#1 Protein Powder
Protein powder is the most important supplement when it comes to muscle gain(z). When you train–and therefore, damage your muscles–you need protein to recover and grow. Without sufficient protein intake1 you are tearing down more than you can build. The result? At worst, catabolic state; at best, zero muscle gain. The best important time to consume protein is around your workout time; whether this is before or after your workout doesn’t really matter.2
Protein powder will provide you with an instant of this most essential macronutrient, delivering it to the body to aid recovery and stimulate growth.
The most common type of protein powder is whey protein, which is protein derived from cows milk; this comes in concentrate and isolate forms. Opt for isolate over concentrate as it contains virtually no lactose and generally contains more protein per gram.
If you are allergic to whey, ethically or biologically, there are other options:
Perhaps better than whey. A very good source of protein and ideal for those who are lactose intolerant; also may prevent an intolerance to whey developing, which tends to happen to those who use a lot of it. If you’re able to, rotate whey and goat/sheep protein.
Egg-based and beef-based proteins are ideal for those who follow a ‘Paleo’ diet.
Plant-based powders, ideal for vegans, vegetarians, pescatarians. These proteins, however, are not as effective as whey or goats protein–so, if you’re going to use them it is a good idea to also supplement with BCAA’s.
Another popular source of protein, casein has been around for donkey’s years. It provides a slower release of protein to the body, which is ideal at night before bed, or, even better, combined with whey/goats protein post workout.
For whey protein, do not waste money on ‘grass-fed’ or organic whey. In the process of making whey powder, all of the nutrients that are so abundant in grass fed milk are removed anyway–in all whey products, for that matter. As you shouldn’t be using whey as your main nutrient source anyway, worrying about organic or grass-fed is but a waste of energy;3organic or grass-fed full-fat yoghurt, milk and other dairy products.
In terms of which brand to go for, Bulk Powders Whey is fantastic.
#2 Fish Oil
Fish oil is the best supplement to take to minimise inflammation, which occurs from weight training and cardio. Inflammation could be the biggest obstacle in the way of your muscle gains. If you’re inflamed, your body cannot repair itself properly, no matter good you eat, how much you train, how hard you sleep.4
Fish oil is a fantastic source of the Omega 3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, which are essential fats that the body needs to function correctly and optimally. Fish oil will help with skin, brain, heart, and metabolic function. It will also help with energy problems, by stabilising blood sugar. Take at least 5g a day of high quality liquid fish oil with a good EPA/DHA ratio.
Zinc could also top this list because without it, the body cannot repair tissue. If you are deficient in zinc your stomach lining will be impaired, which means you will not digest foods properly. You’ll also have the attention span of a spanner, in addition to weak bones, nails, and poor skin condition.
Taking zinc will help with:
- Muscle cramps
- Muscle repair
- Skin, nails and bones
- Cognitive function
Take 15-30mg a day. If you are very deficient you may need more. The best thing to do, as with any supplementation, is to get your bloods tested before consumption.5
Magnesium is another essential mineral, and has been coined the ‘anti-stress mineral’. If you are constantly stressed out magnesium can work wonders. It is very important post workout because it relaxes the muscles, which allows them to recover properly. If you suffer from shaking muscles, cramps, bad sleep, tiredness, restlessness, brain fog, or a general decreased feeling of wellbeing, you could very well be deficient.
Take at least 500mg a day with meals. At night and post-workout are the best times, because magnesium tends to have a relaxing effect, both physically and mentally.
‘NOW’ is a reliable and valuable supplement brand. Here is their magnesium product.
#5 Vitamin D
This could top the list easily. Vitamin D is a fundamental substance for bone health, muscle health and overall health. It is believed to interact with every single cell in the human body.
Muscle growth can be aided by correct D36 supplementation in multiple ways: it will increase energy, which will allow you to train harder; it will improve bone and muscle strength, which has obvious implications; and it will increase cognitive function, which will make you want to train, and want to eat real food. The so-called ‘SAD’ disorder, which is so common in places like Glasgow, is caused, it is believed, because people are stuck indoors and derived of daylight and sunshine, which is the best source of vitamin D.
