Overview | Training | Injuries | Cardio | Supplements | Hydration | Nutrition | Motivation Stretching | Transformation
Supplements are one of the main items advertised in the health and fitness industry. They make a lot of money for those who manufacture and sell them as they get used up and people have to buy them again and again to get the benefits.
There have been many instances of "shady" companies using the latest persuasion/deception techniques in their advertising, not actually having the ingredients which are supposed to be in them based on the label, purity issues, and much, much more. Moreover, most of the supplements just don't work as they are advertised! If they did, no one would risk the legal and health consequences of taking steroids as mentioned in the professional sports news nearly every day.
If Supplements Are So Bad, Why Would I Even Need Them?
This is a good question. Supplements are as their name implies: to supplement your healthy nutrition and other healthy habits. Just like AFLAC is "supplemental" insurance to your regular insurance, health supplements are to be seen as "supplementing" proper nutrition. With that said, supplements do serve an important part of your health and fitness goals, especially if you wish to transform your body with weight training and cardio exercise.
The fact is that most people have never learned how to eat and exercise properly. Combined with new chemicals being added to foods, different types of cooking other than what Grandma used to do (do you think Grandma would ever bake a pie in the microwave?), and social customs which do not favor proper eating habits, it doesn't take a genius to find out why people are either undersized or oversized for their height and genetic structure. Let's not even mention the health consequences!
With our busy schedules, fewer households with a stay-at-home spouse, and the marketing of unhealthy foods at all-time highs it can be difficult to know what to do in order to get the body you desire. If you feel that is the case, take heart! There are a few things you can do to get the adequate nutrition you need to reach your goals. Just remember that it is not 100% dependent on pills, potions, or powders.
In a minute you will read about specific supplements which have the best odds of helping you reach your goals. First, however, you will find out about the basic supplements designed to help you with the primary reason you want to make a change in your body: to improve your overall health and well-being!
Overall Health Supplements
No matter what your goals are, your first supplements should be focused on improving your health, meeting any nutritional deficiencies, and maximizing what you currently do. This should be your first focus because your health is paramount, and the supplements you need for these are also the cheapest!
If you are on a limited budget, these supplements should be the ones you purchase. They are the cheapest, last the longest, and can be purchased at any health food store or over the internet. In no particular order they are:
Digestive enzymes are protein molecules which are required by the body to properly digest food so that the nutrients can be absorbed into the bloodstream. Enzymes in raw foods exist to help start the digestion process. Although she may not have known it, this is one of the reasons your mom probably made you eat your vegetables as a kid!
When food is cooked at certain temperature (generally believed to be above 150 degrees Fahrenheit) the enzymes start to break down or even get completely destroyed. Therefore your own body (primarily the stomach and pancreas) have to work overtime to produce enzymes to digest the cooked food.
With an emphasis on protein, especially animal source protein which usually has to be cooked at temperatures above 150 degrees, our bodies have to produce significantly greater amounts of enzymes simply to help digest all of the food. This results in increased stress on the body.
One way to determine if you are running low on enzymes is if you have consistent gastrointestinal concerns like heartburn, upset stomach, etc. Supplementing with digestive enzymes, especially when eating lots of "heavy" cooked foods like steak, can give your body a much-needed break. In addition, it can help the body spend more of its energy to absorb and utilize the food rather than simply spend a lot of its energy to break down the food.
Vitamins, Minerals, And Antioxidants
Vitamins and minerals are the building blocks of what your body needs to handle hundreds of functions. From hair growth to the skin repairing itself after a cut, from producing the substances which facilitate eyesight to helping your body use the oxygen you breathe, vitamins and minerals are the substances you need to keep your body working as the finely-tuned machine it is.
With the eating habits exhibited by many people in today's technology-driven age, chances are that you are not always getting the basic building blocks of what you need for your body to function at 100%. If you undergo any sort of intense training like swimming, sprinting, or weight training you also deplete your body of vitamin stores especially in hot weather. Therefore a basic multivitamin will go a long way toward ensuring that you meet your nutritional needs.
To get government recommendations on the amounts you need, check out these resources:
At times in your body, oxygen reacts with other compounds to produce oxygen molecules which oxidize in your body. These are called "free radicals" and have the potential to cause damage to your body's organs over the long haul. You can get free radicals by too much sun exposure, saturated fat, exposure to cigarette smoke, air impurities, and chemicals in foods and water.
