In this article we’re going to discuss the best supplements to help aid you in building muscle, losing weight, and generally being more healthy.
You may already be familiar with certain supplements if you’re a gym goer or simply someone who’s made a conscious decision to focus on a healthier lifestyle: from multivitamins to whey protein powder, the supplement umbrella covers an enormous variety of items for almost any intended purpose you can think of.
The key to your decision with any supplement is ultimately understanding how each individual one works, what it does and therefore choosing the right one to deliver the intended benefits as effectively as possible.
Best Supplements for Muscle Gain
1. Protein Powders
If you want to build muscle, you need to be getting a sufficient amount of protein in your body. For the average person, you need around 0.7-1 gram of protein per pound of body weight.
For example, if you're a 220 lb guy, you would need 220 g of protein. Consuming that amount through diet and whole foods alone would be a daunting task and you would have to be eating almost constantly; whereas using a powdered form of protein you can hit your daily intake in one sitting.
There and lots of different types of protein powders out there, but my personal favorite is whey protein (isolate) and here's why:
Though I prefer whey, it's not a one size fits all product as we all have different dietary requirements (e.g., vegan).
Here are some other types of protein powders:
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Creatine is perhaps next in line for popularity and usage; almost every gym goer knows about or has utilised it at some point in the pursuit of enhanced strength and muscle mass.
What’s interesting to note is that the human body naturally contains creatine within the muscle cells: that’s what the body uses to power itself through intense sets of resistance exercise.
Creatine supplementation theoretically boosts our natural creatine stores, allowing us to perform more reps over a slightly enhanced period.
It is also potentially beneficial for lifting greater loads with greater force acceleration.
There are several creatine options available on the market, including but not limited to:
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3. Amino Acids And BCAA’s
Whilst it’s true that protein supplements contain amino acids, there are times when the protection of the muscles becomes incredibly important, more so than normal.
For example, when on a low calorie nutrition plan such as during “cutting” (removing as much excess body fat as possible from the body to reveal muscular definition) or simply losing weight in general, your body is at a higher risk of going catabolic and eating into its own muscle stores.
At times like these, branched chain amino acids come in very useful as a safeguard against this highly damaging mechanism of the body by providing it with the building blocks it needs to sustain growth and cell repair, even though there are not many nutrients available due to the calorie restriction taking place.
- Easily digestible
- Protect the muscles against being broken down and consumed for energy
- Fairly cheap when compared to other supplements on the market
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Our bodies contain a natural abundance of glutamine, much in the same way it does creatine. Glutamine is the primary foundation of 61% of skeletal muscle.
It also serves to transport nitrogen to the muscle cells, this in turn helps to sustain activity.
After a hard training session, your glutamine levels will deplete significantly; this leads to fatigue, lack of strength and impaired recovery.
That is, unless you choose to supplement with glutamine and bring those levels back up to normal; as a recovery aid, glutamine has a proven track record for success for thousands of people.
Some of the primary benefits of glutamine supplementation include:
- Can increase growth hormone levels, which in turn helps to reduce body fat and grow lean muscle mass
- Protects the muscles from going catabolic during low calorie periods
- Fights against illness (low glutamine levels can leave the immune system in a weakened state)
5. Weight Gainers
To gain muscle mass, it depends on how many calories you need as an individual to create the surplus needed to create growth.
For some people, this surplus is only a few hundred calories whereas for others, it is literally a few thousand.
This is where mass gainers (or weight gainers) come into play; they deliver quite possibly the biggest bang for your buck of all the supplements due to the advanced array of ingredients some of them contain.
A few of the benefits associated with mass gainers include:
- A highly convenient source of well balanced calories and nutrients
- An often superior taste when compared to other protein products
- Can be used as a meal replacement in most cases
- Very versatile; mass gainers can serve as an anytime drink including post work out
6. Testosterone Boosters
Natural testosterone boosters exist for many reasons; whether its energy support, lean muscle mass development, or an enhanced state of mental well being, testosterone boosters can affect any and all of these areas.
What’s important to remember is that until your early 30’s, you are already producing the maximum amount of testosterone possible for your body to process. This means any money spent on testosterone boosting products if you are under that age bracket could potentially be wasted.
However, if you are 40 or above, these supplements could give you a much needed boost and impact your training sessions, energy levels and life quality positively.
Some of the most common testosterone boosters include:
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5 Best Weight Loss Supplements
In this section we’re going to look at natural products you can buy off the shelf to help assist with your weight loss goals. Being that they’re natural, provided you only take them according to the recommended dosage on the packaging, there’s a low risk of adverse side effects taking place.
