Supplements are always a huge topic of discussion in any and all health and fitness-based circles. Whether it’s athletes looking to gain an edge over the competition, lifters looking to add on some muscle or weight to their lifts, or someone who’s looking for a way to speed up their weight loss progress, everyone at some point looks to supplements for a way to boost their progress.
Unfortunately, the companies who sell these products prey on individuals desire to find that perfect performance enhancer, fat burner, muscle builder, you name it, and they are willing to make all sorts of false promises to get you to buy their product. Add on top of this that supplements are not well regulated, require no FDA approval, and in many instances are just straight up allowed to lie about what ingredients are in their product, and you’ve got quite the headache in front of you in terms of determining what’s worth your time and money.
So today I’ll try and ease that headache and offer you some insight on what supplements you should be giving consideration (spoiler alert: it’s not that many) and take some time to address the actual fact’s and research behind these products. I’m going to cover the “big ticket” items today, as there are so many different supplements out there that this article would not end if I covered them all. If it’s not on the list you probably don’t need to be worrying about it, despite what supplement companies may be telling you, and I’ll most likely end up covering more of these products in the future.
Supplements Worth Your Time
Alright we’ll start with the most obvious supplement first, and arguably the most popular one that everyone knows. So, I’ll start off by saying that if you are getting by just fine hitting your daily protein needs with the normal foods you are eating each day, then you don’t need to worry about a protein supplement. You’re not going to see any sort of performance benefit switching from protein from foods like meats, nuts, or milks as compared to something like whey protein. Boom that’s more money in your pocket right there. But for those that struggle to hit their protein intake goals, are looking for a quick and easy on the go meal replacement, or just need a change up from eating chicken breast after chicken breast then a protein supplement is a great option for you.
Protein supplements are easy to understand, traditionally, you’ll find them in two main types either whey protein, or casein, but there are always new options popping up with where the protein is sourced from (my dad currently has protein sourced from peas…so like…you got options). In terms of the difference between whey and casein it’s just a difference in digestion. Whey protein is going to digest a good deal quicker, while casein will tend to be a bit slower burning
People will argue all the time about inherent benefits to either fast or slow digestion, and that you’re going to lose all your gains if you’re doing one or the other, but it’s honestly a non-issue that you shouldn’t worry about. Leave the keyboard warriors to fight each other in peace, and just pick the one that sits best with you. I tend to find that people gravitate towards whey because it does digest easier, but feel free to try both.
Or get explorative and try that pea protein (or grasshoppers even, pound for pound more grams of protein than beef…just sayin’…)
Two things to consider
- Take into consideration price, protein content, and overall protein quality.
- In terms of price you’re generally going to be working in the $40-$60 range for one of the 5lb jugs of protein.
Any higher in price and you’re most likely dealing in the realms of gypsy magic and false promises, or maybe they’ve just got dope flavors, I dunno. But, it’s pretty hard to make a protein superior to all the other proteins after a certain point so they are most likely just inflating their price.
HOWEVER, any lower in price and that’s when you start playing a russian roulette game in terms of protein quality. These products simply aren’t regulated so in this case it does tend to payoff to stay with the “brand products” that have a bit of a “pedigree” to them we’ll say.
Common tricks with the cheaper off brand proteins
- Filler content for their protein, i.e. less of the powder is composed of protein. An easy way to spot this is looking to see if there are any carbohydrates/sugars listed in the nutrition label, for those proteins consisting mostly of protein the carbohydrate content will be at a bare minimum.
- The second trick is impossible to pick out unfortunately, and this is simply using less expensive amino acids for the protein. Generally, this results in using less essential amino acids (proteins we only get through diet) and more nonessential amino acids (proteins we can produce in our bodies) both are important to the body though, don’t get me wrong.
Amino acids are a whole conversation in themselves so just know that, yes, a protein powder can have higher quality than another which is why brand proteins are usually a safe bet, but anything past that $60 mark is pretty much capped out in terms of the extra quality you’re going to receive.
Chances are if you are an adult in The United States you are already making use of this supplement with the prevalence rate being around the 90% mark in terms of consumption among adults in the USA. And this is not necessarily a bad thing, caffeine is a fantastic supplement with a whole bunch of research behind it.
It is a proven performance enhancer across the board, for those with weight loss goals it has an appetite suppressant affect, and even mobilizes fat cells into the blood stream making them more likely to be burnt off for energy, it also has proven benefits to mental performance outside of just the gym. The issue of course is the addictive potential of caffeine, coupled with the negative effects of being dependent on caffeine. In addition to this some individuals can respond poorly to caffeine as it can increase anxiety. But, used responsibly caffeine is easily one of the best safe and legal performance enhancers out there.
My main tip regarding caffeine is realizing that you are probably being overcharged depending on where you are sourcing your caffeine from.
Typical pre-workouts, which many people use for caffeine tend to be anywhere from $20-$40 for around 30 servings of anywhere from about 200mg to 400mg of caffeine per serving. Or, you could just snag a 200ct pack of caffeine pills off amazon at 200mg of caffeine per pill for around $10. Same exact stuff, minus the bright colors, and artificial fruit flavor, oh and the price gouging.
