Ask someone about supplements and you generally get one of two answers. The first is “Yea I take (long list of every pill possible)”, or “No way, you can get everything you need from food”.
Due to clever marketing, both people believe they are right. Read the label of a popular fat burners and you will see ridiculous phrases like “Next generation fat loss”. What does that even mean?
Turn the label over and you see bizarre ingredients such as Ophiopogon extract. Good luck trying to figure out what this is in a hurry, let alone any scientific research to back up their ridiculous claims.
I might be starting to sound like a supplement Nazi. The truth is, I have been ripped off so many times it makes me mad. I bet you have as well.
Given the number of supplements available on shelves, you would be forgiven into thinking they are all legal and tested for efficacy.
A lot of pre-workouts contain controversial ingredients that after 6 months are no longer sold in Australia. That is because they often hit the shelves before they have been clinically tested. We then waste our money and the product is banned.
Here is the good news. Not all supplements are useless. Not all supplement companies are evil.
There are some honest people out there trying to provide a solution to this problem.
Before I found these honest companies, I bought all the ingredients for my pre-workout separately. I would then mix it up in my kitchen. My neighbours could be forgiven for thinking I was a drug dealer. I had scales out, white powder everywhere, empty vege caps. Not a good look.
I am going to tell you what supplements truly have benefits. I could go through what doesn’t work but that list would take too long. Instead, just assume, if it isn’t on the list I don’t feel it is essential or I haven’t taken it myself to give an honest opinion.
I will leave protein powder out. This is one that I don’t put in the same category as the rest. Protein powder is a food rather than a supplement.
Creatine: Creatine is useful when the body is being challenged through high intensity training. By replenishing phosphocreatine stores in the body, you can work at a higher intensity for longer. In simple terms, when we train we use ATP. Creatine helps the donates more energy to our ATP stores.
Dosage: 3000-5000mg. It has been found that timing of this does not matter. What matters is that you take it.
Beta alanine: High intensity training produces lactate. Beta-alanine helps to buffer the hydrogen ions and acidity in the muscle during training. This allows us to train for longer before the burning in our muscles causes us to stop.
Dosage: 2000-5000mg depending on your size. Take this before your workout. Taking it after has also shown benefits.
Caffeine: Caffeine is a great supplement that is underappreciated. Caffeine increases alertness and reaction time. Caffeine has also been shown to increase fat loss, increase muscle recovery time, increase strength, and reduce the risk of certain diseases.
Dosage: Start with 100mg. If your tolerance is high and strength is your goal, up to 500mg can be beneficial. Take this before your workout.
Fish Oil: Our oceans are contaminated with pollutants. These pollutants get into our fish and reduce the quality of their meat. For this reason, some experts suggest reducing our fish consumption and supplementing with fish oil daily. Studies have shown the benefits of fish oil range from fat loss, maintaining lean mass, brain health, and joint support.
Dosage: 3-6g with meals.
Greens Powder: Green food blends are high in antioxidants, strongly alkaline, and rich in minerals. Always choose fruit or vegetables first but when these are not available, consume your greens powder.
Dosage: If fruit and vegetable consumption is high (7-10 servings per day) then you can skip this. If your fruit and vegetable intake is low, consume the greens powder more often. Use the dosing on the label as they are all different.
Branched-chain amino acids: These are one of my favourite supplements. Not only because they taste great and make drinking water easier, but because they have so many benefits. During a workout, our bodies need fuel. We also need to preserve muscle due to the stressful state we are in during our training. This is where BCAAs come in. By consuming BCAAs we are given that extra fuel to keep our muscles pumping. The leucine also spikes muscle protein synthesis. This is our bodies way of rebuilding itself from the stress we intentionally place on it.
I have also found it shortens the amount time my muscles are sore. This allows me to get back in the gym more frequently and increase muscle gains.
Dosage: At least 2.5g of leucine. You will often see leucine, isoleucine, and valine in a ratio of 2:1:1. Take only during workouts unless you are on a low-calorie diet. In this case, taking in-between meals can spike protein synthesis and reduce muscle loss.
Green tea extract: This stimulates your metabolism and can increase fat loss. This supplement is heavily studied and has lots of research to back up the claims. My advice would be to perfect your diet and training first. Fat burners are great for dropping to single digits or breaking plateaus. If you have more than 5-8kg to lose, I suggest saving your money until everything else is on point.
Dosage: 400mg in the morning and afternoon.
r-Alpha Lipoic Acid: This supplement is great for reducing insulin response in those with poor carbohydrate tolerance. Although not needed every day if your insulin is working as it should, before cheat meals can be beneficial. This would reduce the rapid insulin response caused by the high amount carbohydrates. If your diet is good and your carbohydrate tolerance is normal, you can save your money here. Still a great supplement for weight loss.
Dosage: 100mg 3 times daily before meals.
CLA: CLA helps to induce apoptosis of fat cells (killing old fat cells). It can also help to preserve lean mass during dieting. This supplement is very popular in athletes for good reason.
Dosage: 2.5g-5g when dieting.
I could list a few others such as citrulline, and taurine but I do not believe these are essential unless you are very serious about your training.
I always tell people that diet, training, and recovery come first. If these have not been mastered, then it would not make sense to spend money on supplements. The best way to know you have mastered these areas is that are you seeing amazing results with your training.
If you are not, I would suggest finding a program that can deliver this. No supplement will suddenly cause you to gain or lose 10 kilograms. That is a good thing!
Perfecting our training and nutrition is healthy. It allows us to learn and work hard. It allows us to dedicate ourselves to the art and refuse easy way outs
The more you know, the more powerful you can be. The more you do, the more powerful you are.