Take at least 2000iu’s a day of liquid vitamin D. Liquid vitamin D is the so, so much better than capsules–because it is pretty much instantly absorbed by the body; and also much better value for money. 2000iu’s is the lowest dosage you should take; there is, however, considerable argument to be made for at least 5,000iu’s a day. The best thing to do is get a vitamin D test; they’re only cheap, and that way you’ll full control over your status.7
#6 Carbohydrate Powder
Carbohydrate powder is the best way to replenish glycogen stores post-workout. Taken with a protein powder, they will complement each other perfectly. Whether you need a carb powder, however, is a question only you can answer. If you’re goal is add muscle, and you have not much care about gaining fat in the process, carb away. If you’re after lean muscle, on the other hand, only use carb powder if you are already lean; when you’re lean, your body uses carbs very differently to when you are fat. Carbs are important; they enable you to train hard, they keep you in a good mood, they help you sleep, they are the core substance of the pump.
You will have to adjust your needs for a carb powder after each workout, depending on the workout you did. If you did a small cardio session, for example, you will not need carbs. If, however, you spent most of your time in the gym lifting, straining, vomiting, you most likely need carbs more than anything. Time under tension is a key principle here: the more TUT, the more carbs needed to replenish the muscles.
Opt for a high quality carb powder such as maltodextrin or dextrose-based ones.
Creatine could perhaps be the most talked about supplement. It used to be very popular, back in the ‘olden’ days, but seems to be less so today; the reason for this is, of course, due to the ridiculous range of supplements we have today. Its popularity has nothing to do with its effectiveness, though. It it almost guaranteed to give you a kick up the arse in the gym, which will boost your gains in the long-run. Creatine is naturally stored in the human body, but in very short supply, and it takes a while to replenish; it is generally used for short, explosive, power-based bodily movements, and therefore can deplete itself very quickly when training is being done as it should be. Supplementing with it will make this depletion last only a few moments.
Pre and post workout is a popular way to help flush it into the muscles and aid in performance enhancement; for optimal absorption, take with simple sugars, which will act, literally, as a pump.
The best types are creatine HCL and creatine monohydrate. Stay away from other less effective types of creatine because whilst they may boost your ATP status, they come with nasty side-effects, the main ones being sickness and stomach bloat.
Glutamine is another performance enhancer and overall health booster. If you are deficient in glutamine you’ll have a weak stomach lining, which means you won’t be digesting foods properly and therefore, cannot repair tissue properly. Taking glutamine post workout will help flush in the carbs, proteins and other nutrients. If you suffer from a runny nose, constantly or occasionally, glutamine could fix this problem almost instantly. Another little known usage for glutamine is in the treatment of alcohol addiction; the glutamine seems to squash the body’s constant asking for alcohol, which may make the mental work easier.8 From personal experience, I have also found glutamine to be a powerful sugar-craving suppressor; the reasons for this I don’t know, but I suppose it is the brain reacting to the energy boost it gets from glutamine, which means it doesn’t crave sugar hits.
L-glutamine powder is what I recommend; it is easily absorbed and the terribly good value for money.
Branched-chain Amino Acid caps or powder could also be top of this lise. They are the essential building blocks that are needed to repair muscles and incur growth. If you don’t take any form of protein powder, the best thing you can do for your gains is take BCAA. Around your workout time is best.
Taking BCAAs throughout the day is also very common among bodybuilders and people who train hard and want serious results. BCAAs are naturally found in whey and animal protein, in an amount sufficient enough for most people; but the amount is not efficient enough in two situations: Poor digestion, and therefore impaired nutrient absorption; and for the champion. By champion I mean one with a champions mindset: they want to be better than everyone else. This isn’t a good philosophy for life, but a necessary one in competitive environments.
BCAAs contain the amino acids, Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine. Taking Leucine-enriched BCAAs has been found to be even more effective than ordinary BCAAs.
For the mega serious muscle gainer, BCAAs are crucial.
