Supplements we use
The most common and popular supplements when working with clients
Part 2: supplements for different situations
By Joachim Bartoll, July 2015, for Classic Muscle Newsletter, issue 11
In the first part, we covered the most important supplements for anyone interested in supporting their health and training efforts. These included a whey-based protein powder, omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, and zinc for men.
In this part, we’ll look at additional supplements of use, when to take them and what to watch out for when diving into the supplement industry.
To be honest, most supplements are simply crap. And the few ones that might help a little in specific situations, are more than not, used by most people at the wrong time. For example, taking a lot of fat burning supplements or pre-workout formulas, which might actually end up working against your physique goals.
Some other year-round useful supplements
One supplement that have stood the test of time is creatine. This performance enhancer is useful pretty much year-round – both when you want to gain strength and muscle mass as well as when you want to preserve muscle mass during a fat loss diet. While creatine will increase short burst ‘explosive’ energy, it will also increase your intracellular hydration, which is a strong anabolic and anti-catabolic signal.
Creatine has also been showed to help with your cognitive abilities, improving and/or preventing memory loss as you grow older. Therefore, about 2 to 3 grams of creatine a day is a recommendation that will suit almost anybody.
As for nutritional strategies for maximum muscle gain, nothing beats a well-thought-out workout nutrition. This is basically about getting your carbohydrates and protein before, during and after your training sessions. This is the most important thing you can do to elevate your muscle gains. This kind of workout nutrition is not a pre-made pre-workout supplement. It’s simply mixing carbohydrates such as maltodextrin or Vitargo with hydrolyzed proteins or free form amino acids, such as EAA. To this simple base, you can add a vasodilator mix of arginine, citrulline malate, beta-alanine and agmatine. We will go more into detail on this subject later on in this article.
This category includes pre-workout supplements, fat burners and hormonal-tweaking supplements. With “hormonal-tweaking” supplements, I don’t necessarily mean testosterone boosters (because they’re crap), but rather supplements that can lower estrogen levels, boost thyroid hormone production, and such. We’ll look into that later.
When looking at situational- or condition-specific supplements, you must first determine what your actual ‘wants’ and ‘needs’ are. And you also need to be aware of how that specific supplement works and acknowledge that the impact of a specific supplement will be minimal at best. If used correctly, it will probably help to some degree, but not a single supplement can work miracles.
Your ‘wants’ could be to get more muscular while staying lean. For that, the most important factors are your training and diet. A protein powder will make it easier and creatine can probably help.
As for needs, you might need to manage your stress levels and get better sleep, while keeping an eye on your lipid profiles. For that, you need to adopt better habits, avoid plant-based foods and possibly look at some supplements like glycine (relaxes the CNS, supports liver function) and magnesium (muscle relaxant) will probably help when taken before bed.
The broadest range of situational supplements are pre-workout supplements, also known as workout-nutrition or para-nutrition. When cutting through all the hype, it usually comes down to fast-acting carbohydrates, creatine, beta alanine, citrulline malate, amino acids, and similar ingredients that actually can increase performance, intracellular fluids, and spike insulin levels before the workout to increase nutritional uptake. These particular substances can actually help you. However, most products on the shelves are under-dosed and filled with worthless filler ingredients – just to look impressive on paper for the uninitiated. A lot of them also comes with stimulants such as caffeine. Stimulates are fine in moderation, as long as you only use them when you really need them. Using them 4 or 5 days a week, or even daily (especially if you drink coffee or other caffeinated products), will only increase your tolerance (making them less effective), stress your adrenals, and increase stress levels, which will break havoc on your hormones.
If you experience stress in your daily life, such as work-related stress, strained relationships or economic difficulties. Taking stimulants will only make things worse by adding to your stress, jacking up cortisol levels, and suppressing your testosterone production.
If life is punching you in the face, pre-workout supplements and/or stimulants are not the answer to get you through a workout. In these scenarios, you need to focus on stress management and getting enough quality sleep!
So, go for a stim-free pre workout that contain the basic stuff, or make your own. If you understand Swedish, you can get my book “Träningsnutrition”, which covers everything you need to know about pre- and post-workout nutrition.