1. Fat Burners
Fat burners are likely the most popular weight loss supplement available, and millions of men and women are buying them in the pursuit of elevated weight loss.
They can work in either one or several ways; with the main aim being to help burn excess body fat away from the body.
Or rather, to help use excess body fat as an energy source.
Some of the main features of popular fat burners include:
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2. Fat Controllers
Fat controllers, or fat blockers as they are commonly known are a supplement designed to literally stop your body from absorbing excess fat from the diet.
They work by inhibiting the body's fat uptake capacity and therefore diminishing the chances of any excess fat being stored on the body itself.
There are many proposed ingredients allegedly capable of having this effect, and fat blockers will feature either one or several of them in order to achieve their effect.
They are less “invasive” than fat burners, in that they are often non stimulant based therefore the risk of adverse side effects is much lower.
Some of the main highlights include:
- Can reduce fat uptake from the diet and reduce the risk of excess fat storage
- Do not typically interfere with heart rate so no crashes
- Can enhance fat loss by up to a third when dieting
In order to digest fat, our body uses its lipase stores within the intestine to break it down. Fat blockers work by diminishing the effects of lipase, thus allowing the fat to move through your system undigested and pass through the other end.
Risks associated with fat blockers include gastrointestinal issues, oily stools and excess gas; if these symptoms manifest in any severe way, then you should reduce your fat intake further.
Some of the best fat blockers can be found at the below locations: Oxford Pharmacy (only if prescribed by a GP due to a very excessive body weight level; the reason orlistat makes the list is because it’s arguably the most effective natural FDA approved option, and you may fit the criteria specified).
3. Carbohydrate Blockers
Carbohydrate blockers function in much the same way as fat blockers, except they block carbohydrate uptake from your dietary intake as opposed to fat uptake.
They work by stopping carbohydrates from being broken down into sugars, meaning that there is no excess wasted energy to store as body fat.
In reality, it is actually excess carbohydrate consumption that tends to be the main catalyst for weight gain as opposed to excess fat consumption. We simply take in far too much energy for our bodies to use at once, which is why the extra gets converted into fat.
Some of the best features of carb blockers include:
- Reductions in the amount of sugar being processed, meaning a lowered risk of diabetes and other diseases associated with excess body fat
- Arguably allows you to reduce damage on days where you do have bad food types
- Another non stimulant based supplement
4. Appetite Suppressants
Appetite suppressants are potentially a highly effective way to promote weight loss without greatly altering any internal digestive processes. They do this by increasing serotonin levels within the body, thus making the user feel “settled” and alleviating hunger urges.
Cravings often come from an “unsettled” mindset that is perhaps suffering from stress, or over thinking; what’s great about serotonin is that it promotes an internal state of contentment, thus meaning that cravings are far less likely.
Some of the main benefits of appetite suppressants are:
- Decreased likelihood to make negative food choices
- Potentially less calories consumed due to less binge eating
- Enhanced levels of energy and mental alertness
Whilst natural appetite suppressants are generally considered to be safe, there are some potential side effects involved. These include dryness of the mouth, sleeplessness, irritability, stomach upset and constipation.
It would be wise to expect at least a little stomach upset during the initial integration phase when first using an appetite suppressant. This is not uncommon and should reduce very shortly after the initiation phase is over.
L-carnitine has become an incredibly popular product for weight loss; it is very widely used by gym goers and fitness enthusiasts in the pursuit of a leaner physique.
Carnitine works by transporting fatty acids in the system into mitochondria, where they can be used to produce energy. Basically, carnitine takes fat and turns it into a usable fuel source.
Enhanced levels of carnitine could lead to more fat being used for energy than normal, and in conjunction with this primary benefit there are also several other alleged benefits including:
- Enhanced male fertility
- Helping with kidney problems in instances where carnitine production has reduced
- Potentially increases glucose oxidation, helping to stabilise sugar levels and assist with health issues like diabetes
- It has also been linked with antioxidant properties, meaning it can potentially combat disease and illness.
Due to the low risk of negative side effects, this makes carnitine a very strong choice as a good all in one supplement to include in your arsenal. Some people, however, have reported high blood pressure, sleeplessness, headaches and diarrhea whilst supplementing with carnitine.
6. Herbal Weight Loss Remedies
Herbal weight loss remedies have been tried and tested sources that have been consumed by humans for years.
This includes the likes of green tea which is not only useful as a weight loss aid, but a incredibly valuable health resource for the body for a spectrum of other reasons too.
Other choices include but are not limited to:
This list comprises of only a few of the popular herbal options available.
