Health and fitness supplements are becoming more and popular every year, and I don’t see that trend slowing down anytime soon. It seems like each day there is a new supplement that promises you results like you’ve never seen. It is such a fast growing industry that it’s hard for anyone, including the so-called “experts”, to keep up with them all. To be clear, I am a fan of supplements, and would even go as far as to say that many of them are necessary depending on what goals you are trying to achieve. The problem with supplements comes into play when people rely too heavily on them. Here is the definition of the word “supplement”:
1. Something added to complete a thing, make up for a deficiency, or extend or strengthen the whole.
The keywords there are “added to”. If you want to see any type of results, supplements should be used as an add-on to your already consistent workout routine and healthy eating; they are not meant to replace them. If you take energy supplements for example, but don’t workout, they are useless. If you are taking Creatine, but aren’t doing any resistance training, it is useless. Supplements are exactly what the name implies; it supplements what you are already doing.
With that being said, certain supplements can be very beneficial if used correctly. There are far too many types of supplements out there to go over all of them, so I will break down a few of the more popular ones, and all of these I use or have used in the past. That way I can personally speak to the effectiveness (or ineffectiveness) of each of them.
We’ll start with the most common, and most effective, supplement. Protein is the building block of muscle tissue. It is also responsible for synthesizing structural and growth hormones. In short, if your goal is to increase muscle size or strength in any way, that cannot quietum plus be done without adequate protein consumption. Although adequate protein intake can be can be obtained through your normal diet for some people, most find it difficult to obtain those levels without some type of protein powder taken once or more a day.
I will try to keep the technical part of this short, but it is necessary to have a quick overview of what protein is for any of this to make sense. Protein is made up of 22 amino acids. Of the 22 amino acids, 9 are considered “essential” because they cannot be produced by the human body. The ones that can be produced are called “non-essential”. Each type of protein is given a certain value on a Biological Scale depending on a number of things, with one of those being how many of the non-essential amino acids it contains. Egg white protein used to set the bar with a biological value of 100. But recently (within the past 20 years or so), the effectiveness of Whey Protein was discovered, which actually has a biological value of 104+. Whey Protein is absorbed much more quickly, and puts your body into more of an anabolic state than egg white protein. It also contains all 9 of the essential amino acids. So in short, supplementing with Whey Protein would be very beneficial for anyone looking to increase muscle size and strength, or even for those looking to tone-up.
All that to say, Whey Protein usually comes in the form of a powder that you can get from almost any grocery store, and is very cheap compared to many of the supplements out there. One more side benefit of protein is that the body has to work harder to burn it off, so it actually gives your metabolism a boost. Even if you aren’t heavy into working out, taking a scoop of Whey Protein in the morning with breakfast would benefit almost anyone.
Creatine Monohydrate, or Creatine for short, is one of the most misunderstood supplements out there. I’ve even heard people go as far as to say that it’s a type of steroid. Creatine is nothing like a steroid, and is completely safe to use. Steroids work by affecting your testosterone levels, and can be very dangerous (not to mention they’re illegal without a prescription).
Creatine works in a completely different way, and does not mess with your testosterone levels at all. I will do my best to break this down and not make it sound like a biology lesson, but that’s almost impossible to do when trying to explain how Creatine actually works. When working out with weights or doing any other type of resistance training, your body uses adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, for energy. Each time your muscle contracts, ATP is broken down into adenosine diphosphate, or ADP. ADP is completely useless until the body is able to convert it back to ATP to be used for another muscle contraction. In order to convert back into ATP, it most bond with your body’s natural stores of Creatine Phosphate. So by supplementing with Creatine, your body is actually able to convert ADP to ATP much more quickly and for longer periods of time since there is more of it available, which allows you to do more reps and more sets before your muscles fatigue. When you are able to do more reps and more sets, that of course will lead to more strength and bigger gains over time.
With all of that being said, Creatine will not work if you do not workout consistently. Again, the benefit of Creatine is to allow you to do more reps when lifting weights, which means not lifting will equal zero results. It is also not at all useful for aerobic activities like biking or running. Aerboic workouts use a different energy pathway than doing short bursts of lifting weights does, so will be useless if your goal is to run a faster 5K for example.
Another complaint I’ve heard is that Creatine will make you fat, which is also not true. Creatine supplementation does cause your muscle cells to hold more water, and yes you will gain a little bit of water weight while on it, but it is not fat or bad weight in any way. Once you stop using Creatine, you will drop the excess water weight very quickly. The good news here though is that any strength gains you made will remain since they were done naturally through more lifting. This is another common mis-conception as people incorrectly assume that the drop in weight is due to them losing their strength gains after cycling off of Creatine.
As with any supplement, do your own research before taking it to see if it’s for you, but I highly recommend Creatine if you are looking to hit certain strength goals.
Maybe the most popular type of supplement out there today is the pre-workout type. There are tons of different options available, and it’s almost impossible to have tried all of them. I have tried a number of them though: Ripped Fuel, Hydroxycut, Cellcore C4, Jacked 3d, and a few others. Ask ten people what their favorite is and you’ll likely get ten different answers. The correct answer is, use the one that works best for you.
Most of the pre-workout supplements come in either a pill or powder form, and are loaded with caffeine. There are many people out there who are afraid of the high caffeine content, and to an extent they have a point. Too much caffeine can raise your heart rate and potentially cause problems if you have any type of heart condition. However, keep in mind that many of the people who are afraid of pre-workout supplements are the same ones who will slam back 3 and 4 cups of coffee a day. A large cup of coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts has over 400mg of caffeine. None of the pre-workout supplements I’ve ever taken have even close to that amount of caffeine. Also keep in mind that caffeine has been proven to be a great fat burner when taken a few minutes before doing any type of prolonged cardio. So there are benefits to having some caffeine in moderation.