It’s true: most of the nutrients your body needs to fuel your workouts, recover and repair – to really build your best physique – should come directly from your diet. In other words, from the delicious, nutrient-dense, whole foods that you eat every day.
But even though this is true, times have changed… No longer do we live in the pristine environment of our ancestors, the modern world introduces us to a host of nutritional issues: environmental pollution and toxins, soil depletion and water depletion – the result being that the food we eat today, isn’t as nutrient-dense as it used to be. Add to this the fact that intense exercise requires more nutrients, and supplements start to make a lot more sense.
Still, the food you eat should be your main source of nutrients. To put a new twist on an old saying: you can’t out supplement a bad diet. So before you even step into the supplement realm, make sure you’ve got your diet in check, once you’ve done that (meaning, you’re eating clean and healthy most of the time), then it’s time to look at supplements.
Women tend to shy away from supplements, but the fact is, supplements are beneficial to you regardless of your gender. In fact, many women have noticed amazing transformations in their body composition once they started adding supplements into the mix – and no ladies, supplements don’t make you huge! That’s more about the testosterone guys have in abundance.
Note: Remember to always get cleared with your doctor before you start taking any supplements. Bearing that in mind, let’s talk about the supplements…
8 Essential Workout Supplements
Protein powder can be used for both building muscle and weight loss (partly due to suppressing the appetite-inducing hormone ghrelin). If you’re doing strength training, then you should probably aim to get about 1g of protein per pound of body weight (including the other food sources). Protein won’t bulk you up, nor will it make you fat, in fact it is essential to getting a lean, sexy physique.
Branch-Chain Amino Acids
BCAAs are essential amino acids which help to prime your body for protein synthesis. You would supplement with BCAAs in order to help build muscle, or to help preserve muscle mass while getting lean (since BCAAs are preferentially used as a fuel source).
Creatine allows you to train your body at higher intensity and higher volume because it increases muscle strength. Not only that, studies have also shown that creatine also improves your anaerobic threshold, delaying the onset of lactic acid forming in the muscles. We get most of our creatine naturally from red meat and fish, so the less of these you eat, the more you will benefit from creatine supplementation (e.g. especially vegans or vegetarians).
Beta Alanine is an amino acid which increases carnosine in the body, the effect of this is that it delays fatigue and time it takes for you to reach exhaustion. In addition to this, higher levels of carnosine has been found to improve performance in intense exercise (short-duration, e.g. sprints). The other benefit is that it has been shown to enhance the effects of creatine.
Good multivitamins (with minerals) can help make up for any of the areas where you may be nutritionally deficient. Since these deliver so many vitamins and minerals, it’s worth getting the best multivitamin you can afford; however, bearing in mind that many foods are fortified with vitamins and minerals, you may want one which is low in vitamin A and iron to prevent overloading these.
Essential Fatty Acids
EFAs are critical to health and well-being, and they cannot be manufactured by your body, so it’s important to make sure you’re getting enough of these good guys. We tend to get enough omega-6 fatty acids, and not enough omega-3s (found in fish and e.g. flax seeds), so it’s probably better to go with a supplement higher in omega-3s.
Glucosamine Sulfate & MSM
Glucosamine sulfate, methylysulfonylmethane (MSM) and chondroitin may be useful supplements for joint health (especially important in resistance training, since lifting weights can put significant stress on your joints). However, the research is still a little sketchy, so more studies need to be done, however some studies indicate an anti-inflamatory action which can benefit your joint health positively.
Caffeine can give your workouts a good performance boost. The easiest way to get it is to have a shot of espresso before your workout, but obviously if you’ve been quaffing coffee the whole day long, this isn’t needed at all. And remember, caffeine stays in your system for 12 hours, so if you’re not sleeping well, this could be part of the problem.
3 Supplements to Avoid
Here are some of the supplements you definitely want to avoid – just in case that sweet old lady from across the road tries to push any of these on you… you never know!
Not only are these illegal without a prescription, there is a laundry list of negative side effects associated with steroid use.
Human Growth Hormones
Probably not as bad as anabolic steroids in terms of side-effects, although more research needs to be done.
Alcohol & Sugar
Alright, you got us. These aren’t exactly supplements, but they definitely have a negative impact on your health and getting the phsique you want. Not everyone wants to cut these out, so moderation is key! Here’s how to cut down on your sugar intake.
To sum it all up: supplements are a useful addition, and in our modern world, maybe even an essential addition to living a healthy life. Whichever stance you take, there’s no doubt that if you want to maximize the results of your workouts, and even your performance during your workouts, supplements can help you do that.
What are your thoughts on supplementation? Let us know in the comments below!