Question of the day: “Do I need to take any supplements?”
Short answer: It depends.
First and foremost it depends on if you WANT to take supplements. Do you ABSOLUTELY NEED them to see progress? Of course not. They SUPPLEMENT your diet and workout routine and CAN enhance or speed up your progress. It depends on your GOALS. WHY do you think you may want to take a certain supplement? You should 100% do your own due diligence and research products (specific and general) to see what it should be used for, when you should take it, HOW MUCH you should take, and any side effects you should be aware of.
Some supplements are far more common than others in fitness. Here are a few of them along with what they are generally used for and my personal opinion:
- Protein Powder
Protein powders really are not food, and should not be treated as such. It’s true that high-protein shakes can help develop lean muscle mass, which is a benefit for all women, but it’s also true that shakes can encourage fat loss, increase satiety, deliver essential nutrients and even improve metabolic activity. Some protein powders come with BCAAs and other supplements as well. While I do believe in eating whole foods, I like to have protein shakes immediately after a workout to get my 20 grams in so that it is as effective as possible in building up the muscle I just spent the last hour tearing apart. I think that protein powder serves as a convenience, but I strongly believe in choosing a CLEAN, WHOLE FOODS based protein powder. A lot of protein powders have an immense number of fillers and artificial sweeteners that can have adverse effects on our health and how we feel. Whey protein is dairy-based and can cause tummy issues for those of us who are lactose intolerant and can also promote a lot of bloating. Lots of unnatural sweeteners, like xylitol and erythritol also cause cramping and bloating.
My top protein choices to date are: Orgain (pre-mixed in tetra packs; have vegan and non-vegan varieties), Jay Robb protein (eggwhite, whey, plant-based) is lactose free for the most part and the Tropical Dreamsicle flavor is pretty good. Tera’s Grassfed Organic Whey (while it bothers my stomach sometimes, I am confident the ingredients are very clean and whole food in nature), Aloha (this is a plant-based protein and the ingredients are very pure. The chocolate tastes better than the vanilla IMO!), Garden of Life (another plant-based protein).
I will let you do your own research and taste-testing to choose the best protein for you and your needs. If you prefer to have some Greek yogurt or a high protein meal after the gym, that is a perfect option, too! Like I said, you do not NEED protein powder to have a balanced and effective fit lifestyle. There is nothing a protein powder can truly offer that we can’t get from whole foods.
Branched-chain amino acids are the essential amino acids (isoleucine, leucine and valine) which comprise 35% of your body’s muscle protein. “Essential” means your body does not produce them on its own and you need to get them from foods you consume or supplements (pill or powder form). BCAAs help with preserving your muscle and help with recovering after you tear them during strength workouts. Some people drink BCAAs during their workouts as it may give you a boost while it fuels your muscles. You can take this supplement before, during or after your workouts. I have used Scivation Xtend BCAAs but not consistently so I am not sure whether I noticed a difference in muscle soreness. Give them a try and let me know what you think!
Thermogenics refers to any “fat-burning” supplement in the fitness market. Popular brands you may see on Instagram or in your local nutrition store may include Paige Hathaway’s SHREDz and Hydroxycut. There are so many on the market these days. In my own personal research, there are many side effects one can experience with these supplements, and I don’t think it’s worth the tiny (if any) benefit you may or may not get from them. I mostly feel like they create a placebo effect on the consumer. Without really thinking about it – you are most likely making bigger and better efforts to achieve your fitness goals if you are buying these expensive pills. You may not even realize that when you take this supplement, you eat healthier and workout more consistently. I think the combo of these is what is really making you see the progress you may be seeing. Save your money. There are no short cuts to being healthy and fit.
- Skinny Teas
Do you know people who are constantly trying to throw their Skinny/Fit/Weight Loss/Cleansing teas down your throat? If they really WORKED, they wouldn’t have to be so obnoxious about them. People would KNOW they work and they would be sold out all the damn time. Skinny teas and anything similar are 100% a crock of shit 🙂 (Sorry not sorry). These are Instagram models’ ways of making money from suckers like us. We see the fittest chick on IG and she is telling us that her secret to having such a nice body is to DRINK FUCKING TEA? If it were that easy, everyone would look like that. Having your dream bod takes time, consistency, sweat, discipline and just hard work. Sippin’ on a tea every day is not going to get you there. Save your money!
Another chemical that is naturally found in the human body (muscles and brain), creatine is also found in red meats and seafoods. This is a common supplement used to improve performance in the gym and add muscle mass. Most people I know who use creatine in their fitness regime, claim that it gives them bursts of energy during their otherwise tough workouts. According to an article on Healthline.com, creatine helps build muscle in the following ways:
- Boost work load: It can enable more total work or volume in a single training session, which is a key factor in long-term muscle growth.
- Improve cell signaling: Supplementation can increase satellite cell signaling, where signals to the muscles help with repair and new muscle growth.
- Raise anabolic hormones: Studies have shown that there is a large rise in hormones, such as IGF-1, after supplementation.
- Increase cell hydration: It is well known for increasing the water content within muscle cells. This causes a cell volumization effect that may play a role in muscle growth.
- Reduce protein breakdown: Supplementation may also help increase total muscle mass by reducing muscle breakdown.
- Lower myostatin levels: Elevated levels of the protein myostatin are well known for slowing or totally inhibiting new muscle growth. Supplementing can reduce these levels, increasing growth potential.
I have personally never used creatine, so I can’t speak from experience on this one. I just really believe that if we have a well-balanced diet, we will get the nutrients we need. Make an informed decision for yourself about this one!
I hope this helps you when you are trying to decide which supplements, if any, may help you reach your fitness and health goals. One important thing to keep in mind with any supplements, is to read the ingredients, do your research on every single one, and make sure the products you consume are as clean and natural as possible. A lot of delicious proteins and BCAAs are full of additives and unnatural sweeteners, like sucralose and aspartame, that will probably contribute adversely to your health. Don’t just buy products because your fav fitspo uses them. They may not value overall health the way you might. Yeah, sugar-free syrup fits their macros better, but pure maple syrup will deliver the most nutrients to our bodies. Think for yourself and research for yourself before spending lots of money on supplements that you may not even really need.