I gave a run-down on how to approach the douche-infested world of dietary supplements.
While 90% of what lines the shelves is basically shit, there are some items that may improve your results.
In this post I’ll outline exactly what I take to help build muscle while optimizing health. But first a quick review, if you were too lazy to read the last post. Though you really should.
- Supplements are supplements, never a replacement to a nutritious, whole-food diet. Get fanatical about your food choices and training before even setting foot into a supplement store.
- The supplements at the top of your list should be the ones that “fill the holes” in your nutrition plan caused by your lifestyle and environment.
- There’s no substitute for good medical care. Get a fitness-savvy doc and inform him or her of all your decisions.
- Use quality brands, preferably professional ones found in practitioners offices. A good rule of thumb is, if it’s marketed to a 15 year-old or promises “drug like” effects it’s probably low end product that does more harm than good.
Here are my suggested staples:
- Fish Oil. Mix it up for a variety of fats. I rotate between krill oil, a high concentrate liquid, and a “blend” of all essential fats.
- Multi-Vitamin/Multi-mineral. Make sure quality sources of B-vitamins and don’t “mega dose.”
- Vitamin D3
- Magnesium — glycinate, orotate, taurate, etc. Not magnesium oxide.
- Quality Protein. If meeting protein needs is a challenge. I try to eat at least 200 grams of protein a day. Protein powder makes this more practical. Be warned, this is one of the sleaziest corners of the supplement industry. Pay more and buy quality.
- Creatine Monohydrate
- Zinc. Important for men for its anti-estrogen and fertility-enhancing properties.
- Green Drinks. While no replacement for a big-ass salad, they offer considerably more nutrition than a diet soda.
So that’s my base. Some of you might suffer a mild stroke at that list, thinking that’s way too much. Others may take 3 times what I take. This is simply what I consider to be the most important basics, at least for me, and possibly for everyone.
However, nothing is forever. I go “off” everything fairly regularly. There’s simply no “need” to be constantly supplementing.
I take a month off creatine every 2 or 3 months, and I don’t take as much vitamin D3 in the summer.
When I travel, I don’t take any pills or powders except for sleep aids.
But there are dozens of other product categories.
Most of these are what I call “condition specific” and most are crap. Some, however, are helpful, provided you’ve moved “the big rocks” above.
First, you first to determine what your “conditions” are. In other words, what are your wants & needs?
As a 40-something bro who works (and works out) way too much, my “wants” are to be lean and muscular.
My “needs” are to manage my stress and sleep (which will support thyroid and adrenals, and by extension T levels) and stay healthy, with an eye on things like my lipid profile and prostate health.
Admittedly, this is where a dude can get hosed or at best waste time. It’s also another reason having quality medical care is essential.
For building muscle, you can go all broscience with the shitty supplements and likely won’t cause much harm to anything beyond your wallet. For more serious health matters, however, you need to be more discerning.
So if you have lousy HDL/LDL levels in spite of a generally good diet and lifestyle and your doc wants you on a statin, you should at least consider it. If you’re more borderline, or at least less than optimal, then see if he’ll be on board with more natural interventions.
With those wants & needs in mind (manage sleep & stress, stay healthy, lean, and build muscle) about 2/3rds of popular supplements are off the table.
What I Don’t Use
Most Bodybuilding Shit. Optimal nutrition, sleep, stress management, and recovery is all the “bodybuilding” supplementation you’ll ever you need. I have no room for weight gainers, candy bars, or magic workout drinks filled with cheap sugar and chemical food dyes that bomb the gut.
Testosterone Boosters. Simply put, these products suck. The few that do (or did) anything did just enough to shut your natural T production down. So you enjoy a nice 10-day bump before returning to baseline, and then feeling like a eunuch for months when you go “off.” If you’re concerned about your T levels, work with your doctor. There is no other way.
Fat burners. Most of the ones you find on store shelves burn negligible fat and just jack up cortisol and cook the adrenals, creating serious withdrawl symptoms (post diet zombie syndrome).
I also think carbonated energy drinks with a day’s worth of caffeine being sold next to soft drinks at 7-11 is the most irresponsible thing ever.
Kids shouldn’t drink that garbage. Supplement companies should be ashamed of themselves.
That said, the only way most of these jerk-offs can pay their rent is by pumping out energy drinks through the mass market channel. It sure isn’t through protein. Sad.
That said, I will use a caffeine-based product towards the end of a strict diet, but mainly to improve workout focus and curb appetite. I always follow it up with my version of a “detox,” which I’ll cover in a later post.