As we’ve covered the more “sport specific” situational supplements, let’s move on to health-related supplements. While these can help and support your physiology in different situations, they might actually help with your physique goals as well, due to lowered stress levels, improved sleep, and etcetera.
Talking of sleep. Sleep and stress management are two of the most important aspects of any physique or performance related goal. Excess stress leads to lousy sleep and a host of other health problems. And sleep is, without a doubt, the most powerful anabolic “supplement” you have.
If you’re familiar with our circadian rhythm and our production of melatonin (which raises in the evening at about 8 to 9 pm). Then you probably know that you need to dim or turn off the lights at this time. You also need to minimize all forms of blue light, which interfere with melatonin production. This means that you either need to turn off all electrical devices at about 8 pm (tv and computer screens, mobile phones, ipads, etc.) or use software that minimize blue light (eyeglasses with a blue light filter is even better).
If you still have trouble sleeping after these modifications, it’s time to look at 1000 to 1500 mg of magnesium, 3 to 5 grams of glycine or a quality sleep aid (a mix of l-theanine, GABA, 5-HTP, etc.). If you live in a country where melatonin is legal, you could even go that route until your body is in balance again.
Just make sure that your magnesium has an organic bound ending with “ate”, such as aspartate, chelate or orotate. Stay clear of any chemical bound mineral formula, such as “oxide”.
You can only absorb 8 to 10 percent of an oxide-bound mineral, which is the reason why a lot of people get the runs at higher doses. So, stay with organic bound minerals!
Magnesium also increases insulin sensitivity and is important for your testosterone production. It’s simply one of the most underrated minerals out there.
As for glycine, it’s similar to GABA in the way that it’s a neural inhibitor/relaxant. It decreases mental stress, and helps you relax which facilitate proper cortisol modulation when taken in the evening. In other words, glycine will help you to wind down and to fall asleep a lot easier. Glycine will also serve as a liver cleanser, which might make you feel nauseous if your liver is overtaxed. So, start low, at about 2 to 3 grams and slowly up the dose until you actually feel relaxed and has an easier time falling asleep. Normally, this is within the 5 to 10 grams range.
5-HTP can help increase the level of serotonin and thus can help fight insomnia, depression and narcolepsy. In other words, it will help you relax.
So, what about health-related supplements? When you’re young, you’re usually more occupied with becoming big, strong and ripped. Health is simply taken for granted. However, as you grow older, your priorities start to shift. Old injuries tend to catch up. You might have a family and a lot of new responsibilities. You probably still want to be lean and have a six pack, but being huge as a frikkin’ house might be of less significance. Instead, your health, lifespan, well-being and mental clarity will probably be way more important.
Along with fish oil (omega-3 fatty acids, which we covered in part 1), liver tablets (or powder) are a good option for nutrients (especially vitamins) if you have a hard time getting enough organ meats in your diet. Another supplement, if you’re not a big meat and organ eater, is Coenzyme Q10. It’s crucial for ATP production, and especially for your heart.
And lastly, we have ‘fat-burners’. These supplements might help a tiny little bit by increasing the release of fatty acids into the blood stream, where they can be burned off as energy. Now remember that our body can only release about 70 kcal of fatty acids per kilogram of body fat on a daily basis. Using fat burners and stimulants might raise this bar by 10 % or more. If you look at this scenario with an ounce of logic, fat burners are a total waste at the start of a diet. Let’s say that you weight 80 kg and have 10 kg of body fat and 5 kg of intra body fat, that’s a total of 15 kg and a body fat percentage of 18.75 %. This means that at the start of your diet, you can burn 1050 kcal of fatty acids daily (70 x 15). Once you reach 10 % of body fat, you’ll have about 6.5 kg of fat, which mean that you can burn 455 kcal of fatty acids a day. And remember that this is total body fat. If measured by skin fold calipers, the intra fat is hidden in the results, which would mean that the body fat percentage would come out at about 3 %! That is a competition ready level of leanness. And at this point, jacking up the release of fatty acids could be helpful. Meaning that you could burn 500 to 540 kcal a day instead of 455 kcal.
So as you can see, the use of fat burning supplements are very limited and a waste of money most of the time. If you want to use them, save them for the very last stage of your diet.
In the last part of the series, we’ll look at the supplement industry, quality issues, fillers and what to look out for when buying supplements.