We get a lot of questions about supplements – What to take, how much and when? There’s so much information out there, it’s no wonder people find this topic confusing. So, we reached out to Dr. Andy Galpin, professor of sport science, for help. Andy, based on the available evidence, what should athletes consider taking on a daily basis and why?
The most important to remember is that food and sleep always take priority.
You cannot use supplements to cancel-out poor rest and nutrition, it just doesn’t work. I wish it would! But supplements should be used as more like a dollop of hot sauce on top of your giant taco salad. You have to keep them supplemental.
Get this business sorted out and you can think about what to take.
What are your goals?
The supplements you choose should be a direct reflection of your goals. I’ll use myself as an example.
1 have no competitions coming up. I’m very happy with my current body composition, but I would like to drop about 3% body fat. I would also like to add about 3-5 pounds of muscle tissue, because as I’ve said before, building and maintaining healthy, functional muscle tissue is always important.
Finished up talk nutrition and such with the folks at @crossfit_reality. Thanks to everybody. Great audience! Ps. That gym is LEGIT! By far the most impressive gym I’ve ever seen. And I was highly impressed with the coaches knowledge. If you’re in the Long Beach area and not training here you’re a fool.
As far as training goes my strength is low at the moment. I’m also really focusing on improving my conditioning. However, longevity and lifelong health are still my priorities. That’s what drives my decision making when it comes to what does, or doesn’t, go into my body. HOW TO DECIDE Before you take it, do your homework. Answer some critical questions:
1. Is it safe? Honestly, if you have any doubts at all, don’t take it. That’s my best advice. You have to be comfortable with your decision. If the product is from an established and well reviewed company then chances are good that it’s fairly safe when used appropriately. But still, do your research. You can be sure that if the product seems suspect to you, then it most likely is.
2. Doest it work? You have to be very careful when you do your research. That’s because almost EVERY SUPPLEMENT on the market is supported with research to show that it “works.” The real question is, what does “work” mean for you? Is it a 3% performance improvement over 8 months? …Maybe 5%? Think about this carefully. What kind of evidence is actually available? Specifically, was the research conducted in humans or animals? That matters a lot. Also, what was reported? Was performance actually measured in the study, or was it an arbitrary blood marker, or some other kind of secondary measure of “performance.” One final note: Even if there is a lot of evidence supporting a supplement, it still might not work for you. You must always carefully observe and record your experience.
3. Finally, is it worth the price? I don’t know what your monthly budget looks like, but for me, paying $500 a month for supplements that might improve my conditioning 2% over the next 8 months isn’t worth it. You have to think about your needs. For my professional fighters, I say go for it. When your livelihood is on the line in a sport like that then you MUST leverage every legal advantage. But you really should consider the cost if your only goal is doing better in the gym.
We’re fans of BCAA’s (branch chain amino acids) to help reduce muscle breakdown during exercise and promote faster recovery and muscle building after workout. They also allow you to workout longer with more energy. But remember supplements SUPPLEMENT. If you’re not consistently getting to the gym, eating real food, and getting good sleep put your efforts there first! A photo posted by BarbellShrugged.com (@barbellshruggedpodcast) on
What I take.
Here are the supplements that I have found to be beneficial, cost-effective, and supported by EXCELLENT high-quality evidence. I take everything around 4 key time points – the morning, pre-workout time (evening for me), during the workout, and then bed time.
I start the day with fish oil at breakfast – About 2-3 grams of a high quality EPA/DHA.
Again, be very careful when you’re picking a fish oil product. They all report a total amount of oil, as well the total amount of EPA and DHA. That gap between total fat and EPA/DHA represents the amount of “filler” fat in each serving.
Base your dose on how much EPA & DHA you want, NOT how much “fish oil” is in the serving size. For example, some companies will give a serving size of 1 gram of fish oil, but this will only contain about 100 mg of EPA and 50 mg of DHA. This is obviously a problem. Go with quality. This isn’t a product you should find while bargain hunting.
The other two supplements I take every morning are Vitamin D and Creatine. For the Vitamin D, I take about 3-5,000 IU’s a day. There’s variability there, especially during times of the year where I might be outside and under the sun more often.
For Creatine the dosing “sweet-spot” is about 0.03-0.05 grams/kilogram of bodyweight. For me this is about 3 grams a day, which is plenty. Timing of ingestion doesn’t matter. Also, stick with the monohydrate variety. It works great, and there’s no clear benefit to the more expensive products.
I love beta alanine, it’s great stuff. Especially for sports like Crossfit.
Right now I take about 4 grams before training, but I must warn you – You MUST start this supplement VERY SLOWLY. More is definitely not better. Take too much too soon and you will have acute “crack-head” like symptoms. Your skin will itch and burn like crazy!
Note: Unlike creatine, I cycle on and off this supplement during the year. If I’m not doing much conditioning, I back off. It’s loses value if I’m just focusing on strength.
3. During the workout
The best way to improve the quality and effectiveness of your training is to appropriately fuel your efforts. For me, that starts with a protein powder. I love high-quality varieties that actually include some carbohydrate and fat.
One thought on fueling your workouts. Dose will depending on training intensity, but also your training schedule really matters. For example, I drink down 1-2 scoops of powder during training. The harder the training, the more calories I will need. However, I avoid this if I have a few days of recovery coming up.
Just for the sake of repeating – Just because you can take it doesn’t mean you should. With proper recovery (sleep AND food!), I have no issues replenishing my glycogen stores. The extra calories are just extra at that point, and therefore aren’t going to help me get leaner.
4. Finally, bedtime
Just before I go to bed I take another 2-3 grams of EPA/DHA. There’s no reason you couldn’t take it all at once, but I like to spread the dose out as much as possible.
No, I don’t do this everyday. I take days off. Also, I tend to respond better when I play around and adjust my fish oil intake. When life or training stress goes up, for example, I will take a little bit more.
I hope this post gives you some direction when it comes to choosing supplements. If you have any specific questions about anything I referenced or discussed, or perhaps alternative supplements, just leave them in the comments below.
I’d love to help.