I recently received an awesome question from a Facebook follower regarding what supplements I like to use when it comes to my training and nutrition plan. You know, I’ve come from both ends of the spectrum when it comes to approaches in supplementation.
I used to not really rely on it too much as a part of my own plan, but as I became more and more aware of the body, sports nutrition, and advanced training, I began to see (and experience first hand) how important proper supplementation is when it comes to the development of the body.
I want to preface this blog post today with saying that supplementation DOES NOT AND CANNOT replace properly designed nutrition and training protocols.
Supplementation however is just that, it’s something added to complete your plan, make up for any deficiencies, or to help strengthen and enhance your entire training and nutrition in as a whole. During different phases of training (and goal dependent) I will keep certain supplements in my rotation. So let me break it all down for you piece by piece including the times in my training cycle I use each.
Supplements I Use Year Round No Matter What My Goal:
Multi-vitamin with Vitamin D3
All of my life, I must admit I was NEVER big on taking my vitamins. It wasn’t until I seriously got into training and nutrition that this has become of utmost importance to me.
I take a women’s formula multivitamin that contains iron, folic acid, and calcium. My multi is also fortified with vitamin D3 (1000 iu/per serving). In addition, I take 1 to 2 5000 iu vitamin D3 oil caps a day.
Vitamin D3 is a very important vitamin in terms of adrenal health. In fact low levels of vitamin D is often linked to adrenal fatigue. Low levels of vitamin d can also be linked to depression and increased sickness/infection. It can be made by the body through sun exposure, but I like to also cover my bases by way of supplementation and also by adding food sources high in vitamin D like salmon. Dairy products also contain vitamin D however I don’t eat much dairy any longer.
Super B Complex
I take a daily Super B Complex usually in the morning with my first meal of the day. The B-Vitamin group is very important for nervous system and adrenal function, as well as metabolism as a whole.
The B-Vitamins are a group of water soluable nutrients B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), B6 (pyridoxine), B7 (Biotin), B9 (folic acid) and B12 (cyanocobalamin).
You can typically find natural sources of the B Complex group in foods such as meat and fish, dairy products and eggs, leafy green vegetables, fruits, whole grains and nuts. When I’m in phases of training and eating where I have an excess of calories coming in or I’m eating at maintenance, I only really worry about supplementing once a day to cover all of my bases.
But as I focus on fat loss and dieting, when my calories are lower and food intake lower as well, I’ll normally double up and take 1 capsule in the morning, and one later on in the day with a meal. Vitamin C It goes without saying, Vitamin C plays in important role in immune function.
In general I normally take 500-1000mg a day when I was off-season. However once contest prep started up, I tended to like to push it up to about 1500mg/day.
I’m honestly never sick…. Hmm wonder why…
DHEA isn’t actually a vitamin or mineral, but instead it’s actually a steroid hormone that occurs naturally in the body. As we get older, DHEA levels start to decline. It’s especially important if you’re over the age of 30 (especially if you are closer to 40+) to begin to supplement. DHEA (whose full name is dehydroepiandrosterone) is a hormone produced by your body’s adrenal glands.
It tends to be LESS stable in the body as a supplement, depending on what form you take, as it can convert to EITHER estrogen OR testosterone and you have no way of knowing how your body will process it. It’s also a better idea before supplementing to have your actual DHEA levels checked to see if it’s necessary for you and how much you should be using.
Typically speaking a starter dosage for women falls around 5mg/day, but that may be too much or not enough for your own genetic make up. One of the better options for DHEA supplementation is 7-Keto DHEA which is the metobilte of the compound.
So basically it’s the already broken down version of DHEA. When processed by the body it is a DIRECT pathway to DHEA itself and does not convert to any other hormones. So it’s definitely a more stable option.
I began taking DHEA during a contest prep just as an insurance policy so to speak to keep my body running as best as I can as I neared what on stage looks like perfection (but in the real world of science and physiology is anything BUT healthy as far as a state the body likes to be in).
Being super lean is not normal, and the body will do everything it can to down regulate function in efforts to keep you alive. During levels of high stress (like a contest prep diet and training, particularly in the later stages or if you are doing multiple shows back to back, etc) cortisol levels will rise, it’s a natural response in the body.
