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Supplements- Do You Need Them?

Walk into any GNC or Vitamin Shoppe and there’s no doubt Nutritional Supplements play a major role in not only the journey of getting fit and looking awesome but also in fueling their very own niche economy. Supplements are big money and heavily advertised with each being touted as incredibly effective and an absolute game-changer.  But let’s cut through the clutter and bring supplements out of the “My Dad is Better Than Your Dad” advertising fisticuffs and look at them at their most basic level.

Hold on, this sucker is epic.

Supplements Defined

You can get a pretty good idea of what supplements are all about by simply breaking down the name “Supplement”:

sup·ple·ment: [n. suhp-luh-muhnt; v. suhp-luh-ment]

1. Something added to complete a thing, supply a deficiency, or reinforce or extend a whole.

In other words, a supplement is a product used to fill a nutritional gap– something you may need (or may need more of) for your goals but something your diet isn’t fully have provided otherwise. In that light, supplements aren’t silver bullet miracles per say– they’re simply tools in your arsenal to provide your body with the items it will use for better performance, sustenance and recovery. And, based on your goals, the supplements you need/want can be a very mix and match approach.

Supplements: Supplying What You’re Not Getting

If we all lived on a year-round farm and could grow, produce, prepare and cook all day long we probably wouldn’t ever need supplements. Our nutrition would be chock-a-block with unprocessed, whole food goodness naturally delivering the micro/phyto nutrients we need to lift cars, run across continents and bench press ocean liners. Unfortunately, that’s not the case and when tackling programs like P90X2, Asylum or Turbofire, you’re running up against not only simple nutrition but also enhanced nutritional needs as you strive for goals of increased athleticism/fitness, subsequent recovery, a thinner waist line or serious weight loss amidst– not to mention possible barriers of time, convenience and tasty, nutritionally sufficient calories.

Each fitness goal has its own needs, with the most important being keeping your nutrition in check with enough of the right stuff to build and sustain your success.

Do You NEED Supplements?

Can you reach your goals without supplements? Yup. Can you get better, more efficient or faster results that won’t leave your body in the lurch with supplements? Yup. So really it all boils down to your game plan,  the convenience of keeping your body fueled with what it needs and maybe, just maybe, a little something that can give you a worry-free edge for better performance to tie it all together.

So here’s this post’s take-away: My goal here isn’t to sell you on supplements– it’s to clarify some of the more popular supplements out there and a few I use myself. More importantly, I want to clarify WHY they’re used. I’m big on convenience and using stuff that has a benefit for a reason. If these supplements fit into your goals, awesome– give them a try. If not, you’ll be OK– just make sure you’re getting the whole nutrition you need elsewhere.

The Supplement Top 10

Multi-Vitamin: Used Daily

  • At minimum, a GOOD  multi-vitamin is the most basic way to bridge the nutritional sinkholes in your diet, intended or otherwise. If you’re trying to lose weight you may avoid/reduce certain foods for periods of time which may compromise a full complement of the nutrition you need. Multi-Vitamins tackle this issue with gusto but you want to make sure you eat them with food for better absorption. Beachbody offers a multi-vitamin which is a good solution. I personally use Garden of Life RAW Multivitamins as they don’t contain “lab created” vitamins but rather “whole food” vitamins. Shakeology (covered below) can work as a multi-vitamin and then some but if you’re on a more intense program, doubling up never hurts.

Recovery Formula: Used ONLY Within 30-45 Minutes AFTER Taxing Workouts As Needed

  • I detail the Recovery Formula in extreme close-up here but at its core, a Recovery Formula is a post-workout (like, 0-45 minutes post-workout) supplement high in dextrose sugar with a dab of protein in a 4:1 ratio. That’s fancy talk for 4g of simple carbohydrates to every 1g protein. The Recovery Formula is a very niche supplement to be used at very specific time and for a very specific reason– RECOVERY after muscle tissue breakdown that’s not a matter of if but EVERY TIME you do an intense workout. Lessens muscle soreness and allows you to spring back– as some studies have shown– 400% better than without. Studies are cited in the link above. I use Recovery Formula 3-4 times a week. Taken

Pre-workout Supplements: Used 15-30 Minutes Before Workout As Needed

  • Pre-workout supplements are crazy right now and undergoing formula changes daily. As the name infers, pre-workout formulas are used 15-30 minutes before your workout. They usually contain a stimulant like caffeine to get you moving and most contain a mishmash of similar ingredients like creatine, arginine and beta-alanine to give muscles a ready-rush supply of endurance, power and energy. Pre-Workout Supplements aren’t essential but can help with a few extra reps or focus to go longer or with more intensity– which should ultimately lead to muscle and performance gains. I use them on occasion when I work out early mornings.  I use E & E– you can find out more about it here.

