There is quite a lot controversy with the fitness supplement industry and their products. With this post, I want to show those supplements than in my opinion do work based on the actual science (no, I don’t trust to the typical bodybuilder champion from my gym). I hope you really find it helpful and enjoy my top 5 supplements and don’t forget to comment it or ask any question!
Creatine is probably one of the most studied supplements in the history. There are so many studies that show the benefits of creatine intake even in non training people (1).
Creatine is a molecule produced in the body. It stores high-energy phosphate groups in the form of phosphocreatine. Phosphocreatine releases energy to aid cellular function during stress (14), which allow us to have more ATP production when energy commands are high.
The main benefits that creatine provides us are an increase in:
I already talked about creatine in my post “How to become a healthy vegetarian“, sources and some recommendations for vegetarians athletes.
Creatine has also been demonized because of the fact that in the 80th and 90th was said that creatine consumption was related to kidney problems, nothing further from the truth (17), since studies show that actually it improve the renal function (2)
Other of the myths surrounding the creatine supplementation is the fact that people say it causes water retention, which is also not true. What creatine really does is to drop water into the muscles (intra-cellular water), which gives you a fuller appearance. Of course, once you stop taking creatine, this water also disappear from the muscles.
It is important to mention that not everybody (around 30% of people) responds the same to creatine (creatine non-responders). It might be due to the fact that omnivorous diets already provides creatine to the body, which means that supplementing it will not make too much sense since creatine stores are already full. Or maybe not. It is just an hypothesis.
Thus, vegetarian population has been also show to have a lower creatine stores than non-vegetarian one (15). Vegetarians are likely to experience greater performance increments after creatine loading in activities that rely on the adenosine triphosphate/phosphocreatine system (16).
Caffeine is my favorite pre workout supplement. It is a SNC estimulan extracted from the seeds of cafe plants. The main reason of why it is one of my favorites supplement is for its ability for:
- Increase power (10)
- Increase training volume (10)
- Suppress fatigue (10)
- Decrease oxidative stress (11, 12)
- Increase in average testosterone when sleep-deprived (13)
The only issue with caffeine is that, after a while, we become caffeine resistant. It means that, in order to get the same benefits, we have to either increase the dosis or to stop taking it for a while.
My recommendation is to cycle it. I use to have a deload workout week every 3 or 4 weeks (depending on how I’m feeling), where I also remove caffeine from my diet. When I restart my normal training plan, I also restart with the caffeine. Of course, it depends on how much caffeine you are taking per day. Higher dosis leads to higher time off.
I use to take only an expresso before going to the gym, which provides me with around 200mg of caffeine. Only on those days that I know I must push myself a bit harder (long runs or personal best mark’s days) I also include a caffeine supplement that gives me other 221mg (to be honest is much more than normal average). But it is only on specific days.
I think that a 3gr/kg of body weight of caffeine is a pretty good average.
Also keep in mind that caffeine is recognized as a drug. In order to avoid a condition called caffeinism, you should avoid higher dosis than 1 gram per day.
Caffeine lasts in the body for around 5 hours. So, if you plan to take it, just take care with your sleeping time.
Whey protein is, with no doubts, one of my favorite supplements (6). I already talked about it in a previous post, where you can find out how to identify a good whey protein brand.
There will be always the discussion between which one is better: either casein or whey (7, 8). The difference is in the digestion time, which makes casein specially good before going to sleep (slow digestion) and whey for the peri-workout time (fast digestion) (5).
Protein supplementation provides such a convenient way of having your fully daily protein intake. Researches show that you need to reach different targets depending on your goals, which can be:
- Bulking: 1.4 to 2 gr/kg
- Cutting: 1.8 to 2.5/kg
And you may wonder why it’s higher when we talk about cutting. Basically because of the fact that having a hypo-caloric diet along with strength training and a high protein intake will allow us to better maintain our fat free mass (3) while we keep losing weight.
Also high protein diets has been related to kidney or liver problems, which can not be further from truth (4, 9).
I use to have my whey protein a couple of hours before my workout and always along with some carbs such as oats and honey and some fruits such us banana, which make my body environment starts to get ready for the session.
Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) refers to three amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. For people with low dietary protein intake, BCAA supplementation can promote muscle protein synthesis and increase muscle growth over time (18). Supplementation can also be used to prevent fatigue in novice athletes.
BCAAs are important to ingest on a daily basis, but many protein sources, such as meat and eggs, already provide BCAAs. Supplementation is unnecessary for people with a sufficiently high protein intake (1-1.5g per kg of bodyweight a day or more).
Although they can be found in food, I find very interesting to take them when we face these 2 situations:
- The athlete is a vegan/vegetarian and
- Right after finishing a workout.
Having a vegan/vegetarian diet makes much more difficult to get these amino acids from the food in the right quantities for the body. Although it, by itself, is not a good reason to supplement them, I find them useful when, along with the veggie diet, I want to have a post workout supplement. Usually, when you complete your training routine, it’s been said that there is an anabolic window, where we can eat whatever we want and the body will use it for fuel and improve the recovery process. I believe that this is true, but not as the supplement’s industry has tried to sell it (but I will talk about it in a different post).
So, when people complete a workout, they tend to eat high quantities of food immediately after it. When this happens, our body takes away the blood from the muscles and send it to the stomach, which makes more difficult for the body to remove all the wasted product created in the muscles after the session, worsen the recovery process.
