Top 5 Supplements You Should Be Taking

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Let’s just face it – supplements aren’t going anywhere. It’s big business nowadays with gas stations and discount stores carrying a wide array of pills and powders. Even celebrity fitness gurus have sugar-laden protein bars that are fighting for space on the grocery shelves. Oftentimes supplementation is glazed over as completely bad or the next big thing: you either need every single pill ever made or you should skip over them completely. Mention to your doctor that you’re taking CLA and she’ll convince you that the sky is falling. Explain to a functional medicine doctor that all you take is fish oil and they’ll take you on a field trip to your local health food store to add to your arsenal. How do you make sense of all this?

Here’s the thing: it’s not a matter of whether supplements are good or bad, but rather a question of should and would you take them. Your supplementation protocol should be based on your need for them; i.e., a deficiency in zinc would mean that you need to buy a high quality zinc supplement to help your immune system function properly, hence the should aspect. A client that gets adequate protein intake doesn’t need a weight gainer. Kind of see the picture? If you figure out why you need the supplements, you can then decide the “would you consider taking this” debacle. Leave the debating to the doctors and holistic yogis.

The supplements that we’re going to talk about are considered the crème of the crop. If we were to relate this to playing Monolopy (an awesome board game that my family refuses to play with me) – then let’s consider these supplements the equivalent of buying your very first property. Individual supplement needs are like trying to buy a hotel on the Boardwalk space.

So here we go: bookmark this page and call it your “Nutritional Supplements Survival Guide.” If you have a keen eye, you may notice a pattern with these supplements that I’ll let you in on at the end of this article.

1. Creatine

Creatine is found in your muscles – kind of think of it like a spark plug. It’s basically the first solider called up when you want to contract your muscle. So jumping for a rebound, striking a punching bag, or knocking out a heavy snatch all call on creatine as an energy source. Repeated bouts of high intensity exercise like sprinting will quickly gobble up this compound, forcing your body to quit or dramatically slow down.

But creatine does more than just supply your body with energy. It can help you get stronger, build muscle, and even shed some bodyfat. In an interesting study done with real bodybuilders, researchers had subjects either consume creatine prior to exercising or before and after a training session. What’s interesting is that both groups managed to improve markers of performance; however, the group that consumed creatine twice managed to build a little bit more muscle and lost a tad more bodyfat than the other group(1). The before and after group managed to put on 4.5 pounds of muscle in four weeks – which is pretty impressive for anyone, let along experienced bodybuilders. This goes to show just how powerful creatine can be.

But the results don’t stop there. Even the healthcare industry is starting to realize that creatine is beneficial to the body. Studies are being done on its effects on not just the muscles but many other systems of the body related to health and wellbeing. Get on the wagon now and grab yourself some creatine (all you need is around 20 dollars – look for creatine monohydrate as the only ingredient).

2. Fish Oil

One could argue that there isn’t a system in the body that doesn’t benefit from fish oil. Your nervous, reproductive, and hormonal system all reap the rewards. But it’s also a way to get stronger and leaner. In a study comparing fish oil to a placebo, the fish oil group managed to lose 22 pounds and reduce their waist lines in just 12 weeks (2). Keep in mind that these subjects took in around 4 grams of fish oil a day; some might consider that a moderate dose. In a similar study another group managed to lose several pounds of fat mass while actual gaining a pound of muscle (3).

Fish oil is usually the first supplement I put clients on. The reason for this is because fish oil is essential in repairing our cells. A healthy cell is crucial for nutrients to get in and out of. Damaged cells end up messing up your metabolism, so fish oil is so important, no client really ever stops taking it. Liquid fish oil works best, but I understand that the wallet might not appreciate it like your body will. You can get capsules for less but just consider that they’ll take longer to work.

There’s a reason doctors tell expectant mothers to start taking a prenatal vitamin ASAP. The omega-3 fats found in those vitamins are extremely important in the development of our brains and nervous system. Just because we’re no longer a toddler doesn’t mean that we don’t still need these fats. One of the main sources for omega-3 fatty acids is found in fish; however, eating a lot of fish day in and day out isn’t necessarily beneficial for our health. Therefore companies have bottled that precious fish oil into a nutritional supplement.

3. Magnesium

One important role for magnesium is that of helping with insulin sensitivity. Insulin is the CEO of transporting food into your tissues. If you have poor insulin sensitivity, things like carbohydrates could get stored as fat. If getting lean is your goal, then make sure to check and see if you’re deficient in magnesium.

It’s role doesn’t stop just with helping you shed some bodyfat. Magnesium is important to heart health as well. A meta-analysis concluded that 200 mg of magnesium can help reduce ischemic heart disease by 20% and coronary vascular disease by 30% (4). Most experts believe that 500 mg of magnesium a day is a good intake. While it’s nice see your abs, it’s also good to know that your ticker is still working well.