Another great company, Reflex Nutrition, sell a quality BCAA product.
Stomach and digestive health is just as (or perhaps even more important than) any other supplement on this list. If you are not digesting food properly, no supplement, no food item, no training protocol, no mediation practice, is going to help you–well, there are some supplements that may. Namely, Digestive Enzymes or HCL (hydrochloric acid).
HCL is the natural stomach acid produced by your body to break down food in your stomach and process nutrients. If your stomach is not digesting food, the nutrients you eat are just going down the toilet–literally!
A lot of people seem to think that burping, farting and bloating is normal. Not necessarily–especially in excessive amounts. The reason, usually, is a lack of stomach acid. The symptoms of impaired digestion get labeled ‘indigestion’ and ‘heartburn’; but this is half true. Indigestion may be the spympton, but it is not the problem.9 It is obvious, then, to see how taking ‘anti-acid’ medicine is a problem; it covers up the indigestion and makes everything seem rosy, but underneath the hood, nothing is rosy. Moreover, not only to they cover up the symptoms (acid reflux, heartburn, farting, burping, etc), by reducing the acid your stomach is producing, they actually directly impair digestion!
Most indigestion symptoms are caused by inadequate stomach acid10 Food that enters your stomach and cannot be properly broken down will manifest itself as constipation, bloating, stomach cramps, acid reflux, sickness, inflammation, and a host of other problems. Further, because the food is not being digested, neither are important nutrients; zinc and magnesium deficiencies could result, which is–seen as these minerals are themselves important to digestion–why I call poor digestion the slipperiest slope in health.11
Taking HCL, which are essentially stomach acid capsules, can help digestive issues tremendously. You will digest your food better, absorb nutrients, reduce bloating, and sleep better; you will have less inflammation, better mood, you’ll be able to train harder, you’ll recover faster–the benefits of good digestion are truly remarkable, and, I would say, magical for those who suffer from poor digestion.
HCL is a powerful supplement, and you should use it methodically. Using it incorrectly, sporadically or carelessly can actually make digestive problems worse. The other, safer option is digestive enzymes, which you can take with each meal. These play a similar role to that of HCL, but contain other digestive aids like peppermint, papain and lipase.
When choosing supplements always go for liquid or powder forms over capsules and tablets. Firstly, you usually save spend less; and secondly, your absorption of them will be significantly better. Whilst the former is not always true, the latter is, and is, without doubt, what matter in the end.
Everything I have said here has been from my own study, experience and experimentation–both personally, and with my clients, friends and family. Whilst I recommend these supplements, it is of vital importance to use them smartly and safely; don’t overdose, don’t be careless, don’t expect miracles–don’t be stupid, basically. Use them smartly, however, and you will likely see some interesting developments in your physical and mental health. Further, supplements are not a panacea; eat as healthy as you can first (this means enough calories of the right type), then start with the most important supps (protein, magnesium, vit D) then try the others.
- For muscle gain, a minimum of 1g per 1 lb of bodyweight.
- Some Science has shown, however, that the best time is roughly thirty minutes before you train.
- Better to reserve this energy for your workouts.
- Hard sleeping: taking sleep very seriously.
- Full comprehensive blood panel testing is the gold standard here, but more specific tests could be necessary. If you’re able to afford one, do it; money will probably not buy you out of a health crisis later on. Seen as not everyone will be able to afford one, however, it’s very important that you do your own research, go slowly, and pay attention to your body.
- Stay away from Vitamin D2, unless advised by a professional. Reason being, your body produces this itself; whereas it cannot produce D3.
- A word about national guidelines. What the guidelines for Vitamin D levels are in your country are not something to be relied upon. The recommendations in Canada, for example, are vastly different to those in the UK; there is no good reason for this.
- Alcohol addiction is both a physical and mental issue; and working on one without the other is likely to result in failure at best.
- Alas, we have came to the fundamental problem of most doctors prescriptions.
- There are other, less common causes. H.Pylori and poor food combining practice, being the most obvious.
- I call it this despite the plain-to-see difficulties in pronunciation.