Do you break into a panic when your stash of pre-workout starts running low? Have a different flavor of protein powder for every day of the week? Could you school most people on the various forms of creatine, the “anabolic window,” and how to bust through a muscle-building plateau when your gains have tapered off? When fitness is your lifestyle, you’re probably as dedicated to your sports supplement regimen as you are to your workout routine.
If the last few years have taught us anything, though, it’s that you can’t chase gains and PRs day after day without a solid foundation of health. (All the creatine in the world won’t do you any good if you’re not feeling well enough to train.) In fact, looking beyond your muscles and focusing on whole-body wellness actually levels up your fitness.
“Other areas of our health and wellbeing are the foundation of our fitness, performance, or physique success,” says The Vitamin Shoppe nutritionist Brittany Michels, R.D.N., L.D.N., C.P.T. “When they’re compromised or lacking, meeting our goals becomes more difficult.”
Now Entering The Age Of The Holistic Bodybuilder
Recently, even the most dedicated bodybuilders have been broadening their health goals to include factors beyond fitness. “More bodybuilders and gym-goers are realizing that stress management, sleep quality, baseline nutrient coverage, and hormonal balance impact their ability to accomplish their fitness goals,” notes Michels.
Some of the biggest brains and voices in the fitness world are even leading the paradigm shift. Take Kris Gethin, for example: The supplement and bodybuilding phenom has gone full-on biohacker, taking all aspects of his health as seriously as his lifting sessions, and turning into a literal superhuman in the process. (He trained for and completed a full IRONMAN triathlon in just six months.)
And then there’s 4x Mr. Olympia, Chris Bumstead, who recently launched Revive, a supplement brand created to help gymgoers harness the power of nature. The assortment features everything from turmeric to prostate support.
It’s not a groundbreaking concept that overall health is a prerequisite for crushing your fitness goals, especially as you set your sights higher and higher (think running a marathon, competing in a bodybuilding competition, and the like). It all comes down to understanding that the body is one big symphony.
“What we know now about human physiology is that various organ systems have cross talk,” explains Jacob Wilson, Ph.D., C.S.C.S.*D., CEO of the Applied Science and Performance Institute and member of The Vitamin Shoppe Wellness Council. “To truly master your body you have to understand it isn’t just the muscles but about every body system.”
How To Upgrade Your Supplement Routine For Better Health And Fitness
Ready to think more about your foundational health and its impact on your fitness? Here are a few specific supplement categories to focus on, all of which are featured in The Vitamin Shoppe’s new in-store Fit Lifestyle section:
An obvious place to start is with your intake of micronutrients (think vitamins and minerals) and other health-promoting compounds like antioxidants. Active people may need more antioxidants because of the stressful nature of training, as well as extra of certain minerals lost via sweat, notes Michels.
Plus, “many bodybuilders are creatures of habit and tend to eat the same foods over and over again,” says Wilson. “With low food variety comes low micronutrient density.” This is why a multivitamin (ideally one formulated specifically for sport) is an important staple for anyone who wants their body to perform in the gym.
Supergreens supplements can also be helpful here since they provide nutrients from vegetables (and sometimes fruits, as well), adds Michels.
2. Gut Health
“Turns out, the gut speaks to every organ, including your muscles, so if you don’t focus on gut health, you undercut your mental and physical health,” Wilson says. A healthy gut microbiome (think microbial diversity and healthy populations of those good gut bugs) helps the body manage inflammation and properly absorb nutrients, which not only support general health but are particularly important for active people, he explains. So, you can bet that addressing gut health will have legit payoffs in the gym. A daily probiotic supplement can go a long way in promoting a healthy microbiome.
3. Cognitive Function and Focus
Though many pre-workouts and energy drinks are incorporating more focus-boosting ingredients into their formulas, some gym-goers are looking to go further in supporting their brain function and mental performance, says Michels. After all, who will perform better in the gym—the individual who is more alert or the one who is mentally checked out after a long day? All sorts of nootropics are gaining popularity for exactly this benefit.
4. Adaptogens and Stress Support
Another category that’s crucial for everyone these days—and especially for active people—is stress support. “Stress that is uncontrolled raises stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, which, when chronically elevated, impair immune function, slow recovery, and make you gain fat and lose muscle,” Wilson explains. “By checking or managing stress, you can unlock your true potential.”
Remember, in addition to the everyday stresses of the modern world (think late-night emails and the rising cost of living), frequent, intense, or long workouts are also stressful for the body. That’s why adaptogens, which help to counteract the negative effects of stress on hormones, and other supplements that support calm are ideal for gym-goers, says Michels. Everything from the adaptogenic herb ashwagandha to the mineral magnesium and the amino acid l-theanine can be supportive.
The Bottom Line
As you start to fine-tune different aspects of your health and lifestyle to rev up your fitness results, you’ll find that your specific focus(es) will depend on many factors, such as the nature of your workouts, what your diet looks like, your quality of life outside the gym, and the type of environment you train in, says Michels. Working with a credentialed nutritionist is a great first step in supporting the foundation your fitness is built upon. (You can sign up for a free consultation with one of The Vitamin Shoppe’s nutritionists here.) No matter where you start, though, know that you’re doing your performance, physique, and overall well-being a big favor by expanding your supplement horizons beyond the usual sports nutrition suspects (though they certainly still deserve their place in your routine, too).