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.
Thank you for the post Dr. Galpin! Great as always.
Just wondering what is your take on artificial sweaters? Particularly sucralose. In the “Paleo” community they are touted as death and I was wondering what your opinion on them is? Some BCAA are flavored with them which is why I’m asking. Also because plain BCAA taste like hell!
They def aren’t good and don’t help anything. But your body is resilient, you’ll Survive. But pick your battles wisely.
mmm ok I just asked also because the BCAA in the picture in the article contains sucralose.
Nutriforce Sports Natural Amino does not contain sucralose. It uses stevia to cover the taste of the BCAAs and is pretty palatable.
What brand of fish oil do you recommend? I have been using Carlsons liquid and it seems to be good, but how do you know? Thanks
I use Nordic Natural, but have used plenty of others. Depends on your situation. But getting quality is key!
Have you tried SFH fish oils? Been on them over a year now. Great product. How many grams of bcaa preworkout do you suggest to improve endurance or at least the proper dosage to enhance performance? What do you suggest preworkout for a gym session to get “zoned in” without all the heavy caffeinated preworkout supps out there. Any nootropics I could take improve that neuromuscular connection?! Thanks. Sorry for all the questions.
Dr. Rhonda Patrick also recommends nordic naturals fish oil.
Check out labdoor.com, they test and rate various supplements, including fish oil. I’ve been relying on them to guide me toward the best quality supplements. Nordic Natural (the one Dr. Galpin takes) is rated pretty highly for example.
You showed a pic of BCAAs bit don’t discuss use or timing? Are your only recommendations fish oil, D3, creatine, beta-alanine, and a recovery protein? Is this because most recovery proteins have BCAAs as well?
Didn’t have time to get to it. EAA are far more important to consider. Got no problem with BCAA, but my quality protein consumption+3fuel I take gets me plenty of EAA, no real need for a bonus of Leucine, etc.
Thanks for the info Dr. Andy.
So if I’m drinking 3fuel, BCAAs aren’t necessary but EAAs (essential amino acids?) would be a nice addition?
The 3Fuel features a high-quality protein. It’s complete. There’s no need for additional amino’s.
I started using Karbolyn pre and post workouts. Usually 25 g pre with a BCAA and post I supplement my Isopure protein with another 25 g post. White Rice and sweet potato are my dominant source of Carbs. Since I started with Karbolyn I have noticed a profound improvement in my late wod stamina in cardio dominant programming.
Any thoughts on these fast absorbing carbohydrates?
Sounds good to me. Individual response is 97% of the game. I’d you’re performance, energy, and body composition are where you want to be, there isn’t much to argue
nicey-nice. Thanks for the reassurance
Real simple question – fat dude (108kg with a 120kg clean / 180kg squat) trying to improve strength and conditioning and ‘lean’ up – protein shake plus creatine (5mg a day), or no protein shake and creatine a day?
More complex than you think. Protein shakes are convenient, but not mandatory in your case. Depends on what time you train, what you’re eating before and after, how you’re professing, etc. Do what makes you feel best for now. If you stagenate, change.
thanks – Creatine a no brainer then? will drop the protein shake for now and see what happens.
what are your thoughts on Vitargo as a pre and during workout drink .
I usually train early morning and it’s tough for me to eat to stay fueled during my workouts
Pre and during workout drink would include Vitargo , creatine , bata alanine , bcaa . I currently don’t add a protein should I ?
HATTTTTTTTTTTTE PRE-MADE supplement cocktails. Typically. Strongly recommend buying and taking individually.
Never tried V. I prefer 3fuel. won’t use anything else, noW. You Prob need the protein.
What are your thoughts on a multi vitamin ?
Minimal benefits, but little cost and almost no risk. Can’t hurt, especially if you aren’t so hot on getting in the veggies
To clarify Andy, do you mean you hate ‘all-in-one’ products that contain protein, creatine, BCAAs etc? And if so, is it mainly because of inflated cost? Or do you cite a lack of quality?
Thanks for the advice.
Does age factor in when taking supplements. I’m a 46 year old male. Never taken them before except for fish oil. Thanks. Love your show.
Thanks! But surprisingly, not much. My recommendation would be the same for you.
Thoughts and dosage on DHEA?
No as in the risk outweighs the benefit or no as in I’m not touching that with a 10′ pole! As many people said on here, it is so hard to find a place to get good, unbiased information. Thanks man.
All of the above. Very rarely do I see a scenario where DHEA is needed. Usually many more important things. And remember, I work with athletes, so I’ll literally never prescribe banned substance
Here’s my question: With so much information coming out about fake supplements being sold in reputable chain stores. ….how can we tell what is real or not? Any thoughts on the Barbell Shrugged boys creating an independent supplement oversight group to help reign on such a corrupt market? 😉
Hahahahah No chance. Plenty of good website already doing it.
How do you evaluate the quality of the supplement. It seems there there are no regulations or grades on something even as widely sold as whey protein.
