When it comes to diet supplements the fitness industry is full of outlandish marketing and imagery about the benefits you’ll get from taking different pills or protein powder. You’d be lucky to see an advert for a protein shake without it showing a totally pumped guy and various claims about the unique and transformational additives they contain.

The reality is that you don’t NEED any of it. Supplements are not a magic solution or replacement for a clean diet, proper food and regular training. What they can be is something extra to either help you hit your daily nutrition targets or give you an extra boost.

Real food = real gains

It’s all to easy to think that by taking some magic pills you will somehow transform your body. Not going to happen. There is no substitute for real food to fuel your body and help your muscles recover. Having a great physique is about changing your lifestyle and saying goodbye to quick fixes because they will not be sustainable. No matter what the claims are on the container, real food is best possible thing that you can put in your body. You need to be doing 6 meals a day at regular intervals to provide your body with a continuous stream of nutrients that it can use to build and repair.

It’s also worth pointing out that there is relatively little regulation around these dietary supplements and many of the promises that they make on the packaging haven’t been scientifically proven. It’s therefore important that you go with a top brand so that you can be sure you are getting high quality ingredients.

The ‘classic’ supplements

These are essentially the ‘pure’ supplements which have little or no added ingredients and are regularly taken by loads of people who are serious about building a great physique. I’ve tried all of them with varying degrees of success and later I’ll talk about which are worth adding to your regime. They include things like:

  • Whey protein powder
  • Amino acids (BCAAs)
  • Creatine
  • CLAs
  • L Carnitine
  • Beta-Alanine

The ‘cocktail’ supplements

There are also a load of ‘cocktail’ supplements which include lots of different ingredients. These are usually marketed with the idea of achieving particular goals and include some pretty crazy brand names like NO XPLODE, Rage, Nitrix, C4 Extreme and Mutant Pump. You get the idea! You’ll find these under categories like:

  • Pre-workout
  • Intra-workout
  • Post-workout
  • Fat burners
  • Weight loss pills
  • ZMA

So which supplements should you take, why should you take them and where should you buy them from? Carry on reading my ultimate guide to supplements to find out more.

The Master List

This is my top list of diet supplements which you should consider adding to your programme. They’re good for either men or women.

Whey Protein

Protein is really the core ingredient for building lean muscle. As I said before, real food = real gains so the best possible source of protein is foods like lean meat, fish and eggs. You need to consumer roughly 2g of protein per kg of body weight if you want to build muscle or tone-up. So if you weight 80kg (12.6 stones) then you need to be having 6 meals a day with roughly 25-27 grams of protein per meal. 

The market is literally saturated with different brands so it can be hard to choose. If you are starting out then aim for something which is 100% whey protein. Don’t choose a powder that has lots of extras like sugar carbs as whilst it might taste a little better, it’s pretty counterproductive to be adding sugar to your body. Always check the label.

whey-nutri-facts

Always check the label! Too much sugary carbs is bad for your body fat percentage

When should you take whey protein? Straight after a workout is the best time. Your body is depleted from the exercise, your blood is pumping faster and if you’ve been doing weights then your muscle fibres will be torn. Thats the perfect time to have a shake to help provide the building blocks to rebuild your muscles. I also find first thing in the morning or last thing at night is also a good time to have a quick shake so that I hit my daily protein intake. At night your body is resting and by having a shake before you go to sleep you’re then giving it some nutrients to process overnight.

Worth taking? Definitely.
Recommended product: A good start would be the ‘gold standard’ of Optimum Nutrition or for a cheaper option go for Bulk Powders.

Amino Acids / BCAAs

Branched Chain Amino Acids come in tablet or powder form and are often an extra ingredient included in protein shakes. They are essential amino acids which are found in your muscles and are basically the building blocks for muscle growth and are generally viewed as helping to aid muscle repair and recovery. That said, they occur naturally in foods containing protein like meat and eggs so you don’t really have to take them as an extra.

Worth taking? Probably worthwhile.
Recommended product: Optimum Nutrition Superior Amino or the ‘budget’ option from Holland & Barrett is decent.

Creatine

Unlike some of the next supplements, creatine is one of the most well researched supplements around and there is a wealth of scientific research to show that it increases muscle performance and growth when used. It occurs naturally in the body and according to Examine.com it is proven to improve your power in high intensity workouts, therefore helping you to perform to a high level in the gym by lifting slightly heavier or getting that extra rep.

