The nutritional supplement industry is a big money making machine. While most of us buy supplements hoping they would give us an extra edge in reaching our physique goals, the truth of the matter is: Most supplements do absolutely nothing. Except, they eat away all your hard earned money.
I remember when I was starting out on my fitness journey. I was just a 17 year old kid trying to put on some size. The number of supplements which every training program said I definitely needed was off the charts. I knew what protein powder was. But, what on earth is creatine? BCAAs? Glutamine? Pre-workout??? Should I also take a multivitamin? It was certainly not possible for me to buy all of them. I was really, really confused.
So I spent years just trying out multiple things. There were training blocks when I would add some BCAAs to my stack. Other times I added in the latest pre-workout that was the rage. Did these things help? Maybe. Were these necessary? Absolutely not.
As I slowly got more into weight training and nutrition, I read more about the ins and outs of how these various supplements actually work. The scientific research on the efficacy of these products mostly point to insignificant influence on muscle development or fat loss, whichever be your goal.
All of this being said, there are a handful of useful supplements out there which have been proven to contribute positively in helping you build a good physique. To keep things extremely simple, here I am listing out for you 3 of them which both according to research and my own experience over the years, have proven to be the most effective. These are the best bang for the buck when it comes to maximising your results at the gym.
Protein powders are the most consumed nutritional supplement in the fitness industry and for a good reason. They are heavily backed by research in terms of their safety and efficacy in helping you build muscle, among several other health benefits.
There are many kinds of protein powders:
- whey protein
- casein protein
- soy protein
- pea protein
- egg protein, etc
Among these, whey protein has the highest amino acid content and is most efficient in promoting muscle protein synthesis. Whey protein is also the most bio-available source of protein. This means that among all protein sources, your body can break down and absorb whey protein the best.
Whey protein also has a low calorie profile, is super convenient to consume and is dirt cheap compared to any other supplement out there.
If you could pick only one supplement to meet your nutrition goals, this is the only one you truly need.
Another extremely well-researched and science-backed supplement is creatine. While creatine is available in multiple forms, creatine monohydrate has been established to be the most efficient of them all. Creatine monohydrate is available in capsules or in the form of a powder.
How creatine works is pretty straightfoward. Creatine is a natural substance that turns into creatine phosphate in the body. Creatine phosphate helps make a substance called adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP provides the energy for muscle contractions. When you use your muscles to lift weights, you use up ATP. Creatine thus helps in the faster regeneration of ATP and lets you crank out those last few extra reps.
The body produces some of the creatine it uses. It also comes from protein-rich foods such as meat or fish. Vegetarians have much to benefit from creatine supplementation due to almost non-existent creatine content in vegetarian diets.
However, it is key to note here that creatine itself doesn’t produce any results. It only helps you perform more effectively during your training sessions, which subsequently leads to better muscle gains.
Omega-3 is a crucial component to ensure optimal body functioning. It helps in controlling the body’s inflammatory response, supports the immune system, cellular signalling and cellular structural properties.
Fish oil is rich in omega-3 fatty acids which include eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). For decades, doctors have known that people who eat fish regularly enjoy substantial protection against heart disease and stroke. A major European randomized clinical trial showed that fish oil also provides the same benefits.
Due to their anti-inflammatory properties, omega-3 supplements are increasingly being researched for their potential to optimise athletic performance. Omega-3 is also available from vegetarian options like flax seed oil, chia seeds and walnuts. So if you are vegan, you can pick a flax seed supplement instead of fish oil.
It’s important to note that the types of omega-3s found in fish oil have greater health benefits than the omega-3s found in plant sources. Also if you decide to take fish oil, don’t choose fish liver oil, which has too much vitamin A.
Some closing comments
Nutritional supplements as the name suggests are there to supplement your diet. If your food habits are already out of whack, adding in any number of supplements wouldn’t make up for it. The first step to staying fit and building your goal body is to make sure that your eating habits are optimal. Once you have that in order, you can look into adding in supplementation to fill the gaps in your diet.
To learn how to fix your food habits in just 5 effective steps, check out this post: Stop the dieting madness. Fix your food habits in just 5 effective steps.
What nutritional supplements are currently in your stack? Do you think they are helpful?
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