Of course, if coffee is more your style same idea applies, save yourself the money and make your own, don’t let someone overcharge you for something you could have made yourself.
And that’s about it really, caffeine’s great, don’t make it a crutch you rely on, and don’t pay more than you have to, simple. For those that are wondering how much they should be consuming each day I’m going to point you to this video ft. Dr. Eric Helms to explain way more than I can type out for this article
One of the best researched, yet still tragically misunderstood supplements out there, if you are into strength training in any respect creatine should probably be on your radar. Let’s just clear some things up here, creatine is NOT a steroid, this is not your magical muscle solution to pack on tons of size and strength in a short amount of time. Does it have a proven performance enhancing effect for short burst, high intensity exercise? Yes. Is this performance enhancement drastic? Probably not the way you’re thinking.
In understanding if creatine is going to create the performance enhancing effect you are looking for, the first thing to understand is that creatine is only really affecting short burst exercise in the 0-10 second range (so if you’re in the realms of endurance sports, this might not be what you’re looking for). Think something like your common strength set’s for a squat, bench, and deadlift, or an explosive athletic event like a 100m sprint, or other sprint variations. Next thing to understand is that creatine does NOT have any direct effect on increasing muscle size, but instead works on our energy system.
Any increase in muscle size will simply be a byproduct of creatine’s main effect which is helping replenish ATP in our body which is essentially our bodies “energy currency”. More energy= more work done= better training stimulus= bigger muscles. Simply put, we need ATP to perform movements, such as the strength movements and sprints, creatine helps our body replenish the ATP quicker, and the result is we have a bit more energy to perform these movements leading to the perceived performance enhancement. This is WAY oversimplifying things but for the purpose of this article will suffice.
This performance boost isn’t super drastic, think like an extra rep or two on your set’s, not suddenly lifting 100lbs more than you used to. But in the end it’s still a scientifically significant boost in performance, and if your someone who’s looking for every little boost you can get, creatine will realistically help you out and isn’t just snake oil. Now along with this performance boost, creatine also comes with a bit of a water retention effect, again nothing crazy but it’s there.
You could see around a 5lb or so weight fluctuation taking creatine as your body will hold more water with higher levels of creatine. You did not gain fat, and you also did not gain muscle, it’s just water, but it’s important that people know that effect exists going in before they are worried about weight gain that seems to be happening out of nowhere (some people take this as a positive, some as a negative, I just want you to know it’s there). It is also important to note that there is a non-responder group to creatine, which means that group will not see any effect from supplementing creatine, and that’s around 20% of all people who try creatine. The good news is, creatine is a rather cheap supplement so even if you end up taking it for a few months, realize it’s not really doing anything for you and want to stop, you’re not really going to have taken a financial hit like you would with some other products.
Buying and supplementing with creatine it’s rather straight forward
In terms of buying creatine just stick with creatine monohydrate, there are a bunch of other variations being sold all with their own “unique benefits”, just avoid all their marketing hype, stick with the regular creatine monohydrate and you’ll be good. Target price: On amazon you can get 600g of creatine monohydrate for $14, and a daily serving is 5g. That’s 120 servings, or 120 days worth of creatine for $14, not bad at all.
The packaging is probably going to tell you about a “loading phase” and you can choose to do so or not. The daily recommendation for creatine supplementation is 3-5 grams a day (about a teaspoon worth), and a loading phase would see you taking about 3x this much each day over the course of about 7 days. The only real purpose of this would be to get your body to a creatine saturated state (highest level of creatine in the body possible) faster, but you’d be just as well off just taking 3-5 grams from day one and you’ll also hit that creatine saturated point as well, so the choice is yours.
Other than that there’s nothing else to really worry about approximately 5 grams a day and that’s it. It’s becoming less common, but some people will still claim you should “cycle off” creatine for your health, and you simply don’t need to. This is based in old fears of creatine causing kidney, or liver damage, which has been studied and proven to be false so calm your fears, once you start taking creatine you can take it for the rest of your life and you’ll be good.
That’s about it for this dive into the supplement world. I know I left out a lot of popular things people probably want to know about like multivitamins, fish oils, beta alanine, fat burners, and so much more, but each of these would require an article to themselves to cover all the in and outs properly, and I hope to do so in the future. What I have listed above is kind of the “no bull” list of supplements.
They work, there’s nothing devious about them, and you don’t have to worry too much about someone pulling one over on you with them. The supplements I just listed off, however, can be a bit harder to determine either “yes” it’s worth your time or “no” just steer clear of it. As a small bit of advice to help you out in the interim, if what a supplement company is promising you with a product seems too good to be true, it most likely is.
Everything regarding health and fitness comes down to consistency over long periods of time, so when someone comes running at you trying to get you to buy into “the fast lane” you can almost guarantee they don’t have your best interests at heart.