Which Health Supplement is Right for You?

Health supplements are a billion dollar industry in the U.S. and worldwide. Don’t feel bad if you’re confused about what a particular supplement does and/or if it’s even right for you. The fact is that some supplements may work for some people while other people may experience no health benefit at all. Taking the wrong supplement can even be harmful, or even deadly, when proper care is not taken on your part. For this reason alone, you should never try any health supplement without first consulting your doctor. Now, with the quintessential “consult your doctor” statement out of the way, I’d like to describe several of the most popular health supplements on the market today, so you get a better understanding of what these health supplements can potentially do for you. Bookmark this post, as I will add updates to include more health supplements as time goes on.

Creatine

Creatine is available in pill form, as a powder or as a premixed drink. The powder creatine supplements are best because they are often the purest form of the supplement. Creatine is commonly used by bodybuilders and others looking to build muscle and strength. Clinical studies support creatine’s efficacy, and most agree that it’s generally safe to consume in moderation. Few studies show creatine is safe and/or effective when supplementing it for over six months at a time. Creatine itself is a naturally-occurring amino acid that your body makes itself; most creatine is stored in your muscle tissue. During vigorous exercise, such as lifting weights, your muscles become depleted of creatine. Creatine supplements help your body maintain a steady dose of the amino acid. It allows your muscles to work harder and longer. In other words, you can do more sets and reps in the weight room. There are several precautions you should take when consuming creatine supplements, including avoiding excessive caffeine and making sure to drink more water than you normally would to avoid dehydration. If you take NSAIDs or suffer from liver/kidney disease, you may want to avoid creatine supplements.

Protein Supplements

Protein supplements encompass a wide variety of types, grades and qualities. The most popular sources of protein supplements include whey, casein, soy and egg. Whey and casein are derived from milk. Whey is a fast-absorbing protein, so it’s ideal as a post-workout shake or a morning protein drink. Casein absorbs slowly, so it’s best used as a nighttime shake or during long periods of time between protein consumption. Soy comes from soybeans and is ideal for vegetarians and those at risk of heart disease. In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration supports the claim that 25 g of soy protein per day helps reduce the risk of heart disease.

Protein supplements may help support healthy muscle growth, recovery, increased ability to heal wounds/injuries, decrease body fat, improved immune system function and several other health benefits. However, consuming too much of these supplements can be dangerous, causing your kidneys to work extra hard to excrete the urea, a waste produce of the protein synthesis process. This can lead to certain diseases, such as gout, so it’s important to consume protein supplements within your body’s current need for protein. According to the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), your body can process up to 0.91 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight. For example, a 175-lb. person could handle as much as 159 grams of protein per day. Be advised that if you don’t workout consistently, consuming this amount of protein can lead to increased body fat and weight gain. Sedentary individuals should aim for closer to 0.36 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight; moderately-active people should fall somewhere in between.

L-Arginine

L-arginine, or simply arginine, is an amino acid found in certain foods, such as meat, dairy and fish; it’s also available in supplemental form. This health supplement treats a variety of ailments, including congestive heart failure (CHF), erectile dysfunction, bladder inflammation, and to improve your body’s ability to heal wounds following surgery. What does arginine do? Well, it basically enters the body and is converted to nitric oxide, or NO. NO causes your blood vessels to open wider, so your blood flow is increased. This is why it may be an effective treatment for anyone suffering from arterial blockages or related diseases that limit blood flow in some way. It may benefit the weightlifting community by helping much-needed amino acids and vitamins reach your muscle tissue more efficiently. Avoid taking arginine supplements if you suffer from low blood pressure, take nitrates or use Viagra or related drugs. The typical dosage is anywhere from 3 g to 20 g per day.

Branched-Chain Amino Acids

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) are available in supplemental form, including pills and powders. BCAAs consist of three essential amino acids, including leucine, isoleucine and valine. These three amino acids are beneficial in terms of muscle growth and recovery. A 2006 study published in The Journal of Nutrition investigated the effects of BCAAs on exercise performance and found it greatly increased the muscle’s ability to recover after an intense workout. BCAA health supplements are ideal for preserving lean muscle tissue, so it may be a good choice for anyone suffering from muscle atrophy (loss of muscle) or anyone trying to improve overall body composition.

ZMA

Zinc Monomethionine Aspartate, or ZMA, is a relatively new health supplement. It’s designed to increase strength and size by promoting the release of testosterone and human growth hormone (HGH) in the body. Early studies support this claim. An eight-week study conducted at Washington University found that ZMA supplementation in football players resulted in strength gains 2.5-times greater than the gains experienced by players not taking the supplement. Athletes and heavily-trained individuals commonly lack enough zinc and magnesium in their diet, so ZMA seems to benefit this group the most. ZMA is typically consumed 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime. More studies are necessary to conclusively say ZMA is a safe and effective health supplement.

L-Glutamine

L-glutamine, or glutamine, is a non-essential amino acid, meaning your body makes it. It’s the most abundant amino acid in your body, and glutamine deficiencies are rare. Exceptions include heavily-trained individuals, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) sufferers, those recovering from illness/surgery, or people under excessive stress on a regular basis. Glutamine at doses up to 14 g per day is generally safe to treat these particular conditions. Glutamine is beneficial to endurance and strength-training athletes as well. It helps support the protein synthesis process and benefits your immune system. People suffering from kidney/liver disease should avoid glutamine supplements.

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