I get a lot of questions sent in by readers. Most require more than a quick response. I’ve decided to start posting these questions on my blog with detailed answers. If you’d like a question answered, message me on Facebook or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ask Josh: Is there any real benefit of using protein powder and stuff like that? – Daylen
The most important thing to note is that a supplement is meant to supplement your diet. You’re much better off spending your money on whole foods first, and then adding a couple of targeted supplements if necessary.
When considering recommending a supplement to one of my clients, I always start with a Supplement Needs Analysis. I recommend that you do the same for yourself.
You’ll need to ask yourself four important questions:
- What are the chances that I am deficient in the essential nutrients that I am considering supplementing?
- What system of the body do I hope to target with this supplement?
- Do I need to target that system?
- Is there peer-reviewed research that demonstrates that this product does what manufacturers claim it does and is safe?
Let’s use Jack as an example (Jack is a figment of my imagination.) Jack is a college football player who trains 5 days a week. His training goals are to add lean mass, to get stronger, and to get faster. He is considering using creatine monohydrate.
Let’s start with a little information on creatine. Creatine is produced in the body from the amino acids arginine, glycine, and methionine. It is produced naturally by the body in the amount of about 1-2 grams per day. It can also be obtained from red meat and supplementation.
First Question: What are the chances that Jack is deficient in Creatine Monohydrate?
A standard diet contains about 1g of creatine per day. Research demonstrates that the greatest benefit occurs with about 3-5 grams per day. While deficient isn’t the greatest term, Jack will reap benefits from increasing his intake of creatine.
Next Questions: What system of the body do I hope to target with this supplement? Do I need to target that system?
When performing short, less than 10 seconds, explosive bouts of movement – sprints, heavy lifting, and the average football play- the body relies on the ATP-PC system.
ATP, Adenosine Triphosphate, is the energy currency of the body. When the body needs energy to perform a muscular contraction, it gets the energy by breaking one of the phosphates away from ATP. This leaves us with Adenosine Diphosphate (ADP) + Phosphate + Energy. This energy is used for the muscular contraction.
In order to make new potential energy in the form of ATP, the ADP has to make a chemical bond with a free phosphate. This is where creatine phosphate comes into play. It can quickly donate its phosphate group to ADP and allow you to hit those extra two reps on your set. This allows the body to create more muscular damage and greater neural adaption. This causes the muscle to get bigger and stronger.
To answer the question, Jack will be targeting the ATP-PC system. He doesn’t need to target it, but he will receive great benefit.
Last Question: Is there peer-reviewed research that demonstrates that this product does what manufacturers claim it does and is safe?
Creatine is the most widely studied supplement. It would be incredibly difficult to review all the studies. Thankfully, one paper indexed in Pub Med reviews over 500 studies on creatine. In the 300 of these studies that test training influence, about 70% showed statistically significant benefit. Safety reviews find creatine to be safe for the vast majority of individuals.
In these studies, creatine supplementation was shown to increase improve maximal power/strength (5-15%), work performed during sets of maximal effort muscle contractions (5-15%), single-effort sprint performance (1-5%), and work performed during repetitive sprint performance (5-15%.)
What other supplements do I recommend?
Be aware that the supplement industry is not regulated by the FDA. This means they can promise almost anything on their labels without adequate research to prove the benefits.
I’ve compiled a list of my Elite Eight Supplements. These are not the only ones that show benefit, but they’re the ones I’ve found most beneficial for a variety of goals.
My Elite Eight Supplement:
Protein – whey, egg, or hemp (or other plant based protein)
Equivalent Food – Any protein dense food, including meat, dairy, eggs, legumes.
Recommendations- Supplemental use should be inversely related to whole protein intake. If you eat a lot of whole food protein, supplement use should be infrequent.
I recommend this protein if you are concerned with flavor along with getting a quality product for a reasonable price. It does have a low level of artificial sweeteners but it is still a great protein.
I recommend this to anyone who is looking for an organic plant based protein with some extra fiber. This isn’t the best tasting protein – I would describe it as an earthy taste without any sweetness – but it is an extremely healthy option.
Fish Oil – Find one with high omega-3 content. Aim for at least 30% EPA and DHA.
Equivalent Food –High fat fish like salmon, anchovy, and sardines.
Recommendations – Be careful eating too much whole food fish due to high levels of environmental pollutants.
Take fish oil with meals. Typically recommended dose is 2-3 grams of fish oil per day.
This brand of fish oil has a very high potency of EPA and DHA.
This is the fish oil that I use. I add it to my morning protein shakes. It actually tastes great to eat by the spoonful.
Multivitamin – Use if your diet lacks an adequate amount of fruits and vegetables.
Equivalent Food – Varied diet
Recommendations – Most people should take a multivitamin everyday due to the common deficiencies in the average North American diet.
Take with meals on days where diet lacks variety of vitamins and minerals.
Optimum Nutrition is an all around solid nutrition company in my experience. The most important thing here is to find a supplement that is designed for you gender.
Creatine Monohydrate – Take 5 grams daily when in periods of high-intensity strength/power training.
Recommendations – Many brands will recommend higher doses for a loading phase. This is not necessary and is usually a tactic to get you use more of their product. It is not necessary.
When choosing a creatine, be sure that you are buying a product that is pure creatine monohydrate. There are many forms of creatine and most of them are not proven to be as effective as monohydrate. This product lasted me almost six months for just over $20.
Greens Supplement – Use in place of fruits and vegetable when a whole food option is unavailable.
Food Equivalent – Vegetables and fruits.
Aim for 10 servings of fruits and vegetables per day. If you consume this many servings, supplement use will be infrequent.
Protein + Carbohydrate Drink – Should contain a mixture of protein and carbs in a ratio of 1:2 to 1:3. Be sure to use easily digestible forms of carbohydrates and proteins.
Food Equivalent – Any protein and carbohydrate rich food.
Recommendations – Use doing high intensity training sessions when muscle size and strength increases are desire.
This is a great choice for someone who has a quality protein and wants to mix their own shakes to save money. There are plenty of workout drinks that are premade, but in my experience they are way overpriced and you're much better off mixing your own.
Branched Chain Amino Acids – Be sure to choose a BCAA drink that contains leucine, isoleucine, and valine.
Food equivalent – Protein rich foods.
Recommendations – Use during high intensity training sessions when fat loss and muscle/performance preservation is desired.
Green Tea Extract – Used to stimulate metabolism and increase fat loss.
Food equivalent- A shit ton of green tea.
Recommendations – Take 400mg of extract 1-2 times daily. Ensure the tea extract is high in EGCG.
Get Your Diet Right First
Like I said at the beginning of this post, supplements are meant to supplement your diet. If you're eating doritos and oreos at every meal, the most expensive supplement stack in the world is not going to be as good as eating a diet based around whole foods.
What does your supplement stack look like? Leave your answer and any questions in the comment box below.
If you have any questions about getting your diet in order or would like some help building healthy habits, I offer nutrition consulting services.