by Joe Wuebben
Everyone who walks through your door is an athlete-it’s just a matter of what type of athlete he or she is. The long distance runner, for example, will have different goals and supplementation needs than the football player or wrestler. The CrossFit enthusiast and the powerlifter won’t be shopping for the same things, either. It’s your job to decide what type of athletes you’re dealing with and what sports nutrition products they need. With such a wide range of sports and activities currently available to individuals of all ages, this job can seem daunting. But the following athlete guide will help spare you the guesswork.
The individual who participates in the increasingly popular sport of MMA (or related activity) isn’t much different than a team sport athlete; recovery after long, intense training sessions is of chief importance. But success in martial arts requires specialized technique training, high endurance and supreme flexibility, so expect this athlete to care much more about keeping his joints in tact and increasing stamina than lifting heavy weights or looking good in the mirror. Because combat sports typically involve weight classes for competition, a fighter often has to drop considerable weight in a short period of time. Hence, he may be looking for low-carbohydrate products, fat burners and supplements that will help maintain muscle without adding calories (ie, BCAAs). At other times, the athlete may be trying to gain weight to move up in a weight class, so limiting calories won’t matter. Take these ever-changing goals into account when recommending supplements to the boxer, wrestler or MMA fighter.
Whether he or she is competitive in the recently anointed “sport of fitness” or not, the CrossFitter trains for strength, endurance, power and increased athleticism that carries over into virtually every physical endeavor, from team sports to triathlons. The CrossFit athlete’s training is constantly changing, with the one constant being that the workouts are always extremely demanding, even the ones that last only a few minutes. Therefore, recovery is crucial; hence, protein, amino acids, carbohydrates, electrolytes, antioxidants and fatty acids. But before you go recommending the same products you would to a physique or general fitness athlete, know that CrossFitters are often very particular about where their nutrients come from. Paleo is the diet of choice for many of them, which, when followed strictly, rules out anything processed or that includes gluten or dairy-namely whey or casein protein. Many CrossFitters, however, follow modified Paleo plans, like Paleo-plus-dairy, which makes whey and casein acceptable. Any product with “Paleo” or “gluten-free” on its package will be of interest to the CrossFit athlete.
Long distance runners and other such athletes generally aren’t known to be heavy consumers of supplements like bodybuilders and sport athletes. The more “mainstream” products that deliver carbs and electrolytes (bars, sports drinks, gels), as well as joint-supporting ingredients like fatty acids and glucosamine, are often the extent to which an endurance athlete will supplement. But the high mileage runners and triathletes log, even though it’s very different than lifting weights, still breaks down muscle tissue, so protein intake needs to be sufficient in their diets, especially immediately after training. This makes whey protein powder a useful supplement, whether the athlete realizes it or not. That said, the aforementioned bars, drinks and gels will always be popular with this segment for consumption before, during and after races.
GENERAL FITNESS ATHLETE
Chances are, a majority of individuals you’ll encounter will fall into this category. They don’t train for one sport or activity in particular, yet they’re still “athletes” because they often put just as much time and energy into their training as someone who competes. The goal of the general fitness athlete can be vague (“I just want to be fit and defined”) or it could be something more specific like losing 30 pounds or looking better for an upcoming event. You could be dealing with a beginner or a seasoned gym-goer. A beginner (or someone who used to work out but hasn’t for an extended period of time) will probably want to keep his or her supplement regimen simplified (bars, shakes, protein powders) but is also likely to desire a fat-burning product to help spur weight loss immediately. An experienced fitness enthusiast, on the other hand, can be treated more like a physique athlete, where a more involved supplement stack is desired.
The competitive lifter is a highly specialized athlete. In powerlifting, the goal is lifting as much weight as possible in the bench press, squat and deadlift; in Olympic lifting, the exercises are the snatch and clean and jerk. It’s that simple. The objective of training is enhancing strength and power as well as perfecting exercise technique. Rest periods between sets in training sessions are typically very long (three minutes and up), so the lifter is not an endurance athlete by any means. Gaining size is not a primary goal, though it’s a natural byproduct of lifting heavy weight and gaining immense strength. As the extended rest periods illustrate, lifters are always mindful of muscle recovery, so protein, amino acids and glycogen replenishment, particularly postworkout, are key. Like the combat athlete, lifters typically compete in weight classes, so controlling body weight will be a high priority leading up to a competition.
