From enhanced muscle building to better physical performance, the fitness supplement industry is burgeoning with products designed to help achieve fitness goals - even if you are not an athlete. However, with so many products available, not to mention so many “promises” made around results, it can be difficult to determine a) if you need to supplement your fitness routine, b) which of the different types of supplements will work for you, c) what risks and considerations are associated with popular supplement trends - and more.

Therefore, today’s post is dedicated to fitness supplements and answering the many questions we are commonly asked by Martin’s Wellness customers interested in supplementing their fitness routines to achieve specific personal goals. 

As indicated in the content summary below, we will cover everything from general information about the role of nutrition in fitness to the science behind fitness supplements to discussing the best supplements for fitness, weight loss, and other body goals. Ready to strengthen your fitness supplement IQ?

The Role of Nutrition in Fitness

Nutrition plays a vital role in fitness and can significantly impact your performance, energy levels, recovery, and overall health. Although individual nutritional needs can vary based on factors such as age, sex, activity level, and specific fitness goals, nutrition's key roles in fitness are universal and critical to supporting the body before, during, and after exercise.

Every “body” needs proper nutrition from a well-balanced diet to support various critical physiological roles, including energy production, immune function, bone health, and muscle function. For example, carbohydrates provide energy, proteins support muscle repair and growth, and fats help with hormone production and nutrient absorption. Without these and other various nutrients and vitamins, body performance, not to mention overall health, can suffer.

Understanding Supplements

As mentioned, eating a well-balanced diet rich in whole foods and lean proteins is essential to achieving any body goal, whether losing weight or strengthening muscles. However, there are times when supplementing the diet can help achieve specific goals faster, which is where fitness supplements come in. 

Before adopting any supplement to your diet, it’s important to understand what they are and how they work. The fitness industry is full of supplement trends and hype, so this next section will help separate some of the facts from fiction surrounding the most popular types of fitness supplements. 

Different Types of Supplements

Fitness supplements come in many forms, each serving different purposes and functions regarding health and fitness goals. Following is a list of the most common fitness supplements used for performance enhancement, muscle building, endurance, and other health and fitness goals.

  • • Protein Supplements - designed to provide the body with additional protein to aid in muscle building and tissue repair.
  • • Creatine Supplements - designed to increase muscle strength and power.
  • • Pre-workout Supplements - designed to provide the body with additional energy and focus before working out to enhance performance and reduce fatigue.
  • • Vitamins - especially with recovery after a workout, vitamins help replenish the body and support important immune functions.
  • • Amino Acids - designed to support energy, recovery, and muscle growth.

The Science Behind Supplements

Now, let’s look at the facts, or the science, behind each of these popular fitness supplements. How do they work? We’ll begin with protein supplements. Protein plays a critical role in muscle growth and repair. When you engage in physical activity, especially resistance training or exercise that places stress on your muscles, small micro-tears occur in the muscle fibers. Protein is essential for repairing these micro-tears and facilitating muscle growth.

Next up is creatine, a naturally occurring compound found in small amounts in certain foods, like meat and fish. It is also synthesized in the body from amino acids like arginine, glycine, and methionine. Creatine is stored in the muscles and plays a crucial role in the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is the primary energy source for muscle contractions.  

By increasing the availability of creatine in the muscles, creatine supplementation can enhance the rate at which ATP is resynthesized during high-intensity, short-duration activities, such as weightlifting or sprinting. This can lead to improved performance in explosive movements and help you lift heavier weights or perform more repetitions.

Pre-workout supplementation is most often used for increased energy and stamina during workouts. These supplements often contain ingredients like caffeine, beta-alanine, and creatine, which can help delay fatigue, improve muscle endurance, and increase mental alertness.

How about vitamins - how do they support fitness goals? Regular exercise can temporarily suppress the immune system, making it important to support immune function. Vitamins A, C, D, E, and B6, as well as minerals like zinc and selenium, play vital roles in supporting immune function and protecting against oxidative stress.

Finally, let’s look at amino acids, specifically the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), which include leucine, isoleucine, and valine. BCAAs are essential components of skeletal muscle protein synthesis, and research indicates that leucine, in particular, stimulates protein synthesis while inhibiting protein degradation. Beta-alanine is another amino acid commonly used in fitness supplementation because it can increase muscle carnosine levels. Carnosine acts as a buffer, helping to reduce lactic acid buildup during high-intensity exercises.

Why Incorporate Supplements in Your Fitness Regime?

Now that you have a better understanding of the different types of fitness supplements and how/why they can benefit the body before, during, and after exercise, let’s hone in on the benefits supplements for fitness can provide.

Meeting Nutritional Gaps

While consuming a well-balanced diet can usually offer our bodies what we need for optimal health and fitness performance, it’s not always easy to follow a controlled diet or even eat the way we should every day. Therefore, supplements can support the body by supplying lacking or additional nutritional elements to support your specific, personalized fitness journey.

Boosting Performance and Recovery

Fitness supplements can help improve strength, power output, endurance, or recovery, allowing you to maximize your potential and achieve your fitness goals more effectively. For example, weight lifters commonly use creatine supplements to improve performance in explosive movements, lift heavier weights, or perform more repetitions.

As for post-workout recovery, supplements like protein powders or BCAAs can support muscle repair and recovery after intense workouts. Also, many supplements for fitness contain essential vitamins that often need replenishing after exercise.  

Choosing the Right Supplements for Your Fitness Goals

Incorporating supplements into your fitness regime is a personal choice that depends on various factors, including your specific fitness goals, dietary habits, and individual needs. Choosing the best supplements for health and fitness will mainly depend on your goals, where you are in the journey, and where you may need additional support.

