As a strength coach, here are the reasons why I think micronutrient supplements (particularly greens powders) are important for athletes to consider, and which ones I think provide the most benefit.
Athletes are under stress – most of it is not the emotional/mental type of stress that we consider when we hear the word. When most of us hear the word stress we think about meeting a job or project deadline, or having to write an exam, or getting into an argument with a loved one. Of course, this sort of stress also plagues athletes who must maintain certain performance standards to earn contracts, or who face pressure to live up to standards that have been set for them – or even standards that they have set for themselves. But there are other forms of stress more pertinent to athletes than they are to the general population.
These stressors are mechanical, metabolic, and neurological; and they derive from damage accrued within muscles and other tissues during training and competition, the accumulation of high-intensity physical efforts, and the depletion of water and nutrients as a result of strenuous anaerobic activity (learn more about these three forms of stress here). All of these forms of stress result in the same thing: the loss of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals).
We now know from research that our soil has lost between 20% to 40% of its micro-nutritional value depending on where we are in the world, making it difficult if not improbable that athletes can keep up with lost micronutrients using food alone. Therefore, supplements that provide high doses of micronutrients to replenish what athletes are losing can be extremely helpful for improving recovery and thereby maintaining high levels of daily performance while reducing the likelihood of overuse injuries from incomplete tissue repair.
Here are four supplements that have proven track records for delivering effective micronutrition.
1. Juice Plus+
For me, this was a life-changing supplement and I have been taking it every day for about two years. Juice plus is simply the ground powder pulled from a wide variety of dehydrated fruits, vegetables, and berries, providing nutrient sources that most people would not otherwise get. It is also one of the most well-researched micronutrient supplements on the market. Also, because it is in capsule form, there is no taste. Juice Plus+ is also currently undertaking a one-million participant observational Children’s Health Study to determine its efficacy in children, and has a child-safe product in the form of chewables.
The peer-reviewed research on Juice Plus+ has shown it to be effective across and within many contexts and demographics including sports performance and athletes, and the product has demonstrated effective support of the immune system, wound healing, heart and lung function, and several other areas.
If there are cons for this product, it is that the creator chose to sell it through an MLM format (multi-level marketing), which turns some people off. It's also more expensive than the other options. However, I believe the product is top-notch and clicking on the product name above will provide you the link to the available research so that you can see it for yourself.
Greens+ is another excellent product, this one provided by Genuine Health. The research surrounding Greens Plus is also very thorough, making it a great choice. I am not sure about how much available research there is on the use of Greens + in younger populations, but my non-medical opinion is that children should begin with a ½ or ¼ dose. Get a physician involved and watch their response to the product, working them up toward a full dose over weeks, months, or years, depending on their age.
If there are any cons, its that the taste of the powder is just palatable, so you may want to mix it in something more flavourful than water that will encourage you to take it on a consistent basis.
Athletic Greens (AG1) is a newer product that is not yet supported by any clinical trials but that is widely endorsed by some of the best minds in the industry – the likes of Eric Cressey, Dr. Huberman, and many more. While this does give the product credibility, we must consider that although the individual ingredients in the product are known to provide benefits, we do not have research on the synergy of the ingredients being taken into the body In Vivo.
Nevertheless, I think it is safe to say that Athletic Greens can now be included in this list of potentially effective micronutrient supplement options with at least some of the same benefits as the products listed above.
If there is any con, it is, once again, that since it is a newer product there simply has not been the time for the conducting of clinical trials to verify its claims. It also suffers from some of the same flavour problems of Greens+.
4. Amazing Grass – Greens Blend
This is one of the older greens’ products on the market. In terms of affordability it may provide the best bang for buck, however, like Athletic Greens, there are little to no clinical trials that have been done on the product as a whole to determine its efficacy. However, standing the test of time while accruing positive feedback and reviews from its users certainly says something.
Of course, you will always find critics of the micronutrient products on the market who claim that eating whole foods is the best and most trustworthy way to go. While I think this philosophy is well-guided, it does not account for the depletion of micronutrients from our soils, and there is relatively large volume of peer-reviewed research which makes it clear that the products listed above are effective across many populations. We also know that there can be up to a 100-fold difference between ingesting enough minerals to avoid a deficiency versus ingesting enough minerals for the body’s optimal function, and that athletes and active people have a greater need to ingest a variety of micronutrients. For these reasons and more the Journal of the American Medical Association also recommends that adults take one multi-vitamin/mineral daily as the evidence base for their efficacy continues to grow.
For more information about the importance of including more micronutrients in the diet, I recommend reading the book, The Mineral Fix.
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