Top 7 Supplements for Athletes
Written by Michele Vieux

There is so much marketing and research out there on supplements – what to take, how much, who needs what – that it can be confusing to sift through and narrow down. I’ve spent a lot of time in the past couple months doing research on the web, through interviews and even by using myself as a test subject to try to figure it all out. The information I’ve compiled below should help you get a better understanding what you should be taking that you aren’t, what you are taking that you might not need to be spending money on, and of the quality of the current supplements that you are taking, how you can improve your regimen, and correct dosing and timing for your athletic goals.

Step one is to make sure that whatever supplements you are purchasing are of the highest quality since you are going to be putting them into your body. Just like California restaurant grades, there are different grades given to supplement (all pharmaceutical) companies depending on their practices, purity, environmental friendliness, and product quality. I don’t know about you, but I’ve worked in restaurants with an ‘A’ in the window that were pretty sketchy so I’d NEVER consume food from a ‘B’ or lower. The same goes for supplements. Current Good Manufacturing Practice (cGMP) is the gold standard and Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) is just below it but there is a world of difference between the two as GMP is a mandatory aspect in pharmaceutical manufacturing – it is the bare minimum. cGMP a step above – companies with that seal are going above-and-beyond the call of duty to make sure you are receiving the highest quality, most environmentally friendly, and bioavailable (useable by your body) supplements possible. You can check your labels or the company website to find out which seal they hold.

There are literally thousands of supplements out there for consumption and you could give a sound argument for the inclusion of many of them into your regimen. Unfortunately, this is not cost-effective or conducive to a happy life. Who wants to spend the entire day popping pills to ensure the proper timing for absorption and use by the body? I have narrowed down the list for you here to the Top 7 Supplements for Athletes, otherwise known a your primary supplements. Start with these and only these to see how you feel. If something’s still missing, then consider adding supplements particular to your situation or case (secondary supplements).

Top 7 Supplements for Athletes – Primary Supplements

  1. Omega 3 Fatty Acids (Fish Oil) are probably one of the most commonly used supplements on the market today and for good reason. When high quality fish oil is taken in large enough amounts, it provides the biggest bang for the buck as far as supplements are concerned. Most people know about the improved cardiovascular health and function, improved lipid profiles (lower triglycerides), improved brain function and mental acuity, and its powerful anti-inflammatory properties without harmful side effects like over the counter products. But what people don’t know is that every fish oil isn’t made the same. Depending on the size, type, or natural habitat of fish used and how it was processed can determine the quality and levels of toxins present. So besides looking for the cGMP seal, look for brands that use small, cold-water (near the polar ice cap so it is more pure) fish like anchovies or sardines vs. larger fish like tuna or those harvested in warmer waters. On the label, impurities are stated – look for those measured in parts per BILLION not parts per million. Athletes and those with body composition goals should start with 3,000 mg of fish oil spread out in 2-3 servings (it only lasts in the body about 8 hours) and work toward taking up to 6,000 mg per day.

  1. B-Vitamins increase energy production and are neurotransmitter cofactors so they help improve our mood, and they help us detoxify which we need after exercise (and binging). The process of building and repairing muscle (processing protein) depletes B-Vitamins so if you’re lifting heavy or damaging your muscle tissue in your workouts or job, you need to take extra B-Vitamins to help the rebuilding (strengthening) process because you are burning through them at an alarming rate. Look for Riboflavin-5’-Phosphate (B-2), methylcobalamin (B-12), Pyridoxal-5’-Phosphate (B-6), and Benfotiamine (B-1) on the label as they are the absorbable forms your body can use. Avoid any of the B Vitamins in the hydrochloride (HCL) form form as it is cheap and unabsorbable by your body. Definitely take this supplement in the morning as the B-12 will keep you awake. Don’t be afraid to take thousands of the US RDA. Your pee may be yellow, or even orange, so don’t freak out but I noticed that once I switched to non-HCL forms of the B-Vitamins, my pee was actually less yellow which means I was absorbing more!

