The something new your gym kit needed. Highlight that 'fit and let yourself glow.
I was fifteen-years-old, just joined a gym and ready to take my body to the next level.
So, naturally, I did zero research and popped down to my local supplement store to grab the tools necessary to take my body from a 50kg string bean to a young Ronnie Coleman.
So, I listened to the man behind the counter (with my best interests at heart) and was sent home with a giant bag of mass gainer, four assorted tubs of powder and one Jack3d.
Thankfully, by the time I got home, Mum researched what was in Jack3d and tipped the whole tub down the sink after claiming it contained "meth".
Not kidding, I was distraught at what I thought was 'lost gains' (evidently, Mum was on the right track with the eventual banning of the supplement in 2012).
So, back to the drawing board, I went looking for the next best thing. Fast forward over seven years and I think it's safe to say I've had enough experience in the supplement game. Enough experience to know which products are beneficial and which ones are as useful as literally throwing your money down the drain like Mum did back in 2010.
In today's day and age with social media marketing, there is an OVER saturation of supplements by professional bodybuilders that lead young, impressionable kids (potentially like yourself) to think that it's the only way to gain muscle and burn body fat.
Trust me, I've been there. So, today I'd like to do my best to provide a straight forward and simple outlook on supplements. But before we begin, I can't stress enough how important it is to look after your training and diet first before even thinking about supplements.
This is like making sure your car has got an engine before you start buying new wheels. It makes sense, right?
Supplements are useful and can be used to SUPPLEMENT a training program and diet. Not replace it.
Of course, you've heard that before but read it again and let it sink in. Nobody wants to waste their money, so if you're going to invest in products, at least make sure you're buying the right ones and your training and diet is your main focus.
So, let's get stuck into it. I'm going to list off a few common supplements, a few that I feel are important, a few optional supplements and maybe a couple that are as useful as a pet rock.
#1. WHEY PROTEIN
Whey protein is probably my favourite supplement. It will boost your daily protein intake and add a protein source low in fats and carbs (so, it's versatile).
Think of this like a chicken breast that is sweet and tastes good with cereal...
It's not magic, but it certainly helps. Most girls struggle to eat enough animal products to meet their daily protein intake and therefore might struggle to put on muscle. I wouldn't stress over a casein, if you're just going to get a protein powder, stick to whey.
So, out of convenience, a quality whey protein is very important in my opinion.
#2. CREATINE MONOHYDRATE
Another proven supplement that draws water into the muscle cell, improves strength and therefore performance and size.
Sounds great, right?
"But Zac, what are the side effects? Will I turn into a monster and punch six holes through the wall?".
No. Provided you're drinking enough water (creatine uses water), there are no side effects to worry about for the average person! Just stick to 5g daily and continue doing so until you run out.
When you run out, maybe have two weeks off to re-sensitise your receptors, then continue.
Take it any time of the day (pre, or post workout is my favourite) but it doesn't really matter when you take it.
#3. AMINO ACIDS
BCAA'S have been under the pump lately as some research shows they might not be as beneficial as we once thought. I have always used them when cutting in the hope of preserving muscle mass.
If you have the budget for it, I would recommend BCAA'S or other amino acids (EAAS) but if you can only buy a couple of things, it won't make or break your gains.
Carbs have been seen as the devil or one's saviour.
They have been both to me in the past. The fact that powdered carbs are so cheap and effective makes it a no brainer for intra-workout nutrition.
Grab a bag of maltodextrin and mix 30g during your workout to sip on. It will provide you with energy and replenish muscle glycogen to boost performance and recovery.
It is so cheap, so I would highly recommend this to anyone in a muscle gaining phase (or even fat loss to preserve workout intensity).
#5. OPTIONAL SUPPLEMENTS
Pre-workouts are up there with the most popular supplements but this doesn't mean that they are essential.
I think people just have a desire to have enough energy to feel Super Saiyan before touching a weight.
Don't get me wrong, I love a good pre-workout supplement. I have used them for years, especially on the days I feel particularly tired and struggle to get in the gym. They do not boost performance dramatically, they are just a nice mental benefit. They can give you alertness and focus to power through a workout but becoming reliant on pre-workouts isn't healthy.
So, if you feel good without one, then great; continue training! If you feel like you need a little mental boost, then cool; invest in a pre-workout supplement, but don't exceed one serve. This will just make your body even more tolerant and you'll need more and more until you're consuming unhealthy amounts of caffeine.
Everyone gets used to caffeine, so the trick is to never increase serving size and cycle off for a few weeks after going through a tub.
I'm a big fan of 'pump' based pre-workouts too. Whether you train at night, or just want added pump, look for non-stimulant based products that contain citrulline or arginine to improve blood flow and enhance muscle pump.
Another supplement I believe to be optimal is Glutamine.
Glutamine is great for recovery and gut health, but the problem is that you really need to take a lot of the stuff and you'll struggle to notice a difference, to test if it's working.
So, in my opinion, you need to dose Glutamine in the 20-30g region to yield the best results but again; it's tough to see if it's doing anything. So, if you're on a budget, perhaps leave this one out and stick with the essentials, but if money is no concern and you just want to leave no stone unturned then go for it and grab a tub.
WHAT TO AVOID...
Here's where it gets juicy and subjective.
There are plenty of supplements out there designed as marketing tools to take your money and give you placebo gains at best. Any supplement that has any hormone connotations like 'TEST' or 'GROW' usually are a waste.
For one; a teenagers testosterone level should be peaking, so adding in a 'testosterone booster' is absolutely pointless.
So, are all test boosters rubbish?
Well, let me break it down for you.
Let's say a natural test booster has a few herbs in it that have been shown to slightly increase testosterone in males that have VERY LOW levels. If it's a good product, hopefully it could bring their levels close to normal (not just for a short time).
However, what if their levels are already at a good level (like every teenagers should be)? Well then it is rubbish because those few herbs are not going to give you SUPER human levels of hormones.
They could potentially only help increase what is already low.
Read that again and take notice of the vague use of the words 'could' and 'potentially'.
Doesn't sound like concrete enough evidence to throw away a lot of money. So, stay away from hormone boosters - they will most likely, do nothing.
Steer clear of anything that seems too good to be true, because trust me when I say this: It probably is.
I've bought into the internet scams and fads before without even knowing the ingredients. I remember buying over 10 bottles of CLA after seeing the ads across the internet and incredible transformations.
Conveniently, they only sold these in bundles and like I said, I hadn't even heard of CLA but I was sure it would be the answer to my problems. For those who don't know, CLA (Conjugated Linoleum Acid) is a fat.
It is found in food and it literally a fatty acid. I guess you could say; I learnt the hard way!
Another supplement that I would be wary of are mass gainers. They can have their use, but I don't recommend them often. Usually, they are loaded with cheap carbs and low protein and priced quite high.
I dabbled with gainers in the past and only gained extra fat. You're always best getting your nutrition though your food as your body will process it better and thank you for it. BUT if you really struggle to meet your caloric needs, then maybe you might benefit from a gainer.
However, I have no problems with eating, so a mass gainer was a waste of time for me (unless my goal was to gain as much body fat as humanly possible).
So, in conclusion; take your budget into account and make sure you can successfully tick the boxes of diet and training before you look for supplements. And remember; if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.