There are supplements for everything; hair and nail health, multivitamins, fish-oil, Orangutan-Saliva-Infused-Beans, etc. You know, the normal stuff.
I’m not a medical professional and can’t say with 100% certainty that anything I say below is true. What I can say is I didn’t get a 4-year degree without learning how to research. And trust me when I say I’ve researched this topic many, many times. Every health and fitness magazine has hundreds of eye-popping ads promising “Miraculous, Amazing, You’ll-Never-Believe-It, Don’t-Tell-Your-Mother”-like gains. I’m here to help you sift through the nonsense and save you your hard-earned money.
1. Amino Acids/BCAAs
As some of you have heard, Amino Acids are proteins. They’re the “building blocks” for developing and repairing lean tissue on your body. There are 9 essential amino acids (ones which your body does not produce on its own): histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. As you may have guessed, those are a bunch of words you’ll hardly have a use for.
What you do have a use for are protein-packed food sources that provide these nutrients. If you eat a wide range of protein sources, and reach a constructive protein-intake each day, you’ll have loads of these amino acids. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have “enough.” It’s like coffee; you know you shouldn’t drink that 6th cup, but what the hell, right?
If you use a protein-powder (and not a crappy no-name Wal-Mart supplied brand), you’re definitely getting enough amino acids throughout the day. You truly have no reason to intake 2000% of your daily amino acid needs. This is not how you put on 30 pounds of muscle.
Glutamine is another amino acid. It’s an extremely important amino acid. It’s so important in fact, that it’s the most available amino-acid in your body. It’s very effective at staving off muscle-degeneration, improves kidney function, and hey! Your body actually produces this one.
There will be someone reading this that has a claim about Glutamine being a miracle supplement. Sure, it’s a miracle supplement… in cancer patients or individuals with degenerative diseases. If you’re a healthy individual who has a moderately balanced diet and exercises moderately, you probably have an abundance of Glutamine in your body. The only time physical activity may warrant increased Glutamine intake is if you’re an advanced performing individual. No, that’s not you, "bro." Go get a gold-medal in the Olympic Marathon and then justify your use of Glutamine.
Until then, eat a lot of protein, drink your protein shakes, and have fun working out.
I’ll give this one the benefit of the doubt; L-Arginine is awesome. It breaks down in the body as a precursor for synthesis of Nitric Oxide. Nitric Oxide’s main (gym) purpose is to dilate the blood vessels (promoting more blood flow). Given these scenarios, L-Arginine is somewhat effective.
However, in most individuals it’s not worth the money. Sure, it’s not an expensive supplement per se. However, it’s a cost that doesn’t need to be spent to promote higher performance. If you want to spend the money to change how you feel when you exercise, then go right ahead. This may be a placebo effect though.
If you take a pre-workout of any kind, be it a stimulant based pre-workout, or nitric-oxide based pre-workout, you’re most likely taking an overabundance of L-Arginine already. You can only get but so pumped.
I can tell you right now I’ve used “fat-burning” supplements. When I prepped for my bodybuilding competition, I incorporated those supplements into my routine about 5-6 weeks before stage-time.
Re-read the two sentences above. I’ll wait.
Now, notice I mentioned “bodybuilding competition” and “5-6 weeks.” I will never have another need to use these outside of those parameters. Well, it’s not why you’d expect.
I didn’t use those because they add some kind of crazy-miraculous fat-burning effect to my regimen. Nope! I used them because they’re pretty quick and easy forms of caffeine intake. I needed a ridiculous amount of caffeine to even feel up to putting myself through that grinder 6 days a week.
Caffeine is one of the most studied supplements on this planet and has been proven to assist in ergogenic (performance-enhancing) and fat-burning pursuits. Not because it directly causes the loss of fat, but because losing fat is a side-effect (among others) of what your body does when it’s on caffeine.
Caffeine increases your heart-rate. It keeps it higher than normal. That’s why you get a buzz. No, it’s not on the same level as cocaine (you’d think you were buying coke with the prices you’re spending on supplements!) but it’s pretty effective at getting you up in the morning. When you work out, you increase your heart-rate. You use calories as energy while this is happening. This “burns fat.” If you can keep your heart-rate up higher, longer, you burn more fat.
That’s it. No miracle. Just you feeling so jittery you’ll run for days.
WOAH. JOEL THAT’S BLASPHEMY.
Creatine is the most studied supplement on the planet. And yes folks, it does work. If you’re trying to increase strength and build muscle, you should absolutely supplement properly with creatine-monohydrate.
Stop spending money on flavored, designer creatine supplements.
Almost every study will show you that creatine-monohydrate is the cheapest, simplest, and most effective means of achieving “gainz.” It’s also relatively safe; it’s a naturally occurring “nitrogenous organic acid” and assists in generating energy within your body. As long as you’re well-hydrated and not ingesting 20+ grams of it a day (which is still being argued in science circles), you’ll be okay. I promise.
Then again, I’m not a medical professional! Some may tell you to never even supplement with it. One reason being, when they do urine tests they’ll measure your creatinine excretion. If it’s above “normal,” it could be signs of kidney failure. Of course, when you supplement with grams of creatine, your body will never absorb all of it so you’ll “pass” most of it out of your system. This shows up on urine tests. Your doctors will get upset. They’ll tell you to stop being crazy. You’ll flex and strut out of the doctor’s office.
You’re not crazy, you’re just a meat-head.
Creatine-monohydrate is cheap. You can buy 20 pounds of it for about $50 bucks.
On a serious note, remember I’m not a medical professional. If you were really smart, you’d research some of these things for yourself. Always choose scholarly sources. No, Brad Big-Arms’ page on Bodybuilding.com doesn’t count. If you’re just the regular “staying-in-shape” exercise enthusiast, none of this really matters. If you’re in the pursuit of huge muscles and insane strength, stop wasting money on supplements. You will never, I repeat, never look like the guys in the supplement ads by spending hundreds of dollars at GNC or Vitamine Shoppe.
If you want above average results (but still nothing insane), eat a well-constructed diet, work out hard, sleep as much as you can, and sure, you could get away with protein powder, creatine-monohydrate, caffeine sources (coffee, pre-workout), a multi-vitamin (if you eat the same bland 5 meals as I do every day), and fish-oil. It’s not that expensive and will get you where you want to go.
*for a list of my sources for this specific article, to show I'm not into "Bro-Science":
And the chemical compound branches/synopses of: