If you’ve ever been in a supplement store, or even down the vitamin aisle of your grocery store, you know the number of choices is overwhelming. As if it wasn’t bad enough that there are 450 different types of multivitamins, you have to wade through thousands of herbal remedies, weight loss miracles, weight gain shakes, protein powders, and more exotic sports and physique options.
I’ll go ahead and save you a lot of time and money. 95% of the stuff is crap. It’s extremely overpriced at best, most likely useless, and possibly dangerous. Don’t fall for the flashy signs and marketing hype. That said, there are some supplements that work and are well worth their price, whether for general health or sport/physique specific reasons. To help you wade through the nonsense, I’ve put together several supplement “stacks” to cover a variety of purposes. Please note that supplements are in no way an excuse to have a poor diet. If you aren’t already following the nutritional habits 90% of the time, you have no business moving on to the latter two stacks. You should consult your doctor before starting any supplement regimen.
General Health Stack (recommended for nearly everyone)
- Multivitamin – The basic “just in case” supplement, multivitamin/mineral supplements make sure you’re getting at least some of most recommended micronutrients. There are very few multivitamins that give you “enough” of every single micronutrient, but it’s a start.
- Fish Oil – Due to the dearth of Omega-3 fats in most modern diets, fish oil supplements (which are high in Omega-3) are crucial to optimal health. Fish oil has been found to improve cardiovascular (heart) function, nervous system and brain function, and immune system function. It is a potent anti-inflammatory, which is great for pain relief (as well as heart health), and improves insulin sensitivity (and thus fat loss). 3-6 grams of fish oil a day is a good start for most. I recommend Carlson Softgels and Liquid fish oil, as well as Biotest Flameout, which is more expensive, but very potent.
- Vitamin D – The new kid on the block, vitamin D has burst onto the nutrition scene due to research showing it can improve a huge range of functions. Vitamin D deficiency is linked to poor calcium absorption, loss of muscle, increased risk of cancer, lower levels of immunity, higher blood pressure, neurological disorders, and diabetes. Unfortunately, it is estimated that up to 80% of the US population is deficient in vitamin D. Your body synthesizes it’s own D from sunlight, so on days when you don’t get any sun, take 2000-4000 mg. Have your levels checked by a doctor for more specific guidelines, as Vitamin D is toxic at high levels (generally over 10000 mg a day).
- Greens Supplement – A greens supplement contains powdered, freeze-dried vegetables and fruits. Unless you eat about 20 servings of different kinds of veggies and fruits a day, you would do well to add in a greens supplement to your diet. Greens+ by Genuine Health and Biotest Superfood are good options.
Fat Loss Stack
- Whey Protein – When used in place of a normal snack or meal, supplemental whey protein is an excellent way to encourage fat loss. Having a protein shake with your workout can also encourage muscle growth, also good for fat loss. I like Biotest Grow and Metabolic Drive (a whey protein blend).
- Fish Oil – So important, I listed it twice. Due to its insulin sensitivity benefits, For those looking to lose body fat, taking up to your body fat percentage in grams is ideal (ex: 10 g/day for a 10% body fat individual). For doses this high, I recommend Carlson’s Very Finest Liquid Fish Oil, which is easier to take in high doses. It has a very mild lemon flavor and no fish taste at all.
- Thermogenics – I am almost scared to include these on the list, even though they can be somewhat effective. The fact is, people tend to think of them as an “easy way out” of proper nutrition, which they are absolutely not. Thermogenics theoretically increase the body’s metabolism and accelerate fat loss. Due to their stimulant nature, they may also cause some adverse effects. Caffeine is actually a thermogenic, due to it’s stimulant properties. Most brand name products that claim to be “fat-burners” are pretty much crap and sometimes dangerous. Biotest Hot-Rox are fairly well regarded. Thermogenics should only be used by very lean people with perfect nutritional habits who are looking for that last bit of fat loss (perhaps for a contest). Start with a very low dose to see how you respond.
Muscle Building Stack
- Whey Protein – Instead of replacing a meal with it, add whey (or other protein supplements) to your daily intake for a quick way to increase protein and calorie intake (necessary to gain muscle mass). Again, I like Biotest Grow and Metabolic Drive (a whey protein blend). Cytosport MuscleMilk is pretty good too, although it contains a little more than just your average protein powder.
- Recovery Drink – A blend of quality but quick digesting carbohydrates and protein taken during and immediately after weight training has been shown to result in improved muscle growth and recovery from exercise. I prefer Biotest Surge Recovery, which was developed by Precision Nutrition’s Dr. John Berardi.
- Creatine – One of the most widely researched sports supplements around, creatine occurs naturally in meats (particularly red meat) and is used as something of a fuel source for your cells (its complicated). Every energy expending cell in your body contains a store of creatine which is uses as something of a battery to store energy for short term exertion. Supplementing with creatine increases the storage levels in your cells, which gives you a bit more endurance when performing at maximal exertion. Practically, this means you might get another rep or two on your sets with higher creatine levels. Studies show greater strength improvements from weight training in groups supplementing with creatine over a placebo. Stick with basic creatine monohydrate. The fancy stuff costs a lot more for no extra benefit.
For a more specific look at more health-related supplements, check out the supplement bubble chart.
Did I leave out your favorite supplement? Curious about something you do or don’t see? Leave it in the comments.
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