the joy of strength training


April 17th, 2008 at 2:25 pm

Your thoughts: Supplements?

I’m interested in your thoughts about supplementation. I am talking about all the different types of supplements: vitamins, minerals, fish oil, creatine, stimulants, protein, recovery drinks and so on.

I have rarely used them up till now as I have been unconvinced of the need for supplements for myself.  I reckon I eat a pretty healthy, balanced diet. Even if there has been a bit too much of the bad stuff in the past, there’s also been a lot of good stuff. I don’t see people dropping dead because they didn’t pop a vitamin pill and I am naturally sceptical of anything that claims to be ‘good for you’. After all, haven’t unscrupulous people been peddling tonics and potions for centuries?

However, plenty of people disagree with this take! In some circles, supplements are pretty much standard practice. I’m not talking about naïve trainees who will simply stuff anything down their throats if its got a picture of a six pack on the bottle, but people who have exercised some discernment and come to the conclusion that there are things that they feel they are not getting, or not getting enough of from their food.

As I’ve recently overhauled my eating, I have been thinking about the whole supplements issue and I am even considering using a protein supplement.

So what are your thoughts on the issue? Do you use supplements? Why do you think you need them? What benefits do you get from them?

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  • 1

    NO supplements, save for an occasional protein shake.

    Zorbs on April 17th, 2008
  • 2

    I use protein powder and add it to things like porridge or smoothies as I sometimes find it hard to get protein into my diet without chewing on something that died 😉 I don’t see it as a miracle blend, it’s just an easily obtainable source of protein for me (and it’s a lot easier for me to carry a bottle of protein shake around with me in the hospital than turkey slices and hard boiled eggs!)

    I sometimes take fish oil suppliments as I used to get those little bumps on the top of my upper arms (keratosis pilaris) and that helped to get rid of them and keep some winter mood swings in check.

    Rooroo on April 17th, 2008
  • 3

    protien powder in my porridge for breakfast, fish oils to keep the moods stable, vit c fizzy drink ( coz it tastes nice ) and glutamine as it was recommended to me by a friend and it seems to help my recovery

    Davie on April 17th, 2008
  • 4

    I don’t take much in way of supplements but I do take protein powder when I am not getting enough in my meals for that day. I also take powdered branched chain amino acids (BCAA’s) either before bed or just before, during and after a heavy training session. I also take either fish oils or Udo’s 3-6-9 Blend Oil. The product, Emergen-C is a good way to take a high quality vitamin C with mineral ascorbates.

    MarkFu on April 18th, 2008
  • 5

    What is your goal with your diet and training? Without a clearly defined and measurable goal, I think it will be very hard to define what your diet should be?

    If my goal was to gain mass, I would look at how to get enough protein in my diet. Personally, I dont think a healthy person aiming for anything below olympic or world class level need to use supplements. A good and balanced diet, and enough of it, should in my opinion be enough. Perhaps add some vitamines during winter and some Fe for females.
    If aiming for the top level, you are looking at gaining any advantage you can legally get, so then you might look at some supplements. But there are just too many stories of “supplements” athletes have gone amiss with. More and more top athletes are very, very, careful with what supplements they use..

    Rolfe on April 18th, 2008
  • 6

    Some interesting responses, folks. Nothing so far that would entice me to take supplements though, apart from the protein that I was already considering.

    @ rooroo: I’m considering a protein supplement for the same reason as you: it’s often convenient to carry around and not as bulky as protein-rich foods.

    I didn’t realise that fish oil had such an effect on mood swings but a couple of people have mentioned this.

    @ rolfe: my goal is to perform better in my sports and be leaner for aesthetic reasons. I’m on the zone diet at the moment. I guess a diet (and supplements) should support performance by: adequately fuelling your training, keeping you at your required weight/body composition and helping your recovery. It’s pretty clear that the zone diet helps with weight management because it is a calorie-deficit diet. As regards the other aspects, it’s too early for me to tell. There does seem to be a period of adaptation.

    gubernatrix on April 18th, 2008
  • 7

    “my goal is to perform better in my sports and be leaner for aesthetic reasons.”

    I hope I dont sound like a besserwisser or condescending, but as a goal I think that is a bit too vague and very hard to measure. Goals need to be measurable in a very clear way in my opinion. Saying you want to loose 2% bodyfat would perhaps be better but I dont know how your bodyfat level is today, so it might be way off for you.
    I suppose you want to eat proteins to gain more muscle, but will the extra weight`/strength help you perform better in your sport or would it just be aesthetics?

