Working out faithfully, with routines as regular as a (Fitbit) clock, but still not getting the results you want? You’re likely not far off: A few easy tweaks, plus clean, performance-based supplements, can take any exercise program to the next level.
But it’s important to choose the right products. In a world of sports supplements with sometimes-sketchy ingredients, it pays to be picky. Research shows some contain contaminants like heavy metals or untested compounds that can damage your liver and harm your health. Others may be loaded with stimulants, fillers, preservatives, artificial colors and flavors, chemical sweeteners or high levels of sugar — the last thing you need in your fitness routine.
Instead, support your workout with squeaky-clean supplements. Focus on clean, non-GMO brands with vegan and organic options made from natural, plant-based and seriously effective ingredients. Look for products with meaningful doses of safe, science-based botanicals. Choose those with natural colors derived from plants, like purple carrots and turmeric, instead of artificial colors. And skip the sugar and synthetic sweeteners; stick to supplements sweetened with monk fruit and stevia leaf.
Ready to level-up your workouts? Optimize energy, minimize fatigue, build lean muscles, and get the most out of each and every rep with these easy tips and super-clean supplements.
1. Emphasize (clean) protein.
Protein is crucial for athletes to build muscles, repair and rebuild after training, and speed recovery. And you don’t need to eat meat. A combination of plant-based proteins provides all the necessary amino acids in the cleanest form. Focus on legumes, nuts, seeds, quinoa and whole grains, and include a plant-based protein powder for a fast, easy way to add more muscle-building protein to any diet. Look for blends that combine highly bioavailable and easily digested pea protein with rice and hemp —rich in omega-3 fats. Choose a plant-based vegan certified blend that’s free of genetically modified organisms with natural flavors, sweeteners and colors, plus botanicals that reduce inflammation and support digestion.
Adequate fluids are essential for athletes, and even mild dehydration can negatively impact performance and recovery. Plus, electrolytes like sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium — critical for muscle contractions, nerve function and fluid balance —are depleted during exercise, leading to muscle cramps, weakness, fatigue and decreased performance. Stay well-hydrated during workouts, and make your water count with a beverage that replaces lost fluids and restores electrolytes. Look for powder drink mixes made with natural, electrolyte-rich ingredients like organic coconut water and pink Himalayan sea salt instead of synthetic potassium and sodium. Choose a naturally sweetened, vegan certified blend with added plant-based branched-chain amino acids to truly elevate your exercise.
3. Eat the right fats.
Fats are an energy-dense source of fuel, especially important in endurance activities that require a burst of power. But it’s important to choose the right fats, like monounsaturated fats and omega-3s from avocados, olives, nuts and seeds. And to supercharge your workouts, try medium-chain triglycerides. Naturally derived from coconut oil, they’re easily digested and rapidly absorbed for ultra-fast energy. Taken before a workout, MCTs boost stamina, increase endurance, enhance performance and promote burning fat for fuel. Powdered MCT forms are an easy, mess-free way to add these super fats to smoothies, coffee or cold beverages. Look for organic and vegan certified MCT oil powders made only with C8 and C10 MCTs — the most rapidly absorbed forms — and choose one sustainably sourced from coconut oil (never palm oil).
4. Power up pre-workout.
Get your body and brain on board before you head to the gym with an energizing, jitter-free blend designed for sustained energy. Green-tea extract leverages the performance-enhancing benefits of caffeine while delivering antioxidants and other compounds that balance caffeine jitters (unlike synthetic forms that trigger a jolt followed by a crash). Adaptogens like lion’s mane, rhodiola and L-tyrosine keep focus and concentration sharp during workouts. And L-citrulline and betaine promote healthy blood flow, delivering oxygen to muscles more rapidly during exercise. Look for pre-workout energizing drink mixes with a blend of natural botanicals — and no jittery stimulants — for seriously sustained focus and performance.
