There are a few questions that every single trainer alive has gotten, and one of them that usually comes from the person who has just stepped into the gym for the first time is: what supplements should I be taking? Followed quickly by x person who lost 20lbs was taking x supplement, do you think it’ll work for me?
Chances are probably not.
Sometimes the truth hurts. No one wants to hear that the magic pill they’ve been sold as the miracle cure to everything really just doesn’t hold up to scientific rigour, and as a trainer who has trained people with goals ranging from body transformation, powerlifting, to professional sports I can promise you won’t find the piece of the puzzle you’re missing in a bottle (well, unless you’re a Russian Olympian…)
BUT, that answer usually doesn’t sit well with most people, they still want to know what they should be taking to help them with their goals. The first thing I usually do is tell them about the amazing resource that is examine.com and how you can pretty much check out any single ingredient with effective dosing all free of charge (seriously go check them out if you haven’t already), and the second is to tell them what I use personally. I’ll break it into two categories, Health and performance, and try to keep to very simple descriptions, keep in mind I am strength athlete, and this actually works well for most team sport athletes, but if you’re on the other end of the spectrum leaning towards a pure endurance sport, your list will probably look a little different
- Vitamin D: 2000 to 5000IU depending on the time of year and sun exposure, ideally you should get blood levels done, but no one does, and this dose works for most people, I couldn’t possibly list everything vitamin D does, but one of the biggest benefits that flies under the radar is that sufficient blood levels of vitamin D can really help with sleep quality
- omega 3 Oil: approx 3000 combined EPA/DHA per day – generally the oil is more cost effective than pills for EPA/DHA content. The western diet is pretty high in omega 6’s which kind of work in a tug of war fashion with omega 3’s as far as their effects on inflammation and blood clotting etc, so you most likely don’t need an omega 6 or 9 supplement. Omega 3’s are essential for neural health and many other essential processes
- Zinc and Magnesium: almost every hard sweating athlete is deficient in these minerals, zinc deficiency runs hand in hand with testosterone deficiency, and magnesium helps keep the nervous system from redlining all the time
- Creatine: 5g per day, any time of the day, some studies suggest that post workout creatine might be absorbed better than pre workout, and ingesting a carbohydrate drink may also increase absorption. Creatine is one of the most researched sport supplements of all time, increases strength, lean mass, and performance in repeated bouts of high intensity exertion. If you are in a sport where your success is determined by strength or the ability to exert bursts of high speed/effort, you should be taking creatine. No need to cycle off
- Caffeine: sometimes. it takes about 3-6mg per kilo to really affect performance, so to give you an idea a 200lb person needs about 270-540mg of caffeine to improve strength output, which is not something you want to be taking on a regular basis (Christian Thibadeau has a great video out about stimulant use for regular training – spoiler alert, not the greatest idea). As a general rule, train without caffeine, compete with it. Want to have a small red bull or a monster pre training for a bit of hype, go nuts, but this high level of caffeine consumption should probably be saved for your most important sessions or games
- Vitargo S2 – this is one of the only branded nods I’m going to give, because myself as well as the other coaches at Blacksmith have tried pretty much every carb supplement on the planet from candy, to dextrose powder, gatorade, and pretty much all the major designer carbohydrate brands including pure cluster dextrin, nothing compares to the clean energy or intra-set recovery that you get from vitargo, it’s used by many olympic athletes and one of the few supplements with independent clinical research. The longer you train per session, the more frequently you train per week, the more likely you will benefit from a carb supplement, for most, it will be an unnecessary expense
- Rhodiola 500mg Standardized at 3% – a herb that helps you continue to adapt to training when under high stress loads. A seriously underrated supplement that allows hard training athletes to push harder for longer and still adapt to the training load. I usually take 250mg on off days and 500mg on training days during the most intense phases of training, or if I’ve pushed myself into overreaching, to recover as quickly as possible to a trainable state again
- Protein powder: I pretty much use protein powder exclusively for intra and post workout, and hydrolysate is the best form for this. Hydrolysate is full spectrum protein unlike BCAA’s, meaning not only can it trigger protein synthesis (aka muscle building) but it also supplies the building blocks. It is the fastest absorbed version of whey protein, and during/after your workout speed of digestion matters. This is going to follow the same pattern as vitargo, the longer you train, the more volume you do, and the more frequently you train the more likely you will see the benefits from a high speed protein carbohydrate drink, and yes, I mix the two. Pro tip, vanilla tastes pretty good with any fruit flavour of vitargo, kind of like an orange julius type flavour.
- Electrolyte Powder: I am a right sweaty mess, I’m constantly struggling to stay hydrated, and I drink about 8L of water per day when it gets hot (4-6L normally), this can cause some mineral leaching and loss of electrolytes, so I’ll use an electrolyte powder to help offset some of that loss
I won’t play holier than thou, when I first got into training, I used everything, I read muscle mags and fell for every pitch hook line and sinker. I’m pretty sure my supplement bill got over $500 per month at one point, funny enough, I never put on that 20lbs of promised muscle in 4 weeks; I’m sure you’re all shocked.
When it comes to clients, I’ll often use supplements to troubleshoot specific problems: hyper-cortisol response during training – phosphatidylserine pre-training can do the trick, anxiety from caffeine – combine with L-theanine etc. but for the most part, the supplements that truly have an effect on performance are already on the list above.
Have any questions about your own supplement use? Feel free to comment or message us!