Over the past few weeks we have received a number of questions regarding supplements and your training. What should I take? How much should I be taking? We have already talked in depth about fish oil and BCAAs at The Strength Agenda and as we keep going we plan to add more supplements to that list. But until then, here are some tips that will be helpful when trying to determine what supplements to add into your training program. Keep in mind that if you decide to take anything, make sure you go over that supplement with a coach, athletic trainer, physician, or some other person with a background that allows them to give you insight on that product. The fitness industry is over-saturated with supplements. There are millions of products promising you this result or that result and making some of the craziest claims I have ever heard. Instead of reading all the advertisements, keep these tips in mind when selecting your next supplement and you will be good to go.
1. Keep It Simple and Read Labels
This one seems self-explanatory but you would be surprised at the idiocy displayed with this. In weightlifting and most NCAA sports you get drug tested. Now it may not be frequent but at major competitions they test you. USADA also has a random drug screen pool that athletes can be subjected too. You would be surprised how many supplements have some sort of ingredient that is a “banned substance” and can get you in trouble. A good rule of thumb is if you cannot pronounce the ingredient you probably don’t want to take it. If you want to play it safe use supplements with the least amount of ingredients. Creatine for example, has different companies with supplements claiming their brand is the best. But with all the extra pre-workouts, sugar, and other fillers added to it, how much of the real stuff are you getting? Your best bet is getting plain creatine monohydrate with no extra crap in there and save yourself the guessing game. This goes for many other supplements. The fewer the ingredients the less you have to worry about.
A lot of supplement companies hide ingredients (or lack there of) in their “proprietary blends”. This is a term widely used, and due to the lack of regulations they don’t have to include what is in the product. Also if there are ingredients you can’t pronounce why would you put them in your body? So remember less ingredients is better, no need to complicate things, and if you can’t pronounce it, don’t take it.
2. Caffeine Is Not Always the Answer
If you type in “energy drinks” in Google there are about 20 different kinds you will find on the market today. While some have zero sugar, loads of Vitamin B, or a natural energy source, they all are loaded with excessive amounts of caffeine. Caffeine can be overdone just like anything else and the key is not to constantly rely on Monsters and Red Bulls to get you motivated to do anything. Every once in a while is ok, just don’t go overboard. Just like a drug you can become addicted and rely on them to function throughout the day. Too much caffeine (500-600 mg) can lead to insomnia, muscle tremors, adrenal fatigue, increased heart rate, and in severe cases cardiac arrest. So before you chug those two Rock Stars before your next workout, put the cans down and try to motivate yourself without it. Your body will thank you.
3. A Supplement Is A Supplement and Nothing Trumps Real Food
Vitamins and other dietary supplements are not intended to be a food substitute. They cannot replace all of the nutrients and benefits of whole foods. They can plug nutrition gaps in your diet, but it is not smart to think of your vitamin or mineral as the ticket to good health standings. The power of the nutrients is on the plate, not in a pill. There is a place for vitamin or mineral supplements in our diet but that is not their main function. Supplements can be over done so the best way to know when there is too much is to keep a food log and look over what nutrients you are getting and what is missing.
In our interview with Brandon Lilly he talks about the importance of real food when it comes to training. I could not agree more. When it comes to recovering and fueling your body nothing beats real food. This does not apply to junk or processed food. I am talking about a good steak and potato dinner after a workout where you know exactly what is going into your body. Supplements serve a purpose but they can never fully replace food.
Hopefully these tips open your eyes a bit to the supplement world and push you to do your own research. There is all kinds of information out there on the supplement industry and you have to make the right decision as to what will work for you and what will not. Be smart, don’t over-complicate the matter, and if you are still unsure ask someone. There has to be a person you trust to point you in the right direction. Stay tuned for more in-depth articles on the benefits of specific supplements, dosages, and powerful combinations.