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The Lowdown On Supplements: Everything You Need To Know

The Lowdown On Supplements: Everything You Need To Know
Written by Michael Garrico

In this article we’re going to discuss supplements; we’ll be going over the various reasons why people choose to use them, how they will affect your performance, your health and the different varieties on offer.

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 multi vitamins to whey protein powder, the supplement umbrella covers an enormous variety of items for almost any intended purpose you can think of.

This can be viewed in one of two ways; it’s a gift that we have so much variety to choose from and such a plethora of ways to improve our health and sports based performance.

However, the downside to this is that the sheer range of items available could easily give you a headache if you’re relatively new to supplements.

There Are So Many Supplements To Choose From...

So infinite is the range of supplements available that trying to consider the best choice for a certain goal can be comparable to pondering over the infinity of the universe.

You stand a genuine chance of driving yourself insane with confusion and deliberation as you seek to make the right choice to best suit your goals.

What we aim to do within the contents of this article is explain supplements in such a way that you can understand their function in a robust manner, and then lead you towards a high quality product within the category you’re currently looking at.

Supplements on shelves in a store

There are so many supplements to choose from, need a hand?

The key to your decision with any supplement is ultimately understanding how each individual one works, what it does and therefore choosing something that can deliver the intended benefits as effectively as possible.

First things first though, let’s take a look at what a supplement actually is so that we can understand where it fits into your training regimen.

What Is A Supplement And How Should It Be Used?

To explain what a supplement is, it would perhaps be easier to discuss what a supplement is not.

A supplement should never:

  • Replace whole food entirely
  • Be used to substitute any food group (unless a medical condition is involved)
  • ​Be used as an intended replacement for physical activity
  • Be used without prior research or tried and tested testimonials

You probably weren’t expecting any supplement on the planet to do any of the above in the first place, but due to the highly commercial nature of supplement companies there are some immensely bold claims being made out there.

You’d be forgiven for thinking any of the above were true with the marketing tactics laid out over the pages of the most popular fitness magazines today.

What an effective supplement is though, could be the difference you need to vastly improve any area of your health or gym based performance.

Whilst no single supplement is a miracle cure, some of them (especially the popular options we’ll be covering here) can and very likely will have a huge impact on your body.

What a good supplement does is:

  • Makes following a healthy eating plan more convenient
  • Provides vital nutrients in a practical format
  • ​Diversifies choice and improves the sustainability of your health efforts
  • ​Ensures you hit at least the minimum count of a certain micro or macro nutrient
  • ​Creates anything from a minimal but still significant, to a maximal and highly noticeable difference in your gym or sports based performance
  • Genuinely improves your health
Fitness magazine rack

The fitness magazines can be confusing, overwhelming, and which ones can you really trust.

As you can see, there are more potential reasons for than against.

So What Kind Of Effects On My Health Or Performance Could I Expect To See?

This all depends on your chosen goal and chosen supplement; there’s little doubt you’ll already be aware of some of the options we have listed further on, but others may be completely alien to you at the moment (but not for much longer of course.)

In terms of a gym or sports performance focused supplement, you’ll have a variety to choose from.

Some will enhance your ability to recover straight after a work out, thus ensuring you solidify your hard training efforts and start reaping the benefits immediately.

Fat loss supplements are designed to assist in your fat burning capabilities and enhance your metabolism through the elevation of your heart rate or the inclusion of certain fat “eating” compounds.

Some will enhance your level of mental alertness and focus, allowing you to push through at a time where you would perhaps have preferred to simply go home and relax.

Others will allow you to improve your endurance and train for longer, or perform more repetitions with a certain weight; others will even do a combination of several of these elements at once.

In terms of health, some choices will boost your immune system and safeguard you against disease and illness.

Others will be designed as a convenient way to take in most or some of your essential nutrients, and others will improve the structural integrity of your skeleton and even your skin.

If you can think of a positive benefit, it’s incredibly likely that a supplement will exist for it.

The Main Differences Between Supplement Types

Supplements are all divided by their various benefits.

