Nutritional Supplements can be risky
Look, we know taking supplements can be risky for athletes, especially those competing in intercollegiate sports. The NCAA, professional sports leagues and other organizations rightfully enforce anti-doping policies. The US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) has a list of banned substances. This article is a list of our top-5 favorite supplements that contain zero banned substances. In our opinion as fellow athletes and coaches, these five supplements rock. And we wish we knew about them when we were in college!
5. Creatine Monohydrate
Don’t be lured in by the fancy marketing and other forms of creatine. “Creatine Ethyl-Ester” and “Buffered Creatine” do not seem to have any advantage over plain old Creatine Monohydrate. Creatine’s benefits are two-fold, as explained in this article on BodyBuilding.com:
“Creatine’s major benefits – among many – are twofold. It increases muscle energy, allowing one to train harder and to reap the results. And secondly, it hydrates muscle tissue, which, over time, causes them to become bigger and stronger.
Naturally produced in the kidneys, pancreas and liver, creatine is transported to muscle tissue where it is transformed into creatine phosphate, from which the energy molecule ATP is produced to regenerate the muscles’ ability to contract and generate power during short-burst (anaerobic) activity. This translates to more productive workouts and faster muscle growth.”
Creatine is a great supplement, and when you buy pure creatine monohydrate, it is free of banned substances. Creatine Monohydrate is available in powder and capsules. There is a price difference between powder and capsules, but it’s just a personal preference. Be wary of buying any supplement from a generic brand however. Pay the extra few dollars to get a name-brand creatine product you can trust, like these:
4. BCAAs: Branch Chain Amino Acids
“You can only get better as fast as you can recover.” My old coach used to say that, and it’s true. Ask the best athletes and body builders in the world about recovery. The joke is the hardest, most painful part of training is not the grueling workouts…it’s the stretching, foam rolling, trigger point releasing, and general recovery actions. Supplements like BCAAs play an important role in helping you recover after a hard workout. Or for that matter, any day of the week, whether you worked out or not.
So what are BCAAs? And how do BCAAs work? BCAAs are are comprised of three amino acids: Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine. These are important amino acids because our bodies do not produce them naturally. We need them from our diets, or in this case, nutritional supplements. BCAAs, unlike most amino acids, are primarily broken down in our muscles, not liver. BCAAs are building blocks of proteins, and that translates to better muscle recovery. Take BCAAs immediately following a workout for the best results.
Try BCAAs. They are popular and just about every brand has them. Here are a few we have tried:
Zinc, Magnesium and Vitamin B. Not sure why it’s called ZMA and not ZMB, but this stuff is great. ZMA helps with recovery, and in my personal experience, it helps with sleep itself. Maybe that’s a placebo effect, but that’s okay with me. ZMA is a post-workout or pre-bed supplement that gives your body a high dose of zinc, magnesium and vitamin B to rebuild. You go to the gym to use and abuse muscle fibers, and sleep to repair them.
2. Whey Protein
Muscles need protein to heal and grow. One of the most digestible (and affordable) types of protein is whey protein. If you have ever been to a health food store–and actually, just a normal grocery store nowadays–you have probably seen whey protein on the shelves. It’s popular for a reason, and when it comes to performance and recovery, whey protein is a fundamental building block of a nutrition program.
Very few brands tarnish basic whey protein with additives. Almost every company out there offers a pure whey protein, and that’s what you should stick with to minimize risk of exposure to banned substances. It’s hard to go wrong with pure whey protein. As a rule of thumb, the flashier and ‘louder’ the label looks on the shelf, the more risk. Stick with some of these tried and true brands of protein powders:
1. Beta Alanine
Hands down, our favorite supplement is one you have probably never heard of. It’s called Beta Alanine. Beta Alanine has this raw power about it; power that is difficult to explain in writing. Let’s just say the first time you take it, you will discover what we mean. Beta Alanine works to help you increase muscle output in training by helping your body buffer the pH of your blood. You see, when your muscles are working hard, especially anaerobically, a byproduct is something called lactic acid. Lactic acid is that burning sensation you feel during and after a really brutal workout.
Beta Alanine works by increasing the concentration of carnosine in your muscles, which buffers the pH and reduces the lactic acid burn. But enough science jargon, the side effects of this amazing supplement are what make it so incredibly awesome.
For some reason, Beta Alanine makes your skin tingle. It starts on your scalp and eventually makes your body tingle head to toe…some describe it as a light itch…we describe it as being amped up beyond belief. I’ll never forget my first time trying Beta Alanine…while driving to the weight room, the tingling sensations hit me, and I was so pumped up to lift I felt like trying to lift a car in the parking lot (I couldn’t). That being said, I added over 60 pounds to my max hang clean and 40 pounds to my max bench press that week, simply out of confidence that I could suddenly overcome my plateaus. And it worked.
Beta alanine is a relatively unknown supplement, and that’s why we’re sharing it with you. To us, it’s our number 1 NCAA-compliant supplement, hands down. You’ve gotta try it.