To ask a question like that is pretty much asking “Will my muscles grow if I exercise?” In general, yes. It just depends on HOW and WHAT you do. Same thing with supplements – read on to learn more.
Before we get to the real deal, let’s get rid of some illusions and misconceptions surrounding supplements. The world is a cold place where not everything can be trusted.
Illusion #1. Supplements are made and marketed to help me get bigger, stronger and slimmer.
We wish it were so but, unfortunately, it’s not. Fitness industry (and everything related to it) has grown so big that the amount of money it turns over a year (billion in the US alone) is just ridiculous.
Companies go out of their way to push their products using all kinds of sales and marketing techniques including the not-so-pretty ones like:
- product placement deals with famous fitness magazines and websites;
- promotion deals with popular athletes who have an influential fanbase, both offline and online
- substantiating the effectiveness of their products with shady and inconclusive “studies” that “showed positive results” among “97% of participants”
The list goes on.
While the elaborate marketing schemes usually prove effective mostly on beginners, even we even get tempted sometimes upon seeing a fresh compound for muscle gain that will make your muscles grow daily and nightly, especially if “combined with” that other magic supplement from the same brand.
So, that was illusion number one. In a nutshell – NEVER TRUST ADVERTISING.
Illusion #2. Supplements are all i need to excel at bodybuilding and fitness.
Another popular myth. Even the word “supplements” suggests that this is something additional, something that comes in small bits and is used to complement the main thing (which is your diet in this case).
Without a proper, well-balanced, and healthy diet no supplements will have any positive effect on your body. They have never been meant to substitute the common products that you eat like meat, fish, vegetables, fruits, dairy, nuts, cereals etc.
These products should form 80 to 90 percent of your diet. The rest you may save for supplements.
Main thought here – SUPPLEMENTS ARE ONLY GOOD IF YOU INCLUDE THEM IN YOUR ALREADY BALANCED AND HEALTHY DIET.
Illusion #3. Supplements will get you positive results as soon as you start taking them
There isn’t a magic pill, really. Supplements will work only if the following things are observed:
- you have an established, well-balanced, and healthy diet
- you do your exercises properly (preferably with a coach if you are a novice)
- you maintain a regular workout routine
- you have chosen the right set of supplements (we’ll talk about it more in just a few paragraphs)
Illusion #4. All supplements are good as long as they’re labeled as supplements
This is not entirely true. There are, essentially, three kinds of supplements:
- Supplements that are almost universally great for most athletes
- Supplements that have little or no effect (around 90% of all supplements out there)
- Supplements that are potentially harmful to your health
We will go into specifics and list 5 most useful supplements further down in this article.
Now, that we’re done with the illusions and started to see for what it’s worth, it’s time to answer some of the most commonly asked questions about the supplements.
QUESTION 1. Can i do without supplements?
Yes. You can do absolutely fine without supplements – just by maintaining a well-balanced diet that fits your fitness goals you should be able to gain some muscle or to achieve the desired form or to lose some weight.
However, supplements can make these processes a bit easier and faster, if taken properly.
One more thing to consider – during a heavy workout schedule, your body undergoes a lot of physical stress and consumes a lot of energy. In order to cope with the stress and maintain that high energy level, you may need to consume more nutrients than you would normally do.
Instead of eating a huge variety of products (meat, fish, vegetables, fruits, oil, dairy etc) every day in great quantities, you might as well substitute some of those products with the corresponding supplements.
Eating 3-4 turkey or chicken meals every day gets extremely boring after a while. So why not substitute some of those proteins with the ones that come from supplements?
QUESTION 2. What do supplements really bring to the table? Why people take them?
Supplements provide your body with additional nutrients, microelements, and vitamins during the time when you need them most. That is, when you exercise a lot.
It’s, actually, very easy. Think of your body as a well-balanced system that has to:
- spend a certain amount of energy per day to maintain its basic needs (usually counted in calories in various nutrition tables)
- consume a certain amount of energy coming in the form of nutrients, or food
- observe a certain ratio of three most common nutrients – usually it’s 60% carbohydrates, 30% proteins, and 10% fats (on average)
In order to maintain a balance, the input has to be equal to the output. In this case, the system is balanced – every day you spend the same amount of energy as you consume.
So, what happens when you start doing strength training, bodybuilding, or another form of fitness? Your body inevitably starts to spend more energy, thus throwing the balance off (more output).
Therefore, in order to regain the balance, you need to increase the input correspondingly. Of course, eating more is a way out – but how much turkey, chicken, or fish can you consume daily? Not to mention microelements and vitamins which are quite scarce.
That’s why people have invented food supplements – to give those who work out an additional boost of energy with nutrients.
Another important thing to mention – if your goal is gaining muscle, then you will definitely need more protein to support the muscle-building processes in your body. That protein also comes in the form of a supplement.
Top 5 Most Useful Supplements To Consider
Here’s a list compiled by us based on common sense, experience, and average athlete’s needs. We will intentionally leave out anything connected with the professional sport and bodybuilding because it’s a whole different thing deserving a separate article (if not a series of such).
We will concentrate mainly on us, common people who go to the gym two or three times a week and want to get the best of their workout routine.
Well, you may eat fruits and vegetables but it doesn’t mean you’re getting your daily dose of all the vitamins.
To avoid any potential mineral or vitamin deficiency and give your body an additional boost of stamina, consider buying good multivitamins (usually in the form of tablets or capsules).
If there’s something our body cannot produce on its own, this would be Omega-3 fatty acids. As the name suggests, these acids come only from fish, not meat or greens.
Omega-3 acids help restore your hormonal balance; they are great for your heart and cardiovascular system in general. They also assist in improving insulin sensitivity.
If your goal is muscle gain, then whey protein ought to become your favorite drink. Since it would be quite complicating for an average person to drink two gallons of milk per day to gain the right amount of protein, people have invented whey protein.
As a by-product of the cheese-making process, it’s essentially a collection of globular proteins mixed with other ingredients. The concentration of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) is also quite high here – your muscles will need these acids to stimulate the synthesis of protein and build new tissue.
There is, however, always some fat and cholesterol in every whey protein product, so you should carefully observe the dosage.
Whey protein is a highly bioavailable substance – your body absorbs it quite quickly. Since whey protein is most commonly a water soluble powder, people usually mix it with some water, shake, and then drink.
Whey protein comes in three main forms:
- whey protein isolate (the one we would recommend using)
- whey protein hydroisolate
- whey protein concentrate
Whey protein may also be a nice solution for those athletes who don’t eat meat – it will deliver the necessary proteins into the body.
Something that we have already covered in one of our previous articles, creatine is the one muscle and strength gaining supplement you should have.
Creatine has been around for ages and it’s proven to be one of the most efficient supplements out there. Many athletes use it – just make sure you drink enough water while on creatine.
Creatine happens to be one of those elements you can’t really obtain from a regular diet. Like fish oil, you need to have a steady intake of it to support your muscle growth.
Arguably, the most important vitamins of all – that’s why we decided to list it separately. A good supply of vitamin D is a must for healthy and strong bones. It also improves your resistance against certain diseases, such as type 1 diabetes and cancer.
Vitamin D is naturally produced by our body under direct sunlight so walking in the sun at least 30 minutes a day is a good idea. Preferably, with an open torso but that depends on where you live and how you feel about your chest and abdominal muscles shape).
Alternatively, you can get vitamin D through these food products:
This is the end of our “Do You Really Need Supplements?” article. To sum up everything we’ve discussed:
- You can do without supplements but taking them can speed up your progress
- Supplements only work as a part of well-balanced diet and exercise routine
- You should use the supplements that fit your fitness goals