Cross your eyes, and imagine the pyramid above is one huge, layer cake and the little red blur at the top is a cherry.
Now, if the first four layers are made of mud, shit, snot and sawdust respectively, is that cherry going to make a difference to the taste? – Clearly not, yet this is how the supplement industry wants you to think about your nutrition.
Supplements can be broadly categorised by their physique, performance, or health benefits. How important they are depends on context, but in general, not very.
- Supplements can benefit a good nutrition plan, but they cannot make up for a poor one.
- Supplements are not needed to transform your physique and in many cases constitute an unnecessary expense.
Any article or advertisement that you come across which contradicts the above is likely aimed at your wallet. So, if you haven’t got the first four parts of the nutrition pyramid in place, please do so before reading any further, because no single supplement is going to have more impact on your diet than getting your diet right in the first place.
Protein powder is convenient, BCAAs are arguably necessary for fasted training, caffeine can give you the right kick to make a more effective workout, and by many standards, fish oils seem to improve just about everything to a small degree which makes them worth considering.
Dude, is that it?
Why, Andy?! Tell me the good stuff.
I already told you the ‘good stuff’. You simply don’t want to believe it because you have been seduced by the idea of supplements as shortcuts or as necessity. Trust me bud, I’ve been there. All the best stuff is in parts one to four and that is how I got my clients the results they achieved.
Ok but what about your clients, those results can’t all just be down to food and training, right?
Wrong. I suggest protein powder to people for convenience, insist on BCAAs if someone chooses to train fasted, but everything else is optional and I encourage people to use the minimum.
But come on, surely you can go into more detail, right?
Yes I sure could, but for the rest we’re talking about minor fractions and I’m painfully aware that making any list, regardless of any strong preface to it, will result in people going out and purchasing the list in its entirety, regardless, because that’s just how people are.
Didn’t you forgot to mention creatine?
Creatine is probably the most researched supplement out there. It is safe, cheap, can boost strength and has neuroprotective and cardioprotective properties.
- 5g a day, taken with meals is fine. Loading is not necessary.
- The standard creatine monohydrate is the cheapest and just as effective as any other type.
- Creatine cycling is not necessary. A highly precautions approach would be 2 weeks off then cycle on. (Any nitrogenous compound can stress the liver in theory.)
Creatine causes increased water uptake in the muscles and can cause bloating. In some individuals it can take a full 30 days for this to take effect. So bear this in mind when interpreting your tracking data.
I don’t personally use it as it gives me headaches and diarrhoea.
Tell me more about the fish oils, should I take them?
If you can afford the addition then perhaps consider them. Use the information on examine.com to make your decision. Just watch out for the EPA, DHA content in your capsules as there is a lot of stuff out there with little of that good stuff you want.
What about Yohimbine HCL?
You probably want to get to Scott, Jeff and Phil’s level of leanness before this is going to prove useful (assuming you’re doing everything else right) and even then, cardio comes first.
Why would it be useful then and not before?
Fat loss happens in pretty much a predetermined order. As we get leaner, it gets more and more difficult to shift the fat. The very last places where fat comes off – lower abs, glutes, thighs (for the women) – are like that due to poorer blood flow in those areas (put your hand on your butt, is it colder?) and the alpha/beta receptor ratio.
Yohimbine HCL will help with the blood flow issue to those areas, but isn’t going to do anything to help those areas that already have sufficient blood flow to mobilise fat once it is released from the stores*.
You may see that it’s banned in your country. – This has nothing to do with people taking it for fat loss and everything to do with men mega-dosing with it to correct erectile dysfunction and killing themselves when their blood pressure drops.
(*If that flash of science ticked your fancy, may I direct you to a wonderful afternoon’s reading that is The Stubborn Fat Solution, by Lyle McDonald, which will teach you more about fat oxidation than 99.99% of the population.)
What do you think about supplement ‘x’?
Check out examine.com. It’s an excellent and unbiased resource on supplements.
“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
What dosage should I take of…?
Check out examine.com.
Anything else to share?
- Protein powders are a cheap way to hit your protein targets but food is going to keep your fuller. Food is thus better when dieting, powder can be helpful when bulking. Whey in the day, casein at night (if you can).
- BCAAs can taste terrible depending on the brand. Check out some online reviews regarding the flavour of any product you are thinking of buying first. Scivation’s Extend gets good reviews and I like it. BSN’s Amino-X supposedly* tasted good too. (*If not, you can blame Michael H., a client of mine in Denmark. Mail me and I’ll give you his address so you can pursue a refund.)
- Good video by Eric Helms with more info on supplements here.
You could have just written all of the above in a traditional article.
A tongue-in-cheek conversational FAQ was the only way I could overcome my apathy to write an article on supplements.
So what are your thoughts on pre-workout supplements then?
You can’t supplement to cover your own lack of mental focus, yet this is what I see a lot of.
Switching your phone off, putting some headphones in so you don’t get drawn into conversations, and visualising your next set going perfectly during your rest times will do more for your workouts that any supplement can.
Feeling tired? Have a cup of coffee.
Questions welcomed in the comments. – Andy
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