Continually high levels of cortisol can set off a whole host of issues that MAY lead to some issues of adrenal fatigue and more down the line.
DHEA and cortisol act together in a ratio. They are essentially antagonists (when one is high the other tends to be low and vice versa). So being I’m well into my 30’s, was training (and still train) like a madwoman as I prepare to look like a Marvel Comic character for the stage, it was a good idea to start some supplementation.
And I’ve kept it in since.
Before taking any DHEA supplement you should always first have your levels checked to ascertain how much your body actually needs.
Fish Oil Caps – Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Fish oil has been touted almost as a cure all supp, and for good reason research has shown. Countless studies show it can have a powerful effect on things such as cancer, asthma, depression, cardiovascular disease, ADHD, and even arthritis.
It’s also really great for reducing inflammation which is important especially for those who work out. But in the case of health/fitness, omega 3’s have been show to be highly beneficial in the area of metabolism. There have been a few studies that show it helps to reduce insulin, which in itself isn’t a BAD hormone per se (it plays a vital role in protein synthesis for instance) but at times when you would rather it be low and under control – well omega 3’s can help come to the rescue.
In fact a detailed 1989 study by William S. Harris and The Lipid and Arteriosclerosis Prevention Clinic at the University of Kansas Medical Center revealed that fish oil may actually help to positively boost metabolism directly (http://www.jlr.org/content/30/6/785.full.pdf).
And there are countless others in more recent time that point to the same conclusion.
Branched Chain Amino Acids are basically the building blocks of protein (leucine, isoleucine, and valine). These are 3 of the 8 essential amino acids and they make up approximately 1/3 of the protein found in skeletal muscle in the body.
I generally will use BCAA powder for different things depending on my goals. During a maintenance phase or building phase I like to have it in a drink pre AND intraworkout. The way I see it is this, the body is CONSTANTLY breaking down tissue and repairing itself while we’re training. So in that regard, I want to keep nutrients in my blood in order to simply aid the body along, help to fuel my workouts, and just in general keep blood level proteins high in order to preserve the tissue I already have.
In dieting phases, same ideals just seemingly more crucial in my opinion simply because calories overall are lower. It can be argued that you get enough protein from your diet if things are set in the way they need to be, however for me it’s more of an insurance policy and a preference and I typically flank it around training within any training phase. I want to give the body all the tools it needs to develop to the levels I want it to.
I feel this becomes dually important in phases of dieting for fat loss. During my maintenance and building phases I like to have 5g/day, in dieting phases I prefer to bump it up to 10g/day.
Glutamine is another amino acid produced and used by the body. It’s essential to immune function and has a great impact on aiding the body with tissue repair.
Glutamine tends to be one of those amino acids considered non-essential because the body can make it provided that you’re eating enough but for me, just like how I view BCAA powder, it’s more of an insurance policy and simply giving my body a little more of a boost in providing it with the means to help me to recover a little quicker, and more effectively, from my workouts.
It goes without saying what the benefits of protein powder are. During different phases of my diet I will use it differently. During maintenance or building phases I’ll definitely have a post workout shake with my high GI carbs to ease along tissue repair.
And in general I like having a shake at night as well, and although some argue casien is best, I normally keep it simple and use my whey powder.
In phases of dieting, I will sometimes add another shake during the day depending on my macro breakdown, number of meals on my plan, and my schedule. I do prefer getting protein from whole sources, however, of course shakes make life much easier especially during the times where I need to consume higher amounts of protein.
Supplements I Use During Building Phases:
I like using a pre-workout drink during my training mostly because the monster pump I get while training and the nice little energy boost as well.
Most pre-workout drinks will contain some combination of a nitric oxide booster (which is a vasodilator therefore it helps widen the veins allow for a greater transport of blood to the muscles – more blood = more oxygen and nutrients delivered to that muscle while training), caffeine, some contain BCAAs as well.
