The right supplements can go a long way in helping you reach your fitness goals, but only if you use them properly. Here are the three biggest sports nutrition mistakes to avoid.
3 Nutritional Mistakes That Athletes Need to Avoid
1. More Is Always Better, Right?
The first mistake that people make with sports supplements is thinking that more is always better. And, hey, I totally get the mentality: Many people who train to build muscle or maximize their performance adopt an all-out approach to making progress, and that can easily blind them to some of the intricacies of supplement dosing.
Take creatine, for example. A lot of bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts think that they need to load up on creatine, especially when they first become interested in training. While they’re not completely wrong, research shows that, after a month, you build up about as much creatine taking just three grams a day as you do if you up the dose to 20 grams a day for that first week. Since most people use creatine long term, aggressively loading up at first isn’t really necessary.
According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition, three to five grams of creatine per day does the job for 99.9% of the population.
I also see this tendency to go overboard with protein supplements. Some people take up to three scoops at a time under the impression that they need 75 grams of protein after workouts to achieve maximum gains. The research shows, however, that about 20-25 grams of whey protein maximizes protein synthesis in most people. While larger, more experienced trainees may benefit from closer to 40 grams of protein post-workout, taking anything beyond that won’t benefit muscle growth.
Generally, research has clearly defined proper intakes for most supplements out there, so taking more than these amounts won’t accomplish much beyond wrecking your wallet.
And remember: Your overall diet and training are still the most important components of progressing toward your goals.
2. Relying Too Much on High-Carb Gainers for Building Muscle
The purpose of mass-gainer supplements is to pack a ton of calories in a single shake to help you gain weight.
If your goal is to gain weight on the scale, period, then high-carb mass gainers can help. However, if you want to build muscle without gaining extra fat, I recommend a different approach.
First off, you need to understand that carbohydrates don’t help build muscle. To build muscle, you need to increase your rate of muscle protein synthesis, your body’s process of creating new muscle proteins. There are two ways to do that, (and neither is consuming extra carbs): resistance training and consuming protein (especially BCAAs, branched-chain amino acids).
Using Your Post-Workout Shake for Max Gains
Studies show that consuming carbohydrates after training doesn’t really do much for increasing muscle protein synthesis. (And eating carbs in addition to protein also doesn’t increase muscle protein synthesis beyond just consuming protein alone.)
Again, you need somewhere between 20-40 grams of protein after a workout to max out muscle protein synthesis, so getting that protein in should be your number one priority.
Some experts recommend loading up on carbs after training to spike insulin, the hormone that shuttles nutrients into your muscle cells and supports recovery and muscle-building. While, yes, insulin is important for making gains, studies show that whey protein actually stimulates insulin production to the same degree as white bread (often the gold standard for insulin stimulation).
Though you do want to consume some carbs to replace those used to power your workout, 50 grams generally does the trick. You don’t need hundreds of grams of carbs after every training session.
3. Disregarding Protein Timing
The last major sports supplement mistake people often make is overlooking timing, especially when it comes to protein.
Although a recent review deemed protein timing unimportant for gains, many of the studies it analyzed didn’t even assess protein timing.
One study on protein timing in people with decent training experience who followed a full-body program revealed clear results: Consuming your protein supplement before and after training is more effective for gains than consuming it at other times of the day.
Why? This is because of the anabolic window, or the period of time after your workout during which muscle protein synthesis rates increase. We used to think that this window was ridiculously tiny — just about 30 minutes long. Though more recent research suggests timing isn’t quite so tight, we’ve also learned that more trained people have a shorter anabolic window than novices. The takeaway: The more experienced you are in the gym, the sooner after working out you need that protein.
Plus, consuming protein as soon as possible also maximizes your recovery time before your next session.
Ultimately, you can still make gains without staying on top of your protein timing. It really can make a difference over time, though, especially for highly-trained athletes.
The Bottom Line
Your overall nutrition and training have the most influence over your progress in training and building muscle. However, fixing these common supplement mistakes can help you get the most bang for your buck.