Creatine: Generally Used Twice Daily (for better absorption) For Two Months, Cycled Off For One

  • Widely used and just as widely misunderstood. Creatine is a supplement taken daily through cycles of time on and off. Creatine has been extensively studied but contrary to popular belief, Creatine doesn’t build muscle– it’s a catalyst in that it helps give energy needed to add more reps and endurance therefore, ultimately, encourage more muscle by way of super-compensation. If you’re looking at adding muscle and strength, Creatine is definitely something to consider. For a complete rundown on Creatine and how it works, check out my Creatine Defined article here. There’s lots of creatine variants out there, all touting their effectiveness but when I use Creatine, I use the tried and true Creatine Monohydrate.

Amino Acids: Taken Daily, usually During or Immediately After Workouts

  • Amino Acids are built for recovery of trashed and maxed out muscle. There’s quite a few supplements out there offering BCAA “intraworkout” cocktails but the big boys of the amino acid line-up are arginine, citrulline, beta alanine and glutamine. The previous are almost always included in pre-workout concoctions for muscle stability and fueling. The latter is offered a a singular powder form (covered below) and is the grand-daddy of recovery supplements. Timing is criticial with these supplements and pre and post workout seem to be the times best used. Beyond that, you may be simply paying for expensive urine. Gew. With my use of pre-workout and other supplements, I tend to use these sparingly if at all.

Protein Powder/Bars: Used as a Daily Supplement To Bump Protein Intake

  • In essence a food replacement, protein powders and bars are– in my opinion– a staple for any fitness regimen. I don’t like to eat scads of meat and these supplements help offer variety and even better- convenience. A scoop of protein powder in a shaker cup and an apple and you’re out the door and on the road with a quick snack. I am choosy, however. There’s typically two kinds of protein powder– whey (click here for a breakdown and more information on whey) and plant-based (using brown rice protein in most cases). I use both, which puts warring nutritional philosophies at odds but variety is where it’s at.  Here’s a complete breakdown of protein powder choices I recommend:
    1. Optimum Nutrition 100% Natural Whey
    2. Bluebonnet Whey
    3. SunWarrior Vegan
    4. Garden of Life Raw Protein— (Review)

Protein bars work the same way but can offer more of a “meal” as opposed to straight protein with little else. be VERY label choosy– there’s a lot of junk out there or claims of protein bar when in fact they’re a sugar bomb carb bar. Beachbody offers a protein bar that’s better than eating a cheeseburger but they’re also working on reformulating it to make it even better. Honestly, I’ve only found ONE bar that’s a true protein bar without a label full of crazy ingredients and that’s Questbar. My detailed  review of Questbar is here.

Meal Replacements: Used Daily To Replace A Meal/Snack

  • A more balanced version of a protein powder, Meal Replacement supplements often have a batch of carbs, some fiber and a few vitamins and minerals to provide more nutritional “well-roundedness” than a protein shake alone. They’re convenient but do require some label reading. I don’t tend to use Meal Replacements often since jumping on board with Shakeology a few years ago which brings me to…

Shakeology: Used Daily To Replace a Meal/Snack

  • There’s a virtual boatload of Shakeology information found on this site and most of it can be found here. More than a meal replacement, Shakeology rolls a serious nutritional punch. It’s a multi-meal-supplement in one with greens formulations (phyto nutrients), pre/pro-bitoics and all kinds of whole food based nutrition. I’m a fan and use Shakeology as the cornerstone of my not only my supplementation strategy but nutritional as well.

Glutamine: Used Daily

Omega 3: Used Daily

  •  Considered an essential fatty acid– IE, our body needs it but doesn’t produce it… so we need to eat it. Unfortunately, we don’t eat enough of the sources of Omega 3 (fish, certain  nuts like walnuts) and even sources we do it aren’t all that high thanks to the way fish is farmed. In short, we’re not getting enough and Omega 3s are awesome for heart health, muscle cell strength, joints and even body fat reduction. The fact we need the Omega 3s and aren’t getting them is reason enough to supplement alone. I recommend Oceans’ 3 or Core Omega 3.

There’s plenty more supplements out there (Calcium, Immune Boost, COQ-10, etc.) but these are usually the staples used in programs like P90X. You may find you need calcium as it’s not super-abundant in foods we eat and dairy has been argued to leech calcium from bones despite its calcium content. Opinion varies widely (and wildly) but is something to consider– especially with women.

In the end, your supplement regimen should support your goals. I tend to use whey, Shakeology and glutamine and omega-3’s pretty religiously as they’re bedrock needs vs. luxury while pre-workout and post-workout (and even creatine for my training needs RIGHT NOW) fall into line “as needed” after that.  Yours may be different but I tend to believe supplements are awesome as an addition to getting as much nutrition as possible through real, whole foods., help me in my goals and do a great job in bridging gaps both conveniently and nutritionally.

Got more questions, comments or anything in between? Leave them below or get hooked up with free coaching (from yours truly) right here

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