My advice and what I use to do is to have BCAA right after the workout and wait for around one hour for getting my post workout meal. As BCAA are already amino acids, they don’t involve the digestion system since they are absorbed immediately by the body, helping in the recovery process, suppressing muscular protein degradation (19) and enhancing muscular protein synthesis (20).
Vitamins are organic compounds which are needed in small quantities to sustain life. We need to take vitamins from food because the human body either does not produce enough of them or none at all.
Vitamins are important for everyone, but especially for athletes because of their physical requirements and, above all, for those athletes with hypocaloric diets.
There are a few studies (21, 22) that show how bodybuilders are deficiente in some vitamins such as D, and in mineral such are zinc or calcium. Another study shows that food alone does not provide sufficient micronutrient for preventing defficiency (23).
My recommendation is:
- Make sure your diet can not be improved. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.
- If your diet is already good, take a multivitamin, especially when you are in a caloric deficit.
Thanks for reading it and I hope you will find this information useful. Don’t forget to comment it or ask any questions. See you in the next one!
- Creatine supplementation: can it improve quality of life in the elderly without associated resistance training? 2013, Moon A, Heywood L, Rutherford S, Cobbold
- Effects of creatine supplementation on renal function: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Gualano B, Ugrinowitsch C, Novaes RB, Artioli GG, Shimizu MH, Seguro AC, Harris RC, Lancha AH Jr.
- Effect of a high protein diet and/or resistance exercise on the preservation of fat free mass during weight loss in overweight and obese older adults: a randomized controlled trial. Verreijen AM, Engberink MF, Memelink RG, van der Plas SE, Visser M, Weijs PJ.
- Do regular high protein diets have potential health risks on kidney function in athletes? Poortmans JR, Dellalieux O.
- Effects of Whey, Caseinate, or Milk Protein Ingestion on Muscle Protein Synthesis after Exercise. Kanda A, Nakayama K, Sanbongi C, Nagata M, Ikegami S, Itoh H
- The effects of protein and amino acid supplementation on performance and training adaptations during ten weeks of resistance training. Kerksick CM, Rasmussen CJ, Lancaster SL, Magu B, Smith P, Melton C, Greenwood M, Almada AL, Earnest CP, Kreider RB.
- The Effects of Pre- and Post-Exercise Whey vs. Casein Protein Consumption on Body Composition and Performance Measures in Collegiate Female Athletes
Colin D. Wilborn, Lem W. Taylor, Jordan Outlaw, Laura Williams, Bill Campbell, Cliffa A. Foster, Abbie Smith-Ryan, Stacie Urbina and Sara Hayward
- Coingestion of whey protein and casein in a mixed meal: demonstration of a more sustained anabolic effect of casein. Mattias Soop, Vandana Nehra, Gregory C. Henderson, Yves Boirie, G. Charles Ford, and K. Sreekumaran Nair
- Open-labeled pilot study of cysteine-rich whey protein isolate supplementation for nonalcoholic steatohepatitis patients. Chitapanarux T1, Tienboon P, Pojchamarnwiputh S, Leelarungrayub D.
- Acute caffeine ingestion’s increase of voluntarily chosen resistance-training load after limited sleep. Cook C, Beaven CM, Kilduff LP, Drawer S.
- THE EFFECT OF CAFFEINE SUPPLEMENTATION ON TRAINED INDIVIDUALS SUBJECTED TO MAXIMAL TREADMILL TEST. Salicio VMM, Fett CA, Salicio MA, Brandäo CFCCM, Stoppiglia LF, Fett WCR, Botelho AC.
- Caffeine supplementation affects the immunometabolic response to concurrent training. Rossi FE, Panissa VLG, Monteiro PA, Gerosa-Neto J, Caperuto ÉC, Cholewa JM, Zagatto AM, Lira FS
- Acute Effects of 24-h Sleep Deprivation on Salivary Cortisol and Testosterone Concentrations and Testosterone to Cortisol Ratio Following Supplementation with Caffeine or Placebo. Donald CM, Moore J, McIntyre A, Carmody K, Donne B
- Vegetarian diets : nutritional considerations for athletes. Venderley AM, Campbell WW.
- Nutritional considerations for vegetarian athletes. Barr SI, Rideout CA.
- Is the use of oral creatine supplementation safe? Bizzarini E1, De Angelis L.
- The effects of acute branched-chain amino acid supplementation on recovery from a single bout of hypertrophy exercise in resistance-trained athletes. Waldron M, Whelan K, Jeffries O, Burt D, Howe L, Patterson SD.
- Intake of branched-chain amino acids influences the levels of MAFbx mRNA and MuRF-1 total protein in resting and exercising human muscle. Borgenvik M, Apró W, Blomstrand E.
- Effect of infused branched-chain amino acids on muscle and whole-body amino acid metabolism in man. Louard RJ, Barrett EJ, Gelfand RA.
- Nutritional status of nationally ranked elite bodybuilders. Kleiner SM, Bazzarre TL, Ainsworth BE.
- Metabolic profiles, diet, and health practices of championship male and female bodybuilders. Kleiner SM, Bazzarre TL, Litchford MD.
- Food Alone May Not Provide Sufficient Micronutrients for Preventing Deficiency
Bill MisnerEmail author