If you’re an athlete, you may have found yourself at the local health food store or a fitness and nutrition-focused store (GNC, The Vitamin Shoppe, online stores, etc.) and been faced with some tempting options: products that act as workout aids, recovery supplements, protein powders, energy aids, pain relievers, muscle-bulking agents, energy drinks, vitamins, and more.
You know what we mean, right?
While many of these may work in what they promise to do, that doesn’t mean they’re the best (or most natural) option. Many protein powders are filled with highly processed ingredients, sugar, unnecessary chemicals, GMOs, stabilizers, and very cheap forms of protein.
Building muscle and improving your fitness starts in the kitchen first and foremost. If your diet is lacking in whole food forms of protein, complex carbs, and healthy fats in a healthy balance, no athletic aid out there will carry you very far. However, if you’re already eating a healthy, athletic-friendly diet, there are some options you can choose from to take things up a notch. Just be mindful of what you also need to avoid in the process; marketing is a real beast these days, even to those of us with deceiving eyes!
Here’s what to choose and what to skip:
Non-GMO Plant-Based Proteins
Plant-based protein powders can be an excellent way to recover after a workout, refuel afterwards, or even used in many recipes to boost your protein content for the day. What you need to look for are whole food-based, non-GMO options. These are less processed, don’t contain chemicals and MSG, and many are even organic. Skip the whey protein which is inflammatory, can aggravate allergies, upset your tummy, and isn’t the only way to build muscle. Also be sure you skip soy protein isolate, even if it’s plant-based. This is one of the highest processed forms of soy you can consume and can aggravate or cause allergies. When including soy in the diet, eat real food forms that are not genetically modified instead (tofu, tempeh, edamame). Or, go with a simple, single plant-based protein … hemp protein! It’s full of all the amino acids you need; just be sure you to choose a brand that’s non-GMO and raw to get the most benefits.
This supplement is used today as both an athletic aid and a natural digestive healer. Glutamine is one of the most important amino acids that assists with muscle growth and recovery, but it also helps heal inflammation. It’s a miracle for leaky gut syndrome, but can also help preserve lean muscle, ward off sugar cravings, and boost your energy before and after a workout. To choose the best option, buy it in powder form which is vegan, raw, and the most natural option. You can add this to your workout shake or smoothie, stir it in overnight oatmeal, or add it to any cool dish (do not heat it or eat in warm form as it isn’t as beneficial).
Branch chain amino acid supplements are also helpful to preserve muscle and prevent muscle breakdown, especially right before and after a workout. These amino acids include L-leucine, L-Isoleucine, and L-valine (the L means they’re an easier to absorb form). BCAA’s require no digestion and are rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream for immediate repair and use. They are helpful when you’re not able to eat a protein-rich meal before a workout (which might leave you with a heavy stomach) and can be used right after a workout. BCAA’s can easily be found in vegan form; many plant-based protein powders are also enhanced with them as another option.
Instead of pre-workout aids and energy boosters, go with the most natural option possible … maca! Maca powder is a marvelous energizer, full of amino acids to help with recovery, can optimize your hormones and muscle growth, along with enhance metabolism, boost brain health, and even help with inflammation and cramps. See more benefits of this Peruvian superfood powder here, and many ways to put it to use with our maca recipes!
These four basics are great places to start, but you should also make sure you implement a top-quality multivitamin, a B12 supplement, and are eating a clean diet to start with. Those foundation steps are key, and after that, these four aids above will take things to the next level. If you’re a hard-core athlete and have some other items you love and use that are natural, healthy, and plant-based, be sure you let us know in the comments.
See our sample plant-based meal plans for basic athletes, bodybuilders, and endurance athletes for some delicious meal and snack ideas. Remember, you only get one set of muscles, so give them some love, not inflammatory foods or chemicals and crazy, processed concoctions.
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