Anyone in the fitness industry—from beginner to pro—will have used supplements at least once. Even people who aren’t really “into fitness” have probably used supplements at least once in their lives.
Perhaps the most asked question regarding supplements is “do you need supplements to build an attractive physique?” The answer, like always, is it depends. It depends on the individual; it depends on your goals; it depends on your current state of health, genetic predispositions and health risks; and it depends on your budget.
What are Supplements?
They supplement the food you eat; contain one or multiple dietary ingredients such as vitamins, minerals, herbs, amino acids and other substances; come in capsule, tablet, liquid or pill form; and are labeled as a dietary supplement. There is something for everything these days, so it’s no wonder consumers are getting overwhelmed with the variety of options.
In Australia, Krill Oil was one of the most popular dietary supplements in 2013, replacing fish oil and glucosamine. In the fitness industry, you will hear of more popular supplements like Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs), Creatine, Testosterone Boosters, Whey Protein and many more.
The Optimal Supplement Stack
The saying, “Different strokes for different folks” comes to mind here. Depending on your diet, goals and training methods, you may not need the same stack of supplements as the next person. Conversely, you may also need more than the average person if you are experiencing certain conditions or injuries, or if you have genetic predispositions that you need to work around.
For example, someone who has virtually no time to eat or has no appetite may benefit from a mass-gainer, which contains simple carbohydrates and whey protein. However, those who have the tendency to overeat certainly wouldn’t need a mass-gainer or even whey protein. Those with weak joints or have chronic joint pain may benefit from Krill Oil, Fish Oil or Glucosamine supplements to alleviate symptoms and/or pain.
Fill Nutritional Gaps with Supplements
Even though you consume plenty of whole foods, you may not be getting enough nutrients out of your diet. For example, with creatine, you would have to consume several kilos of lean red meats just to get around 5 grams of creatine. That may not be as much of a problem for bodybuilders who require high amounts of protein, however if you are trying to stay within a certain number of calories and macronutrients, creatine in powder or capsule form may be a more viable option.
Supplementing with vitamins and micronutrients may also be useful if you are not eating a range of nutritious whole foods. Even if you are consuming a diet that consists largely of whole foods, you must consume a wide variety of foods that include a huge spectrum of vitamins, minerals, fiber and micronutrients to meet dietary requirements.
In the case of whey protein, it could be a beneficial supplement to other forms of protein such as chicken breast, eggs, lean red meat and the like simply because it will be more quickly absorbed by the body post workout. Immediately after a workout, it helps to consume a recovery drink of sorts so that the body can recover more effectively and glycogen stores can be replenished. This is also called the anabolic window, but it is not confined to 30 minutes following a workout. Research has shown that it can be as long as 2 hours after a workout, so don’t worry if it takes you a while to get home and prepare your post-workout meal.
Beware of False Label Claims
There have been some cases of false labeling by supplement companies so you as the consumer need to be wary of labels. Just because a famous brand says they put a certain amount bioavailable whey into their whey protein doesn’t mean that is always the case. Always check online to verify if your supplements have been reported for false label claims or worse: recalls. In some cases, supplements have been shown to have toxic levels of an ingredient that is not FDA-approved.
If you are unsure of the quality of ingredients or if you are purchasing supplements from a start-up company, make sure you try a sample first and observe its effects. If possible, look at the ingredients list on the nutrition label and do a Google search on each one so that you know what you’re putting into your body. Remember, not all dietary supplements are deemed safe by the FDA. The statements made by companies are not necessarily approved or endorsed by the FDAeither.
A general rule of thumb is: “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.” If a pre-workout supplement claims to be double the strength; help you grow ridiculous amounts of muscle in 1 week; and make you faster and more powerful than ever before just by just taking their product… Yeah, it’s probably not 100 percent true.
Supplements Do Not Replace Hard Work
In order to build an attractive physique, you will need to eat nutritious meals & train hard over an extended period of time in addition to supplementation. If you take 10 grams of creatine everyday but live a sedentary lifestyle, you will not see any changes in your physique. Supplements help you, but they don’t do the work for you.
Use as many or as little supplements as you need to perform effectively. Don’t go overboard, but don’t be afraid of them either. Keep an open mind, too, because there are always new supplements coming out. In a few years or so, there could be a whole new line of supplements that could help you reach your goals whether it’s muscle-building, fat loss, strength training, zumba, crossfit, powerlifting, etc.
It is possible to become the best version of yourself without the use of supplements, but they have their place and can certainly be helpful if utilized properly.