    Fish oils and other things you eat definately affect your whole body. I stay away from fish oils becouse of my heart arythmia, but that is a prime example on how what you eat is so very important for how you function.

    Not many answers I am afraid, but perhaps pondering over a few questions are just as good or better?

    Rolfe on April 18th, 2008
  • 8

    If I could take only one supplement, it would be fish oil. The benefits and the science behind it is well-documented. I take it in a orange or lemon flavored liquid to get 6-10 grams a day.

    MarkFu on April 18th, 2008
  • 9

    @ rolfe: I’ve got plenty of specific goals 😉 I have goals related to all my sports and also weight goals but I haven’t listed them here. From your comments, I am not sure you understand my reasons for considering a protein supplement either. I am on a particular diet that stipulates 30% protein per day and protein with every meal. Sometimes this can be a bit bulky because of the nature of protein foods, so using a supplement is simply a way of getting protein in a more easily digestible way. See my post on the zone diet for more on this.

    @ MarkFu: if someone eats oily fish 2-4 times a week, would they need a fish oil supplement?

    gubernatrix on April 18th, 2008
  • 10

    I think most supplements are based on shaky science and superb marketing.

    That said, I will use a protein powder out of sheer laziness when I’m very busy. I do not consider it optimal.

    I think a lot of us see what the world class people do to tweak their performance and want to do what they do. Unless we’re rigorously practicing the basics of proper diet and exercise the futzy tweaking is worse than useless.

    Think about it: Any decent musician will tell you that you cannot practice the scales too much.

    Noel Lynne Figart on April 19th, 2008
  • 11

    I definitely believe in relying on a healthy and varied diet made up of unprocessed foods to get all your dietary requirements.
    Having said that, it’s nice to have a little back up plan – I take half a multivitamin every few days (I figure a whole one every day is just a waste if you are a pretty healthy eater – you just excrete it again). Also fish oil is a great thing to have in your diet, but if there’s only so much tuna and sardines and salmon that you eat, a few fish oil capsules every now and again is worthwhile.
    But otherwise that’s it for me! Get your nutrients the natural and more effective way – in food.

    Lady G on April 19th, 2008
  • 12

    There is a fine line between supplements and stimulants.

    Tom Strong on April 19th, 2008
  • 13

    I started seriously lifting in August 07. I started taking protein shakes 3x a day and still do (avg 150-200g daily). My protein intake has varied over the months, and there seems to be a clear, direct relation between the amount of protein I take and my recovery time/the amount of my gains. My protein powder of choice is by BodyFortress and includes some kind of creatine/glutamine blend that supposedly increases recovery time. I also take a multivitamin almost daily.

    As many people will tell you, supplements are supposed to SUPPLEMENT a DIET. In other words, if you don’t have a good, healthy, balanced diet, you shouldn’t use supplements. My diet includes eggs for breakfast almost every day, otherwise oatmeal or a somewhat healthy cold cereal. I always eat a big breakfast, smaller lunch, and small dinner, and I’m very careful about what I eat. I never eat school lunch and instead go to the school library, lift in the afternoon, and eat when I get home. School lunches are disgusting.

    But most importantly…

    If your starting lifting and want to take supplements, I highly recommend using or a similar website to research what each supplement does and how it works. If you understand how your body works, and you understand the basics of muscle hypertrophy, then you will have the potential to reach your goal of cutting body fat or gaining muscle or whatever you want.

    Ben on April 19th, 2008
  • 14

    Great website, I have felt a lot better since I started having a carb/protein recovery drink shortly after exercising.
    I bought a book called “The future of sports nutrition Nutrient Timing” by John Ivy and Robert Portman which you may find an interesting read.

    Take care

    Matt on April 20th, 2008
  • 15

    Folks, a lot of different opinions being expressed – very interesting. I agree that you need to put real effort into getting the basics right before adding more stuff to the mix. Not sure if I would class myself as having got the basics spot on yet. My recovery/sleep has not been great recently, for example.

    gubernatrix on April 21st, 2008
  • 16

    Nice blog.

    I agree with your take and with the person who says do everything right diet and sleep-wise before considering supplements. I only take fish oil. It seems to help with persistent elbow soreness. Trying to “do everything right” I recently learned some new warm-ups and stretches that have also helped my elbow. I’m a middle-aged CrossFitter so I want to stave off chronic sorenesses as long as I can.