“Creatine improves power output and is often used by athletes to increase high-intensity exercise capacity and lean body mass. Creatine’s main action in the body is storing high-energy phosphate groups in the form of phosphocreatine. During periods of stress, phosphocreatine releases energy to aid cellular function. This is what causes strength increases after creatine supplementation, but this action can also aid the brain, bones, muscles and liver.”

So if you are just trying to lose weight and shift some body fat then Creatine isn’t right for you, particularly as it can increase water retention in the body a bit. However, if you are looking to tone and are doing strength training then you should definitely consider adding it to your regime.

How should you take it? Creatine tends to involve an initial loading phase of around 20-25g per day for the first 5 days at regularly intervals (it’s basically a tea spoon serving in water) and then one spoonful a day after that. Generally people tend to cycle on and off it by using if for 4 weeks and then stopping (which is what I do), although it has shown to be perfectly safe for continuous use.

Worth taking? Yes
Recommended product: There are literally loads of brands out there but some of the better ones include Reflex and USN.

Reflex Creatine

Creatine – proven to give you an extra boost!

CLAs

CLAs or Conjugated Linoleic Acid is generally promoted as a supplement which can help you to get leaner. The idea is that you take this capsules which basically look like cod liver oil and they will help to increase the body’s ability to burn fat. Most of the marketing for these products talks a lot about the various studies into its weight loss properties but stops short of actually promising any real results. Which is because the scientific research is very patchy and it has generally been shown to be ineffective in delivering benefits in humans. Whilst it might make a small difference, the reality is it probably won’t.

Worth taking? Getting this naturally through your diet will be fine so save your cash.
Recommended product: If you want to give CLAs a try then I’ve used PHD‘s range.

Bulk Powders Pre-workout

Pre-workout powders are designed to give you an energy boost in the gym

Pre-Workout

There’s a lot of marketing bullshit around pre-workout supplements and the massive performance boost they’ll give you in the gym through a combination of different ingredients. At the end of the day the main ‘active’ ingredient they contain is caffeine and thats what gives you the big energy boost, along with the ‘placebo effect’ where you THINK it’s making you stronger! However they do contain a load of other good stuff like BCAAs which can kind of justify the increased cost. Personally I tend to take a pre-workout shake 15-30 minutes before a workout to give it time to take effect.

Worth taking? Yes, or have a large coffee and save your cash.
Recommended product: Optimum Nutrition’s PRE or Bulk Powders also do a cheaper alternative which I’ve found is decent.

Other Supplements

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Fat burners…mostly marketing bollocks!

Fat Burners

There are a whole bunch of products like PHD’s Lean Degree or Grenade which promise ‘weight management’ solutions that can help you to get lean. Bottom line – there is no easy solution and this stuff is pretty much a waste of money. If you look at the ingredients you’ll find that these are basically a combination of green tea extract, caffeine and things like Cayenne pepper. Stuff which is all said to help speed up you metabolism but you probably don’t spend an extra £30 for the branding when you could just get those supplements as part of your normal diet.

Worth taking? Definitely not

L-Carnitine

Similar to CLAs, L-Carnitine is also often cited as another form of fat burner and tends to be included in some protein shakes and other pre or post-workout supplements. It’s an amino acid which is naturally produced in the body anyway and helps to convert fat to energy. However unless you have a genetic deficiency then there is no reliable scientific evidence to suggest that it would help burn fat in a normal person above what they would be achieving through exercise.

Worth taking? No, save your cash.
Recommended product: Holland & Barratt’s product doesn’t taste too bad and is basically the same as a more expensive Met-RX version.

Beta-Alanine

Beta-alanine in another amino acid which has been shown to enhance muscular endurance by raising carnosine levels. Many people report being able to perform one or two additional reps in the gym when training in sets of 8-15 repetitions. It can also help to improve moderate to high intensity cardio exercise. It’s usually contained in pre-workout supplements so take it as part of your pre-workout shake.

ZMA

This is kind of a fancy title for Zinc, Magnesium and Vitamin B. It’s most often used as a recovery aid and can help to aid better sleep but Zinc also has a role in testosterone production. Zinc tends to be one of the minerals that we are most often deficient in and you also lose key minerals through sweat when you work out. It’s often overlooked as a supplement but could be worth considering, particularly if you have any trouble sleeping.

Worth taking? Yes
Recommended product: Try this great value option from myvitamins