Supplements designed to help you reach your fitness goals have been booming over the last decade with promises to help you build muscle, burn fat, increase testosterone, and improve performance. But do they really work?
In this article, I will provide you with information on supplements I recommend, and which ones which you should avoid.
The quick answer here is no. For most people who just want to look and feel better supplements are not required, but they can give you an edge. For example, do you need a pre-workout supplement to train? No, but it can give you more motivation to workout and allow you to push yourself a bit harder. Do you need whey protein to hit your protein goal? No, but it’s damn convenient to get 50 grams of protein in a quick, delicious shake. Do you need a fish oil supplement to get in your essential fats? No, but its a lot easier and cheaper than cooking salmon twice a week.
These are just a few examples of how supplements can help you, but they are only there to supplement your diet, which always comes first.
I should also note that if your goal is to look like Ronnie Coleman then diet and training alone is not going to get you there, but nor is any supplement. In order to build that kind of physique, you’re going to need to take PEDs (Performance-enhancing drugs). But this is on the extreme end of things, like I said, if you just want to look and feel better diet and training correctly will get you there.
The only supplements worth spending your money on are the ones that have been proven to work. Creatine tops this list, not only is it the most proven supplement, but it is also the cheapest. I personally supplement with creatine monohydrate year-round with 3-5g per day.
Creatine is a molecule in an energy system (creatine phosphate) that can rapidly produce energy (ATP) to support cellular function. ATP is the main ‘energy currency’ of a cell. Creatine lets you replenish ATP directly without needing to go through a lengthy process of breaking down other molecules into it.
There has been some scare-mongering around creatine in the past with claims that it can harm your kidneys and liver, or make you go bald, but there is no evidence to prove these claims. The only side effect for the majority of people is increased water retention, which is exacerbated with higher dosages. To avoid this, take a lower dose, and drink plenty of water.
Whey protein is the most widely used supplement in the fitness industry, and for good reason. Most people struggle to get enough protein in their diet, let alone quality protein with a complete amino acid profile. Whey protein a highly bio-available source of complete protein and can conveniently be taken by simply putting your required amount into a shaker and adding water.
Many people also go one step further and use whey in different meals. I personally use it in my overnight oats and protein pancakes. The sky really is the limit here, and if you enjoy cooking and baking there’s nothing stopping you from creating your own protein-rich recipes.
If you’re eating a well-balanced diet you should have most of your vitamin and minerals needs met, however, vitamin d can often be deficient in even the healthiest of diets, with many factors affecting your ability to get sufficient amounts of vitamin D such as:
- Being in an area with high pollution
- Using sunscreen
- Spending more time indoors
- Living in big cities where buildings block sunlight
- Having darker skin (The higher the levels of melanin, the less vitamin D the skin can absorb.)
- Not eating enough oily fish (Salmon, Herring, Sardines)
Doctors can diagnose a vitamin D deficiency by performing a simple blood test. If you’re diagnosed with a vitamin D deficiency, your doctor will likely recommend you start taking daily vitamin D supplements. I personally supplement with 5000iu of vitamin D daily during the winter, and more sparingly in the summer when there’s more sunlight.
The supplements I have recommended cover the basics, and are the most effective as far as general gym-based supplementation goes. However, they do not account for your personal circumstances, so if you’re deficient in a certain vitamin or mineral, and have been expertly diagnosed, then you will want to include anything recommended to you by your healthcare professional.
In this section, I will list the supplements you should consider to give you an edge. But remember, these supplements are not essential, and like any supplement, you can reach your fitness goals without them.
Fat burners are any dietary supplements or related substances that claim to burn excess fat from your body and have been on the market for years, with some promising steroid-like results with before and after pictures. However, many are ineffective at best or dangerous at worst.
The main ingredient in the majority of fat burners is caffeine, but because the supplement industry doesn’t have much regulation, supplement manufacturers can put almost anything in their products, some manufacturers don’t even list all the ingredients on the label!
So, do they work? From my personal experience, these supplements will have no fat burning effect if your diet is not in check. If you have got yourself into a slight calorie deficit, and want something to help push your fat burning a little bit further (1-2%) then they may give you an edge.
Pre-workout supplements fall into the luxury category and are similar to fat burners in more ways than one. For example, the main ingredient that makes pre-workouts effective is caffeine, and like fat burners, they are not essential to reaching your goals. They are just there to give you a boost in energy and focus during your workouts.
There are hundreds of pre-workouts on the market, varying in degrees of strength. I personally do like to use them, and over the years have found my own personal preference.
The first thing you need to find out is what your caffeine tolerance is. I personally work well with around 250mg, but some pre-workouts can go as high as 600mg.
If you choose to use a pre-workout, assess your own tolerance by starting as low as 100mg, slowly working your way up to your own sweet spot. You can also check the ingredient label for natural caffeine sources which can be better for sensitive individuals.
Unfortunately, the supplement industry is highly unregulated, and because of this many supplements have reached the market without underdoing significant safety checks.
Take for example the pre-workout supplements which have been banned due to containing illegal ingredients, Jack3d and Craze. These products were sold in the millions before being banned. It’s scary to know that dangerous supplements can reach the market and only be removed when people start reporting adverse side effects. This can sometimes be too late, with some people paying with their lives.
Although it’s less common to find illegal supplements on the shelves you should still stay vigilant as far as new fat burners and pre-workouts go. The substances deemed unsafe are usually not on the ingredient list which can make it impossible to know, so wait a few months before jumping to the latest product offering the best results.
The most known ingredient which is illegal and has caused many pre-workouts to be banned is DMAA (1,3-dimethylamylamine). DMAA is an amphetamine derivative that has been marketed in sports performance and weight loss supplements.
Synephrine is another ingredient that has been banned, it was originally found in the popular pre-workout known as C4 Extreme. The reason it was banned is that its effects are similar to ephedra, and can give athletes an unfair advantage, as well as the potential for serious effects on the heart.
It’s well known that testosterone is the key to building muscle, burning fat, maintaining energy levels, and general well-being. But don’t let these supplement companies fool you into thinking you can take a tablet to increase your own supply.
I know people who have gone all the way to find out the true effects of these supplements. These individuals have had blood work done before and after taking a bottle at the recommended dosages over the course of 30 days. The products they used were top of the line as fat as t-boosters go, and at the end of it all, there was a 0% increase in testosterone.
The interesting part of these studies was that all of the individuals reported a noticeable increase in their sex drive, which can be a strong enough reason for people to use these supplements, even if there is no actual increase in testosterone.
As I mentioned at the start of this article, no supplement is essential. They are luxuries you can choose to use if you can afford them and want to give yourself an edge. The supplements I have mentioned only scratch the surface, there are literally thousands out there, and there will be many more to come.
If you want to know which supplements you should be using to help you achieve your fitness goals then sign up for online coaching with me. This way I can look at your personal circumstances before giving you my recommendations.