Supplements can be an important addition to your daily diet. However, nowadays there are dozens, perhaps hundreds of different types of supplements on the market. As a result of this (beginner) athletes often cannot tell which one can be benficial and which one isn’t. In this article, we will try to clarify this so that you can make the right choice when it comes to choosing supplements.
Don't blindly believe the labels.
Besides the fact that there are so many supplements on the market, supplement companies also often use ‘attractive’ names for their products containing, for example, “SUPER”, “EXTREME” or a combination of both. This is to persuade users to purchase the supplement under the guise of “with such big words, it must be good!”.
In reality, a large part of the available supplements often have components that will hardly help you in achieving your body goals, in other words, a waste of money.
An even more cunning way that some supplement companies use to market products is to make claims based on purposefully twisted data from “studies”. For example, a study may show that a group taking a certain supplement saw a drop in body fat from 20% to 17%, while the placebo group, which was not taking the supplement, saw a drop from 20% to 18% body fat. Based on this, supplement companies claim that “supplement x” reduces body fat by 50% compared to not using the supplement. Technically, this is correct, the supplement group lost 3% body fat and the placebo group lost 2% body fat, which is 50% more. However, it does not matter to the supplement company that it is only a difference of 1% of the total body fat and that the difference between the groups is actually not significant. In this case, people only see the claim that the supplement would reduce body fat by 50% and then buy the supplement on the assumption that they can lose 50% of their body fat with the supplement, which it will not.
So which supplements are beneficial?
You might wonder, which supplements are beneficial then? Well because of the reasons mentioned above, we have compiled a list of supplements that, according to scientific research, can actually have a positive effect on your performance and we therefore recommend using. We will discuss which supplements these are, what positive effect they can have on your performance and the effect and use of each supplement. At the bottom you’ll find a summarized list of the discussed supplements.
1. Protein Powder
Protein is a nutrient that helps to restore muscle tissue after you have purposely damaged it by training. This continuous process of damage and repair ensures actual muscle growth.
There are different types of protein powders available on the market which can make it difficult for a beginner athlete to determine which one to choose. We will therefore only discuss the protein powders that actually have added value, which are: whey and casein protein powder.
Whey protein is a high-quality protein derived from milk protein. It is one of the best-selling forms of protein powder in the world and owes its popularity mainly to the speed at which the amino acids from this protein are absorbed into the blood. This creates a higher and faster peak in amino acids available to do their job. In addition, whey protein also has a high bioavailability and leucine content.
The main effects of whey protein are:
– Increase in muscle mass
– Shorter recovery and faster muscle growth
– Less muscle breakdown after your workout
– Increased metabolism
There are different forms of whey protein available, these are: Whey Protein Concentrate (WPC), Whey Protein Isolate (WPI) and the purest form, Whey Protein Hydrolyzate (WPH). These different whey proteins are distinguished as follows:
Whey Protein Concentrate (WPC):
– Most common form of whey protein
– Consists about 70-80% of protein
– Contains some lactose (milk sugar) and fat
– Has the best taste
Whey Protein Isolate (WPI):
– Is made out of WPC that has gone through additional filtration processes
– Consists 90% or higher of protein
– Contains less lactose, carbohydrates and fats compared to WPC
– Easier to digest
– Lacks nutrients that we do find in WPC
Whey Protein Hydrolyzate (WPH):
– Is formed trough enzymatic hydrolysis, a process by which added enzymes divide whey protein into shorter, more digestible peptides.
– Consists 90% or higher of protein
– Easier to digest compared to WPC and WPI
– Causes a 28-43% higher peak in insulin levels than WPI
Which form of Whey Protein you want to use is completely up to you, one is not more anabolic or causes more muscle growth then the other. WPI and WPH however are significantly more expensive then WPC. So unless you cannot tolerate WPC, for example due to lactose intolerance, WPC is probably the best choice in our opinion.
The best times to take a whey protein shake are in the morning after you wake up and right after your workout. In the morning after you wake up because you have not eaten for +/- 8 hours when sleeping at night and after training because your body then is in a catabolic state and needs protein that is quickly absorbed.