  1. Magnesium is probably one of the top three recommended supplements for athletes as it is an essential element in biological systems and most athletes are likely deficient. I’ve seen recent studies stating that 85% of Americans are deficient and we all know that most Americans most certainly lead the typical sedentary, American lifestyle so imagine the deficiencies in the trained and even arguably over-trained population. Magnesium is important to athletes because it regulates heart rhythm, allows muscles to contract and relax properly, reduces blood pressure, and is necessary to produce ATP (the main source of energy in our cells) which must be bound to a magnesium ion in order to be biologically active. Check your bottle to avoid Sudden Poop Onset (SPO) here: Supplements based on amino acid chelates, such as Mg glycinate and Mg malate are much better tolerated by the digestive system and much more absorbable by the body the other (cheap) forms of magnesium such as Mg oxide or Mg carbonate. This is best taken post-workout on an empty stomach. Sedentary individuals need 600 mg a day and larger athletes in heavy training mode could do up to 2,000 mg a day.

  1. Vitamin D is more like a hormone than a drug. It is produced by the body when exposed to sunlight and most of us don’t produce enough (25,000 iu/day) even if we frequently are out in the sun. It would take you prancing around, practically naked for a couple hours a day to produce those levels of Vitamin D and most Americans are deficient. Vitamin D level is measured by hydroxyvitamin D – the chemical form – in the blood and “normal” levels are stated to be 35 but  that is considered by many to be a “maintenance” level and that levels upwards of 70-90 are ideal, especially for athletes (mine was at 35 when I was tested last Octber). Besides working with calcium to improve bone density, Vitamin D helps reduce inflammation, risk of colon and breast cancer, improves mood and upper respiratory health by aiding the fight against infections from viruses and other pathogens, and allows the brain to release melatonin so we can fall asleep easier – like when you’ve been out in the sun all day and are tired as soon as night falls. This is why Vitamin D is most effective when taken at night, about an hour before bedtime and liquid drops taken sublingually are the best form especially if you can hold the liquid under your tongue for 30 seconds before swallowing so it can really soak in and start to work before it has to be digested. According to Dr. Robert Seik at Triton Nutrition, Vitamin D supplementation up to 30,000 units to be safe and there are European studies that show 150,000 units for three days to treat upper respiratory tract infections that may be viral in nature.

  1. Protein, if taken within 10 minutes of training, will reduce the amount of stress hormones (mainly cortisol) released! This has a huge implication on belly fat (no pun intended). But don’t overdo it – 20-30 grams per hour is the maximum a body can digest and you only need .8-1.4 grams of protein per 1 kg of lean mass each day. Too much protein leads to body acidity which leads to many other problems. But the right amount of protein – besides providing energy –  repairs tissues and reduces muscle soreness. Protein should be eaten – from primarily animal sources – throughout the day and most certainly within 10 minutes of training. Whey protein is a highly marketed protein and is fairly inexpensive so it is frequently used by athletes. Many, however, have an intolerance to whey such as gas, bloating and postnasal drip. Soy protein is not a good option because 100% of soy is genetically modified and it is very low in branch chain amino acids which are necessary to build muscle. It increases estrogen levels in the body – the opposite of what someone trying to build strength wants – and many also have a food intolerance to soy. Casein is dairy derived so if you have an intolerance to whey, you may have an intolerance to Casein as well. Vegan protein that combines a wide variety of sources can be good options because they are less likely to produce allergies. Remember, only 20-30 grams maximum at a time!

  1. Vitamin C needs to be complexed to carbs to increase absorption so you don’t get SPO and you know what I mean if you’ve ever taken high doses of Vitamin C to “beat that cold”. That diarrhea is caused because the body is flushing out what it can’t absorb in the small intestine (your Vitamin C in the improper form). Vitamin C is mostly present in fruits – which contain fructose – thereby allowing your body to absorb the nutrient. If you are watching your sugar intake, there are products out there, like Bio Energy C, that use Ribose instead so you can avoid the insulin response associated with fructose intake. Ribose has also been proven to reduce oxidative stress (damage created by strenuous exercise) and aids in the removal of lactic acid as does Vitamin C so you get double bang for your buck with this product. Triple if you count the no SPO. But that’s not all! Vitamin C aids the production of our old friend, ATP, helps wound healing, and is a cofactor to building collagen and repairing muscle. The US RDA is 90 mg which is enough to prevent “index” diseases like scurvy. Athletes and other special populations should take a minimum of 4,000-8,000 mg a day and upwards of 16,000 mg a day as it is very difficult to overdose on Vitamin C. During and post-workout are the optimal times to take Vitamin C. You can even make your own energy drink with it and a few other, common ingredients!