    Fran Mason on April 22nd, 2008
  • 17

    Hey Sally,

    Some really amusing comments on here, some cynical and some that should take some time to do their research before writing basically ignorant comments.

    Firstly, let me deal with fish oil.

    Omega 3 oils – namely the EPA and DHA fatty acids have a SOLID supporting evidence for their efficacy in a wide area of uses, ranging from improving the health of people with chronic diseases, including depression and insomnia to name but a few. I suggest those who are SO sceptical take a trip to Google Scholar or Pubmed and do their research.

    As for the amounts, this will vary according to body size and training routine, hormonal status and several other variables. Studies have shown positive effects in a range of populations with widely varying dosages – measuring different variables with a large amount of success.

    Fish oil is a unique supplement due to its fatty acid content, a science which is relatively emerging in contrast to other nutritional areas. You may be interested to know that the Snake oil salespeople might have been on to something as Chinese Water Snake oil is 20% EPA – the highest of any animal.

    On an anecdotal front, just about all my clients and colleagues (including me) use it regularly and almost all have reported improvements across the board from doing so.

    I find it amusing how many of the people posting cite ‘a proper diet’ as being the only place they need to get their nutrients – do they all eat organic grass fed beef? Or wild caught non-farmed Salmon for their fish oil? What about their vegetables?

    There is a massive distinction between supplements that consist of a more concentrated nutrient that is difficult to obtain in optimal amounts (be that optimal for health, performance, body composition or whatever your goal) and the anabolic steroid type that people are so anti.

    Examples such as DIM, a plant indole from cruciferous vegetables has been shown to be highly anti-estrogenic and may have potential preventative benefits against some types of cancers. Yet you would struggle to get the amounts in your diet that the research has shown to be beneficial. Similar with Fenugreek and Bitter Gourd or Alpha Lipoic Acid that have all been shown to have positive health benefits. Not to mention many supplements that we use here for Cortisol control.

    Lastly (as I could go on for hours) – supplements will have little effect on you if your diet is sound and regular and structured. if nothing else the compliance level will be a long way off. However, sometimes you need that bit extra and supplements can offer that. It is amazing how many people will take medications of all types and sorts because they BELIEVE that they will help – look how many people take Prozac?!

    THe modern diet is a long way from a ‘normal’ or particularly ‘natural’ way of eating…most of it comes in plastic, grown overseas out of season and shipped here after having been covered in all kinds of contaminants. If supplements are used discrimatingly and the choices are well-produced by reputable companies they can have profound effects on health and performance. The evidence is clear.

    Graeme Marsh on April 23rd, 2008
  • 18

    Hey Graeme, yup there is a lot of cynicism about supplements and I’m as guilty of that as any. However, I wouldn’t pretend to know much about the subject! It’s great to have your expert input therefore.

    gubernatrix on April 23rd, 2008
  • 19

    I too eat a 40/30/30 diet, although not as “strict” as the Zone. So I rely on protein powder and flax seed oil for Omega 3’s.

    If you’d like a good argument for taking vitamin supplements, check out a book titled The Cortisol Connection. It’s all about the effects of too much cortisol on the body – muscle wasting, high blood pressure and such. The book provides reasons for taking a high-quality multi-vitamin.

    Curtis Penner on April 25th, 2008
  • 20

    Well, it sounds like you’ve got both ends of the spectrum here! I take many supplements, but wanted to caution you and others to be sure and have an annual blood workup before doing so. I personally have benefited from supplementing my diet, because although it is very healthy, I have had many metabolic issues that went undetected for several years. I was told my iron was low, and began taking a daily mutivitamin. I was really surprised to learn two years later that I was still very low on iron. It was a metabolic issue. I also found out that I was very low on cortisol, so you have to be careful when ‘self diagnosing’ conditions like ‘high cortisol’. Just go in and make sure all your levels are normal first, before you start adding things. Otherwise, the only thing I’d recommend you start adding is the fish oil. Do it as an experiment, for say 3-4 weeks, and see how you feel. I can’t explain it, I just ‘feel better’ when I take it. I also think it helps regulate my metabolism some how.

    zoey on April 27th, 2008
  • 21

    Interesting stuff, fish oil has definitely emerged as the favourite supplement.

