The world of supplements is a massively huge, crazy, confusing, expensive thing. Its safe to say that almost every single person who exercises has taken some kind of supplement at one point in their life. The fitness world makes us think we need them, and many people take them so religiously you’d think their life depended on it! I’ll admit, I used to be the guy who would spend upwards of $100 per month on supplements because I thought I needed all of them! Live and learn I guess, luckily im here to help you learn about them before you go spend a fortune on things you don’t need. Supplements include everything from vitamins, to weight-loss pills, to caffeine pills, to protein powders and more. Lets take a closer look at some topics ill discuss regarding supplements.
Who needs supplements?
What are some of the supplements I should be taking?
How about those “miracle pills”?
Can we be sure supplements are safe?
Whey protein vs. Casein protein
1) Supplements definition
Something that completes or enhances something else when added to it. In this case, dietary supplements are meant to complete or enhance our daily nutrition. They help us get all the necessary vitamins and minerals that we fail to get through food alone each day. Supplements are not meant to replace food entirely, as eating clean whole foods has been shown to be more beneficial than simply relying on supplements alone.
2) Who needs supplements?
Nearly everyone can benefit from supplements. And a good place to start would be to see your doctor to see if you have any specific deficiencies in which supplements could help. If you’re active and doing any form of exercise or weight-training, supplements can help with muscle building, protein synthesis, endurance, recovery time, and more. But again, no supplements are truly required, and no supplement will beat a clean healthy diet complete with lean proteins, complex/low glycemic index carbs, healthy fats, and plenty of fruits and vegetables.
3) What are some of the supplements I should be taking?
This question really depends on the person. However, there are 3 supplements that I will recommend to absolutely everyone regardless of age, activity level, and dietary routines. Those supplements are a multi-vitamin, fish oil, and protein powder. A multivitamin will ensure that you get all the essential vitamins and minerals into your diet daily. Multi’s should be taken daily and with food usually at breakfast. Buy a trusted brand, but don’t fall for the one thats 3x as expensive and makes ridiculous claims on the bottle, a simple name brand multivitamin will do just fine. Fish oil contains omega-3 fatty acids which are considered to be the “good fats” and are lacking in nearly everyone's diet. The benefits of omega-3’s are extensive, including but not limited to, reduced risk of heart attack, strokes, low blood pressure, inflammation, joint stiffness, and high cholesterol levels. Last but not least on my list of must-have supplements is protein powder. Lets face it, the average person simply does not get enough protein into their diets these day. Thats where a protein supplement can help! One or two scoops per day can definitely help you to reach your goal of .8-1g of protein per lb of body weight. I weigh 200lbs, so I should be getting 160g-200g of protein per day, especially when doing any sort of strength training! Adding more protein to your diet will help you get stronger faster, reduce recovery time, reduce muscle soreness and fatigue, and help you feel full longer. If you are someone who already gets enough protein through your food alone, then still having protein powder around can help when you’re short on time or traveling.
4) How about those “miracle pills”?
There is no such thing as a “miracle pill.” Supplement companies will continually pump out completely useless supplements as long as the average ignorant human being keeps believing in a quick fix! Anything that sounds too good to be true, usually is… this is the case with supplements promising outrageous results such as “lose 30 pounds in 30 days with no diet or exercise!!” There is no quick fix, and the only way to achieve what they’re promising is through hard work and dedication to both your workout routine and diet! Hell, if I owned a supplement company where people bought millions of dollars worth of useless crap i’d probably keep trying to milk it for all its worth too!
5) Can we be sure supplements are safe?
When taken as prescribed on the bottle, assuming no other health issues are currently present (this is why you should check with your doctor before taking any supplements), yes dietary supplements can be considered safe. The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) monitors the marketing claims made by supplement companies, and also must approve of the ingredients listed in each supplement. If there are any potentially harmful ingredients a list of potential side effects must be listed on the bottle, or the ingredient may have to be taken out of the supplement all together. If you stick to the main three supplements listed above, and buy good quality name brand products, you will have nothing to worry about. Of course, your doctor will first tell you whether its safe for you to take supplements.
