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  • Writer's pictureJoseph Lapinski

What Supplements Do I Need to Take? A No BS Guide to Supplements for Beginners

It doesn’t take long after getting into fitness to begin being bombarded left and right with ads for supplements and it can lead you  down a spiral of questions and believing the  marketing without really knowing what you're about to get into. What should you take? Are supplements safe? What shouldn't you take? What do you NEED to take? Just about everyone who starts their fitness journey asks themselves and then the internet these questions. But what’s the truth behind supplements? And what do scientific studies have to say on the matter? We’re going to clear these questions up and hopefully help you understand what supplements are, what to take, and how to be safe. 


DISCLAIMER:  Before taking any supplements, speak with your doctor or medical professional.  I am not a medical professional and do not know your health history or current health needs or restrictions 


IMPORTANT INFO TO KNOW 

Before we get started there are some very important things to be aware of when it comes to supplements. The first is that supplements do not receive approval for safety or effectiveness from the FDA. While most dietary supplements are safe to consume it's important to know this fact and be well informed so that you are able to make the best decisions for you. However, one issue that does arise from the FDA’s inability to grant approval to these products is the amount of misinformation that is spread around by these companies. It can be overwhelming and leads to wasting money or relying on supplements in hopes of achieving certain goals. This is my personal biggest issue with the fitness industry; marketing is king over science and it is misleading. So, let’s clear up some confusion and shed  some light on the dietary supplement industry.


THE GOLDEN RULE

So if you're at the start of your fitness journey what supplements are vital and necessary for you to get started? The unsatisfying and true answer is none. You don’t need any supplements to see results. The key to progress in health and wellness lies within eating properly and regular exercise because there is no magic pill, drink, or product that will “melt the fat off your body” ; it takes effort and hard work to achieve substantial goals. At the start of your journey it's much more important to focus on learning the basics of movement, forming a fitness program, and sustainable healthy eating habits. Once you have those three things down, then you can begin to venture into the realm of dietary supplements but when starting, it's better to direct your attention to more important things. 


CREATINE

Now, after a few months have passed and you're in a solid starting point in your fitness journey and ready to add some supplements to your daily routine, where do you start looking? One of the first supplements you can begin to look at is creatine. Creatine is produced naturally in your body and helps you to perform better under high intensity levels of exercise. This supplement is the most studied dietary supplement on the market with no major side effects in healthy users. The only concern you should have is if you have preexisting liver or kidney problems, then you should consult a doctor before consuming creatine. The goal of creatine is to help grow and develop muscle. The supplement allows you to increase workload, hydrate muscles, and raise anabolic hormones (specifically IGF-1), and help muscles recover quickly. Creatine has shown to increase both muscle mass and strength gains. The best dosage to take is 3-5 grams a day. You can choose to do a “loading phase'' where you take about 20 grams a day for one week then bring it down to the 3-5 grams/day range, but I don't find it necessary to do so in the long run. Also, taking more than the recommended 3-5 grams/day has shown to offer no additional benefit. Finally, there are multiple forms of creatine but the best one to take is the basic creatine monohydrate as it is the cheapest one and studies have shown that the other forms don't outperform monohydrates nor create substantial added benefits. Creatine monohydrate can be taken as a powder that can be mixed in any kind of drink or in pill form. But it can also be obtained through most red meats and fish providing enough support that it is not mandatory to take these dietary supplements, but if you do decide to take it, creatine monohydrate is a safe, cheap, effective supplement to add to your routine.


White creatine powder supplement

PROTEIN POWDER

The next supplement is one that most people are pretty familiar with, protein powder. Protein powder is a great supplement to have at your disposal as it is one of the most versatile dietary supplements out there. Protein powders can be used to help hit your daily protein intake (which should be around 0.8-1 gram/pound of lean body mass) in a convenient method. You can use protein powders as a simple shake or add it in a multitude of cooking methods like pancakes, doughnuts, parfaits, ect. However, as helpful as protein shakes are, they are often misunderstood. To start, protein powder is not anything special to help pack on massive amounts of muscle or build crazy strength. It is simply a different source of protein like any other meat, legumes, or fish. Next, it doesn't matter when you consume your protein. You may, or may not, be familiar with something called the “anabolic window”. This is a theory that you have 30-60 minutes after your workout to consume protein otherwise you're not optimizing your workout. This has been proven to be false and becomes unnecessary for most people with a few exceptions being those with incredibly low body fat percentage and people who are working out fasted, but even then it is not as drastic as the anabolic window has been marketed. The most important thing is to hit your target amount of protein each day rather than when you consume it. However, one thing to look out for when purchasing a protein powder is to find one that says “no amino spiking” on the label. Amino spiking is the process of adding low quality amino acids (L-Taurine and L-Glycine are usually the most common). This allows them to cut margins and increase the amount of protein on the label by a technicality, when in reality you're getting less true protein per serving. Protein powder is a great tool to add to your arsenal as it is convenient and simple to consume in order to get protein into your diet, but it is hardly a fix all solution. In fact, I would recommend getting most of your protein from whole natural foods and use protein powder more for quick snacks or meals to help hitting your goal easier to do.


White protein powder supplement


PRE-WORKOUT

Now this supplement is kind of a gray area in my book. I think pre-workouts can be very beneficial for most people, however for every 1 good high quality pre-workout there's 100 terrible ones. Pre-workouts are the biggest marketing scams in the industry in my opinion. Companies use athletes and endorsements to market their products with crazy claims based on nothing but hype. Most of them come down to juice flavored caffeine with enough stimulants to make you feel like you're on drugs. And if you pick up a pre-workout that says “proprietary blend” RUN LIKE HELL. A proprietary blend is a lame excuse for these companies to add a list of ingredients without giving you the information of how much of each ingredient is in the mix. So, more times than not you're getting a lot of filler products and low, under-dosed amounts of the quality ingredients that actually have been proven to be effective. However, I do think there are pre-workouts out there that do offer a real benefit in performance, and the best way to determine that yourself is by looking at the label of the product. Some of the things you want to see in a good pre workout are about 5-8 grams of citrulline malate, 200-500mg of L-theanine, minimum 500mg of  L-tyrosine, 200-300mg of caffeine and/or 2-5 grams of  beta alanine if you're ok with stimulants and some tingly/itchy feeling for a short period. When looking for a pre-workout you want something that will help give you a bit of an energy boost and aid in your performance NOT to get a high and jittered up. Always read the label with these things to know what you're putting in your body to stay safe and get the best results for your money.

 

White pre-workout powder supplement and shaker bottle

Don't get caught up in the hype of these products and let these companies take your money and give you crappy placebo products. Ignore the marketing tactics and instead, look for the science when it comes to supplements. Most importantly keep your focus on eating well, having a solid workout program, and staying consistent because without that foundation no matter what supplements you're taking it will be impossible to achieve your goals. THERE IS NO MAGIC PILL! Stay safe and read the labels.


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