A question every person keen to build muscle through weight lifting asks is whether they need to take supplements. Are they missing out on progress if they choose to rely on diet and exercise alone? And if they need supplements, which should they choose?
Are diet and exercise enough?
Let’s break it down. Diet and exercise without supplements are generally not enough to make real progress. It doesn’t matter whether your end goal is to gain strength, lose fat or gain muscle, without a well-balanced nutrition plan you won’t get there. And a key part of a good nutrition plan are supplements.
However, you must start with a nutrition plan in the first place. If you don’t have that going, then supplements won’t help. That’s like buying expensive running shoes having never run before.
How much do supplements help?
If you have an optimal nutrition and fitness plan, and you’re already working out to the max, then a few key supplements could really help you get the edge you’re looking for.
But don’t expect miracles. Making muscle gains through lifting is a slow process and it’s important you only use natural supplements. Depending on how your body specifically responds to natural supplements, they could help you push through by an extra 5-15%.
Only choose natural supplements
Most supplements are fine to take and have no adverse side effects. Obviously, we are talking only about natural supplements here. They can not only help you build muscle in the gym, but the right ones can help your overall health.
Working out which supplements to take is often difficult, as it depends on your genetic make-up and how much you have to spend. Supplements work in different ways for different people, but there are some general guidelines everyone can follow. Here are some of the most effective supplements available.
In some ways, whey protein can be considered a ‘food’ rather than a supplement. Used as a meal replacement, it can help meet protein goals. If you have a good nutrition plan in place, then you’ll know how many grams of protein you should be aiming for every day.
As it’s difficult to always hit these goals with normal food, whey protein can help. It’s more about convenience, rather than a supplement that will magically increase your muscle mass.
You can drink/eat your whey protein at any time of the day to ensure you meet your goals. And you can also have as much as you want at any one time.
This is one of the most discussed supplements and can help you become between 5-20% stronger in the gym. This means muscle gains. You can also use it to lose fat. There are various forms of creatine available on the market, so check out the best for you by researching online.
Some people just aren’t responsive to creatine at all. If you’re one of these ‘non-responders’, you’ll know within a fortnight of taking creatine whether it’s doing anything for you. If you don’t experience any progress while taking creatine, then it’s not for you.
Creatine can be taken whenever it’s convenient, but a good time is just after you wake up or just after you’ve finished training. This is when your body is most receptive to taking on nutrients. Depending on how much you weigh, you should take between 3 and 8g a day, but if you weigh less than 10 stone, then stick with the 3g only.
Whether you want to take extra supplements before your workout depends on your schedule. They can help to make more gains by making your workout more intense, but it’s probably best to only use them if you need a kick before your workout.
Most of them have similar formulas, and are primarily made of caffeine. You can make your own by adding whey protein, carbs, water and caffeine in a shaker. Depending on the supplement you’re using, take it around 15 to 30 minutes before your workout. Always follow the directions on the bottle, and it’s best to start with a small dose to see how you feel.
Fish oil capsules or products contain omega 3 fatty acids. These have lots of benefits for overall health, including helping to cut fat, dealing with depression and helping joint pain. Take at least half a gram every day, ideally after a meal.
The jury’s out on exactly how effective multi-vitamins are. However, most people’s diets lack certain vitamins and minerals and adding some more in can only be a good thing. It’s a personal choice, and some people feel better just knowing they’re taking a multi-vit. If this is you, then go for it. Just make sure you read the directions on the bottle first, as some combinations can exacerbate some health conditions.
Focus your mind
Without the right mindset for your training programme, supplements will be next to useless. And if you can’t afford them, don’t sweat it. A well-designed nutritionally balanced plan will give you good results too, as long as you stick to it. It’s far more important to get your nutrition right, get your training right and keep your mind focused, than get too worried about which supplements to take.
About Surya Gabriel Iacono
Surya G. Iacono is a fitness and wellness expert and blogger based in London, UK. Surya Iacono’s fitness blogs are aimed at keen gym-goers and exercise fans already well into their journey and looking for tips, tricks and ideas to take it to the next level.