Before I get down to business, I just wanted to give a quick update for those of you who don’t follow me on Facebook. I went in for a follow-up appointment for my eye surgery yesterday and I’m very, very pleased to announce that the operation was successful (there was a 20 per cent chance of failure). While it normally takes four weeks for them to diagnose success or failure, I healed up extra quickly! I was given the all-clear to ease myself back into weight lifting, but I’m going to wait another week or two to be safe considering my eye is still causing some discomfort from simple movement.
Today’s post is a response to Sam, who asked: I would love to see a post on your opinions on supplements now that you’ve had to change your eating style – BCAA’s, glutamine, whey/casein protein and all that jazz. Would love to know if you think that they’re actually effective!
I have been meaning to write this post for a long time! To recap, I started following the Paleo diet in November last year in the hopes that it would improve my PCOS. When I started eating Paleo I cut out all supplements, including protein powders, BCAAs (branched-chain amino acids) and creatine. I trained for three months with no fitness-specific supplementation whatsoever before I was put on lifting hiatus. Around the same time, I started taking zinc and CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) to improve my hormonal profile – they are the only supplements I take now.
I can report absolutely no obvious difference in my muscle mass, strength or recovery since cutting out supplements.
I know I have previously blogged about how much I like supplements before (for example, I seem to love protein powder a lot in this post haha), but opinions change! I used a whey protein powder post-workout ever since I first started lifting, and I diligently had casein before bed every night for two years. On the weekends, when I was feeling lazy, I would often have casein as a meal replacement as well – therefore potentially having three shakes per day!
In advance of starting the Paleo diet, I heavily researched making the switch to a whole foods-only diet. One point frequently emphasised was the importance of replacing the protein lost via shakes. In an average day, I was consuming 50 grams of protein in the form of shakes – a significant amount to cut out.
Here’s where I let you in on a secret. I did absolutely nothing to replace that protein. I made sure to eat more protein post-workout, but I made no other changes. I went from consuming about 170g of protein per day to just 130g (roughly – I don’t count my calories). I also switched to eating three or four meals per day instead of six or seven. My portions naturally increased, but I never forced myself to eat more protein for the sake of it. To be honest, I think most fitness people consume way too much protein anyway.
I continued to build muscle and increase strength. My digestion improved considerably and I said goodbye to shake-induced gassiness. I always struggled with drinking a shake and then eating a solid meal 30-45 minutes later, as I felt like the shake just sat in my stomach. Now, I eat solid food about an hour after I work out.
For the first couple of weeks, I missed my bedtime casein pudding. But then, like anything, my body adapted. I am now fully satisfied by the substantial meals I consume at dinner, and I enjoy dark chocolate a couple of nights a week instead.
In the beginning I also dearly missed my BCAAs, purely because I occasionally liked to flavour my water with something sweet. I introduced BCAAs into my supplement regime about six months into my lifting journey and I loved them. I didn’t see any associated increases in muscle growth, but my recovery did improve substantially.
When I cut out BCAAs, I expected to feel incredibly sore… Only I didn’t. Perhaps my body has just adapted to lifting, but I noticed absolutely no difference in cutting out BCAAs.
I will admit that my muscles look flatter having cut out the creatine, but that’s to be expected given that the supplement causes water retention. I did not, however, see any negative performance effects.
I’ve never actually taken glutamine on its own, so I can’t comment on that. The only other supplement I have taken in the past is L-carnitine, which I stopped taking because I didn’t think it was doing anything! I have also tried pre-workout supplements but I have to be careful given that I’m susceptible to migraines and therefore have to be sensible around caffeine.
I was planning on buying Sun Warrior protein (which is dairy- and soy-free and therefore Paleo-friendly!) when I start lifting again, but now I’m not so sure. I think it’s important to remember that the fitness industry is a multi-billion dollar empire and every product is designed to sound incredibly appealing. Everyone is trying to sell you something, including bloggers who post reviews and giveaways of such products.
By all means, experiment with different supplements yourself to see if they make a difference, but don’t feel as though you have to have protein powders or anything else to be truly fit or develop the physique you want. At the end of the day, nothing will beat training hard and consuming plenty of whole, natural food. All the supplementation in the world won’t help if you are not truly committed to the game!
Do you believe in supplementation? Are there any supplements you can’t live without?