Are you eating enough? Before you plop down your hard-earned cash on some fancy supplement, take a hard look at what you’re consuming. Maybe you’re meeting your body’s daily calorie requirement, but a diet laden with processed foods, sugar, and salt won’t be corrected by a protein powder or vitamin pill. For women––especially vegetarians or vegans––lack of iron is a common concern. So are calcium and Vitamin D deficiencies. For men, it’s often more varied. That’s because statistically men eat worse than women –– more fast food and fewer fruits and veggies. They also lead the way with smoking and alcohol consumption––although women are catching up (perhaps one area where equality shouldn’t be championed).
So, before you visit the health food store, stock up on some fresh produce. Grill some lean chicken. Take the time to improve your diet before reaching for a powder. However, if you’re active and your diet is tuned up, here are some popular supplements for men and the science behind them.
Supplements are anything you add to your daily diet. That includes not just multivitamins but powders and liquids. Aspiring bodybuilders, weekend warriors, and elite athletes often turn to protein powder hoping for an edge. If you’re a man living in a developed country, you likely get sufficient protein. However, if you’ve started lifting weights several times a week it can make a difference––even more so if you don’t eat meat regularly. Look for powders that are low in sugar. Although whey concentrate has more protein than whey isolate (which is over 90% protein by weight), it also contains more lactose.
Whey tends to blend better and some feel it tastes better than soy. However, reports that soy products can elevate a man’s estrogen remain unproven. Noted for its ability to not only aid your muscles during exercise but to speed your recovery, stick to the recommended amounts for an athlete of up to two grams per kilogram of body weight.
Easily one of the most celebrated supplements and rightly so, creatine monohydrate has been shown to have a dramatic effect in athletes. It can help increase strength and muscle mass. Although this is beneficial to anyone who’s exercising, it has fewer benefits for long-distance runners or anyone who needs endurance. One caveat–if you eat red meat at least once or twice a week, creatine powders have limited benefits because you are already getting plenty in your diet. The most dramatic effects with creatine comes from those who either don’t eat meat at all or only eat chicken or fish.
Side effects, including kidney problems or liver problems along with bloating, are extremely rare despite early reports to the contrary. However, as with protein, those who take this supplement should make sure they drink sufficient water to keep their kidneys operating optimally. Located in your muscles and in your brain, this amino acid is produced by the liver, pancreas, and kidneys at a rate of around one gram per day. The reason creatine supplementation is so beneficial is because although most people store 120 grams, they have the capacity to store 160.
If ever there was a miracle drug, this is it. Although limited studies decades ago linked coffee consumption to an increased risk for cancer, today it is seen not only as safe but an easy way to improve most people’s focus and mental health. In 2016, the World Health Organization even removed coffee from their list of possible carcinogens (although drinking at temperatures above 65 degrees Celsius or 150 degrees Fahrenheit may slightly elevate the risk for esophageal cancer).
Rich in cell-protecting antioxidants, brewed coffee not only battles free radicals associated with cancer and heart disease but can provide energy during strenuous workouts. Drinking one or two cups before a run can help you keep your energy up throughout––allowing you to complete the distance faster. Caffeine pills can provide the same benefits, but it’s far easier to overdo it. There is too much of a good thing––in the form of jitteriness and even anxiety. Because caffeine can stay in your system for nine hours, it’s important to stop drinking it in the late afternoon to avoid sleep disruption.
If you’re a runner hoping to avoid a blood sugar crash, loading up on pasta right before your run is not recommended. Purified glucose polymers designed to send glucose to your hard-working muscles can make a difference. One study suggested that “Carbohydrate intake during exercise can delay the onset of fatigue and improve performance of prolonged exercise as well as exercise of shorter duration and greater intensity…” Mixing it with water to make a six to eight percent solution should be adequate. Remember to sip throughout your workout.
Omega-3 supplements can help improve recovery. Studies on Vitamin D show consistent benefits to overall health (and many people are deficient). Studies on the antioxidants vitamin C, vitamin E, and coenzyme Q10 show few performance benefits––which is true of almost all supplements from beetroot to branched-chain amino acids (leucine, isoleucine, and valine) to tart or sour cherry. In many cases, vitamins your body needs, like vitamin E, don’t provide extra benefits at higher doses and may even harm your performance. This is also true with protein powders, creatine, and numerous other generally safe and effective supplements.So take your time, and don’t overdo it. Buy from a trusted, local supplier. And realize that all the supplements in the world won’t make up for poor diet, inadequate rest, and inconsistent exercise.
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John Bankston is a published author of over 150 nonfiction books for children and young adults including biographies of Jonas Salk, Gerhard Domak, and Frederick Banting.