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summer sports stack: fit man outside shaker bottle

How To Level Up Your Sports Stack For Peak Summer Performance

Nothing marks the start of summer quite like a new set of swimsuits, sunglasses, and slides—but your wardrobe isn’t the only thing that needs a seasonal upgrade. Now’s the time to reassess your supplements! 

For one, during the hot and humid summer months, “your body has to work harder to regulate your internal temperature (via sweating), says Brittany Michels, R.D.N, M.S. C.P.T, a registered dietitian and certified personal trainer with The Vitamin Shoppe. This requires greater energy intake while altering your fluid and electrolyte needs

Further, people are generally outside more often during the summer than they are the rest of the year, as well as more active overall, both of which can alter your nutritional needs, says ​​board-certified holistic health practitioner Karen Linardakis-Cooney B.C.H.H.P., C.N., a nutritionist with The Vitamin ShoppeEditing your supplement line-up can help you accommodate all the physical, environmental, and physiological changes that accompany this seasonal transition. “Adding certain supplements to your stack can help ensure you’re getting the essential vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that may be depleted due to sweating, increased energy expenditure, and higher metabolic demands of the summer months,” says Cooney.

Ahead, a look at the ways you can level up your sports supplement stack for optimal health, fitness, and physique gains throughout the summer. 

Jump On The Electrolyte Bandwagon 

Public service announcement: Staying hydrated doesn’t start and stop with drinking water. “Hydration requires the proper balance of water and electrolytes intake,” says dietitian and strength coach Albert Matheny, R.D., C.S.C.S., COO of ARENA and co-founder of SoHo Strength Lab in New York City. 

Electrolytes are a category of essential minerals—including sodium, calcium, potassium, magnesium, and phosphate—that exist naturally within our bodily fluids. Their primary function is to puppeteer how much fluid your cells retain, says Matheny. “They work to help your cells achieve cellular homeostasis, which is a perfect balance of electrolytes and fluid,” he explains. Electrolytes also play a critical role in regulating your heart rhythm and muscle and nerve function, adds Cooney. 

When you sweat, as you are likely to do often in the summer, you lose both fluid and electrolytes, says Michels. You need to replenish both to achieve optimal hydration. If, for example, you drink too much water and don’t also take in electrolytes, your electrolyte-fluid balance can get thrown out of whack. “The water ends up diluting your electrolytes,” explains Matheny. When this happens, your body will usually try to regain balance by excreting extra liquid. As such, you aren’t necessarily more hydrated than you were before guzzling. In extreme cases, this kind of imbalance can even lead to arrhythmia, nausea, vomiting, and even death, according to Matheny. 

For those times when you’re sure to sweat buckets, electrolyte supplements come to the rescue. Typically powdered mixes or tablets you add to water, these supplements help you boost your fluid and electrolyte intake at once, says Michels. The result? Improved hydration levels! One study published in Nutrients in 2021 found that individuals who consumed an electrolyte-infused drink post-exercise were better hydrated than those who drank regular ol’ H2O. 

If you’re a heavy sweater, Michels recommends opting for an option that contains higher amounts of sodium—over 500 milligrams. Though that might sound like a lot, you lose more sodium than other electrolytes through sweat and need to replenish it, she explains. Two options to consider are Liquid I.V. Hydration Multiplier and Transparent Labs Hydrate Electrolyte Formula

You’ll also want to take a peek at the sugar content of the mix before purchasing. While options like Nuun Sport Electrolyte Tablets and Bare Performance Nutrition Electrolytes are sugar-free, others like Liquid I.V. contain about as much sugar as a cup of OJ. “If you are exercising specifically because you want to lose weight, then you probably want to avoid the additional calorie intake of a higher-sugar mix,” says Matheny. However, if you are training for an endurance event and working out for more than an hour at a time, those quick carbohydrates may actually improve performance, he says.  

Keep Up With Your Protein Powder 

You might not have your sights set on bulking up this time of year, but that doesn’t mean you should forsake your protein powder. When you consume protein powder, the body breaks it down into its chemical building blocks, called amino acids, which it uses for energy, to build, maintain, and repair muscles and bones. Since people are generally more active in the summer, engaging in physically demanding activities such as hiking, kayaking, gardening, and frisbee, many actually need to consume more protein than usual during the warmer months to usher along muscle recovery after a day of outdoor adventuring, Michels explains. 

Read More: How Long Does Protein Powder Last?

“Consuming protein powder during and after summer activity can help support muscle repair and growth following those exercises,” agrees Cooney. Not only does one serving of protein powder usually provide at least 20 grams of protein per serving, but it’s easy to transport, space-efficient, and doesn’t require refrigeration the way other protein sources (like cold cuts, cottage cheese, or hard-boiled eggs) do. 

