This is going to be a list of the 8 best supplements available on the market right now, in no particular order. Getting your nutrients from food is best, but it is a problem ensuring that you get enough of everything through dietary means only, and that’s where supplementation comes in. There are some that allege to promote fat loss or build muscle, but they should all be taken with a grain of salt, and a bit of research. Remember that supplements are only to be used if you have adopted an all around healthy lifestyle, and you are training, eating, and sleeping properly, but still fail to progress, or you are lacking in certain areas
Even if it’s in no particular order, I’m listing Creatine supplements as the #1 you can, and should get. The way Creatine works, is that it increases water retention in your muscles, which increases the size and strength, and it acts as a ‘backup donor’ for ATP, which is your ‘energy’. It’s cheap, and it’s the most well researched supplement out there, for good reason. It’s effective in almost all users, and it only requires 5g every single day. Taking Creatine like this allows most people to reach full saturation in roughly a month. If this seems like a long time, remember that Creatine is something that can be taken indefinitely, and never requires ‘cycling off’, as your body cannot simply ‘get used’ to it.
In most studies, subjects received an increase between 12-20% in strength, and a 12-26% increase in power after full saturation was achieved. Naturally, with an increase in strength from the extra water retention, will come extra muscular gains, as you are lifting heavier weights, and putting more stress on your muscles, and with the added boost of extra ATP, you’re well on your way to packing on the size.
Considering the long time it takes to fully saturate, naturally, it would take a similar amount of time for it to leave your system, and as a result, it doesn’t matter when you take it throughout the day, or in relation to your training, as long as you are dosing 5g every day. Creatine is also incredibly cheap, as you can get 1kg, or 200 days worth for under $20. The most basic form of Creatine (Creatine Monohydrate) is also the most effective, and the cheapest, as no other form has been able to prove it is superior in any way.
This is something that is unnecessary, unless you are unable to get enough through normal dietary means. Protein powder can be a cheap and easy source of protein, depending on where you purchase it from, and you need to make sure that you check the protein content, not only per serving, but per 100g, as some serving sizes are inflated to make it seem like they have a higher protein content. There are many different types of protein supplements, Casein and Whey are both dairy based, the is also Soy protein, Pea protein, Rice protein, Hemp protein, and more. However, the most effective out of them is Whey protein, but depending on other dietary factors such as lactose intolerance, or if you are Vegan, you may want to choose other sources.
The difference between normal Whey protein and Casein, is that Whey protein is a faster acting protein, and the body utilizes it quicker, whereas Casein is a slow release protein, allowing for longer term utilization. As a result, Whey protein is better for pre/post-workout, and casein before bed. The timing of the protein intake though is not very important, provided you are meeting your daily intake of roughly 1g per lb of lean body mass.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
This is the only other one I would recommend everyone supplements daily. Unless you are consuming fatty fish at least three times a week, you’re most likely deficient in Omega-3 fatty acids. The brain is composed of 40% DHA, which is one of the Omega-3’s, and a long term deficiency can cause aberrations in the neurotransmitters, and result in depression and aggression. Besides that, Omega-3’s offer many health benefits. Studies have shown that middle-aged people who have diets rich in Omega-3, have a 75% decreased incidence of Alzheimers. It also helps prevent several types of cancer, improves insulin sensitivity, and makes cellular membranes more pliable, allowing the hormones to interact more efficiently. Some studies have also suggested that at least 5g daily can blunt body fat synthesis, assisting in fat loss, or lean muscle gain, and reduce inflammation.
The easiest way to take it is in liquid form, as if you were to take the 5g daily, it would be a lot of pills, and it’s much easier to simply drink it straight, or mix it into a sweet drink. When you’re deciding on what brand, make sure they provide at least 2g of EPA and DHA, which are two of the three acids, daily.
This is something that although is very useful, should only be used when necessary, as your body can become accustomed to some of the ingredients. The main three ingredients to look for in any pre-workout are Beta-Alanine, BCAA’s, and Caffeine. There is a fourth of Creatine, but as you shouldn’t be taking pre-workout every day, it’s useless, and much easier to mix it in yourself.Beta-Alanine is an ingredient that improves your ability to handle a higher intensity and volume in your workouts. It does this by enhancing the production of carsonine, and it’s method of action follows.