Another form of protein is casein protein. The main difference between whey protein and casein protein is that with casein the release of amino acids to the blood circulation is much slower and more gradual compared to whey protein, this means that the muscles are fed for a longer period of time. Casein is therefore also called a “slow” protein and whey a “fast” protein.
The main effect of casein protein is to prevent muscle breakdown. This is mainly due to the fact that casein ensures a longer release of nutrients, so that the body is less likely to enter a catabolic phase and less cortisol (stress hormone) is produced.
That makes casein protein an ideal supplement to take before bedtime. This way you provide your muscles with the necessary proteins while sleeping. Then, after waking up, whey is often taken in the morning with the assumption that the casein protein does not last the whole night and therefore amino acids have to be pumped back into the bloodstream as soon as possible.
Finally, there are two main types of casein protein, these are Miscellar Casein and Casein Hydrolyzate. The difference between the two are:
– Micellar Casein: Is the most popular form and is digested slowly.
– Casein hydrolyzate: Is pre-digested and is absorbed faster.
Due to the fact that Micellar Casein is digested slower and thus provides the muscles with the necessary nutrients for a longer peroid of time, we recommend this form of casein before bedtime.
2. Creatine Monohydrate
Creatine is a body’s own substance that, among other things, provides energy to the muscles.
The body itself is able to produce 1 to 2 grams of creatine, in addition you get creatine through food such as meat and fish. However, this amount is not nearly enough to experience the maximum effects of creatine.
For that reason, many athletes choose to use creatine in the form of a supplement. In fact, creatine is one of the most popular supplements in the world. Also, many scientific studies have been done on the effects of creatine and have proven its effects multiple times. It is perhaps the most effective non-hormonal supplement in the history of supplements. The main effects of creatine are:
– More energy
– Increase in muscle strength
– Increase in muscle mass
– Faster muscle recovery
An additional advantage of creatine monohydrate is that it’s relatively cheap because thousands of companies sell it and competition is fierce. Many companies have tried to release new (read: more expensive) versions of creatine by adding extra substances to make more money. However, there is no evidence that these “new versions” have any additional effect over standard creatine monohydrate. We therefore recommend using the standard creatine monohyrate.
A supplement that is often forgotten by athletes are multivitamins. This may be because multivitamins are not directly related to more muscle mass or strength, yet it is very important to get enough vitamins and minerals every day. Without enough vitamins and minerals, the effect of other supplements will be less, they also contribute to more energy and a better recovery. Enough vitamins and minerals should therefore be the base for a good diet.
It is best to get your vitamin and minerals mainly from your diet. However, when you are losing weight and therefore are in a caloriedeficit, is it possible that this does not work. In such a case you could then use a multivitamin supplement. It is important to choose a multivitamin supplement that contains enough vitamins and minerals.
4. Vitamin C-1000
As described earlier, enough vitamins and minerals are the base for a good diet. In addition, there are also a number of vitamins that you can use some more of.
The first one is vitamin C1000. This vitamin is not produced or stored in the body, so it is important that you get it through a diet. Vitamin C1000 helps with:
– Strengthening the immune system
– Increase your immune system
– Helps with growth and repair of body tissues
– Protection against harmful substances (free radicals) released during exercise
– Reduces cortisol production, the stress hormone
– Plays a role in hormone synthesis
– Increases the absorption of iron in the intestines
– Is essential for muscle metabolism
– Necessary for collagen synthesis
That is a pretty big list, so it is no suprise that Vitamin C is one of the best known vitamin.
5. Vitamin D-3
Another vitamin that you can also use some more from is Vitamin D3. Many people appear to be deficient in vitamin D, especially those that live in colder climates with less sun. Vitamin D is synthesized in response to UV light, and unless you’re getting exposure to direct sunlight more than 20 minutes per day, it’s likely you’re deficient in Vitamin D. Low Vitamin D is associated with reduced testosterone levels and energy. Supplementing Vitamin D with
3000 IU per day has been shown to restore testosterone levels. Other important functions that Vitamin D has are:
– Strengthening the bones
– Provides improved muscle function
– Protection against cardiovascular disease
– Reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes
– Reduces the risk of cancer
You can take in Vitamin D in different ways. The best ways are with a good diet or from the sun. Vitamin D is naturally found in fatty fish, such as herring, salmon and mackerel, but also in meat and eggs. If you are unable to get enough Vitamin D3 with this, you can also take it in the form of supplements.