Consider Carbohydrate Powder To Fuel Adventures

If your plans for the summer involve spending long stretches on the move outside, you’ll need ample carbohydrates in the tank. Without enough stored carbohydrates (glycogen) or free-floating carbohydrates (glucose) available to fuel you, your body will be forced to break down muscle tissue to use its amino acids for energy, according to Michels. Even if you’re not engaging in summer activities with improved muscle mass or strength gains in mind, this is not ideal. After all, greater muscle mass has been linked with a stronger immune system, a faster metabolism, reduced risk of injury, and greater independence as you age, to name just a few benefits. 

Be it a long beach run or bike ride, “for summer activities lasting longer than one hour, using a carbohydrate powder can help ensure your body has the energy to keep going,” says Michels. These powders, which are designed to be mixed into water, contain easily digestible carbohydrates that the body can immediately tap into for extra fuel, she explains. Indeed, research published in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Metabolism found that those who consumed a carbohydrate supplement drink throughout exercise had more stable blood glucose levels and better athletic performance than those who drank water alone. 

Your move: Start sipping a drink made from one of these mixes 30 to 45 minutes into your activity. Then, continue to do so throughout its duration to keep moving and grooving as long as you want. Some carbohydrate supplements, like those from Demoday and True Athlete, contain just carbohydrates (usually 20 to 30 grams per serving) and not much else. Others, like those from Dymatize Nutrition, contain both carbohydrates and protein—though the amount of each nutrient varies greatly from product to product, so be sure to read the label carefully. 

Add Some Collagen Already!

If you’re not already supplementing with this buzzy ingredient, the turn of the seasons might just incentivize you to start. 

A naturally-occurring protein in the body, “collagen helps maintain the skin’s strength and elasticity, acting as a natural barrier against UV damage,” says Cooney. (The nutrient also supports joint health and function, bone health, and muscle mass preservation.) “The summer sun and increased UV exposure can accelerate the breakdown of collagen in the skin,” which can lead to a range of internal and external side effects, including wrinkles and joint stiffness, Cooney explains. 

Supplementing with collagen helps you support your body’s natural collagen levels, even as the sun works overtime to deplete them. As such, Cooney says that “supplementation can help support your overall joint mobility and function, support skin health, and reduce discomfort, allowing you to enjoy summer activities with greater ease.” 

Collagen supplements are available in a range of forms, as well as flavors. The most effective collagen supplement, though, is the one you’ll take consistently. So, be it a collagen powder, capsule, gummy or chew, what’s most important is daily adherence. Most options contain 2.5 to 15 grams of collagen, which is the range that’s been deemed effective by research. 

Manage Creatine-Induced Bloating

No matter the season, if you’re upgrading your supplement line-up, you want to add creatine to the mix, Matheny says.

Though creatine was long regarded as a supplement for lifters and people trying to get huge (understandable, considering it has been shown to effectively increase strength and muscle size, as well as support workout recovery), it’s becoming clear that the supplement is beneficial for everyone, regardless of their age, activity level, or particular fitness goals, he says. 

The reason? More and more research has been highlighting its neuroprotective benefits. One review published in the journal Nutrients in 2021 found that creatine supplementation can support cognitive function, particularly for those who are sleep-deprived, depressed, elderly, or navigating a brain injury. Meanwhile, a 2023 study published in Nutrition Reviews found that supplementation improved memory. 

Read More: 9 Ways To Flush Out Excess Water Weight

Whether your summer days are marked by outdoor activities or errands, business-wear or bathing suits, you might be hesitant to take creatine if you’ve heard that initial supplementation can lead to bloating. Creatine does draw more water into the muscle cells (that’s one of the reasons it’s associated with increased muscle size). However, creatine usually only leads to unwanted face and belly bloating when you kick off creatine supplementation with a loading phase, which involves taking very high doses to saturate your muscle cells with it, says Matheny. 

To add creatine to your summer routine sans bloating, stick to just three to five grams per day and skip the initial loading phase, he suggests. Drinking adequate water can also help avoid bloat. It may sound counterintuitive, but the body is more likely to hold onto water when you’re under-hydrated, leaving you looking bloated.

You can also try swapping your creatine monohydrate for creatine HCl, a highly water soluble form of creatine known for being easier on the GI tract.

Swap Your Usual Flavors For Seasonal Favorites

Even if you don’t change any of the actual supplements you take, you can still get in on the summertime vibes and have fun with your supplement stack. 

One easy way to do it: try out different flavor profiles. If your usual fruit punch-flavored pre-workout or BCAA supp is feeling stale, consider swapping it for summery flavors like lemonade, watermelon, or mojito

You can even do this with your protein. Flavors like chocolate, vanilla, cookies-and-cream, and peanut butter are delicious, but they are also decidedly heavy. For the summer, check out options like Isopure Infusions 100% Whey Protein Isolate in Citrus Lemonade or Mixed Berry.

Get Creative With Summer-Worthy Recipes

You might also use this season as an excuse to test-drive refreshing recipes that incorporate your go-to supplements. You could, for example, make a functional mocktail with your favorite energy drink. Or, add your go-to electrolyte mix into a seltzer. Sick of the protein pancakes or oatmeal you’ve been eating since wintertime? Make protein-packed “nice cream” with frozen banana and your favorite protein powder instead.

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