Supplements are an incredibly divisive topic. Some people swear by them, and others swear they don't do a thing. However, more people use supplements these days than don't use them—even if they don't always call them by that name. They call them protein, vitamins, probiotics, and many other names.
No, to be clear, they don't all do what they promise, and their place in your diet is minor at best. But the science is clear that certain supplements do help with certain goals. In this lesson, you'll learn about one of the most pervasive criticisms of supplements and get recommendations for four supplements that may be worth your time.
Essential Ideas from the Video
Supplements, are, in fact, regulated—just differently than prescribed and over the counter drugs. Instead, they're regulated as their own category by both the FDA and the FTC. And once there is a reported problem or adverse event—serious or not—with a supplement, the company is required to report it to the FDA and it becomes public information.
Be wary of crazy claims with any product—especially if comes from a brand that looks new or amateurish. Look for brands that use third-party verifications of purity or best manufacturing practices. If a product contains one of these seals, it's a good sign that it contains what it says.
Don't simply trust that a store brand from a drugstore chain has followed any sort of third-party testing. These types of supplements have been some of the biggest offenders when it comes to containing far less of an ingredient than they claim.
Start simple when it comes to supplements. Keep to a few products that meet your specific needs—say, a dietary deficiency—or that the science says can legitimately help you meet nutritional gaps or provide reasonable performance boosts.
With over 2,000 studies to date, creatine is the most effective performance-boosting supplement out there. Increased muscle mass and strength are a well-known benefit, but creatine has also been shown to boost aerobic performance and sprint speed, increase work capacity, improve hydration, and even enhance workout recovery.
The most science-backed version of creatine is also the cheapest: creatine monohydrate. And the best way to take it is also the simplest: 3-5 grams a day, pretty much every day. You can undergo a more intensive 3-5-day "loading period," but it's not necessary.
Consider protein powders and drinks to be supplements of convenience—and use them that way. If a shake after training is the only way you're going to get protein at that time, have the shake. If you're trying to gain weight—or lose weight—and you're in a position where you'd either have a shake or miss a meal entirely, have the shake.
If you're going to go with a vegan protein, there's a case for preferring blends that allow you to get a more complete amino acid profile. But if you're getting a robust amount of complementary proteins elsewhere in your diet, then going with a straight pea protein, hemp protein, or rice isolate is fine.
In the gym, caffeine has been shown to boost endurance, strength, and pain threshold in both men and women. Outside of the gym, it helps alertness and focus. Yes, it can definitely impact your sleep—although not everyone experiences that.
There's no legitimate research showing that caffeine increases the risk of dehydration. Not drinking enough water is what increases the risk of dehydration.
Caffeine is more powerful when it's taken as a pill than as, say, coffee. Factor that into your dosing, especially if you know you are sensitive. Also, while a low-to-moderate dose has been shown to have great benefits, higher doses haven't.
The majority of research shows benefits when caffeine is taken within 60 minutes before training or sports, not immediately before.
Beta-alanine is like antacid for your muscles, allowing you to get a few more reps or delay fatigue slightly during events lasting 1-4 minutes.
Beta-alanine really only works if you take it consistently for at least 2-4 weeks before any event, so, like creatine, it's necessary to take it daily—almost like a vitamin—rather than only before workouts.
What about all the other supplements? They all have been shown to be beneficial in certain circumstances, but not in others.
Do the research, prioritize quality when buying, then decide for yourself. If everything else in your nutritional life is more or less in line, and you see a benefit from them, then keep taking them. But don't expect magic.
To get the most out of supplements, start by prioritizing whole foods and making sure you're getting enough of the fuel you need—and not so much of what you don't. Finish with a few well-chosen additions. Then, keep repeating it over and over again.
Hear how Douglas Kalman and Susan Hewlings approached creating this course and the science behind their recommendations in their podcast episode.