I live in the Vail Valley in Colorado. An area chock full of extreme athletes. People in my area of the country ski 100+ days a year, run and bike 100 mile races, haul themselves over multiple mountain passes, crossfit, mountain bike, road bike, hike, and go to the gym. On top of this, they walk their dogs and do yoga. Whew!

Okay, maybe not everyone here is so extreme, but there sure are a lot of these athletes. It makes me, the 5-6 day a week gym goer, feel a little bit slothy. I am not an extreme athlete, and maybe not even an athlete at all. But I do love to exercise. I love to sweat and I love to lift weights, do HIIT, walk my dog, and do yoga. I don’t do endurance events, but I stay fit. Overall I feel better when I exercise and do it for myself and my family and my patients, alike. I want to be a better person, so I work out.

Exercise is an essential part of human life. Do you want to be healthy? You want to live longer? You want to think more clearly? Stay fit? Sleep better? Have a healthier heart? Decrease your cancer risk? You MUST exercise.

Exercise is stressful on the body, making recovery essential. We also all want to see the physical benefits of exercise, like fat loss and muscle growth.

So, what should you take to optimize your exercise?

Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAA)

Essential amino acids are those that your body cannot make on its own. You have to ingest them in order to have them in your body. These amino acids are required by your body for your muscles and skeleton to grow, and your hormones, enzymes, and neurons to fire. BCAAs promote muscle growth and improve your exercise recovery. They will also improve sleep quality, support your immune system, and even help your cognitive functioning.

BCAAs typically come from the protein you eat, but the supplement form is more easily absorbed than that from your food. It is an easy, effective way to supply your body with these essential amino acids without having to eat. BCAAs do not replace a healthy, whole foods diet. The best fuel for your workouts is always a healthy diet, but adding this to your routine allows you to have those amino acids more readily available for the body to use to build muscle and use for recovery.

BCAAs are an essential addition to your diet if you need to build muscle. Chronic disease, obesity, and aging can all lead to muscle wasting. This wasting, also called sarcopenia, is actually very dangerous, and BCAAs are incredibly effective in helping put on muscle in this situation as well as for general health and well-being.

Collagen

Collagen has gained tremendous popularity over the past few years. Collagen is present in most tissues in the body and is classified as either type I (present in skin, ligaments, fascia, intervertebral disks, gut lining, bones, blood vessels and organs) or type II (found in tendons and joint cartilage).

As with all raw materials, there is a huge discrepancy in the quality of collagen, primarily as it relates to absorption. I am very picky about the type of collagen I will recommend. I prefer Ortho Molecular CollaGEN, which sources from a company in Barcelona, Spain for their type I collagen (Tendoactive) and Germany for their type II collagen (Fortigel). These companies have a patented process in which they disperse the collagen in fragmented peptides making it much more easy to digest.

In fact, collagen peptides in Ortho’s CollaGEN are 1/100th the size of the typical retail collagen. This means that you can actually absorb and utilize the collagen that you are taking. While the price of Ortho Molecular CollaGEN is higher, this is a perfect example of paying the price for quality. You can spend less and basically not be able to use the collagen you take, or pay more and actually get the many benefits of collagen.

Studies are clear that collagen is beneficial for joints and tendons, bones, and even your skin.

This product is great for people with nagging joint pain (tendonitis and osteoarthritis) and for those who want to preserve the health of their joints as they age (like all you who exercise!). If you just want to look good, collagen increases skin hydration and elasticity for healthier, younger looking skin. Collagen helps retain water within the skin matrix, which helps smooth fine lines and wrinkles.

A great addition to your workout and anti-aging protocol, collagen can not only help you look and feel better, it can also help you keep your joints and bones healthier.

Creatine

Many athletes take creatine to help them build muscle faster. They use it to ‘bulk up’, but it actually has many benefits for the average exerciser. Creatine does indeed increase muscle mass via several different pathways. It helps you hold hydration in your cells. By drawing water into the muscle, your muscles will appear bigger, and you might even weigh more. Creatine can help you grow muscle by increasing energy production and improving your endurance.

Creatine plays an important role in the body’s production of cellular energy because it helps make ATP, a molecule needed by all cells. When you exercise, your body is under stress. Before your muscles grow, they break down, and energy is required to build your muscles back up. Creatine allows you to work your muscles for a longer period of time under tension and improves exercise endurance. Creatine has also been shown to lessen muscle breakdown and to support cognitive function in aging populations.

Electrolytes

Finally, I want to talk about hydration. While all of us are somewhat dehydrated, living at altitude and exercising certainly increases our need for water. While water is the ultimate source of hydration, electrolytes play an important role. In order to become well-hydrated, we not only need to drink water, but we need to get that water into our cells. This is achieved by improving the electrical charges across the cell membranes. Electrolytes are one key ingredient to improving this electrical gradient across the cell walls.

While all of us like things that taste good, the standard recovery drinks are often both lacking in electrolytes and stock full of sugar. Sugar, while yummy, will certainly thwart all of your fitness goals. We have a few different brands of electrolytes at the Vail Valley Pharmacy that have no sugar that will help you improve your hydration.

Nothing can take the place of a healthy diet, but these supplements can help you build muscle, lean out, protect your joints, and stay hydrated. All of which, as an athlete or gym rat, will help you reach your goals and stay fit.