Weight training and all other forms of physical training exact a toll on the body that must be recovered from. The training itself is an external stimulus and the only way to create that stimulus is by actually doing the work and exercising! The process of adaptation to the physical stress of training however occurs inside of your body at a cellular level. This process happens outside of the gym while the body is in a state of rest. It can take as little as 24 hours or even up to 10 days depending on the nature and intensity of the training session. It is only when your body has adapted to a given physical stimulus that it can begin expressing a higher level of fitness and performance.
Optimizing the cellular process of recovery is an extremely important component of a successful exercise program. It is crucial to examine the elements that govern and speed up the recovery process because the faster you can recover, the more you can train and the better your results will be. While there exists many elements that govern the recovery process of the body to any workout, the one we are focused on today is the nutrient density of our diet. The body requires raw materials to repair the tissues and internal systems that are affected by training and without a proper supply, the recovery process is totally inhibited or at the very least not optimized. This is where food and supplementation come into play.
The nutrient density of a diet is essentially the total amount of vitamins, antioxidants, amino acids, minerals and related nutritive compounds that are ingested by the body. A diet that consists of higher quality food and provides more nutrients to the body is superior to a diet that consists of low quality food that does not provide the same nutritional value. It is for this reason that I see better results in trainees who eat organic, locally grown produce and grass-fed animal products. Organic food and properly raised animals contain more nutrients per gram than their conventionally produced counterparts. A carrot that was grown in fertile organic soil is not the same as a carrot that is grown from over harvested and toxic conventional soils. If the nutrients are not in the soil, they are not in the food. It’s that simple.
Supplements or Natural Health Products (NHPs) as we call them in Canada, are one of the easiest ways in which you can increase the nutrient density of your diet. Thanks to today’s research and science, we have at our disposal the ability to use products that can increase our strength, augment our exercise performance and speed recovery. Most of these products are safe and many of them are backed with ample scientific data to support their use. Supplements can do much more, but for today we will focus on recovery.
Supplements have been around for a long time and have existed in various forms throughout the ages. Bee pollen, bone meal powder, cod liver oil and brewer’s yeast are among some of the most rudimentary supplements that have been around in the last 100 years and widely used to provide additional dietary support. In fact flax seed oil has been produced in Russia since the 19th century! Now in 2014 with our ever increasing technological capacity, we can make even more advanced, unadulterated and more biologically active nutrient compounds. Any experienced weight trainee, bodybuilder or athlete can tell you that supplements work. Personally, I have been using supplements for over 10 years with absolutely no harm! My body is free of disease, strong, lean, and totally functional. I recommend various supplements to all of my clients to help them achieve their health and fitness goals.
Here are the 3 most important basic weight training supplements for beginners! In fact all trainees will benefit from adding these supplements to their regime.
A multivitamin serves as the backbone to any supplement program. A multivitamin should be used to complement and enhance a dietary program. It is the use of both high quality food and a high quality multivitamin that will yield the best nutrient density.
A good multivitamin will contain all or most of the following nutrients: Vitamin A, Vitamin E, Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Vitamin B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B12, Folic Acid, Biotin, Calcium, Magnesium, Zinc, Iron, Copper, Manganese, Chromium, Selenium, and Iodine. Additional nutrients such as Vitamin K, Choline, Inositol, Boron, Molybdenum, Potassium, Vanadium and Digestive Enzymes are bonuses and their addition adds a completeness that most multivitamins do not have.
Without these very important nutrients, recovery processes may not be able to even take place at all. For example, a deficiency of Zinc and Vitamin B6 may not allow protein synthesis inside the cell. This means that it would be next to impossible to build an appreciable amount of muscle mass because the cellular nutrients which catalyze the process of muscle growth are not present in the cell in the first place! It doesn’t even matter how much protein you eat in this case! Another example would be iron deficiency which can lead to anemia. This is especially common in female athletes due to menstruation, a lack of dietary meat and flesh, and the increased demands for iron that come with intensive training.
It is important to start recognizing that as an active individual engaged in a healthy lifestyle which includes regular exercise, that your nutrient demands are much higher than Mr. Average Joe. In fact, you should start considering yourself an athlete from now on!
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are classified as “Essential Fatty Acids” and cannot be synthesized by the body. Therefore, they must be derived from food or supplement for optimal health. Among all the different types of fat, it is the omega-3 fatty acids that are considered to be the most powerful and of utmost importance to the human body. In fact it is estimated that nearly 40% of the fat in the grey matter of our brains is made of the omega-3 fat: docosahexanoic acid (DHA).
There exists 3 major omega-3 fatty acids: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), docosahexanoic acid (DHA), and eicosapentanoic acid (EPA). Alpha-linolenic acid is strictly found in the plant kingdom. Common sources include flax seeds and hemp seeds. DHA and EPA are found only within the animal kingdom and can be obtained from fish, seafood and grass-fed or wild animal products. How often do you eat these foods? If you said seldomly you are certainly not alone. Omega-3 fatty acid deficiency is rampant everywhere in the world and contributes to nearly every disease state imaginable including obesity and depression.
Omega-3 fatty acids can be supplemented with the use of high quality fish oils from several sources such as sardines, mackerel, krill, anchovy, and squid and they can also be obtained by using various seed oils such as flax seed and hemp seed oil. I personally use both fish oil and a mixture of flax and hemp seed oil to increase the omega-3 fatty acid content of my diet. My own personal story about omega-3 fatty acids began when I was working for GNC when I was 18 years old. I complained of low mood and depression to one of my colleagues who quickly suggested I began supplementing fish oil. He recommended to me that I take 10 – 12 grams daily which is the equivalent of 10 – 12 capsules. I took his advice and the result was dramatic. I’ve been using omega-3 oils daily since.
It should be of no surprise to see protein powder on this list. The word protein is actually derived from the Greek word “proteios” which literally means “to come first”. Protein is one of the 3 major macronutrients which also include carbohydrate and fat. Unlike fat and carbs, protein is the only nutrient that the body cannot store for later use. This is because your body is actually made up of protein. Your hair, your skin, your muscle tissues, bone cells, nerve cells, enzymes, the list goes on. Virtually every cell in your body is made up of proteins. When your body does not get enough protein it will actually cannibalize it’s own tissue to supply demand. The importance of adequate dietary protein cannot be stressed enough as nearly every trainee I see makes the mistake of misunderstanding their actual requirements for protein.
Today, we have various protein powders at our disposal. Of them all, whey protein isolate is the best and provides the absolute most bang for your buck out of any protein powder. However, some people may be intolerant to some of the components of whey protein. For these people I recommend brown rice, hemp, yellow pea and/or egg protein powders to be used as alternatives.
The absolute best time to use protein powders would be immediately following your workout, however they can be used to augment protein intake at any time of the day. They can be used alongside meals or used as meal replacement smoothies. I often mix 1 to 2 scoops of protein powder, water, berries and flax seed oil together to make a nutritious quick and easy smoothie as a snack in between meals. There also exists many baking recipes on the internet that use protein powders to fortify nutritious snacks.
I hope you have come to understand the power and importance of nutrition with respect to supplementation. Augmenting a high quality diet with high quality supplements will lead to increase levels of health, fitness and performance. Part 2 of this series will continue to lead you down into the world of supplements as we will begin to learn about powerfully effective sports supplements such as creatine and glutamine.