Nutritional supplements should only be used to supplement an already effective nutritional plan. However, in our quick fix society with many looking for the easy way out, the supplement market is huge and full of pills and powders that are essentially worthless. With companies making very bold claims, it is easy to fall prey to their marketing.
With many supplements, however, there is a placebo effect: When taking a given supplement, you have a better workout or are more vigilant in following your nutritional plan, which gives an appearance the supplement is having a positive effect.
As an example: I am personally not sure if my pre-workout actually works or not, but I know that if I don’t take it, I will have a bad workout. Now, is this due to the product actually doing something or my brain telling me it’s doing something?
The placebo effect can be very powerful. Unfortunately for the good supplements out there, many of the others and the outrageous claims give them a bad rap. Here is a list of what supplements I personally view as “worth it” based on trial and error and significant scientific research:
1) Whey Protein
How much to take: Minimum of 25g per serving.
When: Whenever your client needs quality protein.
Purpose: Whey protein has one of the best amino acid profiles of any protein. When we get to BCAA supplementation, we will talk more about Leucine and its value in muscle protein synthesis. To put it simply, whey has a high concentration of Leucine, so its amino acid profile is great for muscle building. However, Leucine in BCAA supplements and in whey are different. In BCAA Supplements, they are free form amino acids. If your clients have GI issues, whey protein isolate is the “whey” to go. This is due to the lack of Beta lactalbumin in whey isolate. If clients have no issues with lactose, then feel free to use concentrate.
Unfortunately, plant proteins do not have the same great amino acid profile as whey. Actually, they are awful in comparison. So I would not even think about pea, rice, soy, or hemp protein. They do not even come close to comparing with the amino acid profile, digestibility and bioavailability of whey protein. That is, unless your clients are vegan, then your options are limited.
2) Vitamin D
How much to take: 1000-3000 iu/day. Amount depends on gender, size, and how much dietary Vitamin D a client intakes per day.
When: It does not matter when clients take it, but make sure they take with a fat source.
Purpose: Some research shows that if you live north of Atlanta ,you may not get enough Vitamin D from the sun and may be deficient. Vitamin D is important in many metabolic and hormonal processes. Also, Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to many autoimmune disorders and general health conditions, such as COPD and heart failure. The liquid form of Vitamin D has the best bioavailability compared to pill form.
3) Fish Oil
How much to take: 1-2g of EPA/DHA a day
When: It does not matter. Can be easily taken with Vitamin D since it is a fat source.
Purpose: Fish oil has been touted to have many anti-inflammatory properties. However this is only true when properly dosed and coupled with the dietary decrease of omega 6 fatty acids. There have been multiple studies about the positive effects of fish oil in people with heart conditions or advanced autoimmune disorders. Yet the studies on fish oil are still mixed to this day. Why? Basically, fish oil can oxidize rather easily and cause some free radical damage. So we walk a fine line here. Unfortunately, we can’t just mega-dose fish oil (10-20g a day) like many were lead to believe due to its ability to oxidize easily. Also, Cod Liver oil is also a good option as it provides the same benefits as fish oil.
4) Creatine Monohydrate
How much to take: 5g/day every day.
When: It does not matter, but recommend that clients take it consistently as we are just accumulating serum creatine, not taking it and immediately expending it. Carbs can help with faster absorption, but this only matters for about the first week you start taking it.
Purpose: This is the most heavily researched supplement and it works! Creatine supplementation increases creatine-phosphate and creatine-kinase in the muscles, which can be used to produce energy in the ATP-CP pathway – something that is very important for short, intense activity. More energy for force production equates to more strength and more volume. This means your client can get another rep or two at the same weight. Creatine can also increase the number of nuclei in muscle fibers. The more nuclei we have per muscle fiber, the more likely we are to grow muscle mass and recover faster. There have also been many studies linking creatine supplementation with improved neurological function in elderly patients and patients with neurodegenerative diseases. So who should take this? Everyone over the age of 16, young adults, moms, dads, grandparents.
5) Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)
How much to take: 10g
When: Have clients take between meals and/or pre/post-workout.
Purpose: BCAAs are a low calorie protein source that has been proven to stimulate protein synthesis, or growth. In short, BCAAs in free form get absorbed very quickly in the small intestine where they will then bypass the liver (where other amino acids will go first), and go directly to skeletal muscle tissues. We mentioned the benefits of leucine in whey protein. Well, studies show that about 3g of leucine every 3 hours can stimulate muscle protein synthesis, and BCAAs are leucine rich.
As a side note, iso-leucine and valine are required for leucine use and absorption; these will be found in all BCAA supplements. Certain populations who are less sensitive to amino acids, i.e. women, older persons, someone with GI disorders, might require a higher dose. Additionally, those who carry a significantly higher lean body mass may take more (a 250lb male at 14% body fat will need more than his 160lb counterpart).
Hopefully the above info was helpful, but remember: This overview was just dusting the top of the supplement industry, and there are still many supplements out there making outrageous claims! If you hear an over-the-top statistic, it is likely false. Do your own research, and don’t trust everything from someone you just met at the local supplement store.
You cannot out-train or out-supplement poor nutrition! Work with your client to help them find the right nutritional plan that you can then support with a personalized supplement plan.