Although there is no true one-size-fits-all supplement plan, there are a number of essential vitamins and nutrients that all active women need. Whether you’re a CrossFitter, a yogi or a marathoner, these five supplements should be part of your daily regimen.
Iron is a necessary component of hemoglobin, the compound in red blood cells that transports oxygen from your lungs to your working muscles. For athletes, iron deficiency means impaired aerobic metabolism, fatigue, shortness of breath and a reduced capacity to utilize oxygen to produce energy. Athletes have more red blood cells than non-athletes, and as a result need more iron. Female athletes are at greater risk for deficiency because they lose iron not only through perspiration but also during menstruation. And if you’re an endurance athlete your risk ratchets up another notch because of foot-strike hemolysis, in which red blood cells are destroyed when feet repeatedly pound a hard surface.
Daily dose: 15 to 20 milligrams
Eat: Oatmeal, lentils, leafy greens, fish, dried fruit, red meat, poultry
Take as: Part of a women’s formula multivitamin or a pill that contains vitamin C to enhance uptake
Do not consume with: Caffeine, calcium or zinc, which may inhibit absorption
Most people know calcium as a bone-strengthening mineral, but it also plays an important role in muscle contractions, the conduction of nerve impulses, blood clotting and hormone release. Athletes excrete calcium through perspiration, causing electrolyte imbalances that can lead to cramps and muscle spasms, and calcium deficiency puts active women at an increased risk for stress fractures. Symptoms of a calcium deficiency include confusion, numbness and tingling in the hands, feet and face, and weak nails.
Daily dose: 1,000 to 1,500 milligrams
Eat: Cheese, yogurt, spinach, almonds, sardines, broccoli
Take as: A pill that also contains vitamin D and/or phosphorous to enhance absorption
Do not consume with: Iron
Plenty of research has linked omega-3 fatty acids to eye health, reduced risk of depression and heart disease, and healthy skin and nails. But of particular interest to athletes are the findings that omega 3s help increase protein synthesis by helping your body transform amino acids into muscle fibers. Omega3s also reduce muscular soreness and aid in recovery via their natural anti-inflammatory and pain-blocking properties. These good fats also play an important role in bone strengthening by increasing calcium absorption, and some studies actually indicate that omega-3s turn on the genes in your body that stimulate fat burning during exercise.
Daily dose: 500 to 1,000 milligrams
Eat: Fatty fish (salmon, mackerel), flaxseed oil, chia seeds, raw nuts, soybeans, spinach
Take as: A pill or gelcap consumed with food (to avoid “fish burps” choose a pharmaceutical-grade product or one that is labeled “odorless”)
Do not consume with: Omega-6s, primrose oil, sesame oil or pumpkin oil
Technically, you can get all your daily protein needs through food, but women generally tend to consume too little. So if you’re about gaining lean muscle and losing fat, you’re shortchanging your potential. Providing your body with the raw materials needed to repair tissues postworkout means faster recovery, reduced muscle soreness and a decrease in stress hormones such as cortisol, which drive your system to store fat rather than burn it. Protein powders come in all forms from vegan-friendly plant-based products to straight up beef protein for carnivores. Look for a product that lists protein as its first ingredient, that is low in carbohydrates and which has little if any added sugar, to eliminate unnecessary calories.
Daily dose: 1.2 grams per kilogram (2.2 pounds) bodyweight for maintenance and 1.8-2.0 grams per kilogram for building muscle
Eat: Chicken, eggs, low-fat dairy, lean beef, lean pork, fish, beans
Take as: A powder blended with water, milk, nondairy milk
Do not over-consume: Any excess calories can still be stored as fat, so accurately calculate your daily needs
Dehydroepiandrosterone is a “master hormone,” produced in the adrenal glands, that plays a role in more than 150 metabolic functions, including the formation of muscle-building sex hormones and supporting a healthy metabolism. As you age, you produce less DHEA and your body does not have enough raw material to facilitate proper endocrine function. This might lead to fatigue, moodiness, depression, weight gain, aching joints and loss of muscle mass. Research suggests that supplementing with DHEA can help alleviate these symptoms, as well as improving libido and burning fat. And since it is synthesized in part from cholesterol, DHEA helps lower cholesterol levels in the body.
Daily dose: Consult with your doctor for a level appropriate for you
Eat: There are no foods that contain DHEA
Take as: A capsule
Do not use if: You have heart issues, liver disease, pregnant or breastfeeding or if you are under 30, unless directed by a physician