One of the most common questions in every natural lifter’s mind is simply this: Do I actually need to be taking supplements to make progress in the gym? How much progress am I missing out on if I rely 100% on my diet and exercise? And if I should be taking supplements, which ones should I go for?
Are Diet & Exercise Enough?
Short answer: Yes. No matter what your goal is (muscle gain, fat loss, strength gain), you will make excellent progress if you stick to a well-balanced nutrition plan and a well-structured and thought-out exercise program. The role of supplements is exactly what the word suggests: to SUPPLEMENT your nutrition plan.
Of course that requires an existing nutrition plan. If you do not have one, don’t bother with supplements, they simply will not work for you. It’s like not knowing how to run and yet buying expensive running shoes. You have no use for them. If you are confused about making a nutrition plan, read THIS ARTICLE and watch the video that goes with it and you will never be confused about this matter again.
How Much Are Supplements Really Helping?
If your nutrition and programming are already spot on and you are already maximizing your results, supplementing a few key products can really help you get an EDGE. Do not expect miracles. Making gains as a natural lifter is an extremely slow process and we are discussing natural supplements in this article. These supplements might help you get an extra 5-15% in terms of results, depending on how your body responds to them.
Are Supplements Safe To Take? Are They “Natural”?
Most of them are pretty safe. Especially the ones mentioned below. That means absolutely no adverse effects. Supplements can not only help you with your results in the gym but also aid your overall health if used wisely. Are they actually “natural”? This is a huge topic and we are just going to scrape the surface of it here.
Let’s take creatine for example. The standard argument is that the human body already produces creatine in the first place and it can also be found in small quantities in fish and red meat so it's “natural” to supplement more creatine in your diet. This is all fine and dandy but the creatine you take as a supplement does not come from fish or meat. It is produced in a lab following a certain chemical process.
So as you can understand, the term “natural” is extremely loose. What natural has come to mean nowadays is “legal” and “not too effective” in terms of results.
Which Supplements Should I Go For?
Deciding which supplements are good for you is very tricky and it really depends on your budget and your genetics. Not all supplements are going to work the same for everybody. Having said that, there are some general guidelines that stay true for everyone. Let’s take a look at the most effective supplements out there:
Whey protein is not necessarily a supplement, you should think of it more as “food”. It’s a meal replacement. It will help you meet your everyday protein goals. If you already have structured your nutrition plan, you should know by now how many grams of protein you need to be taking per day. It’s virtually impossible to meet these requirements by just having normal food so whey protein is just a matter of convenience. It’s not magic and it’s definitely not required to make gains.
Timing: You can take whey protein whenever you want as long as you meet your protein requirements for the day.
Quantity: You can take as much as you want, even in one sitting. Do not buy into the myth “your body can only process 25 grams of protein every 2-3 hours”.
Creatine is probably the most studied supplement and everybody agrees that it definitely works. Again, don’t expect miracles. Taking creatine will most likely make you 5-20% stronger in the gym, which does translate to more muscle gains. You can even use it for fat loss. The stronger you remain during cutting, the more muscle you maintain during your cut. There is absolutely no reason not to be taking creatine.
There are many forms of creatine but go for the one that is actually tested and definitely works: Creatine Monohydrate. It’s remarkably cheap as well. You should be able to get a year’s supply for $40.
There are certain people who are not responsive to creatine at all. These are called non-responders and you will know it if that’s you within 2 weeks of creatine use. You will experience absolutely no progress while taking it, in which case you will know, creatine is not for you.
Timing: Take creatine whenever you want, but preferably when you wake up or after your training. That’s when your body has been deprived of nutrients and is usually most receptive to them.
Quantity: Depending on your weight, take 3-8grams of creatine per day. If you are above 200lbs, lean towards 8 grams but if you are really skinny (less than 140lbs), go for 3 grams per day. It’s always enough.
Additional Notes: You absolutely do not need to “load” on creatine for the first days of use. Just take 3-8 grams per day and you will start seeing results in 1-2 weeks. You absolutely do not need to cycle creatine either. Just take 3-8 grams every day for as long as you lift. And no it will not damage your kidneys, nor will it make you put on water weight.
Pre-Workout (PW) Supplements
This really depends on your personality and what your everyday schedule looks like. PW supplements can intensify your workouts which is key to making more gains. I would advise you to only use them if you are a busy person who works/studies all day and needs that extra kick before the gym.
Most pre-workout supplements follow a certain formula and the key ingredient is almost always caffeine. By now you should be considering making your own pre-workout by adding caffeine, whey protein, some carbs and water in a shaker. It’s definitely cheaper and just as effective.
Timing: 15-30 minutes before your workout, depending on the supplement.
Quantity: Always use the directions on the bottle. Start off with a small dose to evaluate your tolerance to the supplement.
Fish oil products contain omega-3 fatty acids, which have numerous benefits for your health. From helping with fat loss, to dealing with depression, to healing joint pain…to preventing heart attacks, fish oil is a necessity not only for a lifter, but for everyone really.
Timing & Quantity: Take at least 0.5 grams of fish oil (DHA+EPA) once a day, preferably after a big meal.
A multi-vitamin tablet per day keeps the doctor away? This is not conclusive. Most diets lack certain vitamins or minerals, that’s for sure. Problem is we can’t be certain that the vitamins and minerals in a multi-vitamin become bioavailable. MVs that contain ingredients from poor sources are even harder for your body to process and assimilate.
At the end of the day, this comes down to keeping your mind at peace. If it makes you sleep better at night, go ahead and buy a multi-vitamin. That’s what I do, just to be at ease.
Just be sure to follow the directions on the bottle, because too much of certain vitamins and minerals can cause serious health problems.
B-Alanine is an amino-acid and it’s very similar to creatine. What creatine does for strength is what B-alanine will do for muscle endurance. B-Alanine will help you get more reps with a certain weight and fatigue less when doing drop sets, super sets and circuit training. It has also been tested, just as much as creatine, and it definitely works. It’s not very expensive either.
A lot of pre-workouts already contain B-Alanine and creatine but I would advise you to get a pre-workout without those ingredients and then buy them separately. It will be cheaper for you.
Timing: Same with creatine. Some people take it before they workout because it gives you a tingly feeling in your arms and face. This has nothing to do with your workout. Beta-alanine’s effects are not acute. It needs days to build up in your system. But this tingly sensation might help you concentrate more in the gym.
Quantity: 3-5 grams per day, again depending on your weight. If the tingling is too much for you to handle, just split it into 2-3 doses per day.
Which Supplements Don’t Work
Of course you can ask your questions below but don’t even start asking if test boosters or fat burners work. The supplements I listed above are what you should focus on and you will not regret it. Aside from those, the rest of them simply don’t work or are not worth the money and that is the reason I did not mention them.
Supplements can be useful in the right hands. If you cannot afford supplements, do not worry about it. A well designed meal plan will provide more results than any combination of supplements ever will. And should you have any questions about specific supplements or the concept of supplementing in general, don’t hesitate to post them below.
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