In order to neutralize these free radicals, antioxidants are brought into play. Here are just some of the possible substances which can be considered as "antioxidant":
A basic multi-vitamin, multi-mineral tablet with a separate anti-oxidant tablet (sometimes included with the multi-vitamin/multi-mineral tablet) taken once a day should be sufficient for your needs. Of course, talk with your doctor if you have any questions.
Several experts in the fitness and bodybuilding industries would agree that the number one supplement, along with a multivitamin, is "essential" fatty acids. These are also known as the "healthy fats." While you may have been told as a kid that "if you eat fat you will get fat," know that such a belief is false!
There is a lot of information about essential fatty acids (EFAs). You may think that these are just the "fish oils" about which you have probably heard something, but EFAs encompass more than just fish oils. The EFAs are broken into two main categories:
These fats actually assist with energy production, cell membrane health, as well as helping you build lean muscle tissue and get leaner! Brain and nerve tissue development is aided by EFAs as well.
There are several sources of EFAs, and these should constitute the majority of the fats you will consume during the day. For example, if you need to eat 2500 calories a day for your goal and 20% of those calories are supposed to come from fats then here is what you want:
- 2500 Calories X 20% = 500 Calories To Come From Fat
- 500 Calories From Fat Divided By 9 Calories Per Gram Of Fat = 56 Grams Of Fat
In this example you should attempt to consume at least 1/3 of your 55 grams of fat from EFA sources, preferably the omega-3 fats. Here are some sources of EFAs:
- Fish Like Salmon, Tuna, Trout
- Fish Oils And Fish Oil Capsules
- Flax Seeds And Flax Seed Oil
- Pumpkin Seeds
- Soy Bean Oil
Remember that you will get some saturated fat if you eat even lean meats like lean steak, chicken breasts, and lean turkey. These are naturally-occurring saturated fats and that is fine. Just don't compound the problem by cooking everything with a stick of melted butter!
If you want information on olive oil, including how to store it check out these resources:
Green tea may surprise you as one of the first supplements (or grocery items) you should buy, but it has tremendous benefits. It has been shown to increase thermo genesis (raising body temperature, e.g. fat burning and increased metabolism) and provides antioxidant effects in your body.
Protein Powder And Other Sources Of Protein
Protein powder is one of the mainstay supplements for virtually any athlete or person wishing to transform his or her physique. It easily could have been included in the section of "Overall Health Supplements" as most people do not consume adequate amounts of protein, especially protein which can be easily used (assimilated) by the body. Nonetheless, it is possible to make a transformation in your physique without protein powder; it will just be much more difficult to do.
If you are significantly overweight, have not exercised in ages, and simply want more energy to make it through the day and spend time with your family then you can do so without protein powder. Improving your nutrition, drinking more water, exercising, light stretching, quality sleep, and changing your environment to support healthy habits is the first priority. Next are the supplements to help your overall health.
If you want to take your physique to the next level then the first supplement you should consider is adding supplemental protein to your diet. Talk with your doctor about how much protein you can consume on a daily basis without any adverse conditions (there could be something in your specific health background which would preclude supplemental protein); but chances are that you can consume quite a bit more protein that you currently are eating.
Protein sources can come in many forms including:
- Protein Powder (And All Of Its Various Ingredients Such As Whey, Casein, Egg, Etc.)
- Meal Replacement Powders (Protein Powder Mixed With Carbohydrates And Fats In Order To Simulate A "Meal") These Are Usually Served In Individual Packets Which You Can Mix With Water, Milk, Or Juice
- Branched-Chain Amino Acid Tablets And Powders
- Liver Tablets
To gain lean muscle, you need to consume somewhere between 0.6 to 1.2 times your bodyweight in grams of protein, although there are several authorities who would argue for values both lower and higher than that range. On average, men would need to consume closer the higher values of that range; but you must always clear everything with your doctor.
If you are a male who weighs 160 pounds, consuming 0.8 times your bodyweight in grams of protein would be:
160 pounds * 0.8 grams of protein per pound = 128 grams of protein per day
Remember that 4 ounces of raw, boneless chicken breasts (roughly 3 ounces grilled) provides roughly 110 calories and 22 grams of protein. If you were to eat 128 grams of protein a day (in the form of chicken, dairy products, beef, turkey, eggs, egg whites, etc.) you would need to eat the equivalent of roughly 6, 3-ounce grilled chicken breasts. Since most healthy nutrition plans call for eating 5 to 6 times a day, you can understand that this would get a little bit expensive and difficult to do, especially if you do not have much of an appetite.
