Supplements That Work

“What supplements do you use?”

I get asked this question all the time.  I can understand why:  supplements have been marketed so aggressively that people overestimate their importance.  I’ll give you my personal recommendations here, but let me start with two cautionary statements:

1.  Supplements just don’t make much difference.  Your nutrition and training do.  That’s why I spend most of my time reviewing and discussing training programs on this blog.  Most of your time and money should be invested in learning how to work out and eat properly.

2. You have to approach bodybuilding supplements the same way you approach buying a used car–don’t believe everything you hear/read or you’ll get ripped off.  I learned this lesson the hard way back in the 90’s.  I’ve since wised up and do a lot more research.

Speaking of budget–I’ve provided links for buying if you are interested.  I have found that buying online is very economical, even when you factor shipping costs.  I would recommend buying in bulk–that way you spend less money on packaging and your purchase will last longer.

OK, let me recommend a few for building muscle:

1. Creatine Monhydrate: This one is, without question, the king of bodybuilding supplements.  It has been backed by over 500 studies, most of which found it to improve performance .  Stick with Monohydrate–there’s absolutely no reason to buy “buffered” forms of creatine  (see also Does Creatine Work?).  I would recommend microzined creapure--this ensures both quality/purity and is more easily dissolved.

How to use it: First and foremost, I’d highly recommend you dissolve it in warm water until it is clear in color (this is one reason I like micronized versions–faster dissolving).  Drinking it undissolved greatly reduces its effectiveness and increases the likelihood of gastrointestinal problems (upset stomach, etc).

You can simply take 3-5 grams a day (about a teaspoon).  “Loading” it or cycling it is unnecessary, and the timing (pre/post workout) is irrelevant.

2. Whey Protein: I’d recommend you consume around 100-120 grams or so of protein per day (if you are dieting you should probably go higher, as protein requirements increase on a calorie deficit).  You’ll hear others claim you need a lot more than that, but the real research just doesn’t support incredibly high protein intake (see also: How Much Protein).

Anyway, the main advantage of protein supplements is convenience–it’s just easier than cooking.  But you don’t have to use this supplement if you can get enough protein through your diet.

How to use it:  I normally take whey protein with lowfat or skim milk.  Milk has slower digesting proteins, which keeps the whey from digesting/absorbing too quickly (this could cause insulin spikes).  You can check out my post workout nutrition article for more info on why I usually take it with milk.  The amount you take will depend on how much protein you get through diet (most of your protein should come from “real” food).  I really like Optimum Gold Standard, but any reputable brand will do.

3. Fish Oil:  This supplement has multiple benefits.  It positively affects your blood lipid profile, combats inflammation, and the list goes on.  Modern diets tend to be low in these omega 3 fats, so supplementing them makes a lot of sense.  It seems the longer we study fish oil supplementation the more good things we learn about it.

How to use it:  I’d recommend taking a minimal of 3 grams/capsules a day.  I usually take somewhere between 3-9 a day.

4.  Multivitamin:  A vitamin is simply a cheap insurance against nutritional deficiencies.  Female trainees may want to take a multivitamin with iron since they lose it during menstruation (or they may choose to take a separate iron supplement).   This is usually the only significant difference between “men” and “women’s” formulas.  I haven’t linked to a particular product here because you’d probably do just as well to buy a generic multivitamin at your local drug store (I don’t believe expensive formulas are any better–don’t waste your money on special “bodybuilding” vitamins).

So those are the basics: creatine monohydrate, protein powder, fish oil, and a multivitamin.  That should cover it–adding several pills and powders to this simple list will do nothing except empty your wallet.

Other Supplements worth Considering:

*Vitamin D-3:  Deficiency of this vitamin has been getting a lot of attention lately, and with good reason: most of us don’t get outside as much as previous generations did.  Our bodies synthesize vitamin d in the presence of sunlight, but excessive exposure to the sun also puts us at increased risk for skin cancer.

How to use it:  this one is a little trickier, because several factors can influence how much you need (such as how dark your skin is an how much time you spend outdoors).  I take 1,000-2,000 milligrams a day, but I’m very fair skinned.  I’d encourage you to ask your doctor to check your vitamin D level next time you have a check up.  Check out my Vitamin D article for more information.

*BCAA (Branch Chain Amino Acids): BCAA’s are the most essential parts of protein.  Some research indicates they decrease soreness during training, etc.  I personally don’t believe they make much difference when you are eating a caloric surplus and getting enough protein.

How to use it: The primary advantage of BCAA supplements is for fasted training–they may help offset catabolism.  Just take 10 grams before and/or after you train in a fasted state.  I like SciVation Xtend because it has this amount per scoop/serving.

I use a wax matrix niacin formula (called Endur-acin) to lower my cholesterol without statins.

L-Citrulline and L-Arginine can be useful for both blood pressure and sexual health.

Fat Loss Supplements:

I currently only recommend two supplements for fat loss.  I’ll just link to articles I’ve already written:

1. The ECA Stack (ephedrine, caffeine, and aspirin).

2. Yohimbine HCL (for “stubborn” fat).

I hope this post has helped you.  I’d encourage you to check out my recommended programs–learning how to eat and train are crucial to your success.

Just contact me if you have any questions.