Again, my opinion is that training of course is a catabolic event in and of itself; the body is constantly breaking itself down AND repairing itself even when you’re training. Repairing itself as in trying to restore cellular energy levels, pulling from the blood any amino acids that are around to help rebuild tissue, and essentially trying to give you all it can to get through what it’s probably seeing as guerrilla warfare (your cells don’t know you’re just trying to workout).
So providing it with the tools to be able to recover faster between sets, and to be able to pull nutrients into areas that are needed is essential. And if that can be easily done with liquid nutrition both before and during training, it would be wise to take full advantage of that time frame.
Creatine Monohydrate is probably one of the MOST researched and studied supplements on the market. To understand what creatine monohydrate does as a product, you kind of have to understand what creatine is within the body. Creatine is produced in the body from amino acids by way of the liver and kidneys. Just about 95% of creatine is stored within the skeletal muscles of the body (the muscles you’re training in the gym).
Without getting too sciencey, it is a major portion in the production of ATP within the cells. The body needs MORE ATP to be produced for activities that require more explosive type of energy. So things like weight training, power and speed training would benefit greatly through the supplementation of creatine. There are so many creatine products on the market, and so many products use it as an ingredient. I prefer to just use straight power form creatine monohydrate.
You don’t need to load it (as once touted in the past), simply adding about 5g to a shake each day is a good place to start. I tend to take a little more whereas I’ll take 5g mixed with my pre-workout drink, and then another 5g in my post workout shake.
Supplements I Use During Fat Loss Phases:
Now there’s a little caveat I need to preface the following with. Fat burners are NOT a necessity in any weight loss or fat loss plan. They are merely a tool in the tool box that can be used as FINISHERS. You shouldn’t be on a fat burner without cycling it properly (meaning you take it for about 4 weeks or so, then take just about that much time or DOUBLE that time off before attempting another cycle).
So the following are tools I’ll pull out CONDITIONALLY and not essentially. Meaning, sometimes I use them, and sometimes not.
Green Tea Extract
Green Tea is a powerful antioxidant and has been found to be a great metabolic booster as a fat loss aid. Again, I’m not big into taking fat burners, but sometimes I feel that a little boost towards the end of a diet cycle AS I’M PREPPING FOR THE STAGE (and I emphasize that last part because unless you have a very specific SHORT TERM goal such as a competition, I really don’t recommend fat burners).
The ingredients in Green Tea that have the largest effect on metabolism are known as catechins. Studies have found that Green Tea not only raises the metabolism in a 24 hour period, but also helps with fat oxidation as well when paired with another potent metabolism booster…. Caffeine.
Aaaah, caffeine. Just the very thought of the word conjurs up visions of a nice warm cup of joe in my head! But used PROPERLY caffeine can be one of the most effective (and cheapest) themogenics on the market.
The biggest problem with many people is the over-consumption of caffeine. Let’s just say the more of it you ingest, the less potent it is, and the less you’ll experience its benefits at normal doses. The biggest issue here becomes the fact that you’d have to take MORE to see any positive changes, which is NOT a good idea.
Caffeine in the long term can wreck havoc on the adrenals, which coupled with dieting and tons of exercise will send you down the path of adrenal fatigue. However if you don’t consume it much at all, or you consume minimal amounts per day (like having only 1 cup of coffee in a day which contains about 100mg of caffeine per 8 oz serving) then you may be able to harness the power of caffeine. What I like to do is take about 200mg of caffeine (in pill form) and stack it with Green Tea Extract. If I do this, then I limit my coffee consumption drastically.
I’ll usually actually simply switch to decaf coffee instead. I’ll take this combination in the morning prior to my first meal, and that ends my caffeine consumption for the day. Caffeine + Green Tea is definitely a very potent 1, 2, punch in the area of thermogenics and is fairly cheap to acquire.
The MOST important thing to remember is to be sure to CYCLE usage. You shouldn’t take any kind of fat loss aids for more than a period of 4-6 weeks and then allowing your body to rest and recover to some degree before taking them again (if needed at all).
So as you can see, there are various things that are on my list of go to supplements that aid me in reaching my fullest potential both in and out of the gym. For the most part I keep it simple and I try to get all that I need from nutrition and only then do I figure what I need to fill in the blanks with what may be missing, and what may help me to unlock my fullest potential.