How these supplements individually work varies greatly as many of them will positively impact more than one aspect of your body at once (including combating disease and raising energy levels) as well as reportedly having a direct effect on weight loss.
Some qualities include making the gut feel “full” for longer, therefore reducing hunger. Others include directly breaking down fat cells or blocking fat absorption, and others simply elevate the heart rate and / or levels of serotonin to assist with enhanced calorie burning and craving suppression respectively.
Side effects associated with herbal weight loss supplements include stomach upset, headaches and occasionally skin issues.
3 Pre and Post Workout Supplements
You could argue that every health supplement can improve your workouts due to the fact that they either enhance the effect of your training, or allow you to train better in the first place.
However, some supplements have been specifically engineered to directly impact your workout and the improvements you see.
The important thing to note about these supplements is that each supplement has been specifically designed to assist your training over the course of three very different windows known as:
1. Pre Workouts
A pre workout is simply an advanced energy drink, often higher in caffeine content that will deliver a high state of mental and physical readiness.
Usually, there are a plethora of B vitamins included, as well as elements like creatine and several amino acids designed to promote improved blood flow and allow the muscles to function to their maximal capacity.
Some of the main benefits include:
- Drastically enhanced mental alertness
- Highly elevated energy reserves
- The potential to make a workout significantly more effective
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2. Intra Workouts
Intra workout supplements are engineered to be used in the middle of your workouts to safeguard against catabolism.
If a pre workout is an advanced form of energy drink, then intra workout supplements are usually an advanced form of branched chain amino acids containing extra benefits.
They come in many different flavours and can contain many different ingredients to assist with your muscular growth and recovery process. Some intra workouts contain compounds to help raise growth hormone and testosterone production (like tribulus for instance) and will typically base themselves on an amino acid mix (of the same variety as BCAA’s) for muscular sustenance.
Some of these benefits can include:
- B vitamin blends to help with mental energy
- Added glutamine to help protect the muscles against breakdown
- Added vitamin C to help protect the immune system
- Peace of mind whilst following a low calorie nutrition plan
3. Post Workouts
Post workout supplements are an absolutely vital component and the most important out of all three to a successful workout regimen with clear results. Without adequate post workout nutrition, the benefits of your training session will be critically diminished.
It’s unbelievably important that you take in at least some fast acting protein and carbohydrates within the hour long window after a training session.
Post workout supplements perform the following roles:
- They “lock in” your training results
- They replenish glycogen stores and allow you to feel “stable” again
- They sometimes contain added compounds to promote growth hormone release
4 Supplements for Energy
Technically, anything that has been designed to boost your energy levels would class as an energy enhancing supplement. This means the likes of monster, red bull and relentless fall into this category.
When you consider the sheer number of energy drinks available on the market today, it’s actually quite mind blowing how widespread these supplements have become.
Why Do I Need Extra Energy?
There’s nothing you can’t do with more energy; this is especially true within the context of any fitness goal, as energy fuels every aspect of your training process.
It’s also true that energy can affect your nutritional success too; during low energy periods, cravings are at their worst and this is when people’s dietary regime tends to break and suffer the most. With more energy, you have more resistance to temptation.
When training, low energy means your workout will directly suffer; you simply won’t feel like giving it your all, and as a result, you risk not being able to maximise the positive benefits of your workout. You’ll also need energy for weight gain for the same reason; lack of intensity during workouts isn’t going to stimulate the muscles enough to lead to growth.
Energy boosting supplements, much like appetite suppressants will typically fall into one of two main categories which are:
Some supplements promote the natural production of energy within the body, whereas some provide a source of “artificial” non organic energy to give the body an immediate surge. Here are the most popular options:
- 2Energy Drinks
- 3Herbal Energy Enhancers
- 4Energy Bars
Next to sugar, this is perhaps one of the most commonly used items on the planet. We often rely on caffeine to set us up for the day, or carry us through particularly stressful periods where an extra “kick” is needed to liven us up.
Caffeine can be found in a number of products, including coffee and tea. It is also the primary ingredient in most energy drinks and the reason your mental acuity may immediately spike after drinking them.
Incase you’ve ever wondered how it actually works; caffeine simply stops adenosine from binding with adenosine receptors.
Adenosine is what signals our brain to rest or sleep, therefore without them binding together, the urge to sleep or rest is greatly reduced.
Benefits of caffeine use include:
- Enhanced energy
- Enhanced mood
- Relaxed muscles
- Greater blood flow
- Enhanced calorie burning
Side effects with caffeine will often come from overuse, and can include migraines, stomach irritation, skin irritation and sleeplessness. You should try to only use caffeine as and when it is needed, as it is quite addictive and overuse could lead to any or all of the above issues should your intake not be moderated.
