Supplements are a controversial topic; should you be taking them or leaving them on the shelf?
One of the most common discussions within the fitness industry is the role of supplements in achieving health and fitness goals.
Nowadays especially, getting the correct information can almost seem impossible in a world of misinformation.
Particularly with ‘Fitness Influencers’ promoting all kinds of different supplements, plus your local guy down the gym telling you to try something else, and then seeing something else on the internet.
But rest assured, as an expert personal in trainer in Manchester, I’ve written this blog post to provide you with all the correct information that you need.
We’ll help to clear up these misconceptions and make an informed decision of if/which supplements are best suited to help you achieve your goals.
This article will go through some of the most commonly used supplements, explaining their purpose, why they are used and if we believe they are worth using or not.
When it comes to sports / gym supplementation, whey protein is arguably the most widely used.
Protein plays a pivotal role in the human body and is particularly important for gym goers, helping to maintain and build muscle and speed up recovery from sessions.
It’s very difficult to see progress if you are getting insufficient amounts of protein in your diet.
And this is where whey protein comes in.
The fundamental purpose of whey protein is to increase protein intake, over your whole food protein intake.
Each scoop of whey protein powder (you can also find vegan options) provides around 20-25 grams of protein.
Not only that, but it is highly convenient, quick and versatile.
You can simply add a scoop to water or your choice of milk to create a protein rich shake.
Or even in more creative ways such as making deserts or smoothies, adding to yoghurt, oats or even in protein pancakes.
Whey protein vs. whole food
One thing that should be noted is that whey protein lacks many of the vitamins and minerals that are provided by more typical protein sources such as meat and fish.
Therefore, with my own Manchester personal training clients, I would never advise to use whey protein as a replacement for substantial meals.
Simply just use whey protein as an effective way to supplement your protein intake as needed, so that you can hit your daily protein goals.
Creatine is another highly popular supplement used within the gym community and also the athletic population, and for good reason.
Creatine can be found naturally in foods such as fish and red meat, however many people fail to naturally consume enough creatine from their diet alone.
Creatine has been shown to improve recovery between short, intense periods of exercise such as sprinting or lifting weights, which can help you to get more out of your sessions.
Not only this, but creatine is shown to increase size and strength of muscles which is ideal, particularly for those with the goal of building muscle.
One way to supplement creatine is to carry out a creating loading phase, however research has suggested that this does not have to be the case, and positive effects can be shown from consuming 3-5 grams per day (Hall and Trojan, 2013).
Creatine Monohydrate is the most common form of creatine supplementation and can come in either a powder or tablet form.
Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAA’s) are a supplement widely discussed in the fitness industry, with claims to help you ‘Get Ripped’ but what are the facts?
First of all, let’s take a look at what BCAA’s actually are.
Amino acids are known as the building blocks of protein, which can fall into either ‘essential’ – which comes in the form of food, or ‘non-essential’.
BCAA’s consist of the three essential amino acids which include Valine, Isoleucine and Leucine – which has been proven to have the greatest effect.
Therefore, it is easy to see why many gym users would jump on the BCAA bandwagon.
However in reality it is unlikely that supplementing BCAA’s will make a great deal of impact.
The research (Plotkin et al, 2021) shows us that BCAA supplementation has little effect on muscle strength or hypertrophy, suggesting it is probably not worth investing in.
Alternatively, it is better to focus on getting sufficient protein from the diet through wholefoods such as chicken, beans etc, while using whey protein if a top up of protein is required.
Vitamins, minerals, and other supplements
The role of vitamins and minerals generally go under the radar, however they can be hugely important for your results in the gym, and for general health.
While consuming fruit and vegetables is critical to good health, it’s still unlikely that most individuals will manage to reach the optimal amounts of each vitamin through whole foods alone.
Here are just a couple of examples:
Multi-vitamin and mineral complex
This is something we often recommend to our personal training clients.
While whole is always the first choice for nutrients, a good quality multi complex can help to cover any deficiencies you might have.
Beware though, that not multi complexes are created equal.
The cheaper products tend to use cheaper forms of vitamins and minerals that don’t much effect in your body compared to more expensive forms of the same vitamin or mineral.
A good example of this is magnesium, where magnesium oxide is commonly used in cheap supplements, but where more expensive forms of magnesium, such as magnesium citrate, magnesium malate, or magnesium glycinate, have a much greater effect in the body.
Vitamin D is responsible for a huge number roles in the body, including supporting the body’s immune system while also maintaining muscle and bone health.
This vitamin naturally occurs from sunlight, however unfortunately if you are based in the UK, you will know that sunny days are few and far between, particularly in the winter months, leading you to potentially be deficient in Vitamin D.
Omega 3 is an essential fatty acid that again, plays a huge number of roles in the body, including helping to fight heart disease, this is most commonly found in the form of fish oils.
However, omega cannot be produced naturally by the body.
Therefore, it’s extremely difficult to naturally consume enough omega 3 from whole foods, hence why using a supplement can be extremely beneficial.
So, Should I Be Using Supplements?
The answer is, it depends!
There are hundreds of supplements on the market all of which promote the idea of helping you to build your dream physique.
But many are not proven, and realistically if your nutrition is on point, taking most supplements, and especially supplementary protein, is not necessary.
I tell my own personal training clients this: consistent, progressive training alongside solid nutrition is the main factor in you looking, feeling and performing at your best.
No supplement will benefit you more than training and eating properly.
However, the use of supplements can be a great way to ensure you are achieving your nutritional goals.
For example, if you fail to naturally get enough protein in your diet then whey is a great option.
Similarly, if you are deficient in certain vitamins, this can be obtained through supplementation.
The most important thing is to focus on research proven supplements such as whey, creatine and vitamins.
Stay away from those supplements you see advertised online that will ‘transform your body’ – no supplement is capable of this and if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!
To your lean, healthy, optimised future,