Protein powders "supplement" your protein needs as one scoop of protein powder usually is in the vicinity of 20-25 grams of protein per serving (depending on the brand). Therefore, a scoop of protein powder roughly can provide the same protein as 3 ounces of grilled chicken breasts.
Can I Live On Protein Powders And Protein Shakes Alone?
A typical person has this eating style when he or she wakes up in the morning:
- Skip breakfast
- Grab coffee at Starbucks (usually with sweeteners and artificial syrups)
- Muffin or doughnut at the office
- Maybe a soft drink before lunch
- Lunch is around 1:00 because it is a stressful day at work!
Notice that the person in this example had virtually zero protein since the previous night. Over 12 hours of going without some form of protein is just not going to cut it!
Unfortunately many people then make the mistake of getting most of their protein from protein powders or amino acid tablets. While this is a step in the right direction, they still need the essential nutrients provided by protein sources coming from real food. If you are a vegan or vegetarian you should still get most of your protein from real food sources.
Attempting to match up the "ideal scenario" with real-world, everyday life here is a "starter" plan for you to consume 6 "meals" a day by incorporating protein powder:
- Have real food with protein, complex carbohydrates, and some vegetables. Example: egg whites, one egg yolk, oatmeal, and grilled vegetables, Or make an omelet out of the egg whites, yolk, and vegetables.
- If you are looking to add body weight, add the mass-gaining supplements to your shake (if you like the taste) and even have a tablespoon of olive oil
- For lunch a chicken breast sandwich on whole-grain bread with veggies.
- Protein shake
- For dinner Fish, brown rice, broccoli
- Another protein shake or a protein/vegetable combination like egg whites and spinach
Glutamine is one the amino acids which the body produces on its own, but gets depleted during times of stress - this includes weight training and cardio exercise. A lack of adequate glutamine levels will accelerate a state in your body called "catabolism." This is a state where your body starts to feed on its muscles.
Glutamine also helps with your body's ability to synthesize protein, stimulate growth hormone (one of the hormones every human has and needs), and helps to enhance the immune system.
You will take glutamine (usually a small scoop weighing 5 grams) right after your workout, but other experts recommend higher doses. To help you learn more about glutamine and what it can do for you, read these articles:
Now that you have the basics down on supplements for overall health and recovery, you can then focus on specialty supplements designed to help you with your specific goals. If you want to gain lean muscle and overall muscle mass, then you will focus on the mass-gaining supplements.
It doesn't take a lot of extra money to add the muscle mass you want. Remember that the primary focus will be on proper training, adequate nutrition (in this case eating slightly more calories than you expend), doing a base level of cardio training (even if it is just a brisk walk in the park 3 times a week for 30 minutes), adequate water, and supplements for your overall health and recovery.
If you still want to spend the money, here are a few extra supplements you should consider:
Just remember that supplements give their benefit over the long term, so the day-to-day benefits will seem imperceptible to you.
Now that you have the basics down on supplements for overall health and recovery, you can then focus on specialty supplements designed to help you with your specific goals. If you want to gain lean muscle but reduce overall body mass, then you will focus on adding some of the fat-burning supplements.
Note that many of the "fat burners" advertised on television and available at your local pharmacy or grocery store are stimulants. They work in the short term, but there is a risk of a rebound effect because many people take more than the recommended dosages. They think, "If I lost 5 pounds last month taking one pill a day, then I should lose 10 pounds if I take twice as much!" If you think this way then you came to the right place to get your beliefs adjusted to the proper approach.
In order to help your body adapt and do everything properly, you want to choose fat-burning supplements which are not "quick fixes" and risk a rebound effect. The rebound effect is that if you stop taking the stimulant fat burning pill - and at some point you will have to stop taking them for your own health - you risk gaining back a lot of weight you dropped. To make matters worse, your body's endocrine and adrenal system could be "out of whack" for a while because they were artificially stimulated for so long.
While you may feel that you need to drop pounds quickly because of some event coming up like a vacation or pool party, please take the intelligent and mature path which will give you the best odds of reducing your body fat levels AND being able to keep the progress you made without a rebound effect. This requires a longer process, so if you are reading this around New Year's and want to look leaner in 3 months—and really ready for beach season by June - that is the right approach.
It doesn't take a lot of extra money to add the muscle mass you want. Remember that the primary focus will be on proper training, adequate nutrition (in this case eating slightly less calories than you expend), doing a base level of cardio training (even if it is just a brisk walk in the park 3 times a week for 30 minutes), adequate water, and supplements for your overall health and recovery.