You can of course also get caffeine by purchasing tea or coffee; the caffeine in coffee digests more rapidly and is higher in concentration than the content in tea. This is something worth keeping in mind if you need a quicker acting hit.
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2. Energy Drinks
They’re designed to deliver an instant hit of energy to the the body at times where fatigue may be high and the body needs something to take it through either a rigorous training session or a tough task at work.
One of the main components of the vast majority of energy drinks is caffeine; as previously discussed, this stimulant can deliver an instant pick me up.
You’ll often find that most energy drinks contain a blend of B vitamins too; B vitamins are responsible for energy release and the release of serotonin within the system.
Some of the main reasons to use energy drinks are:
- They provide an instant effect
- They usually contain vitamin blends to enhance your mood and give you more focus
- They’re one of the only supplements that are actually guaranteed to have an effect
You can acquire most energy drinks in either sugar free, or full sugar variants. Sugar free variants are brilliant for those on a calorie restriction as they allow the user to get a much needed energy boost without the excess calories.
Risks associated with energy drink consumption are similar to caffeine; they tend to set in when people abuse them and far exceed the normal (one singular serving would be classed as normal) serving quantity.
Side effects can include nausea, vomiting, irregular heartbeat and cardiac arrest. Use these products as and when needed only, and try not to grow dependant on them.
Some energy drinks are caffeine free and instead achieve the energy boost effect through the integration of vitamins and minerals proven to help aid in energy release. If you’re caffeine sensitive these may be a better option.
3. Herbal Energy Enhancers
As with herbal weight loss remedies, herbal energy enhancers are a great option if you’d prefer to stay away from anything that’s been highly manufactured. Provided you’re responsible with energy supplements, you’ll usually find that you never experience any negative side effects.
The vast majority of these products are made with ingredients sourced from plants, including green tea extract, kola nut extract, guarana and ginseng.
There are several benefits to choosing herbal options over tinned energy drinks and other synthetic energy boosters and they include:
- Herbal remedies are a more sustainable option and can be taken indefinitely provided no negative side effects are experienced
- No nasty crashes; energy release with herbal options tends to be slower and sustained as opposed to providing an immediate but short lived hit
- No surprises; whilst some commercial energy drinks are produced responsibly, others contain proprietary blends with potentially dangerous ingredients
The energy being provided here comes from a very natural source, and is produced using very natural bodily processes. This means you don’t get the instant “buzz” associated with many energy drinks, but you do get a different, more permanent form of energy that will potentially last all day.
Potential side effects include headaches, skin irritation, irritability, dizziness and fatigue. This is however very unlikely, due to the sustained release of the energy.
Due to the low level of risk associated with herb based energy boosters, they are certainly worth trying if you don’t like stimulant based products.
4. Energy Bars
Energy bars will typically consist of a low GI (glycaemic index) form of complex carbohydrate that can steadily release into the system, leading to sustained energy for physical activity.
Some bars are hybrids and contain some fast acting elements, whereas others can be fairly high in glucose to serve as a more immediate energy source and contain less complex carbohydrates.
Some of the best aspects of energy bars are:
- No crashes due to sustained energy release
- Usually non stimulant based (though some bars do contain caffeine)
- A wide array of flavours and options to suit any sport or situation
Some energy bars are great meal replacements as they contain an array of vitamins and minerals along side healthy carbohydrates and fats. Others should really only be consumed shortly before or after exercise.
Risks involved with consuming them are typically associated with their consistency; much like mass gain protein powders, some bars may as well be found down the sweet aisle due to them so closely resembling chocolate bars and other unhealthy options.
Due to their convenience, there can sometimes be a tendency to use them as a replacement for several meals, as opposed to just one; as they are not a balanced source of whole food, they should be used sparingly.
Still, they serve a good purpose and do make life a little easier due to coming pre-made and ready to eat, and if you choose a high quality product then it’ll definitely give you the sustained energy you need to perform your chosen task.
Potential weight gain is the only other possibility should overconsumption take place but with controlled use you should feel free to implement them into your routine should you be in need of a convenient pick me up.
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As you can see, there are more potential reasons for than against.
Is There Any Risk Involved?
In a word, yes - It really depends on whether or not you stick to dosage guidelines and use the product as it’s intended to be used.
Some micronutrients can be toxic to the body when consumed in enormous doses, and with many products often being a crossover and containing several different ingredients at once (especially in the case of weight gainers) you really do have to ensure you’re sensible with how much you ingest.
