In the bodybuilding world, supplements are close to mandatory. Ever since the 70's, people have been gulping down protein drinks (even though we don't have to drink blends of raw liver, whole eggs and tuna anymore - thank God!). Between 5-10 years ago the market exploded with new supplements and brands, of which many products were scams - useless at best, counterproductive at worst, and it still is - sort of. However, the natural selection, as in people not buying bogus products but sticking to what works, has left an increasingly effective line of supplements for the serious bodybuilder.
Major Landmarks ///
Creatine has become a major landmark, and today practically everybody is using it. Why? Because it works! Choline? Suspicious enzymes? Herbs? Mega doses of vitamin B? Gone without a trace. Why? You figure.
So, in conclusion that means the modern bodybuilder can get tremendous results from using the stuff that has stood the test of time. And why would I advice you to do else wise? Hell, I'd be dumb if I did, and personally I benefit greatly from protein/carb drinks myself, just as cycling creatine and using Ripped Fuel when I want to cut up!
But...Here's a major trap lurking. Today, we're encouraged to have faith in science. With reason, for sure, but let's not go overboard. Even though there are plenty of perfectly balanced drinks out there, may it be for weight gain, weight loss, energy or whatever; they'll never take the place of actual food. Simply put: A drink will never make up for otherwise bad food habits! Hotdogs and donuts taste good, but they won't help you in your quest for physical excellence. Too many people make the mistake of believing that they can quell their bad consciousness by having a "miracle drink" once a day. Big mistake.
Of course, if the option is NO drink and shitty food habits, then the drink is better than nothing (but still not even close to good). The serious bodybuilder doesn't have that problem, but is probably more interested in getting extra quality calories to build muscle. Here's the REAL function of the protein drinks: Squeezing in extra calories between ordinary meals (as you can only eat so much rice & chicken before you burst) or get some extra protein (when you're on a diet and need plenty of protein but want to keep total calories down).
Protein vs. Creatine ///
As for pills, vitamins are a basic. The rest is icing the cake. Often I hear people asking me whether they should buy creatine or protein for supplement. "Both." I say, but they shake their heads and say they can't afford it. "Alright, get the protein then!" I reply, explaining that it works like a pyramid: Good, old-fashioned food at the base, protein drinks in the middle and, if needed, creatine, caffeine or other supplements for further enhancement. However, human nature is once created such that we want quick rewards - and while the protein might be more effective in the long run, you gain instant bodyweight and strength with creatine - of course they want to pick creatine.
Think of your daily food as that silly pyramid you read about in school. Of your daily 6-7 meals, at least 4 should be solid food, preferably protein-rich and moderate in fat. This is the base of your pyramid, which should never be fiddled with. The extra calories/protein that comes from drinks 2-3 times a day is more flexible. They're definitely a great aid for your body to build muscle, but they're still not as crucial as the foundation. Finally you have the top - where you can experiment with various supplements. Even though you have a few things that you know works, it's a good thing to be able to try new supplements and see if they work. And this is the beauty of it - even though you're having bad luck and got your hands on some total scam, you're STILL doing well - thanks to a sound base of food and protein drinks!
Putting all your money on the top section while neglecting the foundation is pretty much like selling your car, taking a loan on your house and bringing your life savings to Las Vegas for the chance of striking rich in one, crucial throw of the dice. It MIGHT pay off, but it's extremely risky and in the long run you're doomed to lose. Using my pyramid, you keep your car, house and savings and go buy a lottery ticket at the local mall instead.