First, Glucose is broken down for energy, then Lactate is produced from the broken down glucose. After this, the muscles become more acidic, fatigue sets in, but the Carsonine acts as a buffer against the acid, and reduces the acidity in the muscles during high-intensity exercise, allowing you to do more work.
It elicits a tingling sensation known as ‘paresthesia’, which is completely harmless, and most people like it because they can ‘feel’ the pre-workout working. Although the tingling will subside after a brief period of time, Beta-Alanine is similar to Creatine in the aspect it’s best when taken daily, between 1.5-5g. It’s effective when taken as a pre-workout, but most effective when you build up your stores.
The second ingredient, BCAA’s, are contested on their necessity. Some people believe they are useful all the time, and others believe they are only useful in a fasted state. Either way, they are composed of Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine, in a 2:1:1 ratio, respectively, in the optimum blend. Leucine is the most important, as it has been shown to stimulate muscle protein synthesis (MPS). Having roughly 3g of Leucine per day is optimal.
Finally, the most important ingredient, is caffeine. This is an iffy one though, as if you already are accustomed to it, it is less effective. You can however, allow your body to ‘reset’ if you go long enough with zero caffeine intake. This is one of the ingredients that should be taken only on occasion, when you need it, such as if you are not feeling 100%, or not had enough sleep, for the extra boost. For ease of use, you can purchase pre-workout ready made, but I recommend buying the individual ingredients, and making your own blend, as that way, not only is it not under-dosed, but you can also add or subtract caffeine as needed, to ensure it’s always effective when used.
While its ability to be synthesised has been contested recently, it’s one of those things that is ‘no harm, no foul’. If you are deficient in several minerals, taking a ‘one-a-day’ multivitamin, or specific vitamin/mineral supplementation can be an easy way to make it up. Certain minerals can also aid in muscle growth, such as Zinc and Chromium, which interact with various anabolic hormones, such as testosterone, growth hormone, and insulin, three big players in building muscle. Some vitamin/mineral combos skimp on the mineral aspect, so make sure there’s enough in there, of get the minerals separately.
Similar to protein drinks, post-workout drinks contain simple carbs and other nutrients that help promote muscular recovery and growth. As before, the best protein is Whey protein, as it’s rapidly absorbed to allow the muscles to begin repairing quicker. The simple carbs replenish glycogen stores, and promote insulin release. This will ensure that your body doesn’t start to catabolize your muscle stores for energy.
Antioxidant is a blanket term that encompasses thousands of nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, and flavonoids. You will find a lot in fruits and veg. However, they are often not in enough quantity in typical bodybuilding diets, especially diets focused on fat-loss. The way antioxidants work is that exercise produces oxidative reactions that are toxic to your body. The antioxidants work against this process, and helps your body deal with the oxidation. Supplementing with extra antioxidants will help even further combat toxic oxidants, and allow you to work harder, for longer. Typical dietary antioxidants include vitamins E, C, B-complex, Selenium, Manganese, Zinc, Green Tea extract, and Grapeseed extract.
I list this separately from the other section of vitamins and minerals due to it’s effectiveness and use. Vitamin C is a powerhouse, as it’s an antioxidant, and boosts your immune system. The RDA for it is only 40mg. This suggested amount is only the bare minimum, not the amount you should be aiming for per day, probably also due to the difficulty of getting so much in. Daily, I would recommend 1000mg, with the upper recommended limit being 2000mg. That’s a far cry from the RDA of 40mg.
When I am feeling like I’m falling ill, I take a 1000mg Vitamin C tablet every day, and it definitely helps me fight off the illness. Taking 1000mg every day even when you’re not falling ill can have great effects on your body. Vitamin C is used up if your immune system is weakened due to stress, and supplements aid in recovery. There has also been conflicting research on this, but one study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that those who had the highest concentration of Vitamin C in their blood, were found to have a 42% lower stroke risk than those that had lower concentrations.
Considering Vitamin C isn’t stored in the body, excess amounts are excreted, so overdosing isn’t a concern. However, taking over 2000mg per day can cause stomach upset and diarrhoea.
Remember that supplements are there for if you are unable to get enough through normal dietary means. However, a couple are recommended for everyone, due to the difficulty of this, and the benefits of the supplements. As always, ensure you are working hard, and training with dedication. Otherwise no matter how much you supplement, you won’t reach your goals. For more info on how to increase your strength, check out my other article on Get Stronger: 10 Tips To Increase Strength Much Faster.