Vitamins and supplements are a debatable subject in my profession - do they really offer the benefits that we think? Truth is, the education in this topic in pharmacy school is lacking. Again, vitamins and supplements aren't drugs so good research can be hard to find and support. The one thing we can do is make suggestions based on what we know about how these minerals work to support the body. After a lot of research (and personal experience) over the years, I'm going to share with you my go-to list for female athletes!
Here's a list of what I currently use and what I would recommend to anyone looking to add a vitamin and supplement regimen to their fitness routine. I by no means think they are 100% necessary, but can offer some additional benefit when it comes to women's health and function.
1. Whey Protein
This is the easily digestible protein found in milk. The average athlete requires around 1gm per pound of body weight of protein a day for adequate muscle replenishment and growth. Whey protein is a great way to supplement your diet to help your body meet these needs. A scoop is typically around 20 grams - it is most useful to consume within 30 minutes before or after a workout or first thing in the morning. I also use it a lot as a substitute for baking, add-in for smoothies, or just as an afternoon snack.
My favorite brand is Optimum Nutrition, I've been using it for as long as I can remember. It's a high quality brand that's great tasting with a ton of flavor options!
Also know as Branch Chain Amino Acids (isoleucine, leucine, and valine). These essential acids play an integral part in muscle growth and protein synthesis. The body can burn them as fuel during a workout to help curb fatigue and they also work with muscle recovery. BCAAs come in many forms, but the suggested intake is 5-10 grams pre and post workout.
Again, Optimum Nutrition offers a great BCAA powder drink and it also comes in capsule form.
This is the slow digestible protein found in milk. Casein breaks down slowly to allow for a steady release of aminos over a longer period of time. It is best to take this at bedtime when your body is going to be in a fasting state for several hours. Studies have shown enhanced muscle growth when used in combination with whey. Also another great supplement for muscle recovery.
Casein is very similar tasting to whey protein, only a little bit thicker in consistency. Take 1 scoop before bedtime to support those gains!
4. Fish Oil
Omega-3s (DHA and EPA) are a universally beneficial supplement for men and women. Fish oil can support immune function, curb inflammation, aid with cholesterol regulation, and some research has even shown benefits with fat loss. Omega-3s are essential to early growth and development so are particularly important for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Aim for 1-2 grams three times a day (keep them in the fridge to help with the “fish burps”).
As women age, calcium becomes an important part of your daily diet. Calcium and bone health go hand in hand - adequate calcium intake is crucial to prevent bone loss and also helps support muscle contraction. For those taking oral contraceptives, medications for osteoporosis, or any women post-menopause, aim for 600mg twice a day.
Pay attention to the formulation you are taking (citrate/carbonate) - some require you to take with food and you may need to separate from other medications and vitamins for adequate absorption.
6. Vitamin D
Another important modulator of bone, muscle and brain health. Low Vitamin D levels has been associated with certain autoimmune disorders and is showing more and more benefits with cognitive function. Most women become deficient in this mineral as they age especially if you live in areas with less sunlight and long winters. Vitamin D is best to take with your calcium supplement 2000-4000IU/day.
7. B Complex
Almost any pre-workout supplement you see out there will have a group of B vitamins included on its ingredient list. B vitamins boost energy by helping oxygen get to your muscles. A B Complex vitamin will also contain folic acid which helps your body produce new cells and prevent anemia. Anyone pregnant or looking to get pregnant should consider this daily vitamin to support fetal brain and spine development. Typically B Complex 50-100mg is plenty.
That said, vitamins and supplements should never (and can never) be an adequate replacement for a healthy balanced diet of whole foods. I would always suggest getting your nutrition on point first before trying to benefit from any additional supplement regimen. Pills and powders are no match for greens and grains. Eat real food first, then add the others later.
That's what I have today off the bench!
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Nicole Hasson, PharmD
Eat Clean, Train Hard, and Live your damn Life!