Most will agree that prep cycles are undeniably hard on the body, particularly when in a calorie deficit, such that there is no shortfall in the demand for sport supplements. If I ask you to consider what supplementation during contest prep means to you, most athletes will reel off a list of protein powders, BCAAs, Creatine, L Glutamine, etc (which undeniably play an essential role). However, there is also a number of natural products that when coupled with the correct diet, can assist the body to respond effectively to the additional stresses that competition life brings.
So, what are the natural products that in my view really make a difference to promote wellness, recovery, digestive function, improved metabolism/fat burning and towards show day, have diuretic properties? The latter of which, helps to showcase the condition that we’ve all worked so hard to achieve. This is by no means an exhaustive list of natural products, but instead these are the ones that I feel are noteworthy and which I recommend to my athletes, all of which are widely available at your local health food shops.
Pole position is awarded to Spirulina algae. ‘Pond scum’ I hear you say, but for every yang there is a ying. This blue green algae is in my view, one of the greats. It contains all nine essential amino acids, fatty acids such as omega 3, 6 and 9, it’s high in iron, B6, C, D, potassium, calcium, magnesium, selium and zinc. It also helps to flush toxins from the blood and boosts the immune system, which is all good news when it comes to the final stages of prep. It’s high in antioxidants and is also reported to promote fat burning during exercise. In short, I’m struggling to see a down side to this super food other than its strong taste, but if you don’t want to ruin your meal, it’s available in tablet form.
Next on the list, is coconut oil. This saturated fat is a preferential source of energy for the body similar to carbs, but unlike carbs it does not raise blood sugar levels. It’s also particularly useful to support a ketogenic diet. It aids cognitive function through the production of ketones, which fuel the brain and alleviate mental fogginess (also known as ‘prep brain’) which some athletes experience when in a calorie deficit. It’s also the optimal fat to use for cooking on the basis that unlike other oils such as sunflower or vegetable oil, it does not release aldehydes which are known to be toxic to the body when heated to high temperatures.
Omega 3/fish oils are also essential. They support lean muscle gain, promote limber joints, reduce post workout inflammation, support fat loss and increase insulin sensitivity, helping to regulate blood sugar levels. These little capsules can repeat on you, but consuming them at meal times will generally prevent this. Alternatively, freezing the capsules before consumption means that they dissolve slowly in the stomach and prevent this.
As with those already mentioned, apple cider vinegaris something that I supplement my diet with daily. The acetic acid within this vinegar improves insulin function, reduces blood sugar levels, aids digestion and reduces bloating. It also promotes satiety. Although a word of caution, the same results will not be achieved by substituting this with other vinegars such as white wine vinegar. In addition, more isn’t always better and can cause throat burn and tooth enamel decay if taken in excess, such that it should always be diluted with water.
The thermogenic properties of cayenne pepper and chillicannot be ignored. These metabolism boosting spices not only add great flavour to food, but help to burn more calories throughout the day. Due to their spicy nature, they also encourage athletes to slow the rate at which they eat, a factor that can aid digestion.
And last but not least, to hit stage condition, we as athletes often turn to products with diuretic properties to drop any excess water. Dandelion root is a great natural diuretic that increases urine production and can be useful come show day to achieve that dry conditioned look.
Overall, the media hosts an array of messages focused on the sale of products boasting claims of unparalleled results and whilst I’m not suggesting that any of these products are indeed miracle solutions to some of the stresses that contest prep places on the body, sometimes when you are going all out, it’s the little changes you make that determine condition. With diet playing such an important role in any contest prep, leave no stone unturned and let nature give you a helping hand too. It may just give you that winning edge.