Supplements for Muscle Building

As mentioned previously, fitness supplements with protein, creatine, or BCAAs are the most popular for supporting muscle-building goals. Also, research shows that getting a combination of protein and carbohydrates after heavy resistance training promotes an increase in lean muscle mass and overall improvements in body fat percentage.1

Supplements for Endurance Training

Amino acids, like the BCAA amino acid leucine, can help preserve muscle mass during endurance training and reduce muscle breakdown. BCAAs may also contribute to energy production and reduce central fatigue during prolonged exercise. Additionally, the amino acid beta-alanine can help improve endurance, reduce muscle fatigue, and enhance performance during prolonged endurance activities.

Pre-workout supplement drinks often contain amino acids and other energy-supporting ingredients like caffeine, creatine, and fast-acting carbohydrates to give your body quick and easy energy to tap into throughout the workout.

Supplements for Weight Loss

Some fitness goals, like losing fat and gaining lean muscle mass, are more aesthetic than performance-based. In these cases, the best fitness supplements for weight loss often contain caffeine or green tea extract. Both can increase energy expenditure and fat oxidation while helping suppress appetite and improving focus and exercise performance. Also, protein supplements can help promote satiety and preserve lean muscle mass during weight loss.

It’s always important to carefully research supplements to ensure they are aligned with your fitness needs and goals. We recommend first identifying your goals, then researching supplement ingredients based on desired outcomes. It’s also important to consider brand quality and purity, read reviews, and consult a healthcare professional before deciding which supplement is right for you.

Risks and Considerations When Using Supplements

It's important to note that fitness supplements are not a magic solution and should not replace a balanced diet and regular exercise. Instead, fitness supplements should support your overall nutrition plan rather than act as a primary source of nutrients. Moreover, not all supplements are regulated by the FDA, so choosing reputable brands and being cautious of exaggerated claims or potential side effects, as described below, is crucial. 

It’s always best to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new supplements, especially if you have pre-existing medical conditions or concerns. They can provide personalized guidance based on your specific needs and goals and help you determine if supplementing is appropriate for your fitness journey.

Potential Side Effects

As with any supplement, there is always a risk of potential side effects. For example, some fitness supplements may present adverse responses such as allergic reactions, gastrointestinal issues, or medication interactions. Furthermore, some supplements may interact with prescription or over-the-counter medications, leading to negative side effects or reduced medication effectiveness.

Understanding Supplement Labels

Since only US supplements are regulated by the FDA, mislabeling ingredients in the supplement industry happens, especially purchased from other countries. Mislabeling supplements can be dangerous, often leading to incorrect dosages or exposure to harmful substances.  Therefore, we highly recommend sticking to reputable supplement brands that undergo third-party testing for quality and accuracy and are transparent about their manufacturing processes. 

The Future of Fitness Supplements

The supplement industry is constantly evolving as new research emerges and technology advances - resulting in a bright future for fitness supplements. For example, customized nutrition, or highly personalized formulations based on a person’s unique genetic makeup, metabolism, and specific fitness goals, are becoming easier to achieve. 

As research, science, and advancing tech continue to strengthen the supplement industry, it's essential to stay up-to-date on the latest developments in supplement science and adjust your supplement regimen based on new information or changes in your health status.

FAQs about Fitness Supplements

Before wrapping up, let’s answer some other commonly asked questions our pharmacists and functional medicine consultants encounter with customers interested in incorporating fitness supplements into their routines.

What are fitness supplements?

Basically, these are products designed to enhance athletic performance, support exercise recovery, and aid in achieving specific fitness goals. They typically come in the form of pills, powders, liquids, or bars and contain various nutrients, herbs, or other bioactive compounds that can have specific benefits for physical performance, muscle growth, endurance, or overall health.

Why should I consider using fitness supplements?

Fitness supplements can provide particular benefits for reaching fitness goals, including enhancing performance, stamina, and recovery. They can also fill nutritional needs not met by diet alone.

When is the best time to take fitness supplements?

The timing of fitness supplement intake can vary depending on the specific supplement and individual goals. We always recommend carefully reading and following product dosing instructions before taking any new supplement (unless otherwise advised by a healthcare professional).

Do I still need to maintain a balanced diet and regular exercise if I'm taking fitness supplements?

Yes, as supplements are not a substitute for healthy eating habits or regular exercise.

How do I stay updated with the latest trends and advances in fitness supplements?

We are happy to help! Contact Martin’s Wellness to discuss supplement questions, concerns, or recommendations with one of our healthcare professionals.

Are all fitness supplements safe and regulated?

The FDA's oversight of dietary supplements is primarily based on post-market surveillance, meaning they monitor supplements after they are on the market. This places some responsibility on consumers, healthcare professionals, and the supplement industry to report any adverse events or concerns related to supplement use. Also, it's important to note that while the FDA regulates US dietary supplements, it does not guarantee safety or efficacy.

The fitness supplement industry is already enormous - and will only continue to grow with continued research and technological advances. Determining the best supplements for fitness that will meet your goals and align with your wellness journey requires a combination of research (like reading this post) and consulting with a healthcare professional. Also, it’s safest to select products manufactured by reputable brands that provide third-party testing results. 

With so many formulations and products readily available, we invite you to contact a Martin’s Wellness pharmacist or wellness professional for guidance about the best supplements for fitness. We carry a wide variety of different types of supplements for health and fitness, including our top recommendations for the best fitness supplements for men, the best fitness supplements for women - or even the best fitness supplements for beginners. 

Our products are carefully chosen for high-quality ingredients and manufacturing practices to ensure the best efficacy. Our pharmacists and other wellness practitioners can also advise you on the potential side effects of supplements when used in combination with other medications, supplements, etc. We are here to help you reach your personal fitness and wellness goals and are happy to help you in choosing supplements that best meet your needs.