Supplements…..by far the most cloudy topic in fitness. Really, I have to give it up to the marketers. They make compelling videos and sales pages all meant to make you say YES to what they are selling. At Virtuous Fitness here in Silverdale Washington we get inquiries about this often.
But the question really comes down to…
Are you really getting any benefit from what they are selling? Is the supplement you just bought really going to do for you what it says it is going to?
One quick thing to also keep in mind - There is no supplement that will ever replace a good diet full of Whole Foods, Micro Dense Fruits and Vegetables, and good amounts of sleep. So before you go to ever buy a single supplement….start there.
Remember Supplements are to “Supplement” your diet. Not be the base of it.
Now that we got that out of the way let’s discuss what to expect in this blog.
We recently sent out a questionnaire asking what more you wanted to learn about and Supplements were by far the leading answer.
So in this guide we have researched the 15 Most Popular Supplements in the Industry.
Each Supplement will be listed in the following order.
1) What Is the name of the Supplement?
2) Why do people claim to use it?
3) What does the Science and Literature Say?
4) What are our recommendations and dosing based on Science?
Let’s get into it then!
What? - BCAA’s are a very common supplement you can find at nearly every supplement store. They are relatively inexpensive and honestly….taste REALLY good sometimes.
Why? - People use BCAA’s because they are claimed to help recover you and build muscle faster. BCAA’s give you 3 out of the 20 amino acids. They are Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine. Leucine activates muscle protein synthesis which is needed for the muscle building process, Iso Leucine induces glucose uptake in cells which could maximize your performance in your training, and Valine properties are limited and not well researched. BCAAs could help prevent serum decline which happens during training which is when tryptophan is triggered to rise in the brain and then serotonin is triggered. This is where fatigue comes from so BCAAs “could” possibly help you to be more mentally sharp during training.
What does the Science say? - Research has shown that BCAA’s do not work well in the absence of the other amino acids. The reality is that if you consume enough protein in your daily diet you likely are getting enough amino acids from that.
Our recommendations and dosing? - BCAA’s “could” be useful in a few situations. One being when protein intake is always low. Others could be when a person is injured, vegans, and vegetarians. 10-20g is the normal dosage.
What? - EAA’s or Essential Amino Acids Amino acids are organic compounds composed of nitrogen, carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. As we said before your body needs 20 different amino acids to grow and function properly. Though all 20 of these are important for your health, only nine amino acids are classified as essential. These are histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine. Unlike nonessential amino acids, essential amino acids can’t be made by your body and must be obtained through your diet. These “could” be more beneficial than BCAA’s.
Why? - EAA’s could be used because of their effect on Muscle Anabolism and Catabolism Effect. These also could be more beneficial because amino acids work better when they are grouped together versus being separated (which is what happens in BCAA supps).
What does the Science say? - The Research much like BCAAs is spotty and very similar to most supplements in this guide you likely are just fine with eating enough protein in your every day diet.
Our recommendations and dosing? - If you want to use these and get the full benefits these are best consumed in a fasted state when you are depleted from glycogen. Another added benefit could be consuming these post workout when a meal cannot be consumed.
What? - Creatine is a substance that is found naturally in muscle cells. Your body can produce it from the amino acids glycine and arginine. When you supplement, you increase your stores of phosphocreatine. This is a form of stored energy in the cells, as it helps your body produce more of a high-energy molecule called ATP. ATP is basically the body’s energy currency. When you have more ATP, your body can perform better during exercise
Why? - People have been supplementing with Creatine since bodybuilding of any sort came in to be. Claims of its effectiveness are that it alters several cellular processes that lead to increased muscle mass, strength and recovery.
What does the Science say? - It is easily one of the safest and most researched supplements on the market and one of the only ones that has shown significant results in healthy and trained individuals. There are no known draw backs or side effects associated with its use either.
Our Recommendations and dosing ? - Recommended dose is 2.5-10g per day. Most common is 5g. 2.5g for a smaller person with less muscle mass, 10g bigger person more muscle mass.
What? - Vitamin D helps regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body. These nutrients are needed to keep bones, teeth and muscles healthy. This vitamin can be absorbed through supplementation as well as sun light. Vitamin D has also been shown to severely affect mood.
Why? - Taking Vitamin D has been shown to help balance hormones, support the immune system, increase strength of bones, and support normal cognitive function.
What does the Science say? - Research shows that Vitamin D could be beneficial if supplemented although it is most beneficial when absorbed through sunlight.
Our Recommendations and dosing - Because Vitamin D is Fat Soluble we recommend nearly most individuals to supplement with 1,000-5,000 IU daily alongside fish oil or a meal containing fat.