True. Lots of government website that are very helpful, but I stick to people I know personally, when possible . Tough though.
Hey Dr. Galpin, love reading your stuff! Do you have any familiarity with some of the more obscure supps? Pine pollen, nettle root, mushrooms, etc… supposedly natural test boosters and aromatase inhibitors. Also, you made it sound like your goal of improving conditioning is in opposition to your goal of longevity. I’m hoping that’s not the case?
No. Most are primarily a waste, as a blanket statement. No longevity and Conditioning are highly related
How do you feel about ZMA’s or Purepharma’s M3. Are they effective?
Not as well documented as the ones I listed. Could be useful in situations (i.e. traveling, etc.), but I noticed little effects personally and the data aren’t as robust
[…] Read the full article here: A quick guide to supplements […]
Oh yea, and any thoughts on nootropics? Piracetam, oxiracetam, alpha gcp.
Thank you for the advice
Note enough data. Could be useful. Try to not make public recommendations until a plethora of data exists.
Quick question. Instead of a Preworkout what about taking a BCAA drink instead? I do take a protein drink after working out and one in the morning. Each serving has 5grms of BCAA. Good idea or am I better with the previous workout. Thx
Tough question. “Pre-workout” is analogous to “back pain”. It would mean absolutely anything. I hate cocktail supplements for the most part. Would have to know the whole package/proprietary blend (i.e. exact concentrations) before I can answer.
Love hearing what different people use – and you definitely provide some reasonable guidelines.
Curious on your thoughts about BioSteel’s Performance Drink, if you are familiar with the product, as a pre/during training?
Thanks as always
Thanks for the compliment. I’m not familiar, which is usually a bad thing. I honestly can’t really see how anybody can be 3Fuel as a during training drink. Those guys really nailed it.
Hi! I too use 3FU3L and have yet to discover anything better out there!! So many of the males in my WŁ club use the C4 and swear by it as a preworkout. Horrible ingredients and it definitely goes against your advice on being relaxed that you mention in episode 159. Am I interpreting that correctly? Meaning should stimulants be avoided?
Thank you for all of the excellent material you put out there!! I am terrible at WŁ but determined to get better!! 🙂
Hi Andy. Thanks for sharing your knowledge. It’s always a pleasure to read your information. Quick question : are you taking protein/carbs only during your workout and not post-workout? I’m asking because right now, I’m focusing on strength, and I take my protein/carb shake just after my training session and would have a full meal with rice and chicken an hour later. Could I do better there? Many thanks in advance.
You’re too kind, Sir. No such thing as better, in that case. I prefer DURING (because I get toooooo damn hungry!). But before, or post would be fine. Some good science on the topic, but the ultimate trump card is “how does it feel on your stomach?”. Go by that first.
THANKS DR FOR ALL OF YOUR GREAT RESPONSES .
. IN YOUR OPINION WHAT ARE THE ESSENTIAL BCAA WE SHOULD BE TAKING WHAT WOULD BE THE DAILY RECCOMMENDED DOSAGE , BW- 205 LBS
I usually don’t. They seem to have a minimal (but sometimes significant) effect on most. Be more concerned with EAA, good protein, timing, good sleep, lots of veggies, etc.
BCAA are usually a second or tertiary concern for me.
Great article! What are your thoughts on some of the Supplements like Shroom Tech/Alpha Brain by Onnit?
Not enough data for me to recommend as a blanket statement recommendation for to the public. Could be useful, though.
What are your thoughts about nighttime recovery supplements for females like zma. It has testosterone in it which from what I have read is ok to a point. Thoughts???? My activity level is high I crossfit and am in the final weeks of training for a 15k.
Rarely do people need Testosterone as a 1st step. Fix sleep and food and most of this will work itself out. ZMA could/could not be of help. Might as well try and see. Some evidence to support, but not as robust as my list.
Great info! Question: I have a lady friend that seems to be not feeling well more than feeling well. She is a stressed out college student with a decent diet, decent sleep cycle and exercises about one or two times a week. She takes fish oil and sometimes a whey protein sup. Any guidance to help her immune system and/or energy level?
Your friend’s issue have nothing to do with a supplement, likely. She needs to reduce stress. Millions of options. Find the one that fits her. Trust me, the vast majority of “school” induced stress is self-inflicted. Supplements are not her solution.
[…] Dr. Andy Galpin – A Quick Guide to Supplements […]
Andy, what is your opinion on Biotest supplements? I’ve heard lots of mixed reviews ranging from absolute crap to the god to supplements. Very pricey.
Never heard…usually not a good thing…
I was wondering what your thoughts are on the Syntha 6 protein. I have been trying to decide between that or the Progenex. I go to the gym at least 4 times a week. Im still beginner. I do both Crossfit and just took up Olympic lifting. However am looking for something that will help aid me during these long days and help me. I eat 80 percent clean and try to incorporate enough protein,carbs,etc in my diet. What can you recommend?
