Supplements, What Are They? Do You Need Them?

Supplements, What Are They? Do You Need Them?

I thought it was high time I did a blog on everyone’s favourite topic, supplements!

It’s important to remember, if our diet, training program and sleep aren’t in order, these aren’t going to be very helpful. Supplements are all about enhancing your current approach, and you can’t enhance what isn’t there…

Also, if your favourite supplement isn’t on the list, there’s a reason for that, and it’s not because I ran out of space. The list of effective supplements is actually depressingly short, so I’m only talking about those with good evidence behind them.

Protein Powder

I’ll keep this brief because we probably all know what it is and does. Food is always a better source of protein, because of all the other wonderful nutrients we also get with food, but if you’re struggling to hit your protein goals or need a quick, lean hit of protein, there’s nothing wrong with protein powder. Pick one that fits your budget and your dietary pattern and make sure it has a short ingredient list and you’ll be in business. 

Creatine

When we contract our muscles, we use up this stuff called ATP. We can resynthesize it pretty quickly, but if the rate we’re using ATP exceeds the rate at which we can resynthesise it (basically what happens during intense exercise), we experience fatigue and the need to put the weights down, lie down on the floor and question our life choices.

Resynthesizing ATP uses up something called creatine phosphate, and this is where supplementing with creatine comes in. Supplementing with creatine increases our muscle stores of creatine phosphate, which means we can resynthesize ATP a little longer, which means we can keep potentially bust out another rep or two before we call it quits. Over time, all of these extra reps can add up to extra muscle.

The recommended dose is 5g per day, at any time of day. And don’t get distracted by the new, shiny types of creatine. Good old creatine monohydrate has the most evidence behind it and is dirt cheap. Win-win. It’s also extra important for vegans and vegetarians, as our primary dietary source of creatine is animal products.

Caffeine

The world’s most commonly consumed psychoactive drug, caffeine is predominantly found in coffee, energy drinks and pre-workout supplements. The good news is, it can increase performance and reduce how hard exercise feels, so having some caffeine 30-60 minutes before you start exercising can help increase the quality of that training session.

If you like the way your favourite pre-workout makes you feel, it’s probably all down to the caffeine, so a simpler option is to just have your favourite coffee before you train. Just make sure that’s at least 6 hours away from when you’re intending to go to sleep, as caffeine can hang around in your system for a while and may cause sleep disruptions. Not good.

Beta Alanine

We experience a build-up of hydrogen ions in our muscle during intense exercise, and this is where beta alanine comes in. Too many hydrogen ions cause all of the chemical processes in our muscle to go wonky, leading to fatigue. Beta alanine helps prolong this, allowing us to perform at high intensities for a bit longer before giving up. Because of this, it’s only really useful for sports that involve short, intense periods of work or repeated high intensity bouts, so if this isn’t you, don’t worry about it!

The standard daily dose is 2-5g, but if you take that all at once you’re likely to experience some pretty intense tingling/ants crawling on your skin, so split that dose up and have it throughout the day.

Special Mentions

Ok so I sort of did run out of the room, but I also want to give a special mention to citrulline malate, bicarbonate and nitrate. These are still all relatively effective supplements, but they’re less useful for the wider population so we’ll leave it there for today. If you have any questions about them though, feel free to send them my way!


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