Supplements: what's really worth it

Supplements: what's really worth it

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Supplements are exactly that: supplemental. They will never be able to replicate the results of diet and exercise on their own. But once a consistent, healthy routine is in place, supplements can give you a helpful boost and make your body that much more capable of reaching your goals. The changes aren’t massive, but the small adaptations born over time through consistency can be so worth it.

Let’s start with one of the most backed-by-science, researched and proven supplements out there: creatine. Creatine was a word I used to associate with masculinity and looking bulky. It was also a word I heard in female circles; rumors about it causing excess water weight. Both of which turned out to be untrue.

Creatine is a substance found in the muscle cells that works much like an amino acid according to Healthline. It helps the muscles produce energy during your workouts by increasing the amount of phosphocreatine stored in the muscle cells. This process has been shown to increase muscle size and strength over time. By supplementing creatine, you are aiding in this process and making sure that the substance is constantly being stored in the body, thus contributing to your chances of putting on real muscle mass. The whole water weight frenzy came about because creatine pulls water into the muscles and gives your cells higher liquid volume, which visually makes you looked more jacked in the gym. It doesn’t sound like a negative thing, but the whole idea of water retention has taken on a life of its own in the online community. Behind all the rumors, the truth is, creatine not only is your muscles’ secret weapon when it comes to growth, but it also reduces protein breakdown, helps you push harder and longer during physical activity, raises anabolic hormones, aids in recovery and muscle regeneration when you rest, and keeps you hydrated.

Of all the creatine variations on store shelves, creatine monohydrate is your best bet. The dosage doesn’t vary much for men and women, 3 to 5 grams for women and 4 to 8 grams for men. Creatine loading is also an option to kick things off. Creatine loading means you are oversaturating your muscles for the first 5 to 7 days by taking 5 grams 4 times a day for a total of 20 grams, according to Men’s Health. Once creatine stores are elevated in the body, you can go back to a regular dose and maintain those stores. This process has shown significant results in muscle gain, but it’s not for everyone.

Branch chain amino acids or BCAA’s are a supplement made up of three components: leucine, isoleucine and valine, according to Healthline. It’s considered an essential supplement because your body can’t produce it naturally. They are your body’s building blocks when it comes to muscle and athletic performance, but they can also serve an important purpose during weight loss. BCAA’s help you retain muscle when you are in a caloric deficit. Usually when you are burning off more than you are taking in, there is a risk of muscle being broken down along with fat and you can lose months of hard work. But BCAA’s extend the period of protein synthesis after your workout so that your muscles don’t lose mass just because you’re dieting. You can get BCAA’s in many whey protein supplements, but there are benefits to purchasing free form BCAA’s instead. When consumed separately, BCAA’s require no digestion and rush into the bloodstream, allowing the supplement to get to work faster. The best time to take this super supplement is around your workout; before, during and after all show positive results. There’s really no capped number when it comes to dosage of BCAA’s because it can provide benefits 24/7 and there’s not a downside for taking too much. If you had plenty of money to invest, you could drink them all day. A ballpark of 12 grams a day for women and 20 grams for men is a good place to start.

L-glutamine is also an amino acid that works much like BCAA’s. It fuels protein synthesis and works hand in hand with all things muscle, but it does have its own unique benefits. L-glutamine is a great supplement for muscle recovery and soreness. A solid workout in the gym feels great until you wake up the next morning not being able to walk. L-glutamine counteracts the harsh effects of stress on the body by sending nitrogen atoms wherever you need them, according to LiveStrong. Nitrogen atoms kick start the repair of damaged tissues and bolster your immune system. L-glutamine is already thrown into a lot of whey protein powders and doesn’t necessarily have to be consumed on its own. 5 to 10 grams of L-glutamine is usually recommended, maybe 15 for bodybuilders or powerlifters.