Body sculpting, so to speak, is the number one goal of the physique athlete. Regardless of the competition class (bodybuilding, physique, fitness, figure)-and even regardless of gender-physique athletes are looking to either maximize muscle size, maximize fat-burning or both, depending on whether it’s the off-season or approaching a contest. Protein powder is a staple for the physique-minded, as are creatine, amino acids and other products like nitric oxide enhancers. During a bulking phase, when the diet is high in calories and carbohydrates, most any bars, snacks and shakes are fair game. But in pre-contest preparation (which typically lasts between 10 and 16 weeks), a low-carb diet is followed, so sugar consumption needs to be limited only to postworkout shakes. It’s also important at this time to supplement with products that will help the athlete maintain muscle mass (protein, aminos, creatine), as losing size and fullness is common during pre-contest prep.
You’ll get a wide variety of age groups and expertise levels here-from the Division-I college athlete to the guy in his 30s or 40s playing in a rec league to the occasional professional football or baseball player, especially if your store is located in a big city. What defines this segment is that they all play some specific sport and they play it with passion. When they’re not competing, they’re training for the sport, and enhancing performance is always a top priority. Because of this, any supplement that will aide in muscle recovery is critical-specifically protein and amino acids, taken preworkout, postworkout and sometimes during training. Staying healthy and injury-free is also important to a sport athlete, especially a professional, so antioxidants and fatty acids are recommended. Athletes who play games that last over an hour (football, basketball, soccer, baseball, etc.) will be interested in sports drinks to replenish glycogen stores during competition.
The difference between the sport athlete of the previous category and the “weekend warrior” falls not so much in the sports they play, but rather how often they play and how seriously they treat those sports. The weekend warrior, for one reason or another, limits participation mainly to weekends (and not necessarily every weekend) and isn’t nearly as consumed with his/her athletic activities as the serious athlete. During the week, he/she likely doesn’t train seriously for the sport and doesn’t have practices to attend. Hence, the weekend warrior’s supplement needs will be less stringent. General health products will be important, as will joint-saving ingredients, since injury could be more of an issue due to infrequent weekly workouts and being de-conditioned. For this group, more mainstream products like bars and shakes will be desired, as these individuals may be intimidated by supplements like amino acids and creatine.
YOUNG ATHLETE (female)
The high school student-athlete is unique from the adult in that her body is still developing, so foundational nutrients like protein, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats need to be present in the diet. At a young age, it’s prudent to keep her supplement regimen simple, focusing on basics like protein powders and amino acids to aide recovery following long, intense practices and/or training sessions that occur nearly every day of the week in-season. Bars, MRPs and RTDs are good recommendations to promote healthy snacking between meals, but a teenager should be getting a vast majority of her calories through whole foods like lean meats, whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Males and females compete in many of the same sports in high school, but girls tend to be less interested in adding size than boys (a natural gender difference), so mass-gaining supplements won’t be a big draw for this group.
YOUNG ATHLETE (male)
Boys tend to develop later than girls, and they’re also more likely be more interested in getting bigger, especially if they play contact sports like football or hockey. So expect most high school boys who visit your store to gravitate to the mass-gaining supplements. In fact, this demographic makes up one of the largest consumer groups of true mass gainer products (protein powders that are also high in carbohydrates, and thus overall calories). Other than that, a young male’s dietary needs are very similar to a female’s. At the high school age, a boy’s metabolism is high to begin with. Then, add on the energy expenditure of daily two-hour long sports practice if he’s a competitive athlete and PE class during school. The calorie requirements to sustain this activity level and promote recovery can seem overwhelming, which is why supplementing with additional protein and carbs is often necessary.