Our Members Asked:
I do moderate exercise for about an hour a few times a week. Which supplements might help me, and which should I consider avoiding?
When working out, nutritional needs that should be considered include hydration and electrolytes, as well as protein. Let's discuss each of these briefly, as well as supplements providing other vitamins or ingredients — some of which you may want to avoid when working out.
Supplements that may be beneficial
As long as you are fairly healthy and eating a balanced diet, if you work out for an hour, you only need water to recover; you don't need an "electrolyte" supplement. This was shown in a study which compared water to coconut water and a rehydration sports drink (as discussed in the Coconut Waters Review). Only when doing strenuous exercise for long periods of time (i.e., 90 minutes or more) are you likely to be sweating out enough electrolytes (primarily sodium) to require replenishment. Electrolyte or "sports" drinks can be helpful in these situations (see our Electrolytes & Sports Drinks Review), but so can drinking water and consuming foods that provide the right electrolytes as well sugars.
Extra protein from a powder or drink can help athletes build muscle and older people prevent or reverse age-related loss of muscle strength when used in conjunction with resistance-type exercise (such as free weights, weight machines, resistance bands, or your own body weight — as with squats). If you are not doing resistance-type exercise, extra protein won't help. (However, be aware that many older adults do not get even adequate protein from their diets and intakes higher than current daily recommendations may be needed to reduce muscle loss.) For more information, see our Protein Powders and Drinks Review, which includes information about types of protein, dosing, and our ratings and comparisons of products.
Branched-chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)
BCAAs may help reduce muscle breakdown during exercise (and reduce soreness from long-distance intense exercise,) but BCAAs do not appear to have performance-enhancing effects. (BCAAs may reduce muscle loss due to inactivity, such as around the time of knee surgery).
Creatine) may improve muscle strength and endurance during repeated high-intensity exercise of short duration, such as weight lifting and sprinting. It is not of benefit in purely aerobic exercises.
Supplements with questionable evidence of benefit
Curcumin (from turmeric)
Overall, the usefulness of curcumin for muscle function, recovery, and soreness after exercise remains uncertain, as results are mixed. At best, if taken for a few days before intense exercise, curcumin may slightly reduce resulting inflammation and, if taken after exercise, it may reduce muscle damage and soreness. Taking a turmeric supplement containing turmeric polysaccharides without curcumin does not appear to significantly reduce pain after exercise.
Fish Oil has been shown to help increase strength from training in women. However, it doesn't appear to be beneficial in men.
Although vitamin D supplementation seems to help increase strength from training among people deficient in vitamin D, it doesn't seem to be improve strength among people with adequate levels and, in fact, at high doses it may actually reduce the benefits of exercise.
Resveratrol and high-doses of vitamins C and E, all of which are antioxidants, may also blunt the effects of exercise. It has been speculated that during exercise, reactive oxygen species (ROS) are created which trigger positive changes in muscle. Antioxidants, which remove ROS, prevent this from happening.