    Zoey, your suggestion of trying it out for a few weeks is a good one, I might just do that!

    gubernatrix on April 28th, 2008
  • 22

    There have been some very perceptive comments so far. Let me add a couple of points:

    Supplements are called supplements for a reason. If you are using them, for goodness sake use them as a supplement not a replacement. No supplement can overcome a poor diet.

    Within that context there are a number of supplements that work well. As previously stated, it depends on goals:

    1. Protein powder. If you need more protein, and I argue most people do, then powder is a convenient way to go to add into foods that don’t have enough on their own.

    2. Fish Oil. It’s tough to get enough EPA/DHA in the modern Western diet. Sure, you could eat fresh oily fish low in mercury contamination but it’s expensive and hard to find. The proven benefits of fish oil far outweigh the reluctance to pop a pill. It’s no coincidence that the increase in brain size man started when we moved to the coast and developed the ability to fish.

    3. Creatine. The single most researched supplement is safe and effective for most people. It’s great for any intermittant team sport and those who strength train. It might be a little controversial to say it, but I think everyone who can benefit from creatine should take it. That includes grandma. the ability to produce power diminishes rapidly as we age and creatine can ofset some of that.

    Other than that the only other supplement I would seriously look at is a Post Workout shake of protein/carbs. Not essential by any means but it can help with a lot of people, especially those training for performance.

  • 23

    I’m not a high-end, hard-core athlete. I’m an ordinary person with a sedentary job. My most outrageous goal at the moment is to be able to do a pullup by the time I’m 40 (in about 7 months). I swim a mile three times a week and strength train three times a week, then try to walk anywhere I can (which is mostly. I live near libraries, my gym, and shopping).

    I just take a multivitamin.

    Noel Lynne Figart on May 14th, 2008
  • 24

    I was never a “pill person.” I couldn’t stand any type of pills…especially with all this marketing/advertising going around for pills that will make you worse or do nothing for you at all. I used to take Cod Liver Oil pills as a child but now I eat a lot of sardines. I work in an Apothecary (old term for a Vitamin Shop) now so I am becoming a better fan of pills.

    I would suggest taking a multivitamin, no matter who you are. If you are over the age of 40, find a multivitamin that is iron free. I like Rainbow Light’s Women’s Multivitamin because it’s vegan and food based, meaning I don’t have to take it with food and the nutrients are better absorbed by the body.

    The only pills I take right now is L-Theanine. It’s great for multi taskers and people who have ADD or ADHD (yes, I got a client off of Adderall because of Theanine). Theanine is an amino acid that is found in Green Tea. It goes past the blood brain barrier to clear up the “brain clutter” and help you to relax. If you take Theanine without food, you’ll feel sleepy. If you take it with food, you’ll feel energized. And there are NO side effects.

    I am a very active person. I like to do Yoga and run…I need to lift weights more. Because I’m scared of weights, I put Ashwaganda powder in my water. Ashwaganda is an Indian (Auryvedic) herb that is good for muscle growth and sexual potency (it’s not like Spanish Fly, you have to take it for a month before getting any of these benefits). A male friend of mine is taking it as well and I see a change in his body shape after 2 weeks. He’s really thin.

    Astralgus (Chinese Herb) is also good for stamina. I’m using them both and see good results.

    As for me and protein shakes, no thanks. I get enough protein from chicken! The only thing I would ask from all of my protein shake fans is to take in as much water as you do protein shakes. No one realizes how much water plays a part in fitness.

    Thanks for reading.

    Drea Downes on May 27th, 2008
  • 25

    I make my daily vitamin a prerequisite for anything else I might be taking. Protein powder, Scivation’s Xtend, Biotest’s Hot Rox Extreme, and protein bars are among my most popular supplements. I’ve also use Biotest’s Powerdrive, Biotest’s Surge, a product called Bone Boosts, and those 5 hour energy shots. Will any of this hurt me? I can’t tell you for sure, but so far so good.

    Project Swole on May 29th, 2008
  • 26

    Yes supplements are necessary for today’s athlete. No matter how good one’s diet one can benefit from protein, creatine, vitamin and carbohydrate supplementation. Also because of modern farming practices omega 3 supplementation is most likely necessary too.

