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Everything you need to know about supplements

It is important to understand what supplements do and whether you really need them

Do you really need fitness supplements?
Do you really need fitness supplements? (Istockphoto)

Sports nutrition is more than protein shakes and sports hydration drinks. There are now supplements that claim to help you sleep, make your skin glow, even reduce belly fat. It is important to understand what supplements do and whether you really need them. Lounge talks to professional nutritionists and dieticians to lay to rest all conjecture.

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Used to gain muscle mass, it has different combinations of macronutrients and a higher fraction of calories from carbohydrates and fats as compared to protein, says Niyati Naik, clinical dietician at the Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital, Mumbai. Mass gainers are high protein supplements that help increase the lean muscle mass and weight through an overall increase in calorie consumption. “This coupled with strength training can lead to muscle synthesis and thus a change in body composition,” explains Naik.

When should one have it? One can have it as a mid-meal option over and above a healthy and balanced diet. Consumption of mass gainers has to be supplemented with exercise for optimal results.

Does it have a food source? One can achieve similar results through incorporating more energy dense foods like nuts, milkshakes, chikkis, laddoo, truffles, designed keeping in mind individual requirements of each person, says Naik.

Who should have it? Those who are underweight or have a very high metabolic rate or people who wish to improve their muscle mass can incorporate mass gainers along with exercise in their routine. 


Creatine is a natural substance found in muscle cells that helps our muscles produce more energy during high intensity strength training or heavy lifting, says Naik. Creatine can be useful in improving the muscle strength and overall exercise performance. It does so by increasing the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is the basic energy molecule. Creatine also helps improve muscle hydration and thus can help in increasing muscle volume, explains Naik.

When should one have it? Creatine should be taken after eating a carbohydrate and protein rich meal, says Naik. “Since it has a tendency of pulling more water into the muscles, paying particular attention to hydration is important. It can be use in two ways: creatine loading, which is done before a high intensity activity, or in low doses daily for improving creatine stores, which results in better energy during workouts,” says Naik.

Does it have a food source? Creatine can naturally be obtained from animal products like sea food, red meat and chicken. Small amounts of creatine can also be got from milk and cheese.

Who should have it? Creatine is best suited for athletes and bodybuilders who have intensive training routines and have to deliver competitive performance, she adds. 


Glutamine is a non-essential amino acid that is produced by the body, says Neha Ranglani, a Mumbai-based integrative nutritionist and health coach. “It is the most abundant amino acid in our bloodstream and plays multiple roles. While the body can synthesise glutamine, certain conditions or situations may increase the demand for glutamine beyond what the body can produce. In such cases, glutamine supplementation may be considered.” Intense exercise can deplete glutamine levels in the body. Glutamine supplementation can promote muscle recovery, reduce exercise-induced muscle damage and improve exercise performance, says Ranglani. Glutamine also supports the body’s immune function, helps the digestive tract and plays a role in maintaining the integrity and function of the intestinal mucosa. 

When should one have it? One should have glutamine either post-workout or before going to bed. “Glutamine after a workout can be beneficial for muscle recovery and repair. It is usually had with the post-workout meal or protein shake. When taken before going to bed, it can potentially support muscle recovery and reduce muscle breakdown during the overnight fasting period,” explains Ranglani. 

Does it have a food source? Glutamine can be obtained from meat, poultry, fish, milk and its products, tofu and eggs. Plant sources such as lentils, chickpeas, black beans, quinoa, brown rice, oats, almonds, walnuts, peanuts, chia seeds and flaxseeds are rich sources of glutamine. Vegetables such as spinach, cabbage, kale, broccoli, asparagus, and Brussels sprouts also contain glutamine.

Who should have it? Individuals who engage in intense physical exercise or those participating in endurance sports may benefit from glutamine supplementation. It is also a good supplement for people with gastrointestinal issues, critical illnesses, traumas or muscle wasting conditions, advises Ranglani. 


It is a mineral that is needed for several functions including energy production and utilising nutrients that we consume in our food, says Naik. Magnesium is extremely important for energy production, muscle contraction and relaxation. It can help reduce high blood pressure and improve insulin sensitivity, thereby helping better balance the blood sugar levels. 

When should one have it? Certain types of magnesium-derived supplements work well as a pre- or intra-workout improving ATP (adenosine triphosphate) production rates and leading to better muscle contraction. While other kinds of magnesium derived supplements are best consumed post-workout as they are better for muscle recovery, and have an overall calming effect on the central nervous system, relieving anxiety and stress, explains Naik.

Does it have a food source?

It is naturally available in food sources like nuts, legumes, seeds and green leafy vegetables.

Who should have it?

Magnesium from the food is necessary for everybody. Those who are looking for better energy production, improved muscle contractions, better controlled levels of blood pressure and diabetes can consider magnesium supplements after consulting a professional.

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