fish oil capsules

While I don’t like to see supplements used to make up for a bad diet, I know there are many situations that call for supplementation. The life of an endurance athlete just happens to be one of them!

With the beatings we put on our bodies, and the limited time we have to consume whole foods without upsetting our training time, supplements are vital to stay healthy and keep performance levels high.

Here are my top 5 supplements that I consider “must haves” for all endurance athletes:

1. High-Potency Fish Oil

You get plenty of Omega-6 and 9 fats from typical dietary sources (walnuts, olive oil, etc.), but Omega-3 fats are hard to come by outside of seafood. And the occasional salmon dinner or pizza with anchovies (or flax seed in your smoothies) probably isn’t enough.

Omega-3’s offer many benefits – everything from heart health to faster workout recovery – so they’re a great supplement for anyone wanting to be fit and healthy.

Dosage: You’ll want to take around 4-8g per day to start (you can then adjust as necessary), so I suggest going with “extra strength” or “pharmaceutical grade” fish oil to cut down on the number of pills you have to take.

Recommendations: I like Barlean’s, Carlson’s, and even Now Foods. Barlean’s Ultra EPA-DHA is generally more expensive, but it’s one of the best fish oils money can buy. Carlson Labs Elite Omega-3 is a good choice at a reasonable price, with the Now Foods Ultra Omega 3 being the best value (most of the time).

2. BCAA (Branced-Chain Amino Acids) Powder

BCAAs can improve your workout performance and help preserve muscle tissue, all without carbs, calories, or caffeine. These are very popular for preserving muscle mass and strength while on a super low calorie diet (think bodybuilders cutting to 3% bodyfat for a competition). But guess what – endurance athletes have similar struggles; the difference is that ours are brought on by excessive calorie burning during rides, not necessarily from lack of caloric intake. Either way, you benefit.

Dosage: For strength training, mix one serving (generally one scoop) in water and drink 15 minutes pre-workout. For longer cardio workouts, drink half a serving 15 minutes pre-workout, the other half during the workout. For really long workouts, feel free to experiment with one scoop of BCAAs per water bottle.

Recommendations: Most importantly, get a canister of powder, not pills. You’d have to take way too many pills to get the right dosage. If you want a good tasting, flavored drink mix, Scivation Xtend if the #1 choice. Otherwise, just about any unflavored powder will do – Optimum Nutrition, BioTrust, Now Foods, etc.

3. A Good Protein Powder

If you can fit enough meat and eggs into your diet, at each meal, great. But we often can’t get enough protein that way due to work, training schedules, and other time constraints. That’s why I keep protein powder on hand – it’s a quick and convenient way to make sure I’m hitting my protein quota on any given day.

Generally I use and recommend whey protein isolate, which is good quality, good tasting, easy to mix in a Blender Bottle, quickly absorbed, and reasonably priced. You may also consider rice, pea, or hemp protein for a change. (The only one I avoid is soy, simply due to too much conflicting research and controversy.)

Dosage: Use it to supplement your protein intake. That could mean 0-3 scoops per day (expect around 24g protein per scoop). It’s easily mixed into a post-workout nutrition shake, or just mixed with water for a snack on days you haven’t met your protein quota.

Recommendations: Just look for a reputable company and a quality product that’s not full of garbage fillers. Optimum Nutrition makes a good natural product that’s readily available, and the best value out there is buying in bulk from (formerly True Protein).

4. Greens Supplement

Again, here’s a case where virtually everyone is lacking – vegetables. Most athletes aren’t getting enough veggies in their diets. Even if you eat a lot, the lack of variety (on a daily basis) is likely still holding you back. By using a greens supplement, you can naturally add a wide variety of good antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals into your diet with ease.

Dosage: For most people, one serving per day is good insurance. You can take it in the morning or evening to suit your preference. (One serving is usually an ounce of concentrated liquid or a scoop of powder mixed into water or tea.)

Recommendations: Greens Plus is your best bet, especially the mixed berry flavor. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can try Barlean’s Greens, Athletic Greens, Eboost Spruce, or Garden of Life Perfect Food.

5. Vitamin B Complex

Unless you’re a hardcore Paleo eater, I’m guessing you don’t eat a lot of red meat. So, how are you getting enough B vitamins? You need them, and you need a lot of them on a daily basis, if you want energy! The easiest option is to get a B Complex pill, but you could also use beef liver tablets if you’re old school.

Dosage: This one is simple – take 1 pill per day, every morning.

Recommendations: If you opt for the dessicated beef liver, I’d go with Beverly International Ultra 40. But if you prefer a more conventional approach, any quality brand of B Complex will be fine. Nature Made, Nature’s Way, and VitaCost brands have always worked well for me.

There you have it! The supplements I believe are actually worthwhile and will give you noticeable results!

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This post was originally published on April 3, 2013. It was updated and republished on July 6, 2018.

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