  • Energy Drink Recipe

    • 1 cup coconut water

    • 1 cup water

    • ½ cup Organic Pomegranate Juice (no sugar added)

    • ½-1 teaspoon Hawaiian Pink Salt

    • 1 package Ola Loa vitamin drink mix (available at Whole Foods)

    • 1-2 scoops Bio Energy C

  1. Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), an important antioxidant also known as ubiquinone (good!), ubiquinol (not-so-good), and abbreviated at times to CoQ10. CoQ10 is the ONLY anti-oxidant found within cells and it allows the mitochondria to produce ATP. It also gets rid of  of lactic acid (and other waste). CoQ10 SHOULD be in the news more because of its important implications to the heart – which is high in CoQ10 to keep us ticking – when it is depleted from statins (drugs used to treat high cholesterol) and “stressful” athletic training/exercise (ultra-distance athletes, crossfitters, etc.). There have been a number of young, ultra-distance runners drop dead of cardiac failure in recent years and the discovery was the lack of CoQ10 in their hearts which caused scarring and damage from years of training abuse and I don’t want to see it happen to any of you, my CrossFit friends! Anyone who participates in strenuous training or is on statin drugs should take CoQ10. The best, most usable form of CoQ10 is ubiquinone (not ubiquinol because it enters the bloodstream but does not go into the cells) and delivered in oil (make sure it’s an approved oil and not soy which is common). Since fats enhance the absorption of CoQ10 it can enter the cells. Make sure not to take your CoQ10 at the same time as your fish oils because it can actually inhibit the absorption rate. A recommended dosage of CoQ10 is 100-200 mg a day and higher dosages can actually be used to treat diseases such as essential hypertension and certain heart arrhythmias. If you are an athlete, try increasing your dosage when you are approaching an event to improve performance, endurance, strength and recovery. Post-workout is best but I’d caution against taking it too close to bedtime if you are sensitive to stimulants – it does stimulate energy, especially in the heart, after all. It will also be best absorbed if it isn’t taken with fish oil or other oil-based supplements as they literally battle it out for absorption.

I am no expert and I have much to learn but I’ve found the research for this very interesting and I’d love to share my findings, personal preferences, and more with you if you have questions. If not, hopefully it is because this article helped you understand why we take different supplements, how to determine what you need to be taking, and how to judge the quality of your supplements so well that you don’t need to ask me anything! Like I said, I recommend starting with these and going from there to your secondary supplements if you still feel something is missing or you aren’t getting the results you are seeking. Remember, secondary supplements will be different for everyone but I hope to touch on a few common ones in an upcoming post. I can assure you that the research has begun!

  • Mary DeHart

    Fascinating stuff. I always take my magnesium at night but was not aware of taking Vitamin D in the evening too. Thanks for the info.

  • tmcglasson

    Is it more important to have the Omega 3’s or do they need to be in fish oil form because it seems like you can have it either way. If it has to be in fish oil, where do you find the right brand/line to get that much in a serving because it seems as though most fish oil supplements have a lot of filler that aren’t Omega 3’s but are included in the measurements.

    • Michele Vieux

      Yes, it has to be fish oil but it is okay if there are other Omegas in it too. Just watch out for non-Omega fillers like soybean oil. There are a number of pretty high quality brands out there, three of which – SFH, Pure Pharma, Barlean’s – we sell at Invictus. I would also recommend Triton Nutrition’s brand.

