So many people come to me with questions about supplements: which ones to take? How much of this should I use? Should I be using this? What’s the difference between x and y?
The problem nowadays is the overload of supplements and the marketing behind many of the top selling brands and supplements. The true picture of what to take is much simpler than we often make it out to be but we tend to get sucked into slick marketing and anecdotal evidence from a friend with good intentions but no idea.
One caveat I have to start with is to remind you that we are talking about SUPPLEMENTS. Naturally occuring and artificially produced chemicals that are designed to supplement a complete diet. They are never meant to replace macro or micronutrients we should be getting via real food.
With that being said, many of us a deficient in many nutrients and therefore supplements can provide the extra protein or iron or whatever you need to prevent chronic fatigue, muscle dystrophy, anemia, or some other illness that stems from nutrient deficiency.
Let’s start at the beginning, baseline health. The three most basic and obvious choices for anyone regardless of what you do or what you eat are:
- Protein power – Whey Isolate/Concentrate
- Fish Oil
When I said basic, I meant it. But these supplements address some of the biggest holes in people’s diet – low protein intake, vitamin and mineral deficiency, and lack of omega’s (a healthy fat!).
Go for whey isolate when possible as it is less irritating for the gut and generally comes with lower carbohydrate content but whey concentrate works fine too. If you are lactose intolerant then there are a lot of new plant protein based powders that do the trick.
Multi-vitamins are a no brainer, vitamins and minerals are required in all metabolic processes in our body including hormone production, brain function, energy creation, and muscle growth and recovery after exercise.
Fish oils are an extremely reliable source of omega 3 fatty acids which improve memory and general brain function but they also have a strong anti-inflammatory which I personally find helps my ‘old man’ knees from all the heavy squatting.
If you are on a budget or just don’t know where to start this is all you need! Once you get these right you should notice a difference within days.
Optimising Body Composition and Health
At this point you should be consistently popping your multi’s and fish oils and chugging back a protein shake or two. You’re probably also working out harder and longer than you used to as well. Now you need to take it to the next level.
The truth is that with all these things in place your main priority becomes recovery. It goes without saying that the most important recovery protocol is SLEEP. But you already do that right?!
Here’s what I recommend for anyone working out hard regularly (5+ times per week):
- Amino Acid Complex – BCAAs
Amino acids are the essential building blocks of the body and required for absolutely everything! Protein powder and protein rich food will supply many of these but if you are putting large amounts of exercise stress on your body it becomes hard to keep eating enough food to replenish your amino acid levels. They are also relatively low in calorie content so are great for people trying to lose weight.
Exercise also does some crazy things to your guts because of all the waste products that need to be cleared from the body after heavy workouts. Look for human derived probiotics rather than animal derived and products that come as capsules rather than drinks or powders as much of the probiotics can get burnt away in the stomach acid during digestion (which you don’t want!).
The last one is relora, something you may have never heard of but if you exercise at high volumes or high intensities then this is very important. This type of exercise can cause lower than normal testosterone levels, which is vital in recovery, and elevated cortisol – a stress hormone that leads to chronic fatigue and weight gain (sorry, not the good kind). This supplement helps to reduce the effect exercise has on these hormones and keep them at normal levels.
WARNING – Elite athletes only! I know you are probably going to ignore that and take these anyway but as I keep saying, address the essentials above before considering these supplements. These are like the icing on the cake AND the cherry on top!
These are the best of the best, the difference between second and first. So…here they are:
- Electrolytes – Low carb solution
Thanks to big sports drink companies like Gatorade and Powerade we all know why we need electrolytes but how much do you really need? The reality is much less than you think. This varies from person to person but all we are trying to do is replace what we lose when we sweat. So walking up the treadmill and sucking back a 750ml powerade isn’t necessary, and a big hit of sugar you don’t need.
Caffeine is another compound you probably know about or have experienced its effects in action. Most people take it in the form of their morning wake up coffee or a midday pick-me-up. But in application to training and health it has huge benefits aside from the obvious energy boost. Caffeine increases blood flow, improves fat mobilisation (fat burning) and significantly boosts performance for both endurance based training and short duration, high intensity exercise. Be cautious of its diuretic effect which can lead to dehydration if not properly managed.
The last one may be a new one for you but this is about as far out as I’m going to get with supplements. This is a specific amino acid that increases availability of nitric oxide, a chemical that improves blood flow. It helps improve the health of your heart and blood vessels as well as improving immune function and healing. It can actually improve the appearance of your skin! It also stimulates the release of growth hormone and insulin.
What to Watch Out For
With any supplements you take you should always look for those that use little or no artificial flavours or sweeteners such as sucralose or aspartame. Instead look for products with natural sweeteners like stevia.
Another compound to look out for is magnesium stearate, a commonly used filler in supplements to help stop the other ingredients sticking together. This can depress your immune system and also inhibit absorption of the supplements you are taking!
So there you have it. From the simplest supplements to the ones you should be taking to gain that extra 1% advantage over your competition. You might notice a lot of other so-called ‘wonder pills’ missing from here and it’s for good reason.
These are the supplements that are actually proven to work! There are so many other pills and powders, most of which has very little evidence to prove that they work. Just make sure you do your research. Don’t just trust you mate or read the manufacturers website for your ‘evidence’.
If you have any questions or want to know more about these supplements email me at firstname.lastname@example.org