The following are my favourite ten most effective supplements that I use regularly for overall health, muscle building, and fat loss. For each, I describe why I use it and when. These products can all be purchased through Amazon. Please contact me if you wish to purchase them locally.
1. Whey Protein
Whey protein has numerous benefits as it is a whole protein (has every amino acid - the building blocks of all proteins). Just a few of these benefits include; tissue repair (muscles, bones, cartilege, skin and blood), and hormonal and immune system health. Using whey protein powder is a quick and convenient way to achieve daily protein targets (which is approximately .8-1g/kg of bodyweight/day for an active person). Whey is a quick digesting protein and is great for post workout snacks. I also make heavier, meal replacement shakes using whey by including healthy fats like coconut oil, or cashew butter, and/or a half of an avocado. I also like to add in some greens or a green powder and mixed frozen berries to my shakes. My favourite choices for protein powders are based on a few factors; amino acid content (especially the more important ones for muscle repair - valine, leucine, and isoleucine), mix-abillity, how well it digests (or causes GI upset), how it is sweetened (artificial or non-artificial), and taste (I will usually go with unflavored or vanilla). I have tried dozens of protein powders but my favourites are AllMax Isonatural.
2. Green Powder
Green powders are nutrient dense in vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and enzymes. It is difficult to consume the amount of vegetables that a quality green supplement provides in one scoop. I do not use green powder daily but I will put it in my shakes about half the time. Ideally, it is best to consume a large variety of vegetables/greens daily but this is not always possible. It is also questionable how nutrient dense vegetables are due to mineral-depleted soils. I select my green powder based on nutrient density and mixability. Also important factors are if probiotics/prebiotics and enzymes are added. For overall best taste and quality green powder, my first choice is Progressive Vegegreens. The berry flavour tastes so good that you can just mix it in water. I usually put mine in a protein smoothie.
3. Magnesium Glycinate and Zinc with copper
Many experts in the health and fitness world state magnesium glycinate is supposedly one of the better forms of magnesium (compared to citrate and all the others) for absorption. However, I have not been able to find medical research that compares the forms. But I regularly use magnesium glycinate with great results. A few of the most important benefits to me are; electrolyte replenishment after workouts, muscle relaxation, and sleep. I will take 200mg after workouts and 200mg about 30min before sleep. I combine my magnesium with zinc as a bedtime supplement. Zinc helps with hormonal health, helping to maintain healthy testosterone and growth hormone levels. This mineral also helps to bolster a strong immune system. Zinc is also involved in hundreds of enzymatic reactions. It is one of the most important minerals. If you consume zinc, it is important to combine it with copper because copper is lost when zinc levels are elevated. Most mult-vitamin and multi-mineral products contain very small amounts of zinc. 15mg is an effective amount. CanPrev is the trusted brand I use for magnesium. My choice for zinc with copper is from Advanced Orthomolecuar Research (AOR).
4. Fish Oil and Vitamin E
Fish oil/omega-3 fatty acids also provides many benefits. The main reasons I take it are for; mental health, its anti-inflammatory/healing properties, fat loss, and healthy skin and hair. The fat-soluable Vitamin E assists in the absorption of the fish oil. I combine 400IU of vitamin E (I use Natural Factors) with fish oil (I will take anywhere from 750mg-1250mg EPA and 500mg-750mg of DHA). This equats to 4-6 capsules of Ascenta NutraSea, my trusted brand of choice. I prefer capsules over liquid mainly because the liquid goes rancid fairly quickly upon opening - I sometimes forget to take my daily dose. I tend to take my fish oils with meals (usually dinner).
5. Vitamin D3
Vitamin D3 provides numerous benefits. The main reasons I take it are for; mental health, strong bones, and fat loss. I typically get enough vitamin D3 from the sun during the warmer months because I am outside training a lot or doing outdoor activities. However, once late fall or early winter arrives, I will supplement with 2000IU of vitamin D3 daily. It is important to take this vitamin with a fat for absorption as it is one of the fat soluble vitamins. I will either take it with a meal that contains fat or when I take my fish oil. My preferred brand for vitamin D3 is Natural Factors.
