I really have been pleasantly surprised by the number of emails I've been receiving from the readership of Bodybuilding.com. With all the questions, though, there seem to be two common themes: What supplements should one take, and which workout program should one use? How to design a training program will be a series of articles coming in the near future.
However, now I wanted to speak about supplements, to clear the air about the ones that are backed by real science and will make a difference in reaching your goals. These are my opinions based off the research and anecdotal evidence of supplementation. So, there is no confusion, I will list them in order of importance.
Sure, this isn't a flashy supplement that sounds really cool, but without them you are setting yourself up for failure. Trying to train sick or not being able to train consistently because of illness is always a dead end for success. Not only will supplements keep you healthy, though, they will also help with energy levels, recovery, and sometimes strength.
A good multivitamin/mineral complex will have a good potency of all vitamins, but also have highly absorbable minerals. For example, cheap multivitamins will usually derive their minerals from oxides, which have a very poor absorbable rate. The higher quality ones will have their mineral sources from aspartates and amino acid chelates. It is worth spending the extra money.
Essential Fatty Acids
So many people bypass these supplements, but it should be seen as a mainstay in any nutritional program. These fats are called essential because the body can't produce them on its own and must obtain them from the diet. Before you start freaking out though and start saying, "Fat will make me fat!" you need to realize there is a huge difference between different types of fats.
Unrefined oils have a great potential to help you with your training program. There has been extensive research showing different oils can positively affect cardiovascular health, insulin sensitivity, brain function, reduce inflammation, and even help improve the efficiency of lipolysis (fat breakdown usually leading to bodyfat reduction).
So, which fats are these? I recommend using flaxseed oil (approx. 1 tablespoon per 100 pounds of body weight), fish oils, and extra virgin olive oil (approx. 2 tablespoons a day). These can vary depending upon needs and if one uses all these oils. Don't try to cook with flaxseed oil though, it must be taken raw. I only ever recommend cooking with olive oil and would prefer Pam.
Almost everyone asks me about different protein supplements. The truth is every protein has great benefits and lacks in other areas. So, the easiest way to solve this problem is to use a protein that has a combination of proteins over a single type. Usually I recommend people try to alternate a solid food meal with a liquid to achieve a meal frequency close to 6-7 times a day.
Yes, this is the same no matter if you are trying to lose body fat or gain lean body mass. Also, no more than about 40 grams for a large person is necessary, no reason to waste protein supplements. The best time to use protein supplements is post-workout; the amount will depend upon body size.
This is a great supplement that sometimes gets great press and then disappears for awhile from popular media. There is a ton of research on glutamine usage. Glutamine is an amino acid that is found in large abundance in skeletal muscle.
Used most commonly to help sick hospital patients' recovery from surgery and maintain lean body mass, it has now made its way into the fitness industry. It is a great supplement to maintain a healthy immune system, prevent excessive muscle breakdown, and can help replenish glycogen stores without using carbohydrates.
The last point is interesting because with those that are utilizing low-carb diets using a mixture of glutamine with protein can still help one recover post-exercise without using carbohydrates. 10 grams on off days is usually appropriate and anywhere from 20-40 on workout days works very well.
This is the supplement that really started the whole industry. Even though it may have been slightly overhyped initially it too has a lot of research backing its effectiveness. Creatine allows one to do more work in a given amount of time (although this time is usually short around 15 seconds) and recover from exercise.
The biggest benefit of creatine is the fact one can accomplish more work. For example, if one could normally bench press 225 for 8 reps, they might be able to bench 225 for 10 reps. Creatine has also been used in studies to show more lean body mass gains than trainees that were not using creatine.
Remember though because of some dehydration you want to maintain hydration levels, especially in hot weather conditions. New research has also shown that sodium makes creatine more absorbable not sugar. So, all those products that came out in the past combining creatine and sugar were not enhancing its effectiveness.
I know I couldn't do an article without commenting on thermogenics (fat burners). These supplements are usually down on my list because I believe the supplements up above are more effective and general nutrition has to be consistent as well. Thermogenics work by speed up metabolism to a degree and cutting down one's appetite.
My feeling is that it's mostly effective for its appetitereduction rather than its effect on the metabolism. There is a little research showing ephedrine and caffeine combined in certain dosages will cause fat loss. However, there is very little to show that their herbal equivalents have the same success (ephedrine is illegal to buy over the counter).
Many factors affect this belief. Herbs are dependent upon when they are harvested and how much of the active ingredients are actually included in each pill. Constant use of thermogenics, approximately more than 6 weeks at a time, can cause burn out of the adrenal glands.
Proper functioning of all organs is essential, but when it comes to having success in the gym the adrenals are very important because of their relationship with regulation and production of a variety of hormones. Getting the adrenals functioning properly again can also be a challenge. So, my suggesting is using 4-6 weeks of them with 2-3 weeks off of the thermogenics.
Of course there are many other supplements that I could cover, but not everyone has a ton of money to spend on these items. Also, there is a lot of debate upon the true effectiveness of many of the products on the market. Remember that supplements may have the potential to effect one's training by 5 percent, as estimated by some experts, that is not a large number.
That is why when everything is broken down eating a smart meal combined with intelligent training is going to be the determining factors to your success. Sure supplements are helpful, but you can do yourself a big favor by using the one's that you know will work and then focus on the rest of your program.