With the supplement industry being what it is and with so many sponsored athletes and marketing funneling into the propaganda, you just don’t know which supplements are effective and which are a gimmick anymore. In fact, you can’t even tell which ones are safe to use and which ones harbor dangerous side effects!
Today, we’re going to clear all that confusion by examining the most commonly used supplements that are supposed to give you that performance edge you’re constantly after.
1. Protein Supplements
Although, protein supplements are more of a food alternative rather than a “supplement”, it’s still worth mentioning. Getting enough protein in your diet is critical if you want to have any hope of meeting or exceeding your goals, whether those include a better athletic performance, strength gain, fat loss or muscle gain.
However, the role of protein may have been slightly exaggerated over the years. In fact, the vast majority of people already get more than enough protein to meet their daily needs from nutrition alone.
Protein recommendations for top-level athletes however, are a different story and they are about 1,5 grams of protein per pound of LEAN bodyweight which might a bit difficult to shoot for. For example a 200lb NFL player usually requires about 250-300 grams of protein to thrive and excel in his sport which is probably tough to hit with whole foods alone. That’s where protein supplementation comes in handy. A few scoops of protein can go a long way and it really doesn’t matter what kind of protein it is. Whether it’s whey protein, casein protein, beef protein or even plant-based protein such as pea protein or rice protein, the results are going to be exactly the same. However, different brands create different products that are not the same in terms of purity, quality, quantity and ingredients.
Plus, protein powder by itself is much cheaper in comparison to other sources of protein such as chicken, fish or even beans which makes it a more cost-effective solution for those who are on a low-budget. All in all, a protein supplement is greatly recommended for most people reading this blog, as their protein needs are probably quite up there.
Creatine is one of the most researched, if not the most researched supplement available on the market. Does it work? Yes, it does. Other than a small percentage of the population who are unresponsive to it, creatine works for the vast majority of people by making the ATP>ADP>ATP cycle more efficient, providing more energy to the muscles, thus increasing your strength on high intensity lifts and during your games out there on the field or court.
Even for endurance athletes, such as marathon runners, creatine might still be useful as it helps with recovery and soreness. As for the type of creatine, it’s nothing like protein. Not all creatine powders were created equal and that’s what most supplement companies are trying to market. However, our recommendation is to stick with the science and use the type of creatine that has the most amount of confirmed research on its back; creatine monohydrate.
Besides, it’s the cheapest form of creatine, it gets absorbed very fast and efficiently and most importantly, it’s proven to work.
The beneficial role of BCAAs is pretty well-known and that’s why most protein supplements in the industry already include a few grams of BCAAs. The question is, do you need to supplement more?
The short version is…it depends! BCAAs supplementation around your workout window has proven to help with muscle and strength gains, recovery, hydration and overall performance. However, if you’re already having enough protein, it’s highly unlikely that your body has a need for more branch chain amino acids.
On the contrary, if you are performing extreme and intense workout or cardio sessions or if your games during your season take a lot out of you, BCAAs might have a benefit for you and you should definitely give them a try for at least a few months.
The kind of athlete that most desperately is in need of BCAAs, is the athlete that’s on a cutting phase. If you are cutting, your main goal is to preserve as much muscle and strength as you can, while staying healthy and BCAAs are going to help you ensure that. Their anti-muscle-catabolism benefits have been known for quite some time so mixing 10-20 grams with your water and having them before, during and after your workout might be a smart investment.
B-Alanine is very similar to creatine and it’s a supplement that has also been thoroughly studied over the last 15 years. In fact, it’s proven to be just as effective as creatine but with a small twist. It will provide you with the energy to perform more reps instead of increasing your strength on low-rep sets. To make a long story short, creatine will boost your strength while B-Alanine will boost your endurance.
Unfortunately, B-Alanine does not kick in during low-rep sets or high-intensity activities. This simply means that if you are a powerlifter, a bodybuilder who trains below the 10 rep range or a sprinter, B-Alanine won’t do much for you, if anything at all. However, if you are an endurance athlete who runs on the field or court for hours, trains with high reps and performs a lot of cardio, B-Alanine is your best bet to take your performance to the next level.
Plus, it may cause a slight tingling or burning sensation which many people find helpful to psych themselves up before and during a game or a lifting session. Overall, it’s a safe, effective and cost-efficient supplement.
5. Pre-Workout Supplements
Pre-workouts have been greatly marketed over the years but let’s face it…if you need a pre-workout to get through your workout or game, your mind is not right. You are not focused or you are overtraining. You’re probably too tired to work out, which means you’re probably better off taking the day off.
Besides, most pre-workouts use caffeine or other stimulants to psych you up which can be dangerous for your health. You’re far better off having a high carbohydrate meal 2-3 hours before your session to get that insane physical and mental pump that you require to smash your workout and prepare for glory.
Having said that, if you do want to use a pre-workout, make sure you do not rely on it. Most people get almost addicted to caffeine and pre-workouts in general and then if they don’t have a scoop or two, they cannot properly function, their strength and endurance goes through the toilet and their mind is simple not there.
Try to limit your use of stimulant-like substances to only those days that you feel a bit down and you need that extra edge.
What About Other Supplements?
Other than protein, creatine, BCAAs and B-Alanine, we don’t really suggest any more supplements for boosting your performance and your game. Having said that, there are a few other supplements that may fill in some blanks in your nutrition and enhance your health and well-being which is more important than your performance.
For most people, taking an omega-3 supplement is probably going to work wonders. It’s inexpensive and definitely worth your money.
What about multi-vitamins? Study after study has shown that multivitamins are not really the best source of the vitamins and minerals that your body requires. Food is. Concentrate your efforts on having enough fruits, vegetables, beans and starches and if you truly want to sleep better at night, go ahead and pick a multivitamin to fill in the gaps.
Finally, most people are apparently B12 deficient, even though most meats and dairy products nowadays are fortified with B12, so you may want to think about that too.
Final Thoughts: Which Supplements Do You REALLY Need?
The answer might surprise you and it’s none. You don’t really need any supplements to excel in any sport. Your top priority should be nutrition, nutrition, nutrition. Every nutrient your need to put your best self out there can be found in whole foods.
However, it is advised to be self-aware of the gaps in your nutrition, because let’s face it…nobody’s perfect. Sometimes, you don’t have enough time to prepare and eat all your meals, let alone time them perfectly around your training. That’s where supplements come in. They are meant to SUPPLEMENT your current meal plan NOT substitute it.
If you have any questions about what you read or about other supplements that we did not mention, be sure to post them in the comments below but most importantly…be sure to get your meal plan right before you start browsing for supplements!