Common Questions: What Supplements Should I Take?
Have you ever picked up a fitness magazine or watched commercials about the latest in exercise supplements? Ones that will promise rapid weight loss, quick muscle gain, or increased work capacity?
Look like this in 30 days! Sound familiar?
Those are just the obvious money pitfalls – there are also a wide range of other supplements that can be (and certainly sound) useful, but how do you know if they’re useful for you? The first step I like to take is to assume a healthy individual – no celiac disease, no gut or digestion issues, only minor joint pains or aches if any. When it comes to basic exercise and nutrition, there are then 2 routes you can take:
1) Take no supplements.
This is a very viable option for anyone! I made my best gains in weightlifting when I was taking absolutely nothing. This is the easiest and cheapest option – not to mention it saves you time from trying to figure out what supplements to take, which brands, when to take them and in what amounts.
2) Take what works – and nothing else.
There are very few supplements that are actually proven to be beneficial to the typical exerciser just looking to lose weight, gain mass or increase their overall level of fitness. In fact, these supplements don’t need to be taken if you take care to have the appropriate balance in your diet. But if most of us are realistic with ourselves, we know that we don’t eat the appropriate proportion of omega 3’s to omega 6 fatty acids, eat enough vegetables of enough variety, consume enough protein or even get as much sun as we should. The supplements that are proven to help you with performance and your weight goals are simply there to fill in the holes that your diet leaves out.
Are you ready for the list?
-Protein Powder (not really even sure if I consider this a supplement!)
That’s it! Nothing fancy; no metabolism-firing, fat-blasting, muscle-exploding pills or shakes here. Just simple, basic nutritional supplements to help balance your diet.
1) Well what about <insert other supplement here>?
Chances are you don’t need it to help you achieve your goals. It either hasn’t been proven to be effective, to do what it’s advertised to do, or is meant for other issues that a normal, healthy exerciser wouldn’t have.
2) What if I do have <insert additional health concern here>?
This is the time to either talk to your doctor or a knowledgable nutritionist. Cara and Monica, Empower’s nutritionists, are great resources and very knowledgable about a variety of food allergies, gut issues and other supplements for your specific issues.
3) What brands should I purchase?
It is very daunting just how many brands of each kind of supplement are available out there!
Most any brand of one of the above supplements will do just fine. You can find plenty of debate on which is better – especially when it comes to protein powder – but if it comes down to it and you’re still not sure what to get, simply looking at the nutrition label for what it provides compared to another brand should solve it quickly. But again, most brands are just fine.
4) How much should I take?
Fish Oil – You’ll find several recommendations for fish oil, depending on who you ask. It can be hard to pin down exactly how much you should take, but I like to follow the guidelines given by one of my favorite nutrition resources, Precision Nutrition. From their guidelines:
“Our clients start out by using 1 gram of fish oil per percent body fat they have. So, if they’re 10% body fat, they use 10 grams of fish oil. If they’re 20% body fat, they use 20 grams of fish oil. And so on, up to a maximum dose of 30 grams per day. We follow this protocol for 14 days.
Then, we cut the dose in half. So, if a client starts out taking 10 grams for 2 weeks, they cut the dose down to 5 grams after that. If they start out taking 20 grams for 2 weeks, they cut the dose down to 10 grams after that. This latter dose (1/2 gram per percent body fat) can be followed indefinitely.”
If you’ll note, that’s a lot of fish oil, especially at first, which can be hard to get in capsule form. So while brands aren’t especially important, make sure that it’s FISH oil, not liver oil or cod oil, and that it’s in liquid form – this way you can more easily get the recommended grams.
However, simply taking SOME fish oil is better than none.
Multi-Vitamin: Usually just the recommended dose on whichever brand you choose.
Protein Powder: However much protein is missing from your diet. One scoop is usually around 25g, depending on the brand. How much protein you need for day could be another article in itself, but general guidelines are anywhere from .8 – 1.5g of protein per pound of body mass.
And that’s it for your general supplements guide! While I could go into various other supplements, such as creatine, these are the very basics that are the most effective, do what they claim, and are the most bang for your buck in the gym. Use these to help achieve your goals, and use the money you save towards something more productive.