These days it seems as though everyone is taking something in the form of a pill, powder as a supplement. Whether its something as simple as your mum taking Vitamin C or whether you’ve seen a guy at the gym dumping 4 different powders into a shaker and sculling it when he’s finished his workout – they’re everywhere.
Before getting in to some of the common questions many people have about them, you need to understand what they are and what they are not.
What are they?
A supplement is a nutritional aid. They help you get more of a specific nutrient or substance that you may not be able to get in your day-to-day diet in the quantities that you need.
What aren’t they?
1. A shortcut.
There are no shortcuts on the road to your goals. Supplements assist you, they don’t do it for you.
2. An excuse make poor choices with your diet.
Just because you had that protein shake after the gym doesn’t mean you can eat an entire meat lovers pizza later on in the day and still achieve your goals.
3. A steroid or hormone.
There’s a massive difference between steroids and supplements. Many who associate supplements with steroids have done so because they see steroid users also use supplements and assume the two go hand in hand, or are one and the same.
Where do you even start?
First things first, you need to make a plan. Remember, supplements aren’t the plan itself, they’re only filling in the gaps. To do this we need to:
1. Write down your goal
2. Break down the steps to achieve the goal
What this does is show you what you need to do. As a general rule, write down your meals and your workouts on a day planner and work supplements in from there once you’ve figured out where the gaps are.
But what do I take?
This is a complicated one, but one that many people are unsure about. You could walk in to your local supplement store and ask the bloke at the counter “Whats good for packing on slabs of muscle quick?” and you’ll have all sorts of buzz words thrown at you to make you buy an expensive protein, a pre-workout that gives you heart palpitations, amino’s, creatine and a test booster.
I’m not saying these don’t have their place, but when you’re just starting out you don’t need all that stuff.
A few general rules when you’re starting out:
• Protein after your workout will help you build muscle and recover faster
• Pre-workouts are awesome, but if you aren’t falling a bit flat during your workout, you don’t need one
• Bulking & mass gaining powders are for extra calories, but your diet also needs to reflect the overall goal of putting on quality muscle or you’ll put fat on instead
Why have a protein shake after the gym?
The concept here is very simple. After a workout you’ve created small tears in your muscle fibers, which can only be repaired using amino acids. You can have an amino acid supplement, but they don’t come in the right dose sizes and are more expensive per serve.
The general consensus is that you need approx. 20-30g of protein after a weights session to aid in the repair and rebuilding of your muscles. WPI (Whey Protein Isolate) is rapidly absorbed and is dosed in the above-mentioned serve. Due to the rapid absorption of the WPI you can eat again sooner after your workout and have taken in an extra serve of protein in the day, helping you towards your overall goal of building muscle.
For bulking, the general consensus is that for every gram of protein you have, you should have 2g of carbohydrates. The carbohydrates help spike your insulin levels and replenish glycogen stores which is important for rapid nutrient delivery and recovery of the muscle.
Due to the way the powders are formulated your digestive system is able to quickly break it down into amino acids and release them into your blood stream to repair those muscles.
Conversely if you were to skip your protein shake and eat a chicken breast you’ll still get the protein you need, but its not delivered to the muscles as quickly because chicken takes longer to digest than a protein shake. The shake doesn’t ever replace the meal, it assists in the overall amount of protein consumed and helps to repair the muscle so it can rebuild thicker and stronger than before.
What protein is the right one for me?
If you’re sensitive to lactose, steer clear of dairy based proteins like whey and casein. Look for an alternative made from plant based sources.
If you’re all good with lactose then a WPI (Whey Protein Isolate) or a hydrolised WPI (even faster absorbed than regular WPI) is probably going to be your best bet for a cheap and proven product.
You can get blended proteins as well that include WPI, WPC (Whey Protein Concentrate) and Casein. These give you a steady absorption over a period of time because each of these break down and are absorbed at different rates. Should you really care? Not unless you know you need that kind of protein delivery from somewhere other than the label of the product.
I’ve heard that “Pre-Workouts” are a must have, where do I start with them?
Pre-Workouts are a massive topic. I love a good pre-workout, but not everyone needs one. You definitely don’t when you’re just starting out with weight training. Learn the ropes first. Its something you start using once you want to increase the intensity of your workout once you know what you’re doing.