      • Benjamin Bowman

        There is Omega 3 in hemp seeds…

  • Judah Boulet

    Interesting read however, a few things not mentioned. With regards to fish oil supplementation, while O3’s are necessary, many studies have not shown them to be beneficial to long term health. Fish oil is a polyunsaturated oil and like all PUFA’s have a tendency to oxidize, and regardless of the source, oxidated PUFA’s wreak havoc on the body. Regardless of the quality of the fish oil source, or the grade of the fish oil from the company, all fish oils have the tendency to oxidize, and unless acutely inflammed, it may best to get your Omega 3’s from actual fish, instead of long term fish oil supplementation.

    The other recommendation which does not match what research has shown is the Vitamin D recommendation. Recent studies have shown that D levels in the 20-35 ng/dl range were correlated with the lowest mortality rates. The reason that higher levels of Vit D in these studies was associated with higher death could be that in these people, the Vitamin D was at a toxic level due to not enough vitamin A and K2 to balance out the high D levels. There is a lot of conflicting data and info especially with blood test regarding Vit D, as blood tests do not measure serum active Vit D levels (125 D), but the precursor (25-d), and there is not necessarily a 1:1 correspondence.

    • Benjamin Bowman

      There is plenty of Omega 3 in Hemp seeds. Not to mention many different proteins and fiber!

  • Mika Ingley

    my top 7
    1. fish oil
    2. zma
    3. vitamin C

    4. protein/bcaa’s/surge
    5. caffeine

    6. creatine

    7. vitamin D

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  • Michel Lucia

    This post is nice and informative to me, i am impressed by this site and this post


  • Ben Freeman

    Qivana natural supplements are being taken by PGA Tour player Rocco Mediate, Tim Herron and other LPGA Tours. The metaboliq system is the best system out there to help you correct your metabolism and control your weight. the Qore system is a great source of energy and other lines of products to help your body detoxify and support your immune system. The Prime system is the best NO activator on the market. check out our products ar http://www.qfromance.com. This is the cheapest place on the internet to purchase these products.

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  • Benjamin Bowman
  • Tom Pavant

    Great post !
    But are you sure uniquinone is more effective than ubiquinol ? I found plenty of articles saying it’s the opposit…

  • glen

    I agree but should talk to your doctor first but if unsure why not try a Kinesiologist. Their techniques using help to find what mineral and vitamins you maybe lacking.
    We have a list of vitamins here

    • sParky McStumbleson

      Why on earth would you go to a kinesiologist for advice on nutrient deficiency?? Safe to safe you go to a podiatrist to get your teeth cleaned? It’s folks like you that make reading blogs dangerous.

      • Wot

        Do you even know what a kinesiologist is?
        Go look it up before you claim this kid is dangerous, your ignorance may not be dangerous but it is extremely nauseating

        • sParky McStumbleson

          In fact I do, only since you asked. . . Has nothing to do with dietary intake. Biomechanics and muscular imbalance, especially in humans. I can recommend a gastrointestinal doc if you’re still suffering from nausea, or maybe a vet would be more appropriate for those that are challenged by evolution.

  • LP

    What bran of protein do you use? I’ve been looking around for what one to use but just can’t make up my mind as there a so many different ones….

    • TriDad

      It depends on your goals (bulking, lean gains, meal replacement…) but generally isolate is better to go for than concentrate

  • Leeroy

    Protein powder and fish oil are the only 2 i use. i found a great list here if anyone wants to check it out: http://www.fishoilfacts.net

  • Aris Estrada

    I have been using USANA Essentials for 4years now. It has complete B vitamins, CoEnzyme Q10, Vit C, Vit E, Magnesium as discussed in this article. All in all, 14vitamins, 13minerals and 25 antioxidants. It is proven safe, NSF certified, recognized excellence from ConsumerLab.com, won Utah Best of State awards for dietary supplements.USANA operates an FDA-registered facility, following the FDA’s highest possible standard for manufacturers. USANA also meets United States Pharmacopeia (USP) standards and specifications for potency, uniformity, and disintegration. I trust my health to USANA, like more than 600 world-class athletes—including the United States Ski and Snowboarding Association and the Women’s Tennis Association. Watch for more info: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e_ba5p3zjKU

    • Kerry Pomponio

      I trust Usana too and have been taking these products for 8 years.
      Now over 750 Olympic Athletes regularly take them. Ten years ago Usana was so bold as to say and still say if any Olympic Athlete carried any banned substance from taking Usana they would give them a million dollars!!! No other company has done this 10 years later.

