Today I am going to walk you through a detailed guide to supplements. However, I’m not going to mention everything you’ve ever heard of, so if I miss something off your list I will share at the end where you can go to for that answer. You can be damn right certain though if I’ve not mentioned it here there probably isn’t evidence to support it.

If I’ve not mentioned it here there probably isn’t evidence to support it.

Note – I will not be including whey or casein protein powder in this blog as I view these more as performance foods that can be included in your daily diet to simply increase your protein intake.

This is how this blog will work. I’m going to break supplements down into 3 sections:

  1. Supplements for health
  2. Supplements for sport/performance
  3. Potential supplements worth mentioning

Let’s get into it, shall we?

Supplements For Health

1. Omega 3 Fish Oils

Let me start this section off by saying if you eat oily fish 2-3x per week, then you do not need to supplement. By oily fish, I mean salmon, mackerel, fresh tuna, etc. However, if you aren’t, then this one is seriously a no brainer. If you are vegan, then your best bet is to use Algae Oil. The omega-3 fish oils are EPA and DHA.

Benefits include:

  • Lowers blood pressure and can reduce high blood pressure (Miller et al. 2014) – ACE Inhibitors
  • Lowers cholesterol and blood lipids (Zulyniak et al. 2013) – Statins
  • Antiplatelet Activity (Stroke/DVT) – Warfarin
  • Antiarrhythmic – Metcalf (2008) – Beta Blockers
  • Anti-inflammatory – Kremer (2005)
  • NSAIDS Improvement in Depression – Sublette et al. (2011)
  • Anabolic resistance in elderly – Smith et al. (2010)
  • Help improve weight loss – Noreen et al. (2010)

For these reasons, these are so important in our daily lives. The dosage is goal and individual dependent, however, I usually recommend most athletes have between 500-800mg of combined EPA and DHA per day. Quality isn’t overly important as usually, the higher quality ones will have that dosage without having to take too many pills. The MyProtein Omega+ ones and Puori are both decent.

2. Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble pro-hormone that we produce naturally when we’re exposed to sunlight. The issue is that in the UK we don’t get a great deal of sunshine! We only absorb a very small amount from food, but foods that are high in Vitamin D include butter, eggs, mackerel, meat, and fortified cereals. More than 50% of the population are actually deficient in this essential vitamin.

Benefits include:

  • Improves immune system – Prietl et al. (2013)
  • Improves bone health via supporting calcium absorption – Hill et al. (2013)
  • Reduces the risk of bone loss & fracture risk (elderly)
  • Vitamin D deficiency associated with the development of CVD, cancer, IBD & AI disorders – Holick, (2007)
  • Reducing depressive symptoms – Shaffer et al. (2014)
  • Potentially improves strength – Tomlinson et al. (2015)
  • Potentially improves fat loss – Ortega et al. (2008)

Ideally you should get yourself tested to get the correct dosage, however, a standard recommendation for many is from 2,500 to 4,000 iu depending on goals and skin tone (darker skins need more!)

Supplements For Performance

1. Caffeine

As many of you know, coffee is life, and caffeine is one of the most researched supplements out there. Caffeine is a naturally occurring stimulant found in several forms: coffee, chocolate, energy drinks, tablets, and powder. It is a mild diuretic (meaning you’ll urinate more) so you have to be cautious of dehydrating if all you’re doing is drinking flat whites or long blacks all day!

Caffeine is one of the most researched supplements out there

You also have to be careful of caffeine dependency, this is a real thing! If you can’t remember the last day you went without some form of caffeine, then it could be harming your sleep and daily energy levels. If this sounds like you, I would highly recommend a caffeine deload: where you spend 3 days with absolutely no caffeine whatsoever. It will suck, but I promise you that you will come out the other side sleeping better, with more energy, and craving less coffee

Caffeine is metabolised in about 45 minutes, so remember that next time you have coffee before a workout, and has a half-life of 4-6 hours. This means that 4-6 hours later there is still half the mg of caffeine within your system.

Performance Benefits include:

  • Spares muscle glycogen – Greer et al. (2001)
  • Reduces reaction time – Duvnjak-Zaknick et al. (2001)
  • Increases alertness & improves decision making, especially when sleep-deprived – Kamimori et al. (2015)
  • Increases force/strength – Placket (2001)
  • Improves muscular endurance – Carr et al. (2001)
  • Improves endurance performance – Desbrow et al. (2010)
  • Reduces the rate of perceived exertion – Backhouse et al. (2011)

Other benefits include:

  • Reduces appetite (though research is mixed here)
  • Stimulates fat oxidation (this does not correlate into fat burning unless a calorie deficit is created) – Astrup et al. (1990)
  • Increases metabolism – Astrup et al. (1990)

How much?