Omega 3 is a collective name for three polyunsaturated fatty acids, namely: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). ALA is a vegetable omega 3 fatty acid. EPA and DHA are mainly known as fish fatty acids.
ALA is an essential fatty acid, which means that the body cannot make it itself and you have to get this fatty acid through the diet. ALA is in vegetable oils, meat and green leafy vegetables. EPA and DHA are known as fish fatty acids and are therefore mainly found in fish and shellfish.
The main effects of Omega-3 fatty acids for athletes is because of their anti-catabolic and anabolic effects. In addition, Omega-3 has a number of other important advantages, which are:
– Protected against cardiovascular disease
– Lowers blood pressure (upper pressure)
– Helps improve cholesterol levels in your body
– Helps reduce joint problems
– Has an anti-inflammatory effect
– Reduced belly fat
– Improves bone health
– Helps to make your skin healthier
Enough reasons to take Omega-3! Omega-3 can be found in a number of foods, but is also available as a supplement.
7. Optional: BCAA
There are also a number of supplements that you could optionally take. The first we will discuss is BCAA powder. BCAA is a controversial supplement. Not because it is dangerous, but because there is a lot of discussion about whether it is beneficial or not.
The name BCAA stands for ‘Branched Chaned Amino Acids’. BCAAs consist of the essential amino acids Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine. This means that the body cannot produce them itself. BCAAs can help prevent muscle breakdown when you take them before training, when you take BCAAs after training they can help stimulating muscle growth. In addition, BCAAs help to reduce muscle soreness and can also provide energy during a workout.
The reason why BCAA powder is optional is because it has little added value when you consume enough nutrition and in particular enough protein. However, when you are in the ‘cutting phase’ and therefore consciously consume below your calorie requirement, BCAAs can be beneficial.
BCAAs are available in various proportions, which means how much Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine is found in the BCAA powder. The best BCAA proportions favors Leucine, because it’s the most anabolic of the three. A common ratio therefore is 2:1:1 in favor of Leucine. Usually manufacturers recommend a dosing of 5 grams of BCAAs, so that means 2.5 grams of Leucine and 1.25 grams of Isoleucine and Valine.
8. Optional: Caffeine
You may not immediately think of using caffeine as a supplement, since caffeine is already widely consumed in our society today. It is found in many everyday products such as coffee, tea, energy drinks and chocolate. Still, it’s worth including caffeine in this list of supplements because one of the most effective performance enhancers available. Caffeine owes this name because of its many positive effects, which are:
– Helps with fat loss
– Helps against fatigue
– Improved performance
– Increases strength
It is important to mention that everyone reacts differently to caffeine. Some people are very sensitive to caffeine and can experience negative effects such as anxiety and itching. So it is important to determine for yourself whether using caffeine is a good idea for you.
Frequent users of caffeine can also build up a caffeine tolerance, making a certain dose less effective. What you can do against this is to stop using caffeine from time to time, for example during a deload week where you train with much lighter weights and therefore do not have to perform as well as in a normal training week.
9. Optional: Pre-Workout
Sometimes there are those days when the motivation to train is hard to find and you could use a boost. On these days a Pre-Workout can offer a solution. A Pre-Workout is a supplement that provides more energy, better focus, more pump in the muscles, more oxygen in the blood for heavier training, more fatburning and an increase in stamina. The increased intensity and stamina then contribute to more muscle growth.
You often take a Pre-Workout half an hour before your training.
Because Pre-Workout mainly contains caffeine, some people who are very sensitive to caffeine can experience negative effects and frequent users can build up a caffeine tolerance as mentioned above when we discussed cafeine as a supplement.
If you are looking for a supplement that only provides more energy and better focus, caffeine pills or a large cup of coffee can be a (cheaper) alternative.
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