One question I get asked a lot is about which of the latest, greatest and hottest supplements I think people should be taking.
Quite often the answer I give disappoints, simply because I’m not a big fan of most supplements for the simple reason that a lot of them are more marketing hype than science.
However, over the years, I’ve used a select handful of supplements with clients who are looking for an extra edge in their performance and, perhaps more importantly, their recovery.
In this article I want to outline a very simple hierarchy of supplements that you might want to consider as you progress from beginner to advanced athlete.
Different supplements have different affects. But, in general, if you are training as hard as you possibly can, you are going to want to take something, even if it’s just a multivitamin.
Before taking any supplements you need to understand which level of training you are at and then get the appropriate supplements.
You also need to make sure your basics are squared away.
If your diet is bad, if you don’t get enough sleep or if your training program is poor, no amount of expensive powders will make you big and strong.
So here is a guide for three basic levels of training.
Keep in mind that these are cumulative, which means that people at the advanced or competitive level need to take everything from the levels below as well.
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Level 1 – Beginners
During the first six months to a year of serious training, it’s unlikely that you’ll need much more than lots of food and some hard training to make gains.
Supplements at this level are restricted to stuff that’s cheap and highly effective.
Multivitamins: Train hard and chances are that you’ll be working your body’s vitamin and mineral stores a bit harder than the average couch potato. While you may be getting enough from your diet, a multivitamin is good insurance and costs very little.
Protein: Plain whey protein concentrate mixed with whole milk two to three times a day. No need for fancy-pants stuff that’s been bioengineered to death.
Fish oil: Three to six capsules a day for general heart, brain and joint health. Start now and never stop taking it.
Sports drinks: Gatorade or similar during hard training to replace electrolytes and provide energy. Avoid if your goal is fat loss.
Level 2 – Intermediate
If you have been training for at least six months and you are now using more advanced training methods because beginner programs stopped working, then you are probably ready for some level-two supplements.
These products are more expensive than the level-one supplements and the performance gain is not generally as big as you get from the basics.
Creatine: 5g a day with your recovery shake. Creatine improves performance in repeated bouts of near-maximal exercise. This allows you to train harder and allows you to stress the body more, for continued gains in strength. Good for strength and power programs – not so good for distance runners because you do tend to gain some fluid weight which makes you slower.
Minerals: Zinc, magnesium and so on can help you recover. I quite like Endura sports drink at the moment.
Glutamine: The most abundant free amino acid in muscle. 3-5g once a day after workouts may speed recovery.
Level 3 – Advanced/competitive athlete
If you are two-plus years into serious training, and you compete, then you’ll be looking for anything that gives you an edge.
At this level, it’s worth experimenting with different products and combinations as some things appear to work for one person but not another.
Some stuff to try;
BCAA: Branch-chain amino acids may help recovery.
Vitamin D: 5000IU a day. This may turn out to be like fish oil in that its long-term health benefits are becoming compelling, but for sports performance at the moment, it may help or it may not.
ZMA or GABA: Worth trying, for improved sleep and growth hormone secretion. But not cheap.
Anything else that takes your fancy – antioxidants, weird plant extracts, nitric-oxide supplements, caffeine.
At this level you might get 1 or 2 per cent from trying something new or you might get nothing but the proverbial ‘expensive urine’.
However, as a competitive athlete, sometimes that 1 per cent is the difference between first place and fourth. And no one EVER remembers the guy who came fourth!