What? - Whey Protein is the most common recovery supplement sold on the market. Whey protein is one of the primary proteins found in dairy products and a byproduct of the cheese-making process. Whey Protein provides substantial amounts of the essential amino acids that are needed to carry out the functions that proteins perform in the body. Types of Powders include Hydrolyzed, Isolates, and Concentrates.
Why? - Whey Protein is supplemented with because of its claims that it can help you to recover fast from training and from the damage your body experiences during a workout.
What does the Science say? - Research has shown that Whey based Protein can help with recovery however they do not help more than any other group who just simply ate enough protein in their normal daily diet. There are no known negative effects associated with its use.
Our Recommendations and dosing - No specific recommendations other than knowing when to use which one. Hydrolyzed is best for post workout being it is more quickly digested and rushed to the muscles, Isolates are second best in the same use, and Concentrates are the cheapest type and often best used as a meal replacement when whole food is not available.
What? - Similar to whey, casein is a powdered form of dairy protein that allows individuals to get access to an easily digestible form of protein. Within milk, there are curds – casein protein is actually the curds of milk.
Why? - Casein Protein has gel-forming capabilities and intestinal slowing properties, which causes it to be slowly absorbed. This makes casein potentially better for consumption at night, because it will slowly release as you sleep – allowing a more steady flow of amino acids, muscle protein synthesis, and recovery.
What does the Science say? - Same as Whey Based Protein Casein could have recovery enhancing properties but will to date not outpace having enough protein in your daily diet.
Our Recommendations and dosing - No Specific recommendations other than to make the amount you consume part of your daily protein intake which for most people should be between .8-1.0g of protein per pound of body weight per day.
What? - Collagen is a component of joint cartilage, so much like protein, as collagen peptides are a form of protein, we already have them in our body and need them to sustain physical health. There are 2 forms of collagen: Hydrolyzed and Undenatured Type 2. Hydrolyzed is the most common and most popular on the market.
Why? - Use of Collagen has been said to reduce inflammation in the body (mainly joints) and is great for skin and nails health. There is also a possible benefit for sleep and general health appearance, much which can be contributed to aiding in skin health (all anti aging benefits).
What does the Science say? - Most research shows that Collagen supplements tend to be blown up into something they are not and they’re very cheap to make as they’re made from the leftovers of many animal tissues, and do not hold much, if any, benefit to muscle growth, fat loss, or performance.
Our Recommendations and dosing - With all we stated above, we believe it’s not a bad supplement and there are really no risks of taking it. So, if you wish to possibly improve your skin health, nail growth, hair vibrance, and potentially have a small increase in joint inflammation, supplementing with some collagen in the morning on an empty stomach may be a good idea. 15-20g for most healthy individuals
What? - Fish oil is a fat based supplement extracted from fish. Really it is Omega-3 fatty acids. The two fatty acids “EPA” (eicosapentaenoic acid) and “DHA” (docosahexaenoic acid) can be found in other food sources but supplements like fish oil have much more high concentrations.
Why? - EPA and DHA are very important for human development (this is important for youth/babies, too). They help in regulating inflammation in the body, various metabolic signaling pathways, and even cognition/brain function. They are also known to help with some reduction in blood pressure, triglycerides, and even depression (shown to potentially improve mood in those suffering with major depression).
What does the Science say? - Fish oil causes a potent reduction in triglyceride levels, and a more modest reduction in blood pressure in hypertensives. Despite this, long-term trials haven't found a reduction in the rate of cardiovascular events. It appears to notably improve mood in people with major depression, though it's unclear if it has an effect in people with minor depression. EPA, in particular, seems to be the most effective omega-3 fatty acid for this purpose which suggests that the effects of fish oil are due to reducing neuroinflammation. Its anti-inflammatory benefits also seem to extend to reducing the symptoms of systemic lupus erythematosus. However, its benefits shouldn't be assumed to extend to inflammatory diseases in general.
Our Recommendations and dosing - Dosing is 1.5-3g of EPA/DHA daily
What? - Algae Oil is a vegan replacement for fish oil. It has the same omega-3 fatty acids and all the same benefits as fish oil will, with the downside of price being higher than fish oil (likely just because it is more difficult to make than fish oil is).
Why? - The important thing to remember here is that the amount needed as a vegan is 1.5-2x more total EPA/DHA than the animal product consuming individual. The reason is simple; besides fish or algae, omega-3 fatty acids are mainly found in meat and eggs, making it much more difficult for a vegan to get the required amount for optimal health and body composition.
What does the Science say? - Most benefits are supported and the same as the claims in normal fish oil.
Our Recommendations and dosing - Same as fish oil for the EPA/DHA Content.
What? - Krill Oil is an oil that is derived from krill; it contains the same two fatty acids that Fish Oil contains (Eicosapentaenoic Acid, or EPA, and Docosahexaenoic Acid, DHA). However, a large portion of the EPA and DHA in krill is in the form of a phospholipid, with a phosphate group on the end of the fatty acid. This results in higher bioavailability (rate of absorption) of krill oil, and thus the same effects of Fish Oil can be seen with Krill Oil but at a lower dose.