6) Pre-workout supplements
Pre-workout’s are supplements that are taken prior to working out to enhance your workout in a number of different ways. They can help increase energy levels, increase blood flow, increase focus, and increase longevity. Pre-workouts are not for everyone, as some people have reported feeling anxious, itchy, a burning sensation, headaches, cramps, and more. However, these side effects happen in only a small percentage of people who try them. If you’re someone who struggles with energy at the gym, or want that extra boost to power you through your workout, maybe a pre-workout is right for you. Personally, I have been using a pre-workout the majority of the time for the past 10 years. I will usually go through one pre-workout, then take a week or two off, then use a different one next time. This is because like most stimulants, the longer you use the same one the less effect it has on your body. Check with your doctor before using a pre-workout to make sure you can safely use one!
7) Intra-workout supplements
Intra-workout supplements are usually high carb sport drinks with electrolytes. Meant to help maintain energy and intensity in the gym. I’m not sure how I feel about intra-workout supplements to be honest. On one hand, many people swear by them and you’ll see those people carrying around a large jug at the gym with different colored liquids inside. On the other hand, assuming your nutrition is good and you’re eating about 1-2 hours before the gym, there is really no need for one in my opinion. If for whatever reason you’re working out for periods longer than 1 ½ hours at a time, then maybe it could be beneficial. But why in the world would you be working out for more than 1 ½ hours at a time?! If that's the case, get off your cell phone and stop talking to your friends and get to work. You’ll see supplement companies saying that intra-workout supplements are the new best thing, but guess what… they’re really just trying to get more money from your pocket. Eat a damn banana.
8) Post-workout supplements
Post-workout supplementation can be essential to making gains, IF you aren’t able to get home and have a proper meal with good quality lean meats and carbohydrates. Post-workouts are mainly whey protein powders, meant to promote muscle recovery, and BCAA’s (Branched-Chain Amino Acids), meant to help increase muscle retention and maximize fat loss. My recommendation for post-workout supplements are as follows: If you aren’t able to have a proper meal following a workout (within 1-2 hours post workout) then you should supplement with a high protein/high carbohydrate protein shake. However, if you are able to eat a good meal containing both high protein and carbs, the protein shake is completely unnecessary. Whey protein is also beneficial to keep around if you’re ever in a rush and will miss a meal. Just take a shake with you on the road, any time of day! It does not have to be used only following exercise.
9) Whey protein vs. Casein protein
The main difference between whey protein and casein protein is that casein is a slow digesting protein while whey is a fast digesting protein. Clearly each would have its own advantages and disadvantages. Whey Protein is best used around workout time for its fast absorption rate. Casein is best used at night or at a time when you know you will not be able to have a meal for quite some time. But again, neither are absolutely necessary if you already get enough protein (.8-1g per lb of bodyweight) throughout the day!
Creatine is known as one of the only supplements scientifically studied and proven to help build muscle, increase strength and improve performance... and its legal! Creatine aids in the muscle building process by giving your muscles energy when they would have otherwise fatigued. Creatine does definitely work, but should only be considered if your main goal is to get stronger and increase muscle size. Along with the strength gains, creatine can cause you to gain a few pounds of “water weight” which, depending on personal goals, could be a welcome result or a terrifying ordeal. I have personally been taking creatine for quite some time and I can vouch for the fact that it does indeed work. There have been times when I stopped taking it for a month or two and I was not able to lift as much weight as I was while taking it. There have been no common reported negative side effects of creatine to this point, unless you view the extra water weight as a negative side effect. If muscle building and size increase is your goal, I would highly recommend this supplement to you. If you do buy, stick to Creatine Monohydrate. You do not need any of the fancy new types they’re coming out with. Its cheap and it works!
To wrap it all up, supplements can very well be beneficial to all of us helping to ensure we get all the essential vitamins and minerals each day that we might not get through our diet alone. The big 3 that I recommend to absolutely everyone are a multivitamin, fish oil, and protein powder. Beyond that, nothing is absolutely needed, and more than likely will just break your bank. Depending on goals there are some that can be beneficial, such as a pre-workout or creatine. And remember, there are definitely no miracle pills. Eat healthy, work hard, and supplement where needed, the results will follow!
Until next time, keep it healthy!
Brian Lepine CPT