For me, a preworkout supplement is more of mental necessity than a physical one. Preworkout is a stimulus powder packed full of caffeine and your choice of other supplements for the singular purpose of pumping you up for the gym. You take it 30 to 45 minutes before your workout and by the time you walk through the door, you’re amped and full of energy. Depending on your goals, preworkout can consist of beta-alanine, leucine, BCAA’s, citrulline, arginine, l-carnitine, the list goes on. The caffeine also varies substantially from no more than your average cup of coffee to a level equal with a human energizer bunny. All of these ingredients increase blood flow to the muscles and help you achieve a higher intensity level. If you are sensitive to the tingly fingers, antsy feeling, maybe avoid beta-alanine. Beta-alanine causes what’s called acute paresthesia, a pins and needles kind of affect from your nervous system, according to Health Trends. Some live for the hype, some don’t; it’s all personal preference.

Even adults have trouble eating their veggies, that’s where a super greens supplement comes in. Super greens are a powder supplement that can help you reach your daily fruit and vegetable intake when you’re not a big fan of eating them. While they don’t replace the raw nutrition of actual fruits and veggies, they can be a great addition to a lacking diet and give you a natural source of energy throughout the day. They also contain healthy fiber, minerals and vitamins that make your immune system even stronger. But not all super green supplements are created equal. Make sure you actually check the nutrition label to see how much of each ingredient is in there and that it meets your daily intake recommendations. When it comes to greens supplements, quality isn’t always consistent and you tend to get what you pay for. A good rule of thumb: the greener in color, the better.

Last but certainly not least is protein powder. Protein is the key component of any physical transformation and you want to make sure you’re getting enough. Without adequate protein, your body can’t form new muscle or maintain the muscle you already have, so all your time in the gym is wasted. There are plenty of natural sources of protein in your everyday diet, from meat, nuts, eggs, etc. But if you’re having a hard time hitting the 1 gram per pound of bodyweight recommendation, a protein powder can come in handy. Protein powder is also beneficial over actual food post-workout because the supplement is quickly digested and rushes to the muscles when they are in a state of breakdown. There are a few different types of protein supplements you can try, from whey and casein to a wide array of vegan/vegetarian options like pea and hemp protein. Whey protein is probably the most common and most readily digested. Casein powder helps with putting on weight, digests much slower and can go a little easier on your digestive system if you have any kind of sensitivity. Much like greens powder, the ingredients are never quite the same from brand to brand. Keep an eye on the extra carbs, fats, vitamins, and other supplements included in the powder before you purchase.

There are no shortcuts to your dream body, it’s all about consistent exercise and diet choices. If you want to try supplements in the hopes that it will replace a healthy routine and give you the same results, you may as well save your money. But if you’re ready to dedicate your effort and focus to all the aspects of being a fit individual, supplements can be that little push you’re looking for. So do your research, try things out, and notice the small improvements over time.


Take it from me

I was scared of creatine for the longest time because I thought it would make me look manly, but after reading all the research behind it, I had to give it a try. I chose to load it my first week to get the maximum benefits and I definitely noticed a change. My muscles looked more full at the gym and that was a huge motivator.

The way I use preworkout has evolved overtime. I used to rely on it every single day just to get me to the gym, but once I fell in love with the process, I didn’t really need it anymore. I’m also sensitive to caffeine and it started to affect my sleep during the work week, so I cut back. I still save it for the weekends because the pump is a nice feeling every now and then. 250-300 grams of caffeine is about my limit and it tends to hit me way before the 45 minute mark.

I love BCAA’s. I toss them in a shaker with my creatine and sip on it while I workout. I go through phases of weight gain and weight loss in my journey, and this supplement makes sure that I don’t lose any muscle in the process. They’re also great for a sweet tooth when you buy a tasty flavor.

Greens on the other hand will hardly ever have a tasty flavor, but I choke them down every morning to start the day. Even though there are certain veggies that I absolutely love, I never feel like I’m getting quite enough so it’s a nice little safeguard to make sure my body is getting what it needs. My little trick for taste is to buy super greens with a substantial amount of fruit in them to outweigh the strong leafy taste.

Protein is the most important supplement on my shelf. I’m definitely not a natural carnivore and struggle to get enough of this vital macronutrient. But now, I genuinely look forward to my protein shake every day after the gym. I like vanilla flavors because you can mix it with just about anything; fruit, peanut butter, yogurt, whatever you like. It’s also great to throw into oatmeal and pancake mix. When I go shopping, I look for at least 25-30 grams of protein per scoop, low carb, with L-glutamine already added. I try to avoid fat burners in my ingredients and focus on vitamins.

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