My opinion on supplements has changed over time, largely as my style of lifting has evolved. When I was bro-crazy and purely cared about getting my pump on, I spent hundreds of dollars on supplements each month. I had three different types of protein powders, five different kinds of pills I took daily, two pre-workout supplements, one peri-workout drink and a special fat burner for cardio. I wanted to be muscular and shredded, but all I ended up with was a lighter wallet. I was a complete sucker.
When I started powerlifting, I stopped taking all supplements altogether. Funnily enough, I noticed no real difference to my training. Nowadays, I usually save supplements for around competition time. Leading up to a competition, I find protein powders help significantly not only to feed the hangry monster after a three-hour events session, but also in terms of helping me make weight. I also am more likely to use glutamine or general BCAAs (branched chain amino acids) to help with recovery during this time.
Before a big events session or a competition itself, I will usually take a pre-workout supplement. I save it for these days only, so it has more of an effect on me.
My clients ask me time and time again what supplements I recommend, and it always comes down to the same four. You can save your money, and your sanity, by avoiding the rest.
Remember that supplements should only enter the equation after you have a proper training regime and diet nailed down, as well as an adequate recovery plan. Once those things are in check, these four supplements can boost your performance in the gym.
The cornerstone of almost every gym enthusiast’s diet is protein, and for good reason. Protein is helpful for people with a whole range of fitness objectives: it can help you gain lean muscle as well as aids in muscle recovery, and it also helps with fat loss as it helps to keep you feeling fuller for longer. #gainz
Protein powder is great for those that struggle to hit their recommended daily targets of protein (usually around 1g per pound of bodyweight). Protein shakes are great for immediately after workouts, as well as meal replacements when you’re in a pinch.
A pre-workout supplement is by no means an ‘essential’, but it can certainly enhance your workout performance. Pre-workouts typically contain caffeine, which stimulates the release of adrenaline and primes your body for physical exertion, while preventing you from becoming fatigued. They also often contain substances which help your body transport nutrients and get the blood flowing to your muscles.
Certain pre-workout supplements can assist with fat burning, while others will help with building muscle. They can also increase strength, explosive power and reaction time. It’s not unusual for someone to hit a personal best the first time they try a pre-workout supplement.
If you’ve ever done a serious leg day, you know the pain of DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness). Everything hurts. Getting out of bed is the first challenge, and going to the bathroom makes you wonder if maybe you could just avoid it for the entire day. And don’t forget stairs – they make you question whether life is really worth living.
Of course, a good stretch, a nice shower and proper rest is important at this point, but glutamine can provide an extra boost to your recovery. As the most common amino acid in your muscles, it plays an integral role in promoting protein synthesis. It’s often severely depleted when you work out so, by taking a glutamine supplement, you increase your body’s stores faster and aid recovery. This means you can tear it up in the gym again instead of sitting at home wishing someone would help you use the toilet.
Some people swear by creatine, while others – like myself – report no real benefit from taking it. I usually tell people to experiment for themselves, as the benefits can be significant.
Creatine is a naturally-occurring acid found in our skeletal muscle. It is produced from amino acids in our kidneys and liver, largely in response to the food we eat.
Creatine is thought to increase muscular endurance, power and strength. It is said to have anabolic effects, as it encourages protein synthesis, and also helps your muscles look bigger by drawing water into the muscle cells. Contrary to certain jokes floating around the internet, creatine is not a steroid and will not turn women into she-hulks.
The key to any good supplementation program is the quality of the products you use. Like any other product, quality varies, and using something with a heap of additives or sugar can be counterproductive. I’m so out of the loop now that I still recommend the brands I was using three years ago – which are not necessarily bad, but perhaps not the most up-to-date options available. Be sure to chat with people in the know (like the team at Fitness Market) before you buy, and get to know what brands you can trust, and what brands you should avoid.
Do you use supplements? What is your most essential training supplement?