If you’re an aspiring athlete, undertaking a weight loss journey, or trying to get swole, then you’ve likely wondered, “Do supplements work?”
“I mean, do they actually get results or are they just draining my wallet?”
With so many supplements being peddled online and offline, the decision of what to try can quickly become overwhelming.
Do Supplements Really Work?
As a trained scientist and a former USA Rugby Player, the short answer to this question is – a select few of them do.
However, most people are no where near their maximal training capacity, which means that your biggest gains will not come from supplement use.
Rather, your biggest gains will come from high quality workouts done consistently.
However, if you are training on a regular basis and are looking to squeeze out those extra gains that can be achieved through supplement use, then what products, if any, are beneficial to take?
First, let’s acknowledge that there’s a thin line between food, food derivatives, and supplements.
When consuming items that fall into these categories, the ones that facilitate nutrient timing around your workout window will give you a big “bang for your buck.”
For the sake of this conversation, let’s label food derivatives as a less processed type of supplement and dive into the nitty gritty details!
1. Whey Protein (Post Workout)
First, a whey protein shake is an essential post workout recovery tool.
This is because whey protein gets rapidly absorbed into your bloodstream, giving your muscles the amino acids they need to repair and grow. The sooner you drink your whey protein after your workout, the better.
Importantly, whey protein contains a high concentration of BCAAs (branched-chain amino acids), which are a group of three essential amino acids—leucine, isoleucine and valine.
In a compelling study published by Jackman, et al., study participants who consumed a drink with 5.6 grams of BCAAs after resistance training had a 22% greater increase in muscle protein synthesis compared to those who consumed a placebo drink.
2. Carbohydrates (Post Workout)
After completing an intense workout, you will also benefit from consuming readily absorbable carbs.
When you work out, your body will use glycogen stores as fuel. Thus, consuming carbs post-workout, particularly an intense one, will help you to replenish your depleted glycogen stores.
Do keep in mind that the rate at which your glycogen stores get depleted will depend on how intense the activity is.
Carbohydrates consumed post workout cause an insulin spike. While elevated insulin levels at other times of day promote weight gain, insulin serves a different purpose under post-workout conditions, acting to facilitate nutrient transport into your muscle cells.
For optimal effect, you can consume vitargo, your sports drink of choice, or if you have no other alternative, a piece of fruit (like a banana, orange or grapes).
The reason I mention vitargo is that it facilitates near immediate muscle glycogen refueling, acting more rapidly than most other carbohydrate alternatives.
3. Casein Protein (Before Bed)
Next, casein is a powerful complement to whey protein, because it’s a slow-digesting protein that gets absorbed into your bloodstream over a period of several hours.
For this reason, drinking a casein protein shake before you sleep, preferably 10-30 minutes before hitting the pillow, will help to promote protein synthesis overnight.
During the night, you don’t want your body to go catabolic—that is, into muscle breakdown. Rather, you want it to stay anabolic—meaning, you want to promote overnight muscle synthesis.
Existing research indicates that casein protein absorption occurs over a period of approximately four (and potentially up to eight) hours. This means that your muscles get “drip-fed” with amino acids throughout the night.
This slow yet long-lasting effect ensures that your muscles benefit from a steady supply of protein and amino acids to support muscle recovery while you sleep.
4. Fish Oil (Overall Health)
Fish oil is widely used by a number of bodybuilders and pro athletes for one main reason—it reduces inflammation. This is because fish oil contains huge amounts of omega 3 oils, which are known for their anti-inflammatory effects.
As a result, people who are training heavily benefit from reduced inflammation associated with joint and muscle soreness.
As a bonus, fish oil is also beneficial for reducing DOMs (delayed onset muscle soreness).
However, even if you’re not taking fish oil for its anti-inflammatory effects, consuming it can still provide you with other notable health benefits. These benefits include improved heart health, improved brain health (your brain is ~60% fat), and accelerated weight loss.
I recommend taking fish oil for general health, because modern diets tend to contain a dis-proportionally high ratio of omega -6s to omega-3s.
Do Supplements Work? The Answers Revealed
While the supplements above will give you the biggest training gains, if you’re really pushing hard in your workouts and chasing diminishing returns, other proven supplements you could consider utilizing are:
- Beta-alanine – Reduces muscle fatigue
- Creatine monohydrate – Boosts energy and helps with muscle repair
- L-Glutamine (“Glutamine”) – Helps maintain muscle mass
All three of these supplements have been extensively studied and have a large body of evidence to support their efficacy.
Creatine monohydrate, in particular, is one of the most widely researched supplements in existence and has been studied for close to a hundred years.
Final Thoughts on Supplements that Work
If you are trying to achieve accelerated progress from your workout routine, then consider including whey protein and carbs post workout, casein protein at night, and a fish oil supplement into your diet.
If you’re struggling to get high quality sleep at night, you might also consider taking 3-5mg of melatonin prior to bedtime. Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone produced by a small, pea-shaped gland in your brain (your pineal gland) that tells you when to wake and when to sleep.
If you’re not getting quality sleep, this moderate dose of melatonin may help to you drift off at an appropriate time and wake up feeling refreshed and ready to dive into your next badass workout.
What other questions do you have about supplements that work? Ask them in the comments below.
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AUTHOR BIO: Cade Hildreth attended Dartmouth College & Smith College for Undergraduate Studies in Biology and acquired a Master’s Degree in Biochemistry & Molecular Biology with Specialization in Biotechnology from Georgetown University, where they were Valedictorian. Cade is the Founder of BioInformant.com, the world’s largest stem cell industry news site that attracts nearly one million views per year and serves all-star clients that include GE Healthcare, Pfizer, and Goldman Sachs. Learn more here.
*Disclaimer: You should not rely on this information in place of professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have questions about your health, always consult with your doctor or health-care professional.