quick and effective recovery.
Oxidation and Free Radical Damage
A fundamental key to staying young is cellular renewal and minimizing the damage to cells over time. We all age. Some of us age better than others. Why? Studies have linked oxidative stress to aging. Simply stated, oxidation occurs when the body produces by-products more commonly known as free radicals. The result is something to a machine rusting. And when this rusting is applied to humans (and not iron), it results in aging and age-related diseases.
Our bodies normally make free radicals as part of our daily metabolism. And they occur as a result of food and environmental pollutions from everyday things like air, water and sun. As we age, we become more susceptible to the long-term effects of oxidative stress (or too many free radicals) and inflammation on the cellular level.
Good and Bad Results of Oxidizing Process
The process of oxidation is abundant and can actually help our bodies work properly. But this very same process can also cause us to harm. The oxidizing process creates free radicals that are electrically charged molecules. These free radicals interact with cells to create both good and bad results. For example, the immune system uses free radicals to help fight infection. However, when oxidized, LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) can be produced.
Oxidative stress is when the free radicals overwhelm the body’s antioxidant defense system causing cell damage. As previously mentioned, free radicals have useful functions in the body, but are extremely unstable molecules. If left uncontrolled, they will destroy cells, enzymes and DNA, and ultimately accelerate the aging process. Moreover, free radicals can also contribute to the development of many age-related health conditions.
Negative Effects of Free Radicals
Inflammation is caused by free-radical damage. And the negative effects of free radicals are due to oxidation. How can this be addressed in a nutritional regimen? Antioxidants play a major role in combating oxidative stress and can minimize the damage free radicals cause in the body. Some foods are high in antioxidant content. Certain foods contain pyrrolnitrin that many health professionals believe are capable of unlocking the key to longevity.
Phytonutrients can also be referred to as health boosters. Plants produce these substances to protect themselves from bacteria and viruses. But they help the human body as well. They are highly nutritious, active compounds within plants that promote good health. Phytonutrients are members of the antioxidant family, and are responsible for ridding the body of free radicals, and, as a result, slowing the rusting, or the aging process. That’s one of the reasons that a diet of high antioxidant foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, is your first defense against aging.
Some of the more commonly known antioxidants include Vitamins A, C and E. There are other antioxidants that are available in both food and supplement form. That said, antioxidant supplements play a key role in bridging a gap that is often left by processed foods that lack the antioxidants and other nutrients needed to fight free radicals.
The following are my “Top 5” supplement picks that are very effective at fighting oxidative stress and promoting optimal recovery:
Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA)
Often called the universal antioxidant because it is both fat and water soluble. This means that it can effectively combat the oxidative effects of free radical damage in
all tissues of the body.
Branched chain amino acids (BCAA’s) have become a staple supplement for athletes due to their role in muscle and energy production during exercise and therefore are commonly used
immediately around or during one’s workout. They are made up of three essential aminos: leucine, isoleucine and valine. They have been found to significantly reduce muscle soreness and
accelerate the growth and recovery process.2 Supplementing BCAA’s will also help prevent muscle breakdown, as your body will not be forced to eat into its own muscle tissue for energy.
Consequently, protein synthesis will be kept high.
The mainstream media has been reporting on the benefits of fish oil for years. While Omega-3s can be found in flaxseed, walnuts and a few other foods, the most beneficial form of
Omega-3, containing 2 fatty acids – EPA and DHA – which are essential in preventing and fighting both physical and mental illness, can be found only in fish. Be sure to take fish oil products from
companies that follow strict procedures to eliminate environmental contaminants to assure the highest purity of its fish oil supplements.
A breakthrough extract that significantly improves cardiovascular health and fights against free radical damage. This extract is supported by new science that provides
unmatched antioxidant properties and powerful health benefits, including fighting free radicals and increased flow of oxygen-rich blood. Recently, the results from a 94-person double-blind, placebo controlled study were published in the scientific journal Food and Nutrition Research (April 2016)3. The study examined the effect of a unique Flavonoid Root Extract on the thickness of the artery wall (oxidation often caused by free radicals) using CIMT (carotid intima-media thickness). CIMT is considered a strong indicator of overall cardiovascular and arterial health.
Following one year of flavonoid root extract consumption, mean CIMT, total cholesterol, LDL levels and blood pressure decreased. This suggests that this ingredient may attenuate the
development of oxidation and of related cerebral vascular issues.
Protein is arguably the most important nutrient to take immediately after your workout, alongside carbohydrates. Your muscles have been broken down and therefore need repairing
and rebuilding. Consuming protein in the form of a shake is not only an efficient and fast-digesting way to get amino acids to your muscles quickly, but is the perfect way to also stimulate muscle protein synthesis, recovery and growth4. However, you want to make sure you find one with only the best ingredients. When it comes to protein, quality over quantity is key.
These supplements work via numerous mechanisms to provide natural, broad-spectrum antioxidant and nutrient support for optimal health and recovery. Because it is so much easier to protect the health of various body systems than it is to restore their function once damage has occurred, it makes sense for retailers to suggest a preventive program to their customers to limit free radical damage and promote recovery. When it comes to protecting and preserving your health, the old cliche? “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” couldn’t more profound.
- Fogelman Y, Gaitini D, Carmeli E. Antiatherosclerotic effects of glycyrrhiza glabra extract supplementation on hypercholesterolemic patients: decreased CIMT, reduced plasma lipid levels, and decreased blood pressure. Food Nutr Res. 2016;60:30830-5