I once heard someone say “the best you can do with supplements is waste your money” meaning that they can cause harm if used incorrectly and that stuck with me. My view is there are a few supplements worthwhile but they should only be used when you have a good nutrition and training plan in place that you adhere to. After all, a supplement can be defined as “a thing added to something else in order to complete or enhance it” (Google, 2020), meaning you need to add it to a solid training and nutrition foundation.
The results you get from the gym can 100% be accelerated with supplements when used correctly. They can motivate people to work harder. For example, when I get a new protein powder, all I want to do is get to the gym so that I can try it out. This article will hopefully give you some more info on supplements and help you decide what to buy if you’re on the fence.
There are a few things to consider when buying a supplement which I have listed below in no particular order:
This is important as there have been a few supplements in the past that have been banned due to the substances they contain and this relates to “the worst you can do is waste your money” as they can harm your health!
This is very important as you don’t want to be taking a “mass gainer” supplement if you are trying to lose weight. Your goal will also instruct you on how you take the supplement. For example, if you’re on a cut you could still have a protein shake but you might take less to ensure you are in a calorie deficit.
More expensive can mean better quality. But there is a lot of big brands now that sell supplements at a great price and offer deals regularly. So look out for them! Just ensure that the product is of good quality. My personal preference for supplements is Optimum Nutrition. They are famously known for their Gold Standard Whey and are one of the lead supplement providers in the UK.
If you’re new to the gym I would say to wait three months or so at least before buying supplements. This is because your body is going to adapt rapidly and you will see great results without supplements. Also, it’s a lot of money to spend on top of the new membership, trainers, gym clothes etc. However, if you have experience in the gym and have started to plateau then first look at your diet and training plan and lastly look at supplements.
You may have dietary requirements that you will know a lot better than I do, so just double check there is nothing you can’t have. Once I brought a pre-workout, I then realised that it used to make my face and hands tingle. I have since learnt that this meant it could have contained beta-alanine which wasn’t of any harm to me but just made me realise that I didn’t properly check what I was taking. This can be detrimental to athletes as they could be taking a banned substance without even realising.
Now you have considered the above I’m going to talk about the supplements that I think are worthwhile, starting with creatine. Creatine is naturally produced in the muscle to perform contractions. By supplementing you are providing the muscle with more fuel to increase your performance. Creatine is one of the most research supplements and findings suggest why it’s so popular. Muscle creatine stores are increased from supplementation which will mean you can train harder during high-intensity work such as resistance training, which will, in turn, result in bigger gains (Nunes et al., 2017).
When taking creatine, you can either do a loading phase followed by a maintenance amount or just take the maintenance amount from the off. I would suggest you do a loading phase first as this increases your creatine muscle store rapidly, whereas if you were to take a maintenance amount of 3-5g per day this could take 3 weeks to get to the same point (Healthline, 2020). To complete a loading phase you need to take 0.3g x your bodyweight in Kg for 5-7 days and should split this out over 4 servings per day. This will increase your muscle creatine stores and you can then maintain this level with 3g per day going forward.
This is great news for all you coffee lovers out there who can’t function or tolerate people without the stuff. The only issue is you can build a tolerance to caffeine so it may be worth taking 1 week off and then 2 weeks on to get the best effects, as caffeine has been shown to have a positive effect on performance for up to 2 weeks before you notice a decrease in its effect (Lara, Ruiz-Moreno, Salinero and Del Coso, 2019). Research by Harpaz et al., 2017 shows that Caffeine has a positive effect on energy balance, which is energy intake versus energy expenditure. When trying to lose weight you need to be in a calorie deficit and caffeine helps achieve this by increasing the rate body breaks down fat and also increasing thermogenesis (energy used with heat production).
Caffeine will not directly help with muscle protein syntheses like whey or casein, however, it works in a similar way to creatine in the fact it can help you perform better which will, in turn, help you reach your goals quicker. Whether you get your caffeine from a supplement, coffee or energy drinks the ergogenic benefit (any supplement or thing that can improve performance) is the same. Research by Grgic et al., 2018 has shown that caffeine can improve maximal strength, muscular endurance and reduce Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE). This doesn’t mean if you take enough caffeine you will get the world record time in the 400m followed by a 500kg deadlift, it just means that it helps you to unlock YOUR maximum strength & muscular endurance.
Also due to your RPE being lowered sets will feel easier meaning you can train harder and get the most out of your time spent in the gym!
