You’ve just purchased your gym membership. You go to the store and buy a whole cart full of clean foods; lean chicken breast, leafy green vegetables, brown rice, oatmeal. You get to the supplement aisle…. Ahh, the supplement aisle. You stick your arm way towards the back of the shelf and pile all the supplements into your cart; creatine, fish oils, multi-vitamins, caffeine pills, intra-workout, post-workout, beta alanine. What’s a transformation Tuesday post on Instagram a year down the road, without the “necessary” supplements, am I right? How could you possibly see any results from a proper fitness and nutrition plan, without the almighty supplements? Supplements = God, right?
Most people, not all, but MOST… use supplements too early and too improperly. First of all, most of the supplements out there are completely and utterly unnecessary to ever use, at any stage. There are definitely a few good ones, but even then, you should only consider supplementing when you hit a certain plateau, or when you absolutely feel that it’s needed. Here are a few things to consider before giving supplements any thought.
- At least 1 year of training, on a good program
- Proper nutrition plan
- At least 6–8 hours of quality sleep, every single night
- Lowering stress levels
These are the 4 most important things to have in check before even considering any supplements.
You are nothing without proper nutrition and training, so these two are kings here. Find yourself a respected training program that adheres to your goal, and a nutrition plan to map it. Too many newbies go right to creatine to help them gain size and strength when they haven’t even tapped into their own potential first. Give it at least a year on a good program, and then you can re-evaluate.
Pre-Workout will not replace a bad sleeping habit. Work on reducing your stress at work and in life, while actively trying to get better quality sleep. Having these two in check will aid in a much better performance in the gym.
Are All Supplements Useless?
Absolutely not. In fact, I believe in 3 main supplements, 2 of which you can take from the start. Here they are in order of importance (my opinion).
- Protein Powder
Caffeine is king in the supplement world. It is the main ingredient in every pre-workout ever and is responsible for giving you energy, plus a plethora of health benefits. I personally drink black coffee before the gym, instead of a pre-workout product. It’s extremely cheaper, gets the same job done without the added unnecessities, and zero calories. You can also find caffeine pills in your local supermarket if you don’t like coffee or tea.
When to use it: Right before a workout. Make sure your sleep and stress levels are in check first.
Protein powder in itself is not a magic supplement. You absolutely do not need it at any point during your life, if you choose not to. It just makes for an extremely convenient way to take in protein, and higher your daily caloric need (.8g — 1g per lb of bodyweight).
When to use it: Whenever you like. I only recommend it in replace of other protein sources, when other sources are out of reach.
Creatine is actually the most well-researched supplement on the face of the planet. It’s responsible for giving you an extra push in the gym, and also a slightly fuller look. It is completely unnecessary to use creatine without at least a few years of training under your belt.
When to use it: Once per day, at any time (5g per day). Don’t waste your time on it, if you’re a newbie.
I read your mind, I know what you’re thinking. How could a multi-vitamin be at the bottom of this list or even less necessary than creatine? The reason creatine is more relevant, in my opinion, is because creatine could actually be a necessity for a plateau. A multi-vitamin will never be needed if you include your micro-nutrients in your diet.
When to use it: If your diet is shit (lack of micro-nutrients).
In my deepest, most passionate opinion, these 4 are the only necessary supplements you’ll ever need if any at all. If I had to add a 5th, I would say fish oils. But as long as you’re consuming quality fats, don’t stress yourself. Everything else is irrelevant. Some others are okay, but mostly just fillers.
Putting It Together
Newbie: Just focus on your training and nutrition. If all 4 things are in check, you may use caffeine to boost your workout, and protein powder to replace protein sources when needed. Forget the creatine. As long as you’re eating a healthy diet, you can forget the multi-vitamin too. If you only eat chicken and rice, then consider the muti.
Everyone else: Be smart about the supplement choices you use and only use them when needed.