Magnesium is a mineral that’s pretty much found in every tissue in the body. Your muscles, bones, and teeth all contain magnesium, and it has a hand in over 300 different processes in the body. Thanks to modern day farming practices the foods we eat don’t contain the magnesium that they used to, hence the potential need for supplementation. Most of us may be deficient in it and as a result, those 300 different processes in the body could suffer.

4. Whey Protein

After you workout, there’s this thing called muscle protein synthesis (MPS). This is your muscle’s ability to repair itself and hopefully build new muscle that will get you looking good naked. MPS doesn’t occur if you workout and skip a meal, but it will work to some extent if you eat something heavy in protein like eggs or beef. However, it happens exponentially when you ingest whey protein (5). As stated earlier, this is based on whey’s ability to repair muscle along with your body being able to absorb it so fast. That time after your workout is often referred to as the metabolic window, as you’re better able to absorb more nutrients. You can also eat a bit more than normal. This window is so powerful that subjects who ate immediately after a training session had greater increases in muscle mass and strength than those who didn’t eat (6).

So it would be wise to organize your daily menu so that you have a liquid meal after your training session. Opt for a whey protein powder with few ingredients and no concentrates included (preferably containing no soy protein). Buy the whey and enjoy the gains.

There’s really no way around it – protein powder needs to be in your fitness toolbox. I still run into the occasional client who is reluctant to use a protein supplement, but here’s the thing: when you put your body through a hard training session, you’ve pretty much altered your body’s internal environment. Therefore you need something that’s fast absorbing and quick to do it’s job, and no other protein is as beneficial after a workout than whey protein.

5. BCAA’s

If whey protein is the king of post workout meals, then BCAA’s take the cake for what to consume during a workout. BCAA stands for branched chain amino acids. An amino acid is simply a building block of proteins; gather up a bunch of them and you have a muscle. As we exercise, our bodies start to tear down muscles and release these amino acids into the bloodstream. Three of these amino acids are referred to as the BCAA – and they’re essential to building muscle and fighting off fatigue.

People tend to forget that we don’t actually get in shape during an exercise bout. BCAA’s help set the body up to build muscle after the exercise session is over. They can also help fight off fatigue. If these BCAA’s start messing around in your bloodstream, things can reach your brain, which will then in turn start telling your muscles that they’re tired.

Researchers put BCAA’s to the test. Comparing a BCAA and creatine drink to a placebo, subjects participated in a three week interval program. The subjects that consumed the amino acid drink managed to do more work, fight off fatigue during the interval, and lost more body fat than the placebo group (7).

The actual branch chained amino acids are leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Simply find a supplement that contains these amino acids in powder form. Make sure that nothing else is included. You can buy an unflavored powder and mix it with some water for your training session.

In Summary

You shouldn’t live off of nutritional supplements – and they also better not break your bank account. There are really good supplements (think creatine) and some not so good ones (fat burner 9000’s for example). The point being is that you take supplements based off of a nutritional deficiency. With that being said, you can’t go wrong with five basic supplements that address most of your needs. Whey protein, creatine, and the BCAA’s all handle the performance side of your needs while magneiusm and fish oil will address your hormonal and cardiovascular issues. Just because supplementation is big business doesn’t mean that you can’t sift through the nonsense and learn how to cash in on your fitness.



1. Antonio, Jose. Ciccone, Victora. “The Effects of Pre Versus Post Workout Supplementation of Creatine Monohydrate on Body Composition and Strength.” (2013) Journal of International Society of Sports Nutrition. 10:1: 36

2. Krebs, J.D., Browning, L.M., McLean, N.K., Rothwell, J..L, et al. “Additive Benefits of Long Chain n-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids and Weight Losee in the Management of Cardiovascular Disease Risk in Overweight Hyperinsulinaemic Women.”(2006) International Journal of Obesity 30; 1535- 1544.

3. Noreen, E.E., Sass, M.J., Crowe, M.L., et al. “Effects of Supplemental Fish Oil on Resting Metabolic Rate, Body Composition, and Salivary Cortisol in Healthy Adults.” (2010) Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. (7):31

4. Del Gobbo, L.C., Imamura, F., Wu Hy, J., et al. “Circulating and Dietary Magnesium and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease: a Systematic Review of Meta-Analysis of Prospective Studies.”(2013) The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.. Published ahead of print

5. Churchward-Venne, T.A., Burd, N.A., et al. “Nutritional Regulation of Muscle Protein Syntheis with Resistance Exercise: Strategies to Enhance Anabolism.” (2012) Nutrition and Metabolism 9:40

6. Cribb, Paul J. Hayes, Alan. “Effects of Supplement Timing and Resistance Exercise on Skeletal Muscle Hypertrophy.”(2006) Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise..38’11: 1918-1925

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