Part 2 – General Supplements
I use the term “general supplements” to apply to non-sports specific supplements, that I use to add specific vitamins and minerals to my diet. The general consensus among nutritionists seems to be that it is very hard for most people to get adequate intakes of some vitamins and minerals from their diets. If it is hard for a normal person, it will be even harder for a sports person, who places their body under greater levels of stress and wear and tear than your average person. Two books on this subject that really opened my eyes to the supplementation needed were “The Optimum Nutrition Bible” by Patrick Holford, and “The New Sports Nutrition Guide” by Michael Colgan.
To start with, I take a multivitamin twice each day, to ensure that I cover most of my bases. I also supplement this with 500mg of vitamin C in both the morning and evening. Vitamin C is useful as it can improve immune function, and also acts as an antioxidant. I used to take a higher dose, but after reading some research papers last summer, which found that continued high levels of Vitamin C supplementation (i.e. over 2000mg) might decrease mitochondrial changes to exercise. I also take 400iU of vitamin E, which again is an antioxidant, and acts as a cell membrane stabiliser. Some vitamin E studies have found no positive effect in athletes, whereas some have found that vitamin E can prevent DNA damage caused by oxidative stress, and improve glucose and insulin sensitivity. Overall, I couldn’t find a study that pointed to a negative effect of vitamin E supplementation, and so I decided to supplement. I also supplement with a B vitamin complex, which help immune function and energy production. From time to time, particularly in the winter, I also supplement with vitamin D. Quite a few studies are coming out regarding this vitamin and athletic performance, with a pretty consistent finding that low vitamin D levels affect type II muscle fibre contraction. I get my vitamin D levels tested regularly, and if they are low I go on a supplementation cycle.
So, that the vitamins covered, next up are the minerals. I take both Glucosamine and Chrondritin for bone/joint health. In 2007 I was diagnosed with some disc issues in my back, and I am aware that training puts quite a bit of load through my knees, so I began looking at joint health supplements. I came across quite a few studies on these minerals, which were mostly positive. One looked at US Navy SEALs with knee and back pain, and found that glucosamine / chrondritin supplementation alleviated the symptoms. Another study found that glucosamine supplementation alleviated spinal disc degeneration. Added to my bone/joint health stack is MSM, which I add to my protein shakes twice per day.
I also take a combined calcium and magnesium supplement. Both of these minerals play an important role in muscle fibre contraction. I looked at some studies regarding supplementation, and some found positive results, others found no change with supplementation. One study found that 8mg/kg/day of magnesium caused significantly greater gains in strength than a placebo, which made me take interest. From time to time my medical team also put me on a course of magnesium during times of hard training, and recommend that I have a higher intake than normal of calcium to protect my shins (which quite often get sore – calcium has been found to sometimes reduce this soreness).
I have also recently started to supplement with 100g of CoQ10 per day. CoQ10 is an involved in energy production within the cell. Various studies have found positive effects from CoQ10 supplementation, including an increased time to exhaustion, improved fatigue resistance in multiple bout exercise, and an increased performance in maximal exercise. Therefore, I considered CoQ10 to have enough evidence to be an effective training aid, and so I added it into my programme.
Another new supplement in my regime is Phosphatidyl Serine. I added this in as it is alleged to blunt cortisol. One of the nutritionists I spoke to recommended adding this to a post-training shake in order to keep the anabolic window open a bit longer. I also tend to carry fat around my mid-section, which is a sign of high cortisol according to Charles Polliquin, which further added to my interest in giving this a go. Finally, Patrick Holford believes that it is useful for stress reduction; I generally find I am quite prone to getting stressed, which, again, further added to my interest. I tend to cycle my PS supplementation, as I am not sure that long-term cortisol reduction is positive. I tend to use it most during really hard phases of training, and then back off when training levels drop a bit.
I also supplement with Omega-3, at quite a high dose. The benefits of omega-3 supplementation are well written about everywhere, but in a nutshell they may (or may not) improve insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance, improve blood fatty acid profile, improve immune function, and reduce inflammation. The whole range of health benefits was enough to convince me to supplement with them.
I also use two types of gut health products. One is a probiotic, which I take with breakfast; the other is Digestimax from Myprotein.co.uk, which contains digestive enzymes. I believe that there is no point in eating good quality food if you are not digesting it properly, hence why I supplement with these products. It has also been shown that probiotics can improve immune function, which is an added bonus.
I used to add more antioxidant supplements to my regime, until I came across quite a wide body of research they states that excess antioxidants can blunt the training effect, as they mop up the free-radicals that the body requires to adapt. Due to this, I now keep all my vitamins to either first thing in the morning, or last thing at night, as far away from training as possible. I have also lowered my dosage of most vitamins.
So that’s a guide to my general supplements complete – next up will be my sports specific supplements.