Wouldn’t it be nice to go to the gym once or twice a week, take some magical pills (we call them supplements) and immediately see poppin’ muscles? Or what if we could skip working out altogether, eat well, take some supplements and get the same results?
On the long fitness road, there are no shortcuts. You have to put in the time, you have to be consistent, and it may not always be a walk in the park. Supplements are often viewed as the magic pills that will transform your life within a few doses. But honestly, supplements are only as effective as the nutritional foundation they support. What does that mean? It means if your day-to-day eating habits are poor it doesn’t really matter what supplements you take, you’re still likely to miss the benefits because you have a poor foundation. Just as important, if you’re not working out and putting in a sweaty effort to make those muscles pop, well, my friends, don’t expect any muscle poppin’.
Now, if you’re willing to put in the work, there are some verified supplements to help you along your fitness journey. They’re good, they’re proven, and they’re not overly complicated. When coupled with a consistent workout program, great things happen.
Let’s start simple and talk about the big three: pre-workout, protein (whey), and creatine. Afterwards, we’ll discuss if these three are right for you and give you some guidelines on whether or not they should be a part of your regular training regimen.
What it does: Stimulates the body before your workout via stimulants and other natural (and not so natural) ingredients.
How it helps: If you’re lacking motivation and need a little kick in the pants to get moving, pre-workout helps you find the energy to make your workouts more productive.
Does it work?: As long as you’re not completely desensitized to stimulants (let’s hope not!) then yes, absolutely, a pre-workout will definitely get your body moving.
Pros: Effective, most taste pretty good, makes you feel like a superhero.
Cons: Can be expensive, some people report ‘tingling’ sensations upon consumption, not recommended for those with heart issues.
My two cents: A pre-workout doesn’t have to be a fancy powder, it can be coffee or a Red Bull. Those are two, relatively, simple and cheap options. You can get a pre-workout for as low as $5 or you can splurge and pay around $90, there are hundreds of options out there. The only real concern is how much are you taking and do you have a naturally high heart rate? If you have heart issues, you should definitely consult a physician before partaking in a pre-workout.
A pre-workout is great, as a backup plan. Let’s say you just got a mental beat down at work, but you have goals, dangit, and you need to get stuff done! This is the time to take a pre-workout.
The real problem with pre-workout, I believe, is how easy it is to become dependent on the stimulant to achieve a “good workout.” There is nothing wrong with thinking, “I really don’t want todo this workout today” as long as you tell your brain to shut up and you continue to complete your workout. I would highly encourage you to workout in this state of mind, and often. Why? Life will rarely give you a moment to say, “Time Out! I need to take a little somethin’ somethin’ to help me deal with you right now.” No, what will happen is life will bowl you over while you’re waiting for your motivation supplement to kick in. Part of any good training program SHOULD include mental strength and perseverance through, what some call, ‘the suck’. ‘The suck’ is the feeling you have when you are 1) unmotivated, 2) tired, 3) apathetic, or 4) all the above.
Pre-workout is fine, as long as you do not let yourself fall into a state of dependency to achieve a good workout.
What it does: Helps increase protein synthesis by providing protein availability to your body.
How it helps: Whey is an easy (and tasty) way to increase protein intake without having to prepare salmon, filet mignon, or even something simple like baked chicken.
Does it work?: Absolutely, and, there are various flavors to help find the perfect fit for you palate.
Pros: It works, it can be as cheap or as expensive as you’d like, supplements protein deficiency, can be soy-free, can be plant based (to fulfill the needs of those on vegan or vegetarian meal planning), can help boost fat burning (not necessarily because of the whey, but because of increase in protein), and it’s easy to take with you on-the-go.
Cons: It can be expensive, several types to choose from (both a blessing and a curse), some have too many fillers, some taste like chalk and/or don’t mix well. It’s a good source of protein, but not necessarily better than other protein sources, i.e. meat, eggs, dairy, etc.
My Two Cents:
Personally, I think whey is great, like, whey great.