I take a multi-vitamin and multi-mineral but not relgiously at all. I tend to eat nutrient dense foods and get some of my nutrients via supplementation of individual vitamins, minerals etc. However, if I have a day where I stray away from my healthy habits, I will take a multi-vitamin/mineral to cover the bases. There are a multitude of benefits for overall health a multi-vitamin and multi-mineral can provide. It is hard to list them all but a few include; more energy, fat loss (better utilization of fat as an energy source, and insulin sensitization), muscle building, joint and bone health, immune system health, better sleep, hormonal balance, healthy skin and hair, sexual health. My preferred multi product is AOR's Ortho-Core.
They say "you are what you eat". But to be more accurate and true, it should have been stated,"you are what you eat AND what you can digest/process and absorb." Enzymes along with probiotics will help you digest and absorb the nutrients from the food you consume. Probiotics provide a myriad of health benefits, but their are two that are especially important to me. New research shows how probiotics may play a role in mood and mental health - the gut-brain connection. They affect the production of neurotransmitters. Probiotics also assist in the body's detoxification process by displacing harmful bacteria and improve the ability to remove waste. My favourite probiotic product is Advanced Biotics by Advanced Orthomolecular Research.
8. Protein Bars
Protein bars are less "essential" than they are convenient as I am on the go a lot. They do not provide a vast array of nutritents, but they contain a decent amount of protein (and low carbohydrates) and fiber to prevent muscle wasting and keep you satiated. I have tried so many different brands but Quest Nutrition are the absolute best. When I am looking for bars, the most important factors are; protein amount, protein source (I prefer whey), fiber amount, natural sweetener, taste, and texture. Quest bars almost taste like candy and have a nice chewy texture and will not give your jaw a heavy workout. These bars also won't give you gas like a lot of other ones do. They also contain 20 grams of protein and are sweetened with stevia. My favourite flavours are coconut cashew and cookies n' cream.
I try not to regularly consume pre-workout supplements because they are stimulants and frequent long-term use can be taxing on the body. They are also highly addictive. If you are sensitive to caffeine I would avoid them. Another negative is that most pre-workouts contain artificial sweeteners, otherwise they would taste pretty awful. It is questionnable how safe artificial sweeteners are, there does not seem to be conclusive evidence one way or the other. However, if I am getting back into a program after a long time away from the weightroom or if I want to take my workouts to another level, I will use them for a few weeks. The active ingredients in most of these supplements include; the muscle-building branched chain amino acids (leucine, isoleucine, valine), citruline and betaine (for enhanced blood flow and nutrient delivery to muscle), creatine (helps improve muscular endurance so you can complete a few extra reps), tyrosine (for dopamine boost- motivation, euphoria, and energy), and caffeine (helps with mental focus, motivation, and fat loss/fat utilization).. I have probably tried over 20 different pre-workout supplements over the last 15 years. The product that has separated itself from the pack is Pre-Jym by Jym Supplement Science (Dr. Jim Stoppani). Dr. Stoppani is one of the most highly-respected sports scientists. His book, "Encyclopedia of Muscle and Strength", is a must-have for any fitness enthusiast or bodybuilder. I will typically take 1-2 scoops on an empty stomach 30min before my workouts. Pre-Jym provides sustained energy without a major crash and a good "muscle pump". Unlike a lot of pre-workouts, it does not cause an upset stomach.. It also is one of the better tasting products available. I prefer the black cherry flavour because it is not overly sweet compared to the others.
10. Adrenal (Cortisol Control) Supplement
Training at a high intensity, daily stresses, lack of sleep, consuming stimulants, can all wreak havoc on the adrenal glands over time. They start over-producing cortisol to keep energy levels from plummeting and keep you alive. Elevated cortisol over time can lead to abdominal fat accumulation. It is a good idea to have your cortisol levels checked occasionally via saliva analysis. Stressed adrenals will make you energy-sapped and you can be more suseptible to colds and flu. I occasionally take a cortisol supplement if I am extra stressed or if I have taken a pre-workout supplement for an extended period. Adrenal supplements usually contain a combination of vitamin B, tyrosine (a dopamine pre-cursor that helps with maintaining motivation/drive), Ayurvedic herbs and other herbs (typically; ginseng, schizandra and rhodiola) and sometimes dessicated adrenal glands (usually from cows). Adrenal Pro by CanPrev is my go-to cortisol control product. I will take 2 capsules upon waking and 2 before bed.
Eric Astrauskas, Spec. Hons. B.A.(Kinesiology), P.T.S.