Where the biggest risk lies is with:
Weight loss & energy products
It could be said that in the case of fat burners especially, they are perhaps marketed towards people who feel that they are not only in a desperate situation, but also have relatively little experience with supplements and sometimes physical activity. This can lead to a less is more approach, meaning a higher dosage than is recommended gets ingested, then as a result, the heart rate can elevate to highly abnormal levels and damage can easily get caused to internal organs.
This is at least as true if not doubly so with pre workouts and energy drinks; after taking them a few times the body often starts to develop a tolerance.
Following on from this, it’s not uncommon for people to start recklessly increasing the dosage to a point where it far exceeds what’s being recommended by the supplier. This can and has previously ended fatally in both cases; it’s never a risk you should take.
Generally speaking, simply following the recommended guidelines for any product will always carry almost no risk whatsoever provided you’ve read any associated health warnings on the product box and consulted with a GP prior to use. Simply put, play safe at all times; that’s how any supplement is intended to be used.
Excess strain on the liver
It is believed that the liver can only process so much protein at once, and the rate at which it is able to extract amino acids from protein certainly has a limit.
This limit is going to fluctuate slightly from person to person (the previous link contains further information on this) but what’s important to take on board is that there is a wall for everybody, and it can be hit.
As with any organ, should the liver have too much demand placed on it, then over time you risk damaging it and adversely affecting its functionality. With the liver being an absolutely vital component of your overall health, it’s incredibly important that it is not in any way compromised.
Stick to the guidelines above and don’t take in unnecessary amounts of protein at once or throughout the day; any adaptation to exercise can be created through very simple nutritional principles and training. It’s always best to stick with what works.
Dosage truly depends on your body weight; you’ll typically find that one scoop of any protein supplement is going to deliver anywhere between 20 - 30 grams of protein.
As the body only needs a marginal increase in protein intake to lead to muscle growth, there’s no genuine research in existence to prove that extreme intakes of anywhere up to 400 grams per day will actually have the beneficial effect desired on muscle growth.
As a rule of thumb, it has been stated the body can only absorb at the most 30 grams of protein in one sitting; at present, no conclusive evidence exists to contradict this.
It’s always best to ensure your total daily intake doesn’t exceed the 1.2 - 1.4 grams per pound of body weight ratio, and that you don’t try to consume an amount exceeding 30 grams in one sitting. This will at the very least minimise wastage, at best it could save your liver.
Important Tips to Consider
We’ve covered a very comprehensive array of the most popular supplements.
You should now have a good solid idea of not only how these supplements work, but also which qualities you need to look out for.
Some further important tips to bear in mind before you purchase any supplements are:
By following these guidelines, you’ll almost always have a positive experience when using supplements.
Should I always buy a supplement if it can help me with an existing issue I'm faced with?
You should always seek to solve any bodily based deficiency or issue through nutrition first before considering trying a supplement, and you should never replace one with the other.
Should I only buy natural supplements?
Unless it’s being sold by a respectable trading source, then you simply can’t guarantee the effect it’ll have on you.
How long should I wait before I stop using a supplement if I experience adverse effects?
First determine whether or not the adverse effects are to be expected when initially taking the supplement.
If yes, then wait for the commonly suggested initiation period to end before making a decision.
Should adverse effects continue, or should they be very severe in nature to begin with you should stop using the supplement immediately.
How do I know if a supplement will work?
In short, you don’t.
Only stimulant based supplements are actually guaranteed to work due to the effect they have on the brain and heart rate.
All others are entirely dependent on your personal physiology. Always check effectiveness of a chosen product by comparing user reviews.
How do I know if a supplement is working?
Again, consider the intended purpose of the supplement and compare your experience with those of other users.
With some products you will know immediately that they have worked (energy boosters) but for others, it’s always a good idea to check common symptoms of the supplements successful integration into your system.
Should I take anything I've been given, or take something someone else has recommended I take?
Only take a supplement that has been provided by a trusted retailer with an intact security seal.
Never take any supplement that you have not purchased directly and thoroughly researched before buying.
So here we are, at the end of our initiation into the supplement world.
In truth, we have only scratched the surface of the tremendous number of supplements available on the market; the options you’ve been studying are simply the most popular and widespread categories available.
Should you take on board any warnings given throughout these pages in regards to dosage, side effects and how a supplement is used; you will hopefully have a good experience with your chosen product.
Never hesitate to ask for professional advice should you find yourself confused or lost over a certain supplement; you can never ask too many questions, and you can never receive too much advice.
Buying a supplement is always an important decision, and at the least it’s important to ensure that no money gets wasted and that your health is protected.
Good luck in your gym based endeavors, and happy training.