Step 1: Take legitimate inventory of your current diet, training, lifestyle, and health

Sorry, supplements shouldn’t be your first point of action if:

  • You’ve been sedentary
  • You don’t train or haven’t mastered the basics of programming like progressive overload and undulating intensity
  • You have a piss-poor diet
  • You have a pre-existing medical condition

Instead, it’s time to get the basics in order first. What are you doing, and how do you feel? Have you been avoiding the doctor for years or neglecting a major part of your self-care? Have you not trained in years, but are considering taking a pre-workout? You'd better believe these things can affect the effectiveness of a supplement.

Step 2: Set realistic, but proactive major and weekly goals

Any supplement worth taking—including the basics like protein and a multivitamin—should only be an addition to realistic, progressive training and a well-planned nutrition program.

What do you want to do, and how do you want to feel? This doesn't have to mean "I want to lose this many pounds"—although I know for many it inevitably will. It can be getting stronger, improving at a sport, doing a certain number of workouts a week, or even just finishing a solid workout program. These goals should inform what you eat, how you train, and what supplements get your hard-earned dollars.

If you think any supplement will allow you to reduce effort in the gym or adhering to a solid eating plan, then you’re setting yourself up to be sorely disappointed in your supplements.

Step 3: Eat and train intelligently for your goals

You don't have to hire a world-class trainer. Just don't be a complete embarrassment! For example, if you're trying to add an inch to your biceps and chase a triple-bodyweight deadlift while eating in an 800-calorie caloric deficit and are getting black-out blitzed three days a week… no supplement will help you. Watch the Foundations of Fitness Nutrition course. Eat lots of protein and veggies. Don't let bad habits dominate. Train consistently and progressively.

Eat Pretty Well, Train Pretty Well

Step 4: Recharge well and keep life’s stress under control

No supplement out there will do as much for your performance—and health—as getting adequate rest, keeping mental stress in context, and limiting your exposure to people who are toxic to you and sabotage your ability to reach your goals. If your friend's idea of a healthy night out is downing a 12-pack and ending the evening pointing blearily at food items on a Denny's menu at 3 a.m., hey, good for them. But if you match them night after night and then try to compensate by slamming a pre and some creatine before hitting the gym the next day, you're only fooling yourself.

Step 5: Rid your environment of harmful pollutants that you can control

If you think chemical pesticides and weed killers are the perfumes of healthy living; if you believe all things should be stain-resistant and a home or office space isn't hitting on all senses unless intoxicating inhabitants with plug-ins and aerosol deodorants; if you lather on sun block every day like you're putting on baby oil to wrestle Blue in Old School… sorry. Your life may smell like a scented candle, but your body is left battling off so many physiological attacks from these common and easily avoidable chemicals. Over time, this can significantly and negatively affect hormones, neurohormones, your health, and yes, the effectiveness of your supplements.

Step 6: Get your mind right

Stay committed, positive, and know that getting in your best shape isn't a cakewalk. Everything worth earning is earned incrementally. Immediate results can leave you as quickly as they find you!

I know it's a lot to take in. But there's an overriding theme here, and it's this: Supplements aren't magic. They won't make an unhealthy lifestyle healthy, but they can make a healthy lifestyle healthier!

Now, once you've taken the aforesaid steps and are on your path to a solid base level of fitness, it's time to start optimizing that base with a few key supps. These six supplements are ones everyone should start with to help stay on the road to optimal health and fitness.