Supplementation is a hot topic and many of you keep asking, so here is my complete list of supplements you will need if you want to see results in the gym:
Most guys feel the first step to getting back in shape is a stop at the local supplement store. That’s because supplement companies spend millions of dollars advertising to make you feel that way. Honestly, when’s the last time you searched for fitness information without seeing a supplement ad?
Everywhere we look there’s a picture of a jacked dude promoting the newest testosterone enhancing pills. Or the shredded couple drinking their fat burning tea, each with a stupid looking smirk on their face. That stupid looking smirk is because they both know it’s bullshit. Or maybe they don’t and they’re just stupid… with stupid looking smirks.
We all have that friend with cupboards full of supplements, most being well past the expiration date. They can’t tell you exactly what any of them do, but they can tell you exactly who promotes the product.
When I begin working with a new client, one of the first things we discuss is their supplement regimen. If they can’t tell me how something works or why, we discontinue it. Some guys get emotional about it. They feel that hitting the gym and hoarding supplements is a package deal.
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There are times I’ve instructed clients to stop taking so many supplements that it ends up paying for my coaching services and puts money back in their pockets. I’m talking hundreds of dollars per month saved. Ridiculous right?
Let’s get something clear, supplements are NOT necessary. Supplements can be used to help correct nutritional deficiencies, increase energy levels, and support general health. But these are all things that can be taken care of with an appropriate diet, sleep, and exercise.
Supplements have their place, but a stop at the local supplement store shouldn’t be your top priority when starting a new program.
Since a lot of you can’t grasp the concept of getting sexy without supplements (because you’re emotional about it), here are a few I feel could be beneficial for supporting an active and healthy lifestyle.
4 Worthwhile Supplements
The most common nutrition related problem I see is clients failing to hit their daily protein goals. Whey protein is a very cost effective, easy, and delicious way to overcome this problem. Whey protein is the water-soluble protein found in milk. It is quickly absorbed and provides a very good amino acid profile. There is no need to purchase an expensive, fancy-named product. A simple whey protein concentrate will do the trick.
Expect a protein content of about 24 grams per serving/scoop (about 80% protein by weight for whey concentrate) and to pay about $35-40 dollars for a 5-pound container. If the product you are looking at has significantly more protein per serving or is more expensive, you are probably being scammed.
Find a whey protein product that tastes good and consume it at a time that is convenient for you. There is no excuse for not hitting your daily protein intake. ZERO!
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Creatine monohydrate is one of the most studied sports supplements ever. Contrary to popular belief, creatine is not a steroid, it is not a heart attack inducing supplement, and you will not be "living life on the edge". In fact, creatine just allows us to replenish ATP (the body’s main form of energy) more efficiently. When our body performs work, we get the energy from breaking a high energy phosphate bond and ATP (adenosine triphosphate) is converted to ADP (adenosine diphosphate). Creatine provides high concentrations of intramuscular phosphate to convert ADP back to ATP. In short, it helps allow us to perform more work during our workout.
Creatine is a polar molecule and stored within the muscle cells, so it drags some water along with it. This is why some people gain weight when they begin supplementing with it. The amount of water weight you will gain is based on the level of your natural creatine stores. But water inside the muscle cell isn’t a bad thing; it’s exactly where we want it. A hydrated muscle is strong muscle. This is a beneficial side effect and another reason you should not rely solely on the scale to track progress.
The recommended and most studied intake is 5 grams of creatine monohydrate per day. There is no need to cycle or load creatine and it doesn't need to be taken at a specific time. The only notable side effect is G.I. discomfort for those that take well above the recommended daily intake. There are many different variations of creatine, but the most studied and efficacious is monohydrate.
I suggest supplementing with 5 grams of micronized creatine monohydrate per day, taken at any time. 1000 grams of micronized creatine monohydrate can be purchased for less than $20.
The most common vitamin deficiency in developed countries is vitamin D. Although most aren’t deficient in vitamin D, most aren’t getting optimal levels either. If you spend little time in the sun, supplementation may be particularly beneficial for you.
Optimal levels can improve cognition, immune health, bone health, and testosterone production. It has also been shown to reduce the risk of many common diseases.
The recommended daily allowance is very low at 400 - 800 IU (International Units). The safe upper limit of vitamin D intake is between 4,000 - 10,000 IU per day, although there are very few known toxicities at any dose.
I suggest supplementing with 2,000 IU vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) per day. Since vitamin D3 is fat soluble, it should be taken with meals. A quality supplement should be less than $20 for 200 servings.
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Magnesium is another common deficiency in developed countries. Even if not deficient, many are not getting optimal intake. Optimal intake of magnesium can help improve sleep quality, blood pressure, and glucose sensitivity.
Since magnesium products are overall poorly absorbed and the body typically absorbs only as much magnesium as it needs, supplementing with more than the recommended amount can cause G.I. discomfort and have a laxative effect. This is one of the only side effects of magnesium supplementation.
I suggest supplementing with 400 mg magnesium per day, taken with meals. There are many types of magnesium products, such as magnesium glycinate, oxide, malate, citrate, etc… Any of these combinations will work for supplementation. If one causes GI discomfort, try a different combination.
A quality 200mg magnesium supplement with 100 servings can be found for less than $15.
Notice there are not high priced testosterone boosters, prohormones, fat burners, or miracle supplements on this list. I feel most are a giant waste of money as does much of the research.
The best way to increase testosterone levels naturally is to incorporate lifestyle changes that maximizes testosterone production and utilization. These include a well rounded diet with no micronutrient deficiencies, heavy resistance training, and adequate quality sleep (which all of the above will help support).
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- Supplements are not necessary to reach your goals
- Supplements should be used to fill nutritional gaps or deficiencies
- Most supplements are a waste of money with little proven efficacy
- If using supplements, use those backed by research for efficacy and safety
P.S. Supplements (especially herbal) have a notorious track record for interacting with prescription medications. If you are taking any prescription medications, check with your pharmacist or physician to see if there is a possible drug-supplement interaction.
While this is all good information you don’t take into account those of us whose bodies don’t function the way they should. After surviving testicular cancer my body no longer produces any testosterone. So increasing that naturally isn’t really an option, not is supplementing the synthetic testosterone I have to take. I use pre, protein and BCAAs to help my body do what it naturally can’t.
Sam, you are correct. My posts are intended to be used as general sports nutrition and performance information and NOT medical advise. You have a very specific case and you should follow the instruction of your medical team. I understand the complexity of your personalized situation having experience both compounding hormones for replacement therapy and working in oncology. Also, recent research has shown BCAAs are unnecessary and can be detrimental to maximizing protein synthesis in those with adequate high quality protein intake. If you are taking a protein supplement, BCAAs are pointless.