Do You Need Supplements?

 In Diet & Nutrition, Non-member

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Do You Need Supplements?

Ever overhear a conversation between a beginner and a seasoned vet in the weight room? If you

have, chances are one of the first questions the beginner asked was, “What supplements do you

take?” Maybe you’ve even been THAT guy asking the supplement question! Is it a valid one?

Sure. Is it one of the most important questions, one of the ones you should really focus on when

you’ve got a big, strong guy to talk shop with? No way! The thing is, supplements are just that –

they are meant to supplement your dietary intake of calories, macronutrients, and

micronutrients. If you could get everything you needed AND every little extra you could ever

want out of your food, then there would be no need for supplements. Therefore, you should first

look to optimize your diet for strength and size gains. Sure, you probably already know about

getting plenty of protein, healthy fats, and complex carbs, but you can certainly take extra steps

with your nutrition to ensure you’ve got all your bases covered.


Firstly, are you eating fruits and vegetables? A lot of bodybuilders ignore the produce aisle in

their quest to get big and lean, but these foods contain something that meats, grains, and most fat

sources are severely lacking: micronutrients! That is, vitamins, minerals, and all of those other

complex chemicals that keep your body working at peak condition. So, which ones should you

eat to get big and ripped? Frankly, I don’t know or care to learn all about the complex chemical

interactions between muscle cells and a tomato, carrot, or banana. However, I do know that

every bodybuilding and sports nutritionist worth his salt recommends eating a decent amount of

fruit and just about all of the fibrous, low-calorie vegetables you can get your hands on. In short,

if you’re not eating plenty of produce with every meal, quit being a tool and worrying about

which overpriced, overhyped “pre-workout” supplement is going to make the “big difference” in

your gains.


Second, are you timing your nutrients properly? When you eat certain foods matters just

as much as the food choices themselves! Carbs are of particular importance in this regard.

Although some genetically gifted folks can eat their grains and potatoes at any time of day and

not gain an ounce of fat, most of us have to be more selective. When are the best times to eat

carbs? The easiest answer for most people is before and after a hard training session. You need

some starches in your system just before you train with weights in order to fill your muscles

with glycogen. You need sugars and starches afterwards to replenish those glycogen stores,

temporarily raise insulin levels, and facilitate protein synthesis (muscle growth)! And as for

other times of the day, you should focus on healthy fats, vegetables (as always), and of course,

lean protein!


Last but not least, where exactly are you getting your daily protein? Are you eating a wide

variety of eggs, lean meat, fish, and poultry? Or are you chugging down one protein shake after

the other? Protein powders certainly have their place, especially post-workout. However, if

you’re too lazy or “can’t find the time” to cook some real food, don’t go out looking for gains

in a supplement bottle – it isn’t going to happen! Whole food sources of protein contain a

variety of fats, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that you simply will not get from protein

shakes, even those of high quality. You know that huge guy at your gym, the one squatting and

benching unfathomable weights and whose arms as big as your legs? He didn’t get that way by

avoiding the dairy aisle and the meat counter!


Now with all of that said, there may still be some of you wondering what the most important

supplements are. If you’re eating plenty of quality protein and produce, planning your nutrition

according to your workout times, AND still burning a hole in your pocket with some extra cash,

there are definitely a few products worth your while. I’m not going to cover protein powder

since we’ve gone over that before – it’s there to supplement your protein intake, and there’s

nothing magical about it.


One of the best supplements for muscle growth is branched chain amino acids, or BCAA. Time

and again, research has shown these three specific amino acids to be key in turning on the

muscle-building “switch” within your body. They are also invaluable for preserving muscle if

you’re in a dieting phase. However, they can get very expensive. There are a few companies

which make high-quality, great tasting BCAA products, but if you’re on a budget, you’d better

buy in bulk and take the flavoring into your own hands.


Another great supplement to try is creatine. Not some fancy creatine-containing supplement,

not some crazy creatine with a hard-to-pronounce name designed to trick newbies out of their

money, just plain creatine monohydrate. Time-tested over the last fifty or sixty years and dirt-

cheap to boot, creatine aids workout performance by helping your muscle cells to produce ATP.

ATP is essentially just cellular energy, so rapid production of it potentially means more reps with

a given weight. With such a fantastic muscle-building benefit and low price tag, you can hardly

afford NOT to give it a try.

One final supplement you might want to try is fish oil. This stuff is all the rage these days,

and for good reason. It’s been shown to reduce joint inflammation, prevent fat gain, facilitate

fat loss, and even boost brain function! The thing is, you’ve got to take a lot to notice much

difference, and the good stuff is kind of expensive. However, the Omega-3 fatty acids are what’s

really important here. If you can’t afford fish oil or if you want to avoid the nasty burps it can

give you, just focus on getting more Omega-3’s in your diet. Salmon is a great choice.


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