      For more information:

      • Results

        another sales person for USANA which is a multi level marketing firm -enough said !

  • Pat McCormick

    If you want to improve VO2 Max Coenzyme A increases red blood cells, ejection fraction & endothelial function. CoA alone or in the MMUSA products.

  • Dr Jeff

    Fish oil not so good, try vegan based oils at pureformomega.com

  • This blog contains a lot of very useful information, even though I am not much of an athlete myself. That being said, after doing my own research I would recommend trying Doctor Recommended Krill Oil and/or Doctor Recommended COQ10 if you are looking to add these to your daily regimen. If interested, here are the links to those products: Krill Oil… http://www.doctor-recommended.com/general-health-supplements/extra-strength-krill-oil.html. COQ10… http://www.doctor-recommended.com/general-health-supplements/coq10-veggie-capsules-100-mg.html

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  • Where do you purchase all your supplements? online at a health store? Is there a onestop place I can get them all? I have been crossfittting for about 3 years and prior to that did triathlons. I have recently been feeling very fatigued after workouts but this could be the answer. It also, could be my age 🙂

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  • Shruti Sinha

    Great article. The only things that I take are multivitamins, fish oil, BCAAs occasionally and whey protein from http://www.ironhealthsupplement.com/ as I find it hard to reach my protein goal. I’ve been very suspicious of a lot of these supplements out there, do your research!

  • Michael Hughes

    Has anyone tried the Pre-workout recipe posted here?

  • Allen Marco

    I tried this using Beast Sports Nutrition Creature Powder it tasted awesome @disqus_OuNjEhQNWo:disqus

  • JohnMathew

    I am planning to use MusclePharm AMINO1, please share your suggestions

    • the Painful Truth

      I liked MP’s combat Protein, reputable company.

  • Well, Athletes need to grab a good hold on their stamina, body and tolerance. One of my racer friend is using hgh energizer now days to balance the energy quotient as she is a sprint racer.

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  • Scott

    Hi, I like your article but as someone who has studied nutrition I would suggest that you definitely do not take Vitamin D at night as it can lead to restless sleep. The best time to take it is in the morning as this will lead to a better sleep come bedtime. Just check this out for yourself or do some research. Also, hemp oil is probably better than fish oil as the seas now have extreme levels of contamination with many chemicals, the main being mercury which will be in the fish oils. The increased fish oil consumption is putting further strain on the dwindling fish supplies and it is not sustainable. Do some research and I think you’ll be glad you did. Hope this helps.

  • Adrian

    If it comes to the amount of proteins that can be digested: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4JE-wdA3PHw

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  • Great article!
    This article goes over supplements specifically for crossfit athletes, if anyone wants to check it out http://top10supplements.com/best-crossfit-supplements/

    • Pablo Sanchez

      Nah…only fags and sissy boys do cross fit

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  • Eric

    A fresh, brief and honest overview of what you need as opposed to the marketed BS you dont. Excellent review.

  • Simone Poggianti

    according to you when I can take magnesium and vitamin B, and in what quantity? thank you

  • Adna Tupkovic

    Are you guys sure about the dosage? I bought all these products but on the package it says 30 mg of CoQ10 while in article says 100-200 mg per day.. And not only for CoQ10 but for all other supplements.. Im confused…

    • Michael Ponce Jr.

      Try these

      • Michael Ponce Jr.

        I tried to upload a pic

  • Myself

    Protein causing blood PH to become “too acidic” has been shown to be categorically untrue. Body PH stays consistently at 7.4 (slightly alkaline) and is strictly regulated by the kidneys. Acid does not put undue stress on the kidneys; they merely release bicarbonate as it is needed. It’s also been proven that acidic diets and alkaline diets can both be healthy; the PH of a diet is completely unreliable as a marker of its healthiness. For a heavily documented and well researched article, check out Chris Kresser’s two-part article: http://chriskresser.com/the-ph-myth-part-1/

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