What I Do Use
Gut Stuff. Too many people ignore their guts, or go through life popping antacids like that’s somehow normal. (It’s not.)
If you suffer gut issues – frequent heartburn, crazy reactions to foods, more than occasional nausea — you need to get this addressed.
Start by having your doc rule out anything serious — they can at least refer you to a specialist who can. From there, work with other health professionals to figure just what the hell is wrong with you. This is an area where functional medicine docs or naturopaths can be very helpful.
Often it’s a food intolerance or full-blown allergy. Other times it’s something digestive enzymes can address. Regardless, understand this – if your gut is not healthy you will not make ideal progress in either building muscle or losing fat.
My gut is like iron. Haven’t used an antacid or thrown up in 10 years. But it wasn’t always this way – I used to have a very “delicate” stomach and even went through a two-year period where I just didn’t have an appetite and subsequently lost a lot of weight.
Getting tested and eliminating food intolerances helped resolve my issues, as well as consistent use of fiber and glutamine (yes, glutamine).
Today I still use a “maintenance” dose of glutamine and take a probiotic daily and supplemental fiber twice daily (psyllium, ground flax, fruit pectins, etc).
For women, I’d move fiber up into the essential category. Women who eat more fiber lose fat faster.
Sleep & Stress. Sleep is the most powerful anabolic “supplement” you have. Excess stress leads to lousy sleep and a host of other health problems, not to mention a piss-poor existence.
To improve my sleep, along with magnesium, I take an herbal sleep aid (a mix of l-theanine, GABA, etc) and extra melatonin. This goes with the important lifestyle interventions like sleep hygiene.
I’ve also started experimenting with adaptogens, specifically Relora and a blend of ginseng and ashwagandha. I will go deeper into these after my diet has wrapped, to see if they speed recovery.
Health. I pay close attention to all my health markers, put specifically cholesterol and prostate (flawed as the PSA test may be).
While I’m fairly well versed on the subject and have good doctor (well, doctors), I also frequently call on my doctor friends who lift (Jade Teta, Spencer Nadolsky) for additional support.
For cholesterol, along fish oil and fiber, I take curcumin (the Meriva-SR form from Thorne) and niacin. Plus I try to include green tea, olive oil, cocoa, and eat a low(er) saturated fat diet as much as possible. Things like red yeast rice (combined with CoQ10) and Bergamot are also on my radar.
While my prostate is fine, I am near “that age” so along with zinc, I take resveratrol for its antioxidant and anti-estrogenic qualities. I alternate this with a “prostate protection” blend with lycopene, saw pawmetto, etc.
Or I may take low doses of all the above? I’ve read that a low-dose, broad-spectrum approach may be more effective.
One thing is for certain, I would never use a 5-alpha reductase inhibitor like finasteride (Proscar, Propecia). Women like bald guys anyway.
Workout Nutrition. People really overthink this. And overpay.
Pre-workout I use caffeine, at least when dieting or training for strength. When training for hypertrophy I prefer to ditch caffeine and use a vasodilator with arginine, citrulline malate, beta-alanine, and agmatine.
I do try to “detox” from caffeine once a year, even from coffee. A great substitute to wake up the brain is acetyl l-carnitine combined with alpha-GPC. Just don’t expect a CNS “snap” like you just chased an ephedrine sandwich with two Red Bulls.
For workout nutrition, I use BCAA’s. Layne Norton is an expert on the subject and says he notices about a 5% benefit from taking BCAA’s.
For me, I’d say it’s more significant, especially when dieting. But if you’re in a calorie surplus and “sandwich” your workout with protein and carbs, they’re not necessary.
After I lift, despite all the post-workout timing drama, I simply “feel” better when I drink protein immediately after a training session. For convenience, I take glutamine and creatine here as well as a powdered green supplement.
If I’m “gaining” I would consider a quality carbohydrate supplement mid-workout. But as a rule I prefer to eat my carbs.
That’s a Wrap
It probably seems like a lot of powders and pills to take. I don’t disagree.
Just remember the hierarchy – supplement considerations come after healthy nutrition habits are established and practiced to 90% consistency.
After that, any choices made should reinforce sound nutrition before attempting to address more “condition specific” wants & needs.
If you need help with your own plan please contact me. I can help you put all this together.
If you’d like to educate yourself further (and you should) I strongly consider subscribing to ERD, the follow up product from the guys at Examine.com. It’s simply a wealth of information.
In short, eat great food, drink clean water, rest like a baby, train like a machine, minimize stress, don’t sweat the small stuff, and make sex, laughter, and fun top priorities.