Caffeine can take up to 60mins to have its effect so you should aim to take around 200mg (1 to 2 cups of regular coffee) an hour before working out (Optimum Nutrition, 2020)
Protein helps to build and repair muscle tissue so it’s ideal if you’re trying to build muscle when bulking or retain muscle when cutting… basically anything to do with muscle. The first thing you need to understand is how the body builds muscle, which is extremely complex. But to simplify it your body is mainly in a state of muscle protein breakdown, but you want to try to induce protein synthesis (muscle building) as much as possible.
Both synthesis and breakdown are constantly happening within the body, but when synthesis is higher than breakdown you will be building muscle. The two ways to spike muscle protein synthesis are through exercise and protein intake and doing both together you can keep protein synthesis higher for longer! You may have heard that you should take protein one hour around your workout and there is quite a bit of debate over this topic. When you digest protein your muscle protein synthesis can be elevated for up to four hours (Matthews, 2018). This means that you have up to 4 hours to pair digestion with exercise. And that results in a boost in protein synthesis for a longer period of time.
However, personally, I think there is nothing wrong with taking a shake straight after a workout as it means you don’t forget to take protein near a workout and you’re definitely within the “window”.
There are three main types of protein that you want to be buying which are Whey, Casein and Soy. Soy protein is a great option for vegetarians or people with high cholesterol, but Casein and Whey are far more popular. Casein is slow digesting, meaning that you don’t have to worry as much about the timing of taking it. Before bed can be a good time to have a Casein as you reduce the level of protein breakdown whilst you’re sleeping. However, research suggests that there is no real difference in the timing of taking casein and strength or hypertrophy (Joy et al., 2018).
The other option is Whey protein which digests rapidly compared to casein meaning that slightly more thought needs to be put into the timing of taking it. Although the hour window is not as important as some people think, you want to do everything in your power to get the best out of your body and if taking whey soon after training could increase your progress then why not? As discussed we want to be building muscle rather than breaking it down. And we know that protein intake combined with exercise is the best way to do this. This is why whey is great because you can digest protein and exercise shortly after or vice versa to ensure your body is in a muscle-building state for longer.
The key takeaways from this article are that supplements are the last thing you should look at.
You should make sure you have a great training plan and nutrition plan in place for them to have the desired effect. You should also know your goal and make sure you’re taking quality supplements in the right way as you could risk your health as well as wasting your money. But finally, if you have everything in place it’s definitely fun to try new products and enhance your motivation through supplements which will, in turn, help your progress.
I hope you enjoyed this article. Feel free to contact me if you want any further advice on this topic.
Google.com. 2020. Supplement Definition – Google Search. [online] Available at: <https://www.google.com/search?q=supplement+definition&oq=sup&aqs=chrome.2.69i57j69i59l2j35i39j0j69i61j69i60j69i61.2957j1j4&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8> [Accessed 4 July 2020].
Healthline. 2020. Creatine Loading Phase: Benefits, Safety, Side Effects, Dosage. [online] Available at: <https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/creatine-loading-phase#necessity> [Accessed 4 July 2020].
Nunes, J., Ribeiro, A., Schoenfeld, B., Tomeleri, C., Avelar, A., Trindade, M., Nabuco, H., Cavalcante, E., Junior, P., Fernandes, R., Carvalho, F. and Cyrino, E., 2017. Creatine supplementation elicits greater muscle hypertrophy in upper than lower limbs and trunk in resistance-trained men. Nutrition and Health, 23(4), pp.223-229.
Lara, B., Ruiz-Moreno, C., Salinero, J. and Del Coso, J., 2019. Time course of tolerance to the performance benefits of caffeine. PLOS ONE, 14(1), p.e0210275.
Harpaz, E., Tamir, S., Weinstein, A. and Weinstein, Y., 2017. The effect of caffeine on energy balance. Journal of Basic and Clinical Physiology and Pharmacology, 28(1), pp.1-10.
Grgic, J., Mikulic, P., Schoenfeld, B., Bishop, D. and Pedisic, Z., 2018. The Influence of Caffeine Supplementation on Resistance Exercise: A Review. Sports Medicine, 49(1), pp.17-30.
Optimumnutrition.com. 2020. Optimum Nutrition | The World’s Best Selling Whey Protein. [online] Available at: <https://www.optimumnutrition.com/en-gb> [Accessed 4 July 2020].
Matthews, M., 2018. Bigger Leaner Stronger. 3rd ed. Torrazza Piemonte: Amazon Italia Logistica S.r.l.
Joy, J., Vogel, R., Shane Broughton, K., Kudla, U., Kerr, N., Davison, J., Wildman, R. and DiMarco, N., 2018. Daytime and nighttime casein supplements similarly increase muscle size and strength in response to resistance training earlier in the day: a preliminary investigation. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 15(1).