Why? - Very similar use reasons as fish oil with the exception that it is far more potent and absorbable because it comes from krill versus salmon or other fatty fish.
What does the Science say? - It’s hard to say as krill oil isn’t something that is as studied as caffeine or creatine, for example. But from the research we do have, it looks promising.
Our Recommendations and dosing - Supplementation of Krill oil tends to be in the range of 1-3g daily.
What and Why? - Typically a supplement used prior to training to enhance performance during a session. Few things to cover here. #1 If it says “proprietary blend” run away. Next, we need to remember what is in a pre-workout. Typically the ingredients are caffeine, beta-alanine, beet root, betaine, and/or citrulline.
What does the Science say? - Not much research available on these because all of them are so different however we know caffeine helps.
Our Recommendations and dosing - No dosing recommendations here because it is so individualized and we are huge components of them. But in general, our best recommendation is to stay hydrated, have adequate carbs prior to training in your daily intake, keep sodium levels high enough, and possibly add some caffeine via pill, coffee, or try a pre workout to enhance energy levels for better performance.
What? - Caffeine is one of the most studied performance enhancing supplements there is on the market. Caffeine is a stimulant, meaning it acts as a central nervous system “activator” or “wakening agent” to increase alertness, cognition, performance, and overall energy.
Why? - It’s a compound that increases energy and alertness, making it helpful for both labor, mental work, and sport performance. There also seems to be a correlation between caffeine and fat loss, but it’s primarily through a means of increased heart rate and energy, which leads to harder training and that is what results in fat loss (making fat loss an indirect benefit of caffeine, technically).
What does the Science say? - Coffee and Caffeine like products have a ton of research to back up its uses.
Our Recommendations and dosing - Something to note is that you can create a tolerance to caffeine, meaning it’s important to keep intake moderate so you do not grow a tolerance and have nulled effects from it. Because of this, you may need to keep it moderate or cycle it in and out. Dosing ranges from 100-500mg per day.
What? - Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is an herb used in Ayurveda, the traditional medicine of India. Its root has a horsey smell (in Sanskrit, ashva means “horse” and gandha means “smell”) and is said to confer the strength and virility of a horse. Various parts of the plant are used, but the most common in supplements is an extract of its roots.
Why? - Ashwagandha specifically is better known for its calming effect to help reduce stress and anxiety. It may also improve strength performance, glucose metabolism, and possibly increase testosterone levels. Some research shows it’s ability to reduce cortisol levels, which may be the reason for its effectiveness on performance, stress, anxiety, and other health properties.
What does the Science say? - All the benefits and results seen from ashwagandha are proven by limited research, so more is needed for us to confidently recommend it under normal circumstances (potentially worth it in situations of extreme need of help).
Our Recommendations and dosing - Dosing can be between 300-500mg of a root extracted ashwagandha, daily, with meals.
What and Why? - Greens powders act very similar to a multivitamin as a way to ensure you have your bases covered when it comes to micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) and an added benefit of a greens powder could possible be that they often come with digestive enzymes, probiotics, and actual micronized veggies which you may not have otherwise gotten in your diet.
What does the Science say? - Not a ton of research done on these and the ones done do not fully seem on board with the claims. In most cases we know whole food veggies versus synthetic greens are always going to be better.
Our Recommendations and dosing - Individual dosing will be dependent on the product used. In most cases following the label here is accurate. Because they possibly could help and they do not have any known negative side effects it could be worthwhile to consume these.
What? - Probiotics are living microorganisms, supplemental ones include lactobacillus reuteri and casei. They are claimed to help with gut health, improve digestion, and relieve gastric stress
Why? - They are claimed to help with gut health, improve digestion, and relieve gastric stress. Specific strains of probiotics may be consumed in isolation to help prevent or help improve symptoms of diarrhea, IBD, and IBS, but these effects are population and disease specific.
What does the Science say? - They’re still in their infancy with quality research and from what we do see, they’re not as promising as the media makes them seem. It’s not a daily supplement for the average person and if there are not any predetermined, specific, gut related issues or intolerances – they’re unlikely to provide any benefit at all. There is no strong evidence to show improvements to normal gut health, mood, metabolic syndrome, autoimmune diseases, or athletic improvements.
Our Recommendations and dosing - The only time Probiotics could be beneficial is if there is some sort of predetermined gut stress or digestive dysfunction. Also, they may serve a purpose during long travel periods where the normal diet is severely disrupted.
Hope you enjoyed this guide and walked away more knowledgeable in how to choose supplements, why to take them, and how to properly utilize them.
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Coach Cody Smith (Owner Virtuous Fitness | Silverdale Washington (Kitsap County)