Some do try to be a hybrid of several different items at once (and in some cases manage it very successfully) but generally speaking you’ll find that supplements fall into the following categories:

  • Weight management
  • Muscle gain
  • ​Enhanced energy and focus
  • ​Enhanced strength
  • General health enhancement

There are many, many choices within each category; what’s good to know is that generally speaking, there tend to be two or three hugely popular choices available within each goal bracket.

These highly popular choices are often the most tried and tested supplements available to achieve an intended goal, hence their widespread usage.

Further still, out of these popular options there are often one or two that truly stand out as being the superior choices.

Refining your search like this certainly makes life much easier, and we’ll be assisting you with that as we proceed.

Supplements And Your Health, How Do The Two Work Together?

As we’ve already stated, a supplement really should enhance your health if it’s of a high enough quality. This enhancement can be marginal or enormous, depending on the type you choose.

Some of the best products contain vitamin and mineral blends to assist with anything from your immune system, to your digestive health.

They often come with a premium price tag, but they truly can be worth the extra pay out to maximize your results.

Woman relaxes after a very tough workout.

There’s really no area of your health that won’t improve with the reduction of body fat, and your risk of illness and disease is going to decrease ten-fold.

One potentially unexpected element is the impact supplements can have on your mental health too.

Some of the energy blends for instance contain powerful B vitamin arrays that lead to an increase in serotonin (the feel good chemical) and the successful utilisation of energy within your body.

Simply put, they just make you feel good. They’re also great for mental re assurance and comfort.

You know for a fact that if you take your supplements at the right time and every other element of your training and nutrition is being adhered to strictly, then you’re literally doing absolutely everything possible to ensure you maximise your results.

That’s a seriously good feeling. Consider the health benefit after using fat burning supplements too.

Should they be utilised safely and effectively according to the specific dosage guidelines on the packaging, then you’ll vastly reduce your body fat levels.

As we’re all aware, there’s really no area of your health that won’t improve with the reduction of body fat, and your risk of illness and disease is going to decrease ten-fold.

Is There Any Risk Involved?

In a word, yes. It really depends the vast majority of the time at least 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 the weight loss and energy products on the market.

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 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.

Protein supplement, weight, measuring tape on wood surface

Play safe at all times, that’s how any supplement is intended to be used.

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.

With all of these elements in mind, let’s look at the supplements themselves and discuss the various categories, what they do and where you should look if you want to get some of the best examples of each type.

Muscle Gain Supplements

This is perhaps the most popular and extensively supplement category on the market; generally speaking, most of the health supplements you’ll see being commercially marketed will be geared towards muscle gain.

Before diving in though, it’s important to know how muscle gain actually works.

What Makes A Muscle Grow?

Muscles will grow if:

  • Adequate stress has been placed on the target muscle
  • The muscle receives the amino acids it needs to grow
  • ​You feed them at the right time
  • You feed them enough to grow

You’ll need to consume on average 1.2 grams of protein per pound of body weight to guarantee you’re feeding enough amino acids into your system to lead to muscular development.

All of this is a moot point if your training doesn’t cause adequate strain to the muscle though; the growth process is initially ignited by controlled (not inhibiting) muscular damage through resistance training.

If no damage takes place, then the muscle will not need to repair itself and grow.

Depending on your goals, you will also need to consume enough calories along side your minimum protein count to lead to a total calorie excess of anywhere between 250 - 1500 calories or more depending on your body type.

It’s All About Protein

And it really is these days, in more ways than one.

Not only is protein a vital building block for the muscles, it’s also absolutely everywhere you turn; there’s almost no escape from the grasp that has taken hold of our food market and made protein products such a prominent feature.

You’ll even find specially created high protein variants of many popular products down the aisles of your local supermarket.

This would have been relatively unthinkable even ten years ago, such is the lasting impression that the supplement and health food markets have created on us.

There are many reasons why protein supplements are so good, including:

  • High levels of protein in the body can satisfy hunger cravings for long periods
  • Ingesting a high protein diet can increase internal body temperature and lead to improved weight loss
  • ​The sheer variety of flavours for protein powders on offer has made following healthy food plans much easier
  • Protein shakes are an incredibly versatile, cost effective and accessible way to ensure muscle gain without