Never tried Syntha 6….from what you’re saying, i’d say go with 3fuel.
Not really a question in the frame of the subject, but I’m going to paticipate in a testosterone study in Sweden, where they are going to inject me with something (don’t remember the name) that stops my body from produce testosterone. And after three weeks they are going to inject me with testosterone to make the testo level go up to normal again. Do you know if there’s any problem on training hard during these 3-weeks?
Or any big risks with the study at all ?
Hahah yes, plenty of risk! Keep training though, just be aware of how you feel….this going down at KI? Great place. I worked there for a bit with Dr. Per Tesch.
For different goals (always very low BF, want max lean muscle gain), how would suggestion differ?
Thanks for the help!
Wouldn’t really. Should put you on point pretty well.
Are you familiar with Advocare performance products . I’m a beginner in Cross fit and Olympic weight lifting.
Familiar, but have no particular love for them. Stick with performance people.
Like Rich Froning
Very nice with your balanced advise!
I wonder how eating a boiled egg stacks up against eating other protein supplements (I use eggs as my protein supplement). How many eggs would be needed, any positive or negative side effects to consider?
Real food is almost always better, but tough to take DURING training (which is when I use my protein supplements – 3 fuel).
[…] Barbell Shrugged – A Quick Guide To Supplements – Dr. Andy Galpin […]
In your post you said “I start the day with fish oil at breakfast – About 2-3 grams of a high quality EPA/DHA.”
1000mg = 1g and you said you take 2-3 grams in the morning and night. Also you said you take Nordic natural brand fish oil, which has 650mg EPA and 450mg DHA in a serving size of 2 pills. So are you meaning you take 8 plus fish oil pills in the morning and again at night? Just trying to see where you got 2-3grams from for you dosages of morning and evening.
Bingo. ~5-8 pills. Don’t count, just grab a small amount.
[…] A quick guide to supplements from Barbell Shrugged […]
Thanks for your input! Could you give me your opinion on the ATP – Athletic Therapeutic Pharma brand? They have a very large array of supplements.. Thanks for your help!
Hello I am Gabriel from Sweden and I have a question about fish oil.
I have been looking at different fish oils over at this site
I saw that the one you suggested is 90% EPA DHA according to this site.
Would it be ok to choose a cheaper product that has a higher %.
I have no idea if I can trust this site or not. But I am not a rich guy and nordic naturals is quite pricy for me.
When taking fish oil do you count it towards your macros?
I always appreciate the non-nonsense information provided by Dr. Galpin. Thanks for this. Will re-evaluate my bargain fish oil.
This was a good article to read and understand how supplements work. I ordered the supplements you talked about in your article. Now my question is would it hurt if you are taking mult-vitamin, fat burners, CLA, plus drinking BCAA all day in a 1 gallon jug?
Don’t know if any of these will supplements will mess with each other and not product the proper workout plus getting lean.
What’s your thought?
Thanks for the article, Dr. Galpin. Very informative. If you are going to start taking creatine, should you go through a “loading” phase during the first week?
I’ve been taking Fallout by Atomic Strength Nutrition its amazing has anyone tried it?
[…] A Quick Guide to Supplements […]
thank for sharing your thoughts on the supplements. I did have a question about the Fish oil. I did find a brand that has hight dosage of EPA / DHA
Ocean Blue Professional Omega-3 2100 Softgels
Softgels containing 2,100 mg Omega-3 fatty acids per serving
1,350 mg EPA per serving
600 mg DHA per serving
150 mg other Omega-3
Now do you thing taking 2 pills a day at this dosage is good? One in the morning, and the other one at night time before bed?
I think you’re fine, yes. Most of the higher quality oil’s have plenty of dose. If you have any inflammation, soreness, joint pain, etc, you might ease it up to see if symptoms go away. Otherwise, no need in doing much more than 2 servings of this.
sweet thank you for your help. By the way you guys are awesome . I have learned a lot from you guys.
[…] A quick guide to supplements with Dr. Andy Galpin […]
[…] A quick guide to supplements with Dr. Galpin. […]
How do you feel about jim stoppani’s product line, Progenex, and earth fed muscle?
I am so obsessed with food but every time I look in the mirror it makes me feel so disappointed on myself. I did want lose weight but can’t help to eat and eat more food, I already use all kinds of method on diet like keto, vegetarian, vegan etc. but it won’t work because of my eagerness to eat foods. So, I began to research what can help me on losing my weight and to lose appetite and I saw this http://www.ilovegrowingmarijuana.com/hurkle/. A report from The American Journal of Medicine explains that regular marijuana use was associated with lower levels of fasting insulin and smaller waist circumference. Cbd and thc are also new to me and I don’t even smoke. Alternatively, they’ve also found new ways to infuse cannabis on food and beverages. If this is true I can’t find any solid conclusive evidence that speaks to its efficacy. Any personal experience or testimonial would be highly appreciated. Thanks