I’ve tried a lot of nutritional and bodybuilding supplements over the years, and most of them didn’t do anything other than drain my wallet or make me gag. Eventually, I came to the realization that many supplements are a scam, no different than the exercise gizmos sold on infomercials guaranteed to carve out your abs with little to no effort for three easy payments of $19.99. Most bodybuilding supplements are endorsed by pros who got where they are without using them, and sadly these supplements lack any credible scientific evidence backing their claimed effects. Have some healthy skepticism and do some research before wasting your hard earned money. OK, rant over.
The good news is there are some legitimate, research supported nutritional supplements that can fill holes in your diet and give you an edge in your workouts. Most of them are cheap too. Here are the ones that I personally take and recommend for strength and health:
- Protein Shake or Meal Replacement Shake – these are definitely not necessary, but they’re a good way to provide your body with nutrition when you don’t have time to cook a meal, and they’re generally healthier than fast food. Just make sure you’re still eating a least a couple of meals of real food each day. The specific type of protein in the shake is less important than advertisers would have you believe. Look for a reputable brand, and pick one that’s not loaded with sugar or too many carbs unless you’re trying to bulk up. Shakes can be handy in the morning in lieu of breakfast when in a rush, right after a workout to get nutrients back in your body, or in between meals if you’re trying to gain weight. If you select one that has a good mix of vitamins and minerals added to it, then you can skip my next recommendation.
- Multi- vitamin – this serves primarily as an insurance policy in case your diet is deficient in vitamins or minerals. Most of us with imperfect diets will feel a difference in energy and overall health when we take a quality multi-vitamin. Pick a reputable brand, and ideally look for a multi-vitamin that also contains phytonutrients and enzymes that support bodily functions.
- Vitamin C – benefits of vitamin C are numerous and include immune system support and protection against cardiovascular disease, eye disease, prenatal health problems, and even skin wrinkling. The immune system support alone is worth taking extra vitamin C.
- Vitamin D3 – crucial for bone health and neuromuscular function. Also linked to prevention of cognitive impairment, depression, chronic low back pain, and certain types of cancer. Our bodies can produce vitamin D3 but only in the presence of sunlight, and multi-vitamins only contain trace amounts of it, so unless you’re out in the sun all day this is a good one to take.
- Fish oil – contains omega-3 fatty acids which our bodies can’t produce by themselves and are usually lacking in our diets. Omega-3’s reduce inflammation, lower triglyceride levels, and improve brain function. As a supplement, I like krill oil because unlike other types of fish oil, the pills are small and don’t cause the dreaded and foul smelling “fish burps”. Your significant other will thank you for choosing krill!
- Creatine – this is one of the very few supplements with solid studies backing its ability to help put on muscular size and strength. The effects are not nearly as powerful as anabolic steroids, but it commonly adds roughly 5 pounds of bodyweight quickly and a few extra reps to one’s toughest sets in the gym. When taking creatine, I recommend drinking plenty of water and not going over the recommended dosage to be safe on your kidneys and also to prevent muscle cramping.
- Joint formula – Glucosamine sulfate, chondroitin sulfate, and MSM (methylsulfonylmethane) form the trifecta of joint supplements. Glucosamine and chondroitin are building blocks of cartilage, and MSM is an anti-inflammatory. Taking all three is your best bet for rebuilding or maintaining healthy and pain free joints. For convenience, I recommend taking one supplement that contains all three, however, you should avoid glucosamine if you have a shellfish allergy.
That’s it. After trying more supplements than I’d care to admit during my younger more gullible years, that short list is all that I continue to take. Each of them has either had noticeable effects and/or overwhelming research backing them up. I’m sure there are other supplements that have helped people in one way or another – I’m just relating my personal experience and conclusions after 30 years in the game of strength and health. Good luck!