That being said, if you want one, go for it. Just remember these points:
• If it doesn’t tell you exactly how much caffeine is in it, don’t take it
• Work out your own tolerance to stimulants first. If you have soft drinks or coffee through the day count how many milligrams of caffeine are in them, then work out how much you’ll be putting in to your body if you use the pre-workout
• Some are full of shit. They put a bunch of stimulants in them to give you the sensation that you’re feeling different, when in actual fact you’ve gotten a little buzz from the caffeine and beta-alanine and maybe a hot feeling from some niacin
• The tingles are from beta-alanine, nothing to worry about. It’s the beta-alanine binding to nerves in your skin which causes them to fire. It goes away once you start working out
• Most shops have samples you can try. For the love of god please try the sample before buying it. You want to know how your body reacts to the product before committing to 30-50 serves of it and also whether you actually get anything from it
You can find stimulant free pre-workouts if you train at night too so if you have trouble sleeping the night you’ve taken it, its probably too strong.
Go a week between pre-workouts. Its important for your body’s tolerance to things like caffeine and beta-alanine. You can also develop a psychological connection with pre-workouts whereby you think you cant work out without them, so just take a week or so between them. There’s another hypothesis called Adrenal Fatigue – I say hypothesis because it hasn’t been proven – It goes like this: The adrenal glands are glands that sit on the kidneys that produce your “fight or flight” hormone response. When you take in caffeine it triggers the adrenals to produce more of these hormones. Adrenaline is a burst of energy and over a period of time the effect of the caffeine starts to wear off because the glands become fatigued and eventually burnt out from your rampant caffeine abuse.
Its an idea, not a medical diagnosis. If you start to notice you need 2 scoops or more coffee’s through the day because your energy levels have taken a dive you need to rest and probably shouldn’t be at the gym. Listen to your body.
Why is everyone’s doing it?
Short answer? Convenience
Supplements were made to make life easier. They provide an extra boost for your intake of a particular thing because you need it.
Think about it this way – An orange has approximately 70mg of vitamin C in it. To get 1000mg of Vitamin C that is in 1 tablet you therefore need to eat just over 14 oranges. Do you really want to eat 14 oranges?
I’m not saying you should replace fruit with vitamin tablets, fruit has a whole host of benefits that a tablet can’t give you, but 14 oranges or 1 tablet?
I’m trying to lose weight, what about fat burners?
First of all you’re looking at it from the wrong angle. Second, 90% of fat burners are a load of shit. You don’t need them despite their claims of “increasing thermogenesis” and “increasing your metabolism”. The difference most of these make is probably a 1-2% boost in caloric expenditure for the overall day.
They do this by loading you up on stimulants like caffeine to increase your heart rate slightly and causing you to burn up calories that way. Some have as much as 300mg of caffeine in them! That’s as much as 4 cups of coffee! You’re much better off just drinking the 4 cups of coffee to be honest.
Use your body’s built in mechanisms to achieve a much greater boost makes much more sense to me. You’re much better off doing some HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training). HIIT has been shown to increase your fat burning and increase your protein absorption for up to 36 hours after completing a session. It also increases strength and endurance at the same time as cardiovascular function and is more efficient than running or walking on a treadmill for hours.
What about a testosterone booster?
Its no secret that to build muscles you need some testosterone. But did you know that you’re already producing it (you too girls)? Most people don’t need them. Get yourself a blood test if you’re not sure about your levels and talk to your doctor about your results. You can be deficient in a number of things that effect testosterone production.
Your doctor will most likely tell you its fine. If they’re not, you’ll be given a treatment or solution and be much better off.
And would you recommend creatine or do I not need that too?
Creatine is a transporter. Its essential for the body to produce energy. If you’re vegan or vegetarian you’ll definitely benefit from it. If you eat a lot of meat you don’t really need it, but it still helps.
When you workout you use up creatine stores in your muscles. If you don’t replenish it, then your recovery and subsequent workouts suffer. This is where creatine supplementation comes into the equation.
Everyone can benefit from creatine. There’s no two ways about it, its incredibly important. But again, if you’re not depleting your stores in your muscles, you don’t need to shell out and buy any just yet.
A couple of points to remember:
• If you eat a lot of meat you probably don’t need to supplement with creatine
• If you do supplement with creatine, you’ll probably notice better recovery
• Take it before and after your workout
• Some people will tell you to “load” it, where you initially mix it in drinks a few times a day – that’s been debunked and is not necessary
• Micronised creatine mixes the best (especially handy if you want to put it in your pre-workout or protein shake)