If you’re going to take a whey supplement, don’t skimp on a quality product. What’s a quality product? Well, take a look at the ingredients. Can you pronounce or can you recognize what’s on the list? Do you mind having soy as a filler in your protein? If not, most whey products will be just fine. I don’t personally want soy in my guts, unless, of course, it’s edamame. If you’d like specific recommendations shoot us an email, we would love to discuss some of our favorites with you.
That being said, I do not partake in whey supplementation. I am a firm believer in getting as much of your protein from real food sources, (i.e. chicken, fish, lean beef, turkey, eggs, milk, etc). Get a good foundation for your nutrition before trying any supplements, this is why they are called ‘supplements’ to provide assistance for anything that you are not getting through good eating habits. If you’re not eating well, your foundation is not strong and you’re going to be missing out on a myriad of benefits that real foods provide. Now, you may be allergic to any one of the protein sources listed above, it’s not a big deal, just find the ones that work for you and run with it. What works for you may not work for your family or friends, so find what you like to eat and gobble it down.
What it does: Helps increase power output and increase lean muscle tissue.
How it helps: Provides a reservoir of phosphocreatine to aid in the creation and regeneration of ATP in the muscles. ATP is the currency your muscles run on to get work done, no ATP, no fuel, no work. Once ATP is used in the body it transforms into ADP, which can be recycled to create more ATP, but only if phosphocreatine is readily available to help in the process. You can get creatine from most meats, eggs, and fish.
Does it work?: You bet your britches! Creatine has been documented, dissected and studied in excess of 500 research articles (that’s a lot, just in case you didn’t know). With such a long resume, creatine has been proven time and time again to be safe and effective for just about anyone and everyone. Contrary to what some may say, creatine does not cause kidney damage, but it does produce creatinine (notice the spelling) which is usually a biomarker of kidney failure in the absence of creatine supplementation.
Pros: Highly effective, has little to no adverse side effects, can get via supplementation or a well planned meal, and, best of all, it’s cheap!
Cons: There have been reports of gastrointestinal distress in those who take large doses in one sitting. Stomach cramping has also been reported when taken with insufficient amounts of water.
My two cents: Creatine is almost irrefutable in its ability to help people reach new levels of strength. Amidst the myriad of research conducted on creatine, it has also been reported to increase cognition, decrease headaches in children suffering from severe head trauma, and decrease dizziness, to name a few. If there is only one supplement that you choose to take from the top three supplements listed in this article, take creatine. It’s cheap, it’s highly effective, it’s considered to be safe for practically everyone, and you don’t need any fancy formula to get the job done; a simple search for creatine monohydrate will be perfectly fine.
A friendly reminder, if you have poor eating habits, get those in line first and see how your body responds to better meal planning. Supplements are great, especially when used well and with proven research to back up the products you choose. Keep in mind, if your nutrition foundation is shoddy, you won’t reap nearly as many benefits. We’re not suggesting you subscribe to any particular fad diet or nutritional overhaul, rather, introduce more vegetables, protein, and fat into each meal to create a well-balanced meal, every meal. Don’t over complicate the matter, keep it simple.
So there are the big three that are most commonly used, we hope the quick overview sheds some light on what may or may not be right for your training regimen. At the very least, we hope that you are thinking about some changes you can make today, that will better your nutritional and fitness foundations.
Use this parting thought as a guideline moving forward. If you’re working with a trainer, fitness professional, dietitian, or medical professional and they suggest supplementation BEFORE looking at your current eating habits and fitness routine, consider getting a second opinion. Supplements are only as good as the nutritional foundation they are supporting; if you have poor eating habits, inconsistent meals, and lopsided portions of protein, fat, and carbohydrates every meal, you need to address this issue first.
Moving forward, if your eating habits are squared away and supplementation is the right path for you (i.e. you’re eating well and have a consistent workout program), but you still have questions about how and when to take them, shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. We would love to help you explore what’s right for you. If you need more nutritional help, shoot us an email and we’ll give you the contact information for an awesome registered dietitian we work with and recommend. Maybe your next step is to take your training to the next level? Visit our Start Now page, we would love to be a part of your fitness journey.