5. Boost with BCAAs.
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, and the right combo can take your workout to the next level. Branched-chain amino acids (made up of leucine, isoleucine and valine) increase muscle growth, reduce fatigue and accelerate recovery — plus, they support gut health and immunity, especially important for serious athletes. But many (or most) BCAAs are sourced from animal byproducts like duck feathers or animal skin — not what you need in your clean performance program. Look for vegan certified forms made with fermented, plant-sourced BCAAs, and choose one with electrolytes for a complete workout beverage to boost endurance, ensure hydration and help you recharge faster.
6. Snack for stamina.
Your body needs a steady supply of fuel, but bad snack choices mean you’ll run out of steam midway through a workout. Eat to win with foods that promote endurance, build muscle and maximize recovery. Slow-burning carbs like hummus and sweet potatoes balance blood sugar for steady energy and can improve endurance and support lean muscle mass. Antioxidant-rich foods like cherries and pomegranates minimize inflammation and help you recover faster. Beet juice boosts blood nitric-oxide concentrations, enhances blood flow and increases cardiorespiratory endurance. And afternoon smoothies made with avocado, berries and plant-based protein powders support muscle strength and keep you going strong — even through the most rigorous workout.
7. Keep your gut happy.
A healthy, happy gut can power up your performance: Beneficial intestinal bacteria reduce inflammation, enhance immunity, maximize hydration and promote lactic-acid breakdown. If your digestive system could use some TLC, choose sports supplements with added probiotics to nourish beneficial bacteria and make your belly better. Some other gut-supportive botanicals you can look for are the following: L-glutamine, a key amino acid that keeps the lining of the gut healthy for improved digestion and nutrient absorption; and bromelain, a naturally occurring digestive enzyme that helps break down food so you can get the most out of your performance-boosting meals.
8. Tame pain.
Some discomfort is normal after strenuous exercise, and post-workout inflammation is a necessary part of the recovery process. (You know: No pain, no gain.) But lasting soreness, inflammation and joint pain put a damper on any fitness routine. Skip the NSAIDS (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) — they’re linked with gut damage and can actually impair improvements in strength — and tame pain with natural botanicals. Choose performance products that include turmeric. It’s rich in curcumin, an antioxidant shown to reduce inflammation, relieve tenderness and swelling, and reduce pain. Because turmeric is poorly absorbed by the body, look for it in combination with black pepper to dramatically increase availability. Probiotics also dampen inflammation, and tart cherries are rich in compounds that ease pain, minimize muscle damage and speed recovery after exercise.
9. Uplevel immunity.
Physical movement reduces stress and promotes healthy sleep, super important for supporting immunity, and people who exercise regularly have a lower risk of infection. But prolonged or intensive training can hamper immune function, and studies suggest hardcore athletes have a higher than normal rate of infections, especially those of the upper-respiratory tract. L-glutamine is especially important for serious athletes. It’s depleted during strenuous workouts, and low glutamine levels are linked with exercise-induced immune impairment and increased susceptibility to infection in athletes. Look for performance supplements that include L-glutamine to boost resistance and keep you training at your best.
10. Stay lean and clean.
Ready to shred? Skip the stimulants and look for clean ingredients that build lean muscles and help you shed fat. BCAAs, especially leucine, enhance weight loss, reduce body fat and promote lean muscle gain. Choline, a nutrient found in eggs and some plant foods, boosts fat loss without affecting muscle strength. MCTs help curb appetite, increase metabolic rate, maximize fat burning and help overall weight loss. And probiotics balance gut bacteria, important for the best body mass composition (i.e., more muscle, less fat). Look for these slimming, strengthening ingredients in a clean performance product to support your shredding goals.
11. Rest and recover.
Your body needs downtime, especially if you’re hitting it hard. Schedule regular rest days, and don’t skimp on sleep — lack of shut-eye increases inflammation, hampering muscle repair. After workouts, replenish protein to preserve lean muscle mass and enhance overall recovery. BCAAs prevent breakdown of muscle tissue, and L-glutamine has been shown to lessen soreness, especially after strenuous workouts. Finish your exercise regimen with a plant-based protein smoothie or a BCAA blend that contains a solid dose of L-glutamine for rapid rejuvenation.