To Supplement or Not Supplement – My Experience and My Top 5
As with all matters related to health and fitness, the importance of supplements are a topic for debate. So, rather than try to convince you of what I believe to be correct, I’m simply going to present a few facts, share my experiences with them, and then let you decide which, if any, you want to take.
By no means am I a walking pharmacy – I prefer to keep my supplementation fairly simple for a couple of reasons: a) I have a well-rounded diet and b) supplements can get expensive… fast!
Here are my top 5 supplements in order from least to most important emphasizing again that this is based on my own experience. If it’s not on this list, I’m not taking it – I’m only taking 5 supplements.
My Experience: This is probably a shocker to you. How can protein be at the bottom of my list? Isn’t protein to muscle what bricks are to a building? Metaphorically speaking, yes. Let’s not forget that this is a top 5 list so the fact that it’s on my list means that I think it is very important. The reason that it’s at the bottom of my 5 is very simple. Unlike the other supplements on this list, I can get my required protein through food fairly easily. Therefore, I only take protein on the days that I’m falling well short of my daily requirements. That being said, I’m not too picky with my food and don’t require much diversity. I can eat chicken breast after chicken breast and not be too fussed.
- Protein supplements deliver a quick dose of muscle building protein
- Protein supplements are quite affordable compared to their whole food alternatives with an average serving cost of < $1.00 and delivering ~25g of protein
- Especially when I’m cutting and am on a caloric restriction, I prefer to eat my calories as opposed to drinking them
- Unless you get an isolate (pure), your protein powder will contain fillers
How I Use It: In water or milk, protein cakes, and energy balls.
When I Use It: Any time of the day on days where I’m falling a bit short.
My Experience: Maybe it’s a placebo effect or maybe it actually works as prescribed – having a constant supply of creatine in my system really boosts my top end strength and allows me to squeeze extra heavy sets at the end of my workout. Over the past five years or so I’ve been taking a regular dose of creatine and I know that it supports the intensity of my workouts – it plays a direct role in ATP (energy) production and is therefore a key player in high-intensity, top-end performance. Creatine is also proven to enhance muscle recovery and it has certainly supported my training frequency – I train 6 days a week and on occasion every day of the week. And last, but certainly not least, whether it’s due to water retention or otherwise, a supply of creatine gives my muscles a “full” and “rounded” appearance. Who doesn’t want that? Unlike protein, where you can find it in abundance in meats, beans, etc., you’d have to be eating a ton of red meat to get an adequate supply. Note: I do not cycle my creatine nor do I bloat.
- Creatine is easily the best bang for your buck supplement. You can often find 1kg of creatine for $40 (CAD) – this should easily last you a year
- Creatine helps muscles produce more energy and increases the intensity of your workouts
- Creatine speeds up muscle recovery
- Creatine adds volume to your muscles
- Doesn’t mix well.
How I Use It: Straight in the mouth and washed down with water (because it doesn’t mix well).
When I Use It: post-workout
3) Branched Chain Amino Acids (“BCAAs”)
My Experience: Like many people who train, I try to maximize my muscle mass while keeping my fat stores low. What that means is that, from time to time, I subject myself to sustained periods of caloric deficit. When you’re operating on a calorie deficit, you create a catabolic environment – you promote breakdown of fats and muscle. Here’s the dilemma. As you get more and more lean, your body instinctively wants to cling onto fat at the expense of your hard-earned muscle. To top that all off, because you are decreasing your energy input, the rate of protein synthesis (the process of building muscular protein) is decreased as well. BCAAs effective counter the muscle breakdown effects of being in a caloric deficit as well as boost protein synthesis. This is especially important for me as I am an intermittent faster meaning that my training is in a fasted state. The BCAAs play a huge role is preserving my muscle mass.
- BCAAs boosts protein synthesis
- BCAAs protects muscle on a calorie restriction
- Can be expensive
How I Use It: In water
When I Use It: Sipped 30 minutes – 1 hour pre-workout
My Experience: Regardless of how complete your diet may be, the odds are very low that you can consistently check off all of the required daily micronutrients, minerals, and vitamins. Don’t fool yourself though, it’s not some magic pill that can counter the adverse effects of a poor diet. Multivitamins should be taken to fill nutritional gaps in your diet and should be taken to supplement a well-rounded diet consisting of greens and whole foods. Multivitamins vary widely in costs. Personally, I don’t stray too far from the generic brands that you can pick up in Walmart, Costco, etc. I’m sure there are pundits that will chastise me for this and tell me how inadequate these multivitamins are. That’s ok. It works for me but I feel extremely healthy and have not be sick for over a decade. *Knock on wood*
- Multivitamins fill nutritional gaps in your diet
- Can be expensive
How I Use It: With a gulp of water
When I Use It: With my dinner
1) Fish Oil/Omega 3
My Experience: Let’s get straight to the point – regular consumption of fish oils changed my life. In my years of training, I’ve moved a lot of weight. Unless you’re some sort of superhuman, suffering injuries whether minor or major is inevitable. Reflecting through my years of training, the worst injury that I’ve sustained was to my rotator cuff and was caused by a combination of lifting too much weight and overuse. The pain wasn’t excruciating but was certainly annoying enough that it kept me up at night and compromised my ability to train – it pissed me off. No amount of physical therapy, acupuncture, or massage therapy could fix it. I hated the feeling so much that I even tried taking a 1 month away from the gym (a nightmare for those of you who don’t know me). Nothing worked. And then, I randomly listened to a Joe Rogan podcast where he talked about his crazy consumption of fish oil supplements taking as many as 15 caps a day. He talked about it’s benefits to his joint health and general fitness. Couldn’t hurt, right? Following suit, I started taking 6 caps a day and sure enough, where no amount of therapy helped, the fish oil did. Sure, it could be coincidence. I don’t really believe in coincidence.
- Fish oil/omega 3 supplements reduce inflammation
- Fish oil/omega 3 supplements lower your risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancer
- Fish oil/omega 3 promote overall brain health and brain cell membrane production
- Can cause fishy breath
- Can have bad fishy aftertaste
How I Use It: With a gulp of water
When I Use It: 3 1000mg caps with my lunch and 3 1000mg caps with my dinner
Bonus: Coffee (Caffeine)
My Experience: I can’t say enough about the benefits of coffee. Let’s be clear, I’m talking about that straight, black cup of joe and not your sugar laden, cream infused version. I drink coffee not out of need but for the mental alertness that it gives me.
- Coffee is an appetite suppressant (great on a calorie restriction)
- Coffee is a natural diuretic
- Coffee lowers the risk of heart disease
- Coffee boosts cognition, awareness, and alertness
- Can stain your teeth
- Can cause headaches
- Can cause insomnia
My Choice: Home Brew
When I Use It: 1 mug first thing in the morning
Keeping It Simple
To the layman, it may seem like this is a lot of supplementation but it really isn’t. These supplements not only support my diet but also support my overactive lifestyle and helps me perform at maximum efficiency. That all being said, it is very important to remember that supplementation is intended as the name suggests. Supplements supplement your diet which should be well-round and based of greens, whole foods, and plenty of water. Supplements shouldn’t be viewed as a quick and easy fix solution and won’t help you overcome poor food choices.