Supplements are the biggest kink in the fitness chain. Some people put way too much value in them while others mistakenly shun them completely. Some people buy into the latest fad and hype, regardless of lack of credible research or real life success. Others miss out on some great scientific discoveries because they are jaded by all the crap that’s out there, so they write all supplements off as a waste of money.
Who can blame anybody for being on either extreme side of the supplement debate? We are constantly slammed with conflicting claims on the good ones, the ones that don’t hold up in the real world, and the ones that are just plain ole’ garbage. Over my almost 30-years of weight training, I’ve been down both of these roads. One day I would feel like I should be taking everything and then the next day I found myself thinking everything is worthless. For years, I repeated this cycle.
I remember how confusing it was for me at a time when the supplement world was in its infancy. I know that, for many of you, navigating through the jungle of supplement info that is out there today can be frustrating.
I’m going to give you one piece of advice right now that will make the idea of supplements much less daunting. Ready for it? Supplements don’t actually Have “Drug Like” Effects. That’s it. No matter what an ad suggests. Nor are they a substitution for real, healthy eating. They are called “supplements” for a reason. They are meant to supplement good nutrition and proper exercise. As basic as this sounds, it’s this realization that will allow you to accept supplements for what they are and to make wiser decisions going forward. This means less frustration, less disappointment, and an end to wasting money on snake oils.
Cutting Edge Supplements
I like to separate supplements into two categories:
1) Foundation Supplements
These are my staple supplements that I take all year round for optimal health. I recommend these to everyone, regardless of whether they are an avid fitness enthusiast or not. The “foundation supplements” include vitamins, minerals, fish oils, and probiotics. If you’re deficient in any of these, then your body will fight to maintain optimal health.
There is a subcategory here that I’ll call “Foundation B”. Here I include a high quality protein powder and digestive enzymes. Most people don’t (or find it hard to) get enough protein and/or feedings into their daily meal plan. Given that protein is the most important macro-nutrient of the three, I consider protein powders a necessity for most people. But if you can get all of your protein needs met through real food, great! As far as enzymes, anytime you can help breakdown and absorb the nutrients you take in, the better. So they go in this sub-category too.
You should always put your money towards staple supplements before the next category.
2) Performance/Specialized Situation Supplements
Unlike our foundation supplements that I recommend for everyone, these are the supplements for unique and/or specific situations. These include creatine, BCAAs, pre-workout and post-workout formulas, and thermogenics/fat-burners, just to name a few.
If your focus has been more on these Level 2 supplements with little regard for our Level 1 staples, your cart is in front of the horse. Always put your budget towards the Foundation Supplements first. If you have anything leftover, look at 1 or 2 Performance/Specialized Supplements that you want to experiment with.