Dosage wise you should look to take 2-6mg/kg of body-weight 45-60 minutes prior to exercise or competition

2. Creatine Monohydrate

Now creatine monohydrate is also one of the most well-researched supplements out there. Beware of new versions, monohydrate is the one you want. Creatine monohydrate should be on every serious weight trainee’s list in my opinion.

Benefits:

  • The biggest effect is in repeated high-intensity efforts with short recovery – Izguierdo et al. (2002)
  • Isometric strength improved after only a few days – Cramer et al. (2007)
  • Increase the training load that can be tolerated therefore increased hypertrophy – Bemben et al. (2005)

Why can it improve weight training adaptations?

  • It increases training quality & increases strength – Rawson et al. (2003)
  • ↑ Recovery – Cottrell et al. (2002)
  • Amplifies training-induced adaptations – Olsen et al. (2006)

Benefits to endurance athletes:

  • Increased muscular endurance – Chwalbiñska-Moneta (2003)
    • Lactate Threshold occurs at a higher intensity.
    • Increased time to exhaustion
  • Increased glycogen storage – Nelson et al. (2001)

Are there any other benefits?

  • Improved cognitive function
    • As little as 5g/day of creatine has a significant increase in both working memory and intelligence – Rae et al. (2007)
  • Vegetarians increased lean mass and performance – Burke et al. (2003)
  • Sleep deprivation
    • Less decline in performance after sleep deprivation – McMorris et al. (2006)

How much?

All you need is 5g/day consistently for optimum gains, don’t worry about loading or cycling it, neither are really necessary.

3. Beta-Alanine

Beta-alanine is an intracellular buffer of hydrogen ions through increasing muscle carnosine levels. It’s a common ingredient in pre-workout supplements and is the reason your skin tingles when you take them!

Benefits:

This supplement only has benefits in certain sports and situations, it needs to be above than 90s minimum, but shouldn’t be taken in aerobic training periods/sports. As it buffers hydrogen ions it reduces time to fatigue and improves anaerobic performance. It’s perfect for CrossFit athletes and team sport players.

How much?

Take little and often throughout the day in small doses to lower the side effect of skin tingling (paraesthesia).  You need to load beta-alanine for 4-10 weeks with 80mg/kg body-weight and then afterwards maintain with 40mg/kg.

4. Sodium Bicarbonate

Sodium bicarbonate is gaining more and more traction in endurance sports to help anaerobic performance by buffering hydrogen ions and lowering lactic acid. However, stomach upsets are common with this one so I won’t mention it too much!

Potential Supplements Worth Mentioning

1. Multivitamins/Multiminerals

These are usually in pill form and contain a wide range of vitamins and minerals. These can be useful if you struggle to get certain micronutrients in, or are deficient in some for whatever reason. However, you have to be careful of the form of some of the vitamins/minerals, as they could potentially compete against each other for absorption (like Zinc and Magnesium). To be honest, unless you’re knee deep in a calorie deficit as a small female, you should be able to get your micronutrients from a varied diet

2. Probiotics

There’s a huge hype over these at the moment, but is it warranted? There is still mixed evidence around them, some showing strong health benefits and other’s showing no significant difference. However, they could be very useful in helping heal the gut after a course of antibiotics, or after some severe travelling. My advice would be not to worry about it unless you’ve had some major gut issues and have been advised by a GP.

3. Tart Cherry Juice

This one is another sports supplement that has some mixed evidence supporting it. However, it has evidence to show a reduction in DOMS and an improvement in sleep due to its natural melatonin content. I’ve used it with myself and some clients but it’s hard to know whether this has an effect or if it’s the combination of good nutrition, fish oils, and sleep etc.

4. Beetroot Juice

Some evidence to show an improvement in aerobic exercise due to it reducing the cost of oxygen, however, it is mixed

5. BCAA’s

Let me just tee this up with the fact these are the most over-hyped supplements on the planet. The branched chain amino acids are only necessary if you have low protein intakes. If you get enough protein in your diet, you do not need them

They can be potentially useful if you intermittent fast and train before breaking the fast.

And that’s that!

Yep, that’s my huge overview of supplements. Remember, if it’s not here, it probably doesn’t have sufficient evidence to be useful. Do your due diligence and check stuff out on examine.com for full profiles of research and effect in humans. 

Be wary of people selling stuff, remember that supplement companies have margins and people will sell anything these days. If you’re an athlete or in tested sport, your best bet is to go for an Informed Choice brand to make sure you don’t get popped for any banned substances.

I have no idea how to turn comments on, but if you’d like to discuss anything here or let me know what you think, please reach out to me on email – jonny@nextstep-nutrition.com