As a personal trainer, I have flip-flopped back and forth over the years when it comes to the topic of supplements. I have been hesitant because it’s been my experience that some people will jump on a supplement in the hopes of making changes to their body rather than changing their nutrition and adopting exercise. Fat-burners tend to be the most popular with this group. In reality, there is no supplement in the world that will replace hard work and good food. There just isn’t. So stop looking for it. Seriously.
Having said that, I use supplements myself. Here is the key to using supplements though. You have to remember that they “supplement” good food and exercise. Amazing insight, I know. But as long as you can keep that in mind, there are some products out there that can be helpful. So I am writing this for two reasons:
- To have my thoughts on this collected and written down somewhere.
- To have a guide I can direct people to when they ask me about supplements.
I think anyone engaged in a significant strength training program should be prioritizing protein in their diets. Remember that protein helps you recover from workouts, builds muscle, speeds your metabolism, and increases satiety. Your best bets are animal proteins here but you may need to supplement. The most popular are whey and casein. For those that are of the vegan way of thinking, there are plenty of vegetable based supplements out there. I won’t cover those here, mostly because they taste like freshly mowed lawn and I am not a vegan. As such, if you follow that approach to food, you should probably look to a fellow vegan/vegetarian for this information.
In my experience, whey can be really helpful as it shakes up easily in a shaker bottle and most have a pretty good taste at this point. So when you are in a position where you can’t have a sit-down meal and need something quick and fast, whey can be a benefit. It’s also great for a post-workout shot of protein. The down side to whey is that relative to other proteins, it doesn’t stay with me as long. Of course that is one of the reasons it’s good for post-workout supplementation. It gets into the system quickly. Please note that I said “relative to other proteins” there. In relation to sugary/starchy sources, whey is still going to keep me satisfied longer. This is the one that I use from MRM. I prefer the chocolate. However, if you prefer vanilla, it’s not bad either. My wife and I chose this one because it’s sweetened with stevia and it tastes good. I know there are mounds of evidence that other sweeteners are fine for you but not everyone agrees and the reality is that some folks get headaches from aspartame but don’t seem to react that way to the stevia.
Outside of a post-workout window, this is actually the protein that I prefer. It sticks to my ribs so to speak. Unfortunately it also sticks to the inside of a shaker bottle. So either prepare for a second workout (picture the Shake-weight… on second thought, don’t do that. No one should ever picture the Shake-weight) or make sure you have access to a blender. Of course that thickness is also what makes it last in your belly for so long. Truth be told here, I usually will mix a little of both into my shaker bottle when in need, post-workout or not. That way, I get the benefits of both. This is the casein product that I use. MRM, makes a casein product but I will be honest, I am not crazy about the taste. So I go with Optimum Nutrition instead. It is sweetened with aspartame so if that’s a big deal to you, you can go with the MRM product.
Fish Oil Supplements
Fish oil has tons of benefits. If you want to see a few, go here. The big ones in my book are the anti-inflammatory properties, the boost to the metabolism and the cardiac benefits, not necessarily in that order. The one that I recommend is formulated for lifters with a lifetime of mileage on their joints but works just as well for the everyday aches and pains of life. It’s also great if getting leaner is on your radar. It’s called Flameout by a company called BioTest. I find it very helpful, personally, when that pesky elbow tendonitis flares it’s ugly little head.
Probiotics, if you have never heard of them are bacteria that live in your gut. But it’s good stuff and you need it there for a healthy digestive tract. As a side note, a healthy GI tract might just be the key to a long and healthy life. Sometimes due to our diets filled with processed foods, sometimes due to antibiotic meds, these helpful little guys take a beating. Supplementing with probiotics can help restore the balance in your gut of good bacteria to bad. Side note II, fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut and kimchi are naturally chocked full of probiotics. So if you don’t want to supplement, make a concerted effort to get some fermented foods in your diet. We generally go with a company called Garden Of Life for our probiotics. You can find that here.
All The Rest
The last three supplements I’ll be talking about are case by case types of things or gap fillers. Speaking of gap fillers, that’s what a multivitamin is really good for. If you are getting plenty of variety in your proteins, vegetables and fruits, you should be good on your vitamins. But in a perfect world, you wouldn’t need anything on this list. Having said that, Garden of Life makes a good multivitamin as well. You can find that here.
Zinc and Magnesium
Sometimes in the process of losing weight or if you have recently lost a good bit of weight, this is a good supplement to add into your routine. A good indicator of whether or not you need something like this is if things slow down, as in digestively. If the train’s no longer coming at regularly scheduled times, you might need a little ZMA kick.
Creatine may be the most studied supplement on the planet. It’s got a mountain of both scientific and anecdotal evidence as to it’s safety and value in gaining muscle and improving performance. It’s also showing a possible benefit in fighting Parkinson’s and a host of neurological diseases. That jury is still out, but it looks promising. This is the one I have used in the past.
So that’s the list. Yes, there are a ton of other supplements out there that I didn’t cover. Things like “pre-workout” and the assorted fat-burners out there that I didn’t talk about. I left those out because I am not comfortable recommending those to people. Like Forest Gump, that’s all I have to say about that. I hope you found this helpful. If you did, please share this on your social media outlet of choice. If you have questions, feel free to leave a question in the comments. Have a great day.