If you still want to spend the money then invest in those which happen to work with your body and are non-stimulants. Here are a few extra fat-burning supplements you should consider:
Talk with your doctor about forskolin if you have blood pressure complications (high or low pressure), asthma, or hypertension
What About Prohormones And Banned Substances?
One of the biggest dangers when someone gets more involved and fascinated with weight training is that you will hear more about prohormones and banned substances in order to improve your physique. Whether this type of pharmacology is legal, "grey market," or illegal the temptation to take these types of drugs is very real. This is because all it takes is for you to stay consistent with your training and nutrition, pay some money, take a pill or get a shot, follow some safety precautions and? voila! Supposedly you will have new muscle, less fat, etc.
The problem with this mindset is that it is not true. One of the reasons that many people resort to taking illegal drugs is that they "think" they are doing everything they can, when in fact they have barely begun to scratch the surface on what they really need to do. Using the example of a skinny guy who wants to transform his body into having new muscle in order to attract women at the beach, this guy may resort to using performance-enhancing drugs in order to add 20 pounds of muscle and shed 5 extra pounds of body fat.
If he was smart and read this transformation guide, however, he would realize that he probably could get at least half of those gains without even considering the illegal route. Here are just some of the things he could do to get his desired body, since most people do not do all of the following at the same time (all with prior medical approval):
- He could increase his protein intake by 50-100 grams. This would amount to roughly 2-4 extra scoops of protein powder, 2-5 extra small (3-ounce) grilled chicken breasts, 2-4 extra servings of fish, or a couple handfuls of amino acid tablets
- He could help his body use more of the nutrients from the food he eats by simply taking 1 or 2 digestive enzymes, especially with any larger meals he eats during the day
- He could ensure that he is drinking enough water. For his goals he would most likely need to drink in the vicinity of a gallon of water (128 fluid ounces or 16, 8-ounce glasses) every day. He would need more if he trained in hot weather
- He could consume 1 tablespoon of olive oil, fish oil, or flax seed oil with every solid meal. Assuming he eats 4 times a day and has two protein shakes, he could consume 4 tablespoons of olive oil with his meals (either taken separately or added to the food). This would add nearly 500 calories of healthy fats to his diet
- He could take every possible measure to make sure that he goes to bed at a consistent time and gets at least 8 hours of sleep a night. This is more vital than most people realize, especially when trying to recover from intense weight training!
- He could structure his schedule to take a 15-30 minute nap during the day
- He would make sure that his 6 meals per day (example, 4 solid food meals and 2 protein shakes) are all healthy. He would have a "cheat meal" no more than once or twice a week
- He would be disciplined in taking any over-the-counter supplements to increase his muscle mass such as creatine
- He would be disciplined in taking his vitamins, antioxidants, drinking some green tea, and taking any recovery supplements
- He would keep his stress levels down and control his environment so that he feels at ease most of the day
- He would focus on gradually increasing the weights used in his weight training, and he would focus on perfecting his exercise form.
- For those of you who want to gain muscle mass, remember that you MUST get stronger before you get bigger. Ask yourself if it is even reasonable to assume that a human can gain muscle mass while getting weaker or staying the same. Intuitively, you know that such a scenario is not possible because your body would have no reason to adapt! Regardless of your goal (to gain muscle or to lose weight), remember that it is in your best interest to focus on getting stronger
With the exception of adding calories from protein and healthy fat sources, the same would apply for someone who wants to get leaner or even reduce body weight in order to become healthier. How many people do you know who follow all of these steps and stick with them every day for even one week, let alone 3 months?!?
Now you understand the temptation that so many people cannot resist when it comes to taking risky (and sometimes illegal) substances. They want to make the transformation without having to do it the right way from the inside-out. By cutting corners you won't allow your body to help you get to the next level, and drugs of any sort are not in your best interest unless prescribed by your doctor.
Whenever you are tempted to take any risky supplement (in terms of health and/or legal risk) go immediately back to this checklist; and honestly ask yourself if you have done at least what is on the list. Chances are that the answer is "No." Spend your focus on the real aspects of transforming yourself and you will be happy with the results!
Now that you have a better understanding of supplements it's time to touch on the most important thing you should be ingesting. Water. Drinking adequate water amounts is one of the easiest and best things you can do to help you as you progress. Move to the next article to learn more.