If you’ve even remotely thought about excising or getting into shape those corporate spies have probably already intercepted your brain waves via some covert technology built into every cell phone out there and have started populating your Facebook page and every website you visit with advertisements for supplements. You know the stuff that guarantees you’ll loose 20 pounds in 2 weeks or gain 20 pound of pure muscle, or do both at the same time if you just use their product with some flashy “Superhydro-Leanshredder-Musclemax-Fireball Elite preworkout” type of name. There are supplements out there promising everything from great sleep, weight loss, improved mental clarity, unbelievable muscle gain, to longer life and everything in between. And why not make these claims when supplements don’t have to be reviewed or approved by the FDA for effectiveness, all while there’s big money to be had! The supplements were an $11.5 billion industry in 2012 and is expected to reach $18.3 billion by 2020.
So what do you really need to take for supplements, especially if you’re just starting out? My recommendation if you’re a novice (less than 1 year of strength training or consistent exercising) is to take…. well actually nothing! Your money is much better off being spent on quality foods at the grocery store than supplements. A good diet, exercise, and rest is the base/foundation to being healthy, and supplements can only give you marginal (<10%) help in loosing weight or gaining muscle. Supplements can’t replace or repair poor diet, lack of exercise, or poor sleep. That’s why they are call “supplements”… they’re not meant to replace the “primary” or core foundation of exercise, diet, and rest, but instead to help further enhance upon a strong foundation that you’ve already built. I do want to clarify and say that I don’t consider protein powder to be a supplement per se. Yes, some protein powders have all kinds of other “supplementy” type stuff added in (BCAA’s, creatine, etc.) but the protein powder itself is just another way to meet your daily protein targets along with lean meats and dairy as part of a healthy diet.
Once you get past that first year and have accomplished your initial goals to loose weight, or gain muscle, or both you may notice that things level off and it’s harder to make gains/losses/changes to your body. That’s when supplementation can be a bit of a help… but remember, it’s very, very small compared to exercise, diet, and rest. I personally feel the biggest bang for my buck in the supplement space is fish oil and creatine. I’ve tried a lot of stuff and wasted a lot of money as a dumb kid (and dumb adult), and it really comes down to how supplements affect you and your body. They affect each person differently, so you have to determine what works and if it’s worth the price tag.
I personally follow Muscleforlife.com and their sister supplement company Legion Athletics, which actually has a Scientific Discovery Board that guides the company on relevant clinical studies and ongoing research. They actually read through the independent (not supplement company paid) experiments and studies (ones that are effective like Randomized, Controlled Trials if you read last week’s blog) to find what supplements are clinically effective and at what doses. That’s one thing that is misleading anytime a supplement company has a “proprietary blend” listed on it’s label of ingredients… they may say they have some clinically proven supplement included, but it may be expensive and therefore to cut costs they may massively under-dosed to the point that it isn’t effective. With a “proprietary blend” they don’t have to say how much of each ingredient is in contained in the blend, just the overall amount of the blend. At Legion they’ll list all of the effective ingredients, how much of the ingredient is included, what the clinically effective doses are, and references to the studies. Mike Matthews, co-founder of Muscleforlife.com and Legion Athletics summarizes this very well in this 5 minute video. More and more upstart supplement companies are starting to do this, such as Transparent Labs… check out their hilarious YouTube advertisement.
Bottom line… stick to a good exercise program, diet, and get plenty of rest. If you don’t have that as a solid foundation then there isn’t anything a supplement can do to offset or fix that. However, if you really want to dig into supplements here are some articles to get you started in your learning endeavors!
NerdFitness – What Supplements Should I Take
Muscle For Life – Bad Bodybuilding Supplements
Muscle For Life – Best and Worst Supplements for Muscle Growth
Muscle For Life – Supplement Recommendations
Till next week…. stay healthy, stay happy, and stay strong! ~Ryan