    Personally I follow the type of diet out lined in Loren Cordain and Joe Friel’s The Paleo Diet for Athletes, which just comes down to eating lean meats, fatty fish and plenty of fruits and vegetables most of the time– as the book suggests I follow the 95% rule where 5% of the time in any given week I will eat grains or break the diet in some other way. It is nutrient dense diet, nevertheless because I am a competitive athlete working out 6 days a week. I still find it necessary to supplement my proteins and carbs, with whey and products like Vitargo’s S2 to refuel my muscle glycogen. I also use a pre-workout NO2 product on my weight training days to increase my focus, my hyperemia, and to provide creatine for increased endurance during my workouts.

    I think that any athlete who doesn’t supplement is at an enormous disadvantage in terms of training performance and recovery.

    And even if we are talking about a more casual training program, I still believe it’s still an enormous benefit to supplement one’s diet with simple sugars and BCAA’s after a workout to aid recovery, by say having something like a glass of low-fat chocolate milk or drinking a recovery product.

    Aaron (Roshibear) on July 20th, 2008
  • 27

    First, looking at your picture, you don’t seem to need much in the way of supplements.

    I agree with all of the above on the Omegas. In addition to Omega 3, 6, 12 and a multi, I take Coenzyme Q10 because I have about 100 hereditary heart risks. I come from a long line of short lines, let’s say.

    The one thing that I’ll add (prepare for the flame-war to begin) is ZMA. Zinc/magnesium in Aspartate form. A quick Google will find you two dozen articles on it. I do nothing out of the ordinary from the recommended. The noticeable benefits since I have added the ZMA (3 tabs at 9pm on empty stomach) is improved sleep and recovery. I used to suffer from HORRIBLE post-workout soreness. (Yes, I stretch and cool-down. Thank you.) For whatever mechanism is at play here, the ZMA has not only reduced my post-workout soreness but assisted me with insomnia and helped me get good rest.

    (I used to suffer from insomnia about 3 times a week, but it was nothing worth losing sleep over. 🙂 )

    Christopher on September 3rd, 2008
  • 28

    Some very cool tips on supplements above…..I personally stick to 1TBSP of Cod Liver Oil and a good natural multi-vitamin add to that 1 gram of High Quality Buffered Vitamin C before after training and with the last meal of the day….

    Chris - Zen to Fitness on September 15th, 2008
  • 29

    Apart from lots of practice, the two key requirements in sport are energy and focus. Both of these are affected by how well your blood sugar is balanced. Poor blood sugar balance is very common and causes fatigue, as well as poor concentration, memory and mood, and cravings for carbohydrates. The condition results from nutrient deficiencies, a diet high in refined carbohydrates and low in wholefoods, and excessive use of stimulants such as colas, coffee and tea.

    To keep energy and focus high, concentrate on fruits, vegetables, wholegrains and high quality proteins such as lean free-range chicken and tofu. Always have a good breakfast, lunch and dinner plus two snacks a day (say, a handful of seeds or nuts and a piece of fruit, or a rice cake with hummus), balance carbohydrates and proteins 2:1, avoid sugar and drink plenty of water.

    When you’re depleting your body’s resources through extreme exercise, you need something that will instantly replenish lost glucose, water and minerals to keep yourself going. PowerBars are excellent for a carbohydrate fix (they also have a good ratio of protein to slow down energy release), or try Multipower protein and energy bars. Zone bars are not bad either, apparently. These are available from most healthfood shops.

    Two hours before events, you can also boost your glucose stores by eating lots of complex carbohydrates such as fruit, vegetables, wholegrains like wholemeal pasta or rye bread, and baked potatoes. But avoid sugar and refined carbohydrates – they may give you a rush but they will leave you more tired than you were before. Ensure you eat enough protein to repair muscles – at least half as much protein as carbohydrates at each meal and snack. So have nuts or seeds with fresh or dried fruit, rice with fish, tofu or lentils, and so on (the combinations are legion). Remember too that a demanding exercise regime generates more oxidants, so eat plenty of antioxidant-rich foods – go for fruit and veg in the orange, red and blue range, especially berries. Drink 1.5 to 2 litres of water at least, and supplement a high-strength multivitamin, 2g of extra vitamin C every day, and 5g of Glutamine powder before bed to aid muscle recovery.

    Matthew on October 15th, 2008
  • 30

    […] Your thoughts: supplements? […]

  • 31

    You could also try taking B vitamins, Chromium and CoQ 10 which are the catalyst nutrients that turn glucose into energy. This with good blood sugar control which comes from eating a low gl diet which is much better than a gi diet.

    Matthew on May 2nd, 2009
  • 32

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts about weights.

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