Supplements we use – Part 1: my top tier supplements

Supplements we use

The most common and popular supplements when working with clients

Part 1: my top tier supplements

By Joachim Bartoll, June 2015, for Classic Muscle Newsletter, issue 10
Note: this article is outdated, as I left the pseudo-science of modern “nutrition” in 2018, but might still be beneficial or of interest

What is the first and most frequent question you get asked as a trainer, whether it’s from a new client, a guy or a gal at your expo booth, or someone walking up to you at the gym? How to squat properly? Yeah, you’d wish. It’s always about supplements. And the questions are pretty much centered around building muscle or losing fat (or preferable both!), as if a supplement would make that happen overnight without any actual effort…

So, what would you recommend? It does of course depend on the individual and his or her specific goals and life situation. In an ideal world, where you live far out on the country side and where your fridge is always stocked with lean grass-fed meats, game, fish, and fresh picked eggs, there would not be much use for supplements. However, very few of us live in such an ideal world. Most of us live within what would be best described as a constant storm of crap.

A lot of our food have almost no nutrition and a lot of antinutrients and other nasty stuff, that is everything made from plants, including fruits and vegetables. Unfortunately, we also have corn- and grain-fed animals, including farmed fish such as salmon, which may increase the content of estrogen and omega-6, wrecking the precious omega-3 to omega-6 ratio.

We also live with low-grade stress, working long hours in cramped offices breathing poor recycled air and being exposed to shitty artificial light (LED-lights are the worst, as they flicker at 60 Hz). And while we commute, we inhale polluted air and then we absorb xenoestrogens and other endocrine disruptors from bottled water, plastic containers, soaps, toothpaste and even from our deodorant and worthless skin creams. And on top of that, a lot of us have trouble sleeping or actually getting quality sleep.

Some of these problems can be remedied by doing some hard-cut lifestyle modifications. Still, there are stuff that are out of our control unless we want to spend our lives cut off from civilization. However, we can control what we eat. And supplements can help, as the majority of them are meant to supplement your diet. But before we look at the foundation, we need to separate food and nutritional supplements from sports supplements. While omega-3’s and specific minerals can help with your health, vitality and well-being, a pre-workout or fat burner won’t do crap, and sport-supplements only have their place in very, very specific situations.

Covering the bases – my top tier supplements

Since most of us don’t live in that perfect fairytale world, where there’s no pollution, and unicorns run by your porch while you feast on your own highly nutritious food after yet another successful workout – there are some supplements that either do so much for your health, or that simplifies life to such a degree, that they cannot be ignored. For anyone who lift weights (and everyone should), there’s no denying the practical superiority of a quality whey-based protein powder. A protein powder makes it much easier to hit your protein requirements, and since it is way more fast-acting than any type of meat, it’s several times more effective before and after your training sessions (if your goal is maximum muscle gains).

Protein Powders
Protein powder is pretty much the only “sports supplement” that I require my bodybuilding clients (or elderly people with a reduced protein sensitivity) to use on a regular basis. If they have severe food allergies and can’t consume a whey-based protein powder and they find an isolated or hydrolyzed whey powder to expensive, an amino acid supplement (EAA) will work almost as good. You don’t need much, as any healthy diet should be based on animal foods, and they are pretty high-protein by their nature.
Another good thing with milk-based protein powders, such as whey, is that they have a very high content of minerals. Most people do not even know about this. So, if you get some whey on a regular basis, your need for additional mineral supplements is pretty much zero.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Next on my list is omega-3 fatty acids (most importantly the essential EPA and DHA, found in cold water fish as well as quality fish oil supplements). If you can’t get quality fatty fish a couple of times a week, supplementing is a valid option. The omega-3 fatty acids are probably the most well-researched of all supplements, and new benefits are still being discovered – as they seem to help with body composition, healing, and cardiovascular health.
Just make sure to do a taste test of your ‘fish oil’ or omega-3 supplement. There should not be any taste or after taste. Beware of rancid oil as they are high in dangerous aldehydes. Also, always make sure to consume omega-3 with other fats, as in saturated fats from meat or dairy, like butter. If you only consume omega-3 or fish oil as the only fat source in a meal or a snack, your body will likely use some or most of it as energy. But if you consume it with other fat, as found in nature, more of the EPA and DHA will be available to do its job. In other words, always take omega-3 with a meal that already contains a lot of fat.

Finally, there’s magnesium, which is involved in hundreds of chemical reactions in your body and helps with blood sugar management. According to several studies, as much as 80 % of the population (and competing athletes) are deficient in magnesium. Considering that magnesium also acts as a relaxant and raises testosterone levels to base line in those who are deficient, taking at least 500 to 1000 mg in the evening is a no-brainer.

That’s my top tier. Another great supplement, especially for men, is zinc. In high doses, zinc acts as an aromatase inhibitor, reducing the conversion of testosterone to estrogen. And if the user is deficient (as most men are), zinc will also help to raise testosterone levels. With that said, zinc competes with copper, so if you take extra zinc, you should take extra copper – but at different times. Do not take them both at the same time (they compete, remember?)  

Using these supplements are almost a must if your active, training hard and can’t access the best grass-fed animal foods or un-polluted sea food. Even if you can get the best food available, you’ll probably still be low in EPA and DHA to get its full anti-inflammatory effect.

In the next part we will look at additional supplements and when to use them. We will also discuss quality and what to watch out for.

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