If I had to make a call on it, there probably isn’t a more hotly-contested subject in the fitness universe than supplementation. On one side of the equation you have the supplement industry, making their money by being full of shiny, glossy, and airbrushed marketing campaigns that claim that if you aren’t taking thousands of dollars worth of supplements on the monthly then you’re doomed to never making progress. On the other side of the coin you’ve got the purely natural guys who think that you need to live off of live organic chickens and tree bark or else you’re polluting your body. As usual, when it comes to basic supplements, the answer is somewhere in the middle.
What supplements are NOT going to do for you
Let’s get this out of the way right off the bat. There isn’t a supplement out there, including illegal drugs, that will literally wave the magic wand for you and give you the body of your dreams without any effort.
Despite what the magazines tell you, unless you have some very profound goals or needs, you can reach your goals without supplementation.
What supplements should do for you
In my years of training both myself and what must be awfully close to a thousand clients I have tried both ends of the spectrum, from a pretty good-sized supplement load to no supplements at all. That experience has taught me that proper supplementation can definitely help the process along, but it isn’t going to be an “easy button” to your goals.
What a good supplement program can do for you is pretty profound, though.
-You can speed up progress by providing your body with what it needs, when it needs it, and providing subtle nudges in the direction you want to go.
-You can increase health and longevity by filling in the gaps in your (and most people’s) modern nutrition programs.
-You can increase your capacity to allow you to heal faster, recover from training better, and have stronger workouts.
-You can save yourself time and frustration by having quick, easily-accessible nutrition available to you when you want or need it even if you’re without a kitchen or restaurant.
Be careful of where you get your supplements
Look, the supplement industry has a bad reputation for being full of snake oil salesmen, liars, cheats, and everything else. The hard thing? A lot of that is well-deserved. There are a lot of companies out there that will sell a product that doesn’t do squat for you (*cough* deer antler velvet, anyone?) while making outrageous claims. There are a lot of others who will sell a legitimate product… on the label, but if it’s ever tested it has only a fraction of the real stuff in it.
So when it comes to supplement companies, I recommend that you shop around a bit to find a good brand that checks out well, has their stuff tested, and bearing in mind that cheaper is probably not better when it comes to this stuff. Not that you need to pay an arm and a leg, but the bargain basement brands tend to be full of junk. Some generally trusted brands are Optimum Nutrition, Now Foods, and the company who we affiliate ourselves with at Relentless: 1stPhorm.
A note on 1stPhorm: It took a long time for me to find a supplement company that I trusted enough and felt that shared my values of the customer first to the point that I would recommend them to my personal clients, as well as use them myself, and 1stPhorm is it.
Supplements 101: The Basics Most People Should Take For Health and Performance
The Convenient Building Block – A quality Protein Supplement:
Almost without fail, when a new client signs up for our nutrition program I find out that they aren’t eating an optimal amount of protein to fuel a high-performance, lean-body lifestyle. Moderate to high protein intake will help lead to less body fat, more muscle mass, and an easier time sticking to a good nutrition plan as a result of a higher sense of satiety.
You don’t need to go overboard with the protein and you can certainly get it all from meat, eggs, nuts, and seeds, which is what I recommend as the first option. However, in order to get enough quality protein many people don’t feel like eating that much (the satiety thing) or it’s inconvenient in the real world to carry around a cooler of food with you everywhere. It’s hard to stay professional when you’ve got your Coleman cooler stuffed with cold, bland, and chewy chicken breasts riding along beside you. That, and a quality protein supplement usually is pretty tasty, so if you’re looking for a little break from the rest of your meals it can add some welcome flavor to your day.
The Insurance Policy – Multi-vitamin/Mineral and/OR a Greens Drink.
Look, we all know we should be eating at least ten servings per day of a wide variety of brightly colored fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds to fulfill our vitamin and mineral needs. I know it. You know it. Everyone knows it. I recommend that’s what you do.
BUT… I’d be lying to you if I said I did it myself day in, day out. Like you, I’m busy, and when you’re on the run it’s often hard to get quantity, quality, AND variety of fruits and veggies that you need to stay healthy.
Eating a quality, micronutrient-rich diet is one of the single best things you can do for your health, though. The consequences of being chronically low in various vitamins and minerals? Not limited to, but including poor recovery from training, low concentration and short-term memory, chronic fatigue, premature aging, reduced sexual function, and hindered performance.
A good quality vitamin and mineral supplement and/or a greens powder can go a long way to provide you with a baseline of the micronutrients your body needs. I call it an “insurance policy”. This isn’t an excuse not to eat right, but it definitely helps fill in the gaps.
Putting Back What’s Missing – Fish Oil/Omega-3 Supplement:
Once upon a time, most meat that we ate was wild and/or grass fed in its (relatively) natural environment. From this diet the animals in question create a variety of fats that we, in turn, consume and use for our own development, energy, and health. One of the biggies is a anti-inflammatory family of fats called the Omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega-3’s are important for your overall cell health (they’re a big part of the cell membrane), which translates to things like improved metabolism, cardiovascular health, less risk of diabetes, better brain function, and vision protection. In the diet, they should be basically balanced out to the tune of 1:4 or 1:2 with the more common Omega-6 fats, which are found in a wide variety of plant substances.
Here’s the rub: Today, most of our meat is fed almost entirely grain (or even worse things) and one of the side effects of that diet is that it produces very little Omega-3’s. Combine less dietary Omega-3’s with meat with food companies cramming more Omega-6’s (which tend to be more shelf-stable) into packaged foods and you’re set up for a ratio that might be more like 1:10 or 1:20. This creates all kinds of metabolic disorder that can result in less muscle, more fat, inflammation of the joints, and a variety of other cascading effects.
The solution? Eating more wild or grass-fed meats, limiting your commercialized seed oils, and some supplementation with a quality Omega-3 supplement. If you’re big into the wild or grass-fed meats and wild-caught fish then I wouldn’t worry about it, but most people aren’t, so add in a few caps to your daily nutrition.
The Performance Booster – Creatine:
This is the only “non-food” supplement that I suggest almost across the board for all of my clients. Over the last twenty or thirty years no supplement has been under more scrutiny than creatine monohydrate (which is a substance your body makes or acquires from red meat), to the tune of tens of thousands of studies. They overwhelmingly come back that it is a safe and effective dietary aid for improving explosive power, which is how it’s marketed.
There’s been a lot of research in the past few years pointing to substantially-improved neurological function from creatine, as well. The benefits have reached the point where there are suggestions to give creatine to those suffering from dementia or other nervous system wasting diseases for prevention or helping them improve.
Regardless of your reasons for taking it, it’s cheap, safe, and it works. For most people a simple 3-5g per day, mixed in the drink of your choice with a meal, will go a long way to boosting your power, increasing your fat-free mass, and possibly some good brain effects. That sounds like something I can get around.
At Relentless we focus on blending science WITH savage and that means not throwing the baby out with the bathwater when it comes to the supplement business. If you’re going to train hard and live a high-performance lifestyle, then some supplementation can make that easier and more effective, but it is certainly not required. As the great Bruce Lee said: “Take what is useful, discard what is not”.
If you’re looking for more real talk on training, nutrition, mindset, and how to maximize your high-performance lifestyle, then sign up on the right and I’ll hit your inbox!