Everybody is out here working their butts off and we want to be taking the right things to get the maximum results from the effort! As a certified trainer I can’t legally recommend supplements because I have no degree in the field of nutrition, nor do I have the letters Dr. in front of my name. What I can do is explain what some studies have found on different supplements and the different results I’ve had with some that I have used.
The all time favorite: PROTEIN?!
Yes, of course protein! What you need to know is that there is not a magical potion in protein powder that will make you stronger! The reason it is such a big deal in the market and gyms is because it is completely necessary to consume protein within 1 hour after a workout (which also can be done with a slab of chicken breast or a fish filet) to keep the body from repairing muscle fibers with your own bodies supply of protein (muscles). There are two common options for powders, whey and casein protein. Both proteins are milk products, but whey protein digests much faster which is why it is the ticket product for post workout. The whey protein industry (obviously booming) has been formulating new ways to speed up digestion, so now you have options of isolates and hydrolysates, but you’ll pay the extra price for the new technology. For the serious lifter casein would be taken before a workout to supply protein throughout your routine and also before bed so you can keep growing those guns in your sleep!
When deciding which product is for you (protein or any food), look at the label, if there is a long list of items that you can’t pronounce or the serving size is 30g and the amount of protein per serving is 15g, there is a lot of filler added so the company can make more money.
What is CREATINE?!
Creatine is created naturally in the body and is used for short bursts of energy lasting 15-30 seconds. Taking creatine as a supplement has been shown in studies and tests to improve strength and overall performance, making it one of the few supplements to improve strength. The best way to take creatine is to buy the powder in the form of monohydrate. There is no fillers or flavoring so you aren’t paying for a bunch of non-sense. It is relatively inexpensive and will last a long time. It’s been debated for a long time on when to take it and how much is needed. Studies have shown that supplementing with creatine at any time is just as effective as taking it pre or post workout, the idea is simply adding it to your daily intake. The amount is based on the individual, but anything over 10g a day isn’t necessary. I also recommend that if you will be using creatine to be sure you are drinking plenty of water (about a gallon a day) to avoid mild side effects like cramping and mild headaches.
Do I need to take BCAA’s?!
BCAA stands for branch chain amino acids, which are three of the amino acids in proteins. There are 21 amino acids that “create” protein, and the BCAA’s are essential, meaning they must be consumed in your diet because your body cannot produce them on its own. The BCAA’s have been shown to be vital for muscle recovery, strength, and reducing fatigue. So it’s obvious that taking them has its benefits! As stated before, they are the building blocks of proteins, so either eating complete proteins such as chicken, steak, fish, or soy, or taking a protein powder would include the BCAA’s. If you decide to try them out, just as recommended with protein, read the label! If there is a long list of things in the ingredients list that you never heard of or the serving size doesn’t match up with the BCAA amount, keep shopping. Personally, I didn’t notice much of anything from using BCAA’s other than maybe a placebo effect while using them during a workout.
Which PRE-WORKOUT is best for me?!
The supplement that you are looking for when asking about a pre-workout for energy is caffeine. Caffeine very obviously works in increasing energy levels, which is why almost everyone starts their day off with a cup of joe! Caffeine has been shown in studies to improve performance in sports and reduce the mental feeling of fatigue. What you need to know is the amount, so the best reference is of course, coffee. Coffee has around 100mg of caffeine per cup, and most pre-workout supplements have 300mg per serving. Studies show that between 400-600mg is enough to deliver benefits to your workout, but that varies based on how often you use caffeine and if you have adapted to it. But as a warning, caffeine is a drug and overusing it is possible and can cause very harmful effects if too much is taken (usually an occurrence with caffeine pills).
Other popular supplements added to pre-workouts is beta-alanine and niacin. Beta-alanine is an amino acid (building block of protein) that raises carnosine levels in your muscles which reduces fatigue and may also increase muscle growth. Niacin is used to improve the “pump” you get while working out because it dilates your blood vessels, and also creates a tingly feeling. Pairing these things with caffeine causes a faster rush of energy and will sustain energy throughout your workout.
In short, supplements means just that, supplementing your routine with things that are already available through diet and other sources. Do you need the products sold at GNC to make the progress you want… no. But if you feel like you lack in food prep and aren’t getting enough sleep a night, those products would serve a purpose!