Of all the factors contributing to progress, supplements have markedly less impact than a proper training regimen, sleep, or diet. They are by no means mandatory. Furthermore, you should be aware of the vested commercial interest in parting you from your hard-earned paychecks under false promises of faster results.
However, I tend to cook extremely simply, and eat mostly the same meals in various combinations. Many fitness-oriented individuals also have similar habits — eating countless meals of rice, chicken, broccoli, etc. Properly used, supplements can protect against potential long-term deficiencies from homogeneous diets.
Furthermore, various supplements may help in the pursuit of fat loss, muscle growth, hormone balance, or just to make your life easier. The following list contains supplements that I would personally recommend, but they are no replacement for a well-rounded diet.
Sidenote, take your supplements with the first meal of the day.
- Calcium – Supplemental calcium is beneficial for increased fat losssource, and increased testosterone productionsource. In my opinion, calcium is one of the most underrated supplements in the fitness community.
- My recommendation: Take one calcium pill per day, ideally with a meal. Supplemented calcium is especially helpful if you don’t consume much dairy or leafy greens daily.
- Vitamin D – The second-most underrated supplement. Western populations are especially deficient in Vitamin D, since they are often confined to working indoors during peak sunlight hours. Emerging evidence repeatedly finds that Vitamin D is crucial for overall health & disease-preventionsource, along with optimal strength and athletic performancessource.
- My recommendation: 4000IU/day during winter, 2000IU/day during summer time. I’ve always taken 1-2 pills of NatureMade Vitamin D3, depending on the season. I’ve also found that supplementing with Vitamin D also helps to minimize acne.
- Branched Chain Amino Acid (BCAA) – On this site, I encourage fasted training. If you train on an empty stomach, take 10 grams before fasted training (roughly 2 teaspoons). BCAA is consumed to avoid muscle breakdown from fasted training & to increase p70s6 kinase phosphorylation, leading to increased rates of muscle growth.(source)
- My recommendation: Take 2 teaspoons of this BCAA before you workout (lifting or cardio). Don’t bother with pills/capsules, powdered BCAA is the easier and cheaper option. Fair warning, it’s going to taste terrible, so don’t mix it with water. Put it near the back of your tongue with the teaspoon, and quickly wash it down with a glass of water.
- Creatine – While I wouldn’t say creatine is “underrated”, it’s one of the most effective supplements to just about anyone looking to gain muscle. It’s one of the few legal (and safe) supplements with a plethora of research supporting it’s effectivenesssource. Creatine is miles ahead of the competition through it’s observed effects on encouraging satellite cell growth, direct performance enhancement through higher muscle creatine levels, and increased growth factor-1 signaling. Keep it simple and go with basic micronized powder, no need for anything fancy.
- My recommendation: I take one teaspoon (5g) of this micronized creatine daily. Make sure to up your water intake if you begin supplementing with creatine. I see a lot of broscience malarky on the internet about making sure it’s fully dissolved, warm vs cold water, and a bunch of other sillyness. It’s all ridiculous, just get it to your stomach (doesn’t need to be dissolved in anything) and you’ll be fine.
- Whey/Casein Protein: A needless expense. Furthermore, consuming additional protein/calories in a powdered shake is counter-productive to an attractive physique, I’ve written more about the subject here.
- Fat Burning Pills/Powders: Along with being a waste of money, if they do work, they are essentially just stimulants. I would not recommend these at all, they make it difficult to fall asleep, and it’s unwise to rely on a crutch like a magic powder for your fat loss. A cup of coffee in the morning (or a few, if you’re my father) should be all you need.
- Fiber: Eat your vegetables! It doesn’t really matter which ones; just find some that you like (corn/potatoes do not count) so that you actually keep it up. Supplemental fiber is no substitute for the real thing.
- Acai Berry Extract/Whatever Fad Is Popular This Month: The world is filled with scam artists willing to take your money if you let them. Practice some skepticism, the supplement industry is a breeding ground of grifters and pseudo-scientists.
I hope you find the list helpful. If you have any questions, I’ll be available to answer them in the comments below.