By: Tim Rigby (Courtesy of Inside Fitness)
Early in 2019 a report conducted by The Harris Poll found that 86 per cent of adult Americans (over the age of 18) consume supplements or vitamins. This overwhelming trend includes adults who are not committed or invested in regular exercise, and almost certainly confirms that the propensity of consumers to purchase supplements is likely at an all-time high. Considering that a few scant decades ago, only a fraction of the populace consumed vitamins (and there were only a handful of sports supplements on the market), one can easily draw the conclusion that not only are supplements are here to stay, but they also work.
Sports nutritional supplements specifically can be a valuable adjunct to your training, nutrition plan and overall health. In this feature, we're pleased to present our annual look at supplements – what they are and how they work – including a selection of some of the hottest and most effective supps on the market today. This guide will be divided into five sections (Protein Powders, Pre-Workout Products, Muscle Builders, Fat Loss Support Supplements and Greens Products), providing you with a framework that's easy to navigate through. All you need to do is determine your fitness goals, take a look at all the magnificent brands on the market today, and find the ones that are right for you.
A quality protein powder is a foundational supplement for the vast majority gym goers today. As its name implies, a protein powder is just that: a powdered source of highly concentrated protein that supplies a quick and readily usable source of protein anytime throughout the day (including before and after your workout). In addition to helping you meet your daily protein requirements, a quality protein powder (via the amino acids it supplies) is also key for helping increase muscle mass and heightening recovery, while supporting metabolism and hormone regulation. Here are some of the more common sources of protein typically found in products on the market today.
Whey Protein Isolate
Whey protein isolate is a favourite among many fitness and training enthusiasts because of its high Biological Value (BV). During the processing of whey isolate, there is a substantial removal of lactose and fats, making it one of the purest forms of protein available. Whey isolate also contains a particularly high ratio of branched chain amino acids (BCAA's), which help prevent muscle catabolism. If you were to take a survey of competitive fitness athletes along with elite-level sports athletes, you’d find whey protein isolate to be one of the most commonly used proteins for its outstanding ability to help repair tissue, and support the muscle-building process.
Whey Protein Concentrate
In its concentrate form (and also as contained within various protein blends), standard whey protein concentrate is an excellent choice for those seeking an economical benefit alongside the many nutritional advantages it possesses. Although whey protein concentrate is less expensive than the isolate form, it still possesses a higher BV than egg protein, and is a pure source with water, lactose, ash and some minerals removed during processing. Some protein blends on the market today will provide a combination of isolate, concentrate and other forms of whey. Ultimately, you’re the one who benefits from protein supplementation that’ll help you build muscle mass and don’t forget, additional muscle mass will boost your metabolism and help you burn fat more efficiently.
Although it took some time for slow-digesting protein powders to cement their place in supplement stacks, they are now very popular, thanks in large part to advances made in the science of nutrient timing. Casein is one of the most popular forms of protein acting in a slow-digesting manner accounting for about 75 per cent of all the protein found in bovine milk. It's similar to whey in that it’s considered a “complete” protein, containing the minerals calcium and phosphorous. Where whey isolate and whey protein blends are often consumed immediately post-workout, slow-digesting proteins - the most popular being micellar casein - are generally consumed prior to bedtime, so that they may absorb in a steady manner overnight.
Many of the leading sports nutritional brands now offer a vegan protein powder to those in the market looking for an alternative to dairy and animal-based protein products. Oftentimes made up of ingredients like brown rice, quinoa, pea, pumpkin seed and hemp - which are isolated and carefully manufactured to produce a concentrated, high quality powdered supplement - plant based protein powders have come to have a loyal following. From a digestion standpoint, these powders are not as fast as whey and not as slow as casein, meaning they fall falling somewhere in the middle. One way manufacturers round out the amino acid profile of plant-based protein powders is by combining a few different vegan protein sources together (brown rice, pumpkin seed, etc.), which is beneficial to the end user as well.
Beef protein powder has risen in popularity over the last few years with several products coming to market, which, like the vegan based powders, capitalize on the dairy-free aspect of the protein. Typically, the manufacturing process involves isolating the protein component (which removes the saturated fat) and then hydrolyzing it, which breaks it down into its constituent amino acids. The end result is a powdered beef protein, which is usually flavored to produce a smooth finished product. The advantages of beef protein powder lie in its complete amino acid profile, and in the fact that it's a natural source of creatine.
Collagen is the main structural protein found in the body. Collagen based protein powders are popping up more and more on store shelves these days with many fitness athletes choosing to plug and play this supplement into their stack — thanks in large part to its reported abilities to help ease joint pain, support muscle growth and improve both skin and bone health.