The subject of supplements is a tricky one, and whith the supplement industry being a money making industry like any other, choosing which supps are best for you can be challenging.
In order to simplify things, lets remember a few basics:
1. Supplements are meant to supplement, not replace your diet. So what are your deficiencies? To get a clear answer you should go get blood work done. Yes it’s costly but it will take away any guess work for you, potentially saving you money on supplements you don’t need.
2. Individualization: everyone is different and has different needs. You don’t follow the same training plan as you friend who is running a marathon when you are training for strength right? So taking the same supplements would be silly as well.
3. Different situations require different supplementation. Do I take vitamin D during the winter when there’s barely any sun? Absolutely? Do I take vitamin D during the summer when I spend 3h+ in the sun? No. Should you take the same supplements when doing a strength workout than when you do a endurance workout? No.
Some people may need to read the above points a couple times just so it sinks in properly.
Ok let’s move on to each point in more details.
Supplements, not replacement
If you are eating a well balanced diet, with adequate sources of fruits, veggies, protein and healthy fats, you probably don’t need that many supplements.
My number one advice on supplements is to get your diet right first. Only once you can say in full confidence that your diet is top notch can can you start exploring supplements. I love it when people tell me they are on 10 different supplements and then also tell me they only eat rice, oreos and lettuce...Bro you don't need supps, you need to eat real foods!
Never substitute real food with supplements unless you have a medical condition that calls for it.
Do you need protein powder after your workout? Well if you eat enough protein in your diet, no, you don’t. How much protein should you be eating? 0.55g of protein per pound of body weight is a great start. so if you are 150 pounds, thats 82.5 gram of protein to eat every day. That’s a chicken breast, a couple eggs, a tablespoon of hemp seeds and a filet of any type of fish. Eat this before you get protein powder.
What deficiencies do you have? No trainer will be able to tell you an accurate answer without seeing blood work. The best place to go is to a naturopath to get a full metabolic screening. Take the guess work out of it and get the supplements you really need.
In the event that getting blood work isn't possible, I highly recommend keeping a detailed food diary for just a couple of weeks. That way you will have a clearer idea of what you eat and you may be able to some patterns that you otherwise wouldn't know are happening.
Once you have figured out your deficiencies, the next step is to figure out which supplements work for you. Do you have any allergies or intolerances you need to watch out for?
What are your goals? Training for health versus training for performance will require different supplements.
What time of the day do you workout? You may need different supplements at different times. For example, you could take preworkout stimulants in the morning if you need an energy boost. You could also take preworkout stimulants for an evening workout but you may end up being to0 jittery to go to sleep.
You need to ask yourself all these questions before making a decision. Simply going to a supplement store and saying “Sup bra I want something to gain muscle” will not cut it.
You can add muscle by taking pre workout: it will boost your energy making your workout more intense
You can add muscle by taking BCAAs: it will improve your muscle’s recovery
You can gain muscle by taking creatine: it will increase your absolute strength
All these supplements will increase your work ratio yielding in muscle growth from new imposed demands. You need to figure out what would work best for you.
No, I don’t suggest you take all 3 of the above at the same time.
The same rational can be said about weight loss, increasing endurance or other goals that you may have.
Different situations call for different supplements
Different supplements can help you achieve the same goal. Some supplements work best in certain conditions.
If we take muscle building again, we can see how the different supplements can work together.
From experience, I found that pre workout stimulants work best during high intensity workouts, with low reps and heavy weights. Since a lot of the adaptation will be via the nervous system, I care less about my muscles having to recover so I ditch the BCAAs.
When you do a high volume workout with higher reps however, you are breaking down the muscle fibers, so muscle recovery becomes very important. In comes the BCAAs and protein powders, and out goes the preworkout.
Creatine works best when you cycle it. Again, there is no pre defined magic cycle that works best for everyone, you will need test that for yourself. Be aware that you will notice strength and weight increase while on creatine, that will most likely fade once you stop taking it.
The point here is that taking the same supplement over and over isn’t ideal.
There are many, many variables to take into consideration when choosing supplements. The first question to ask yourself is do you really need it? Did your bro recommend it or a doctor? Did you read about it in an add or on a research paper?
What makes your different from other people that are taking the same supplement? Where are you in your training cycle?
If you do not have a training cycle, which is perfectly fine btw, I would refrain from using supplements intended to increase workout capacity and focus solely on diet.
The next post about supplements will touch on the essential supps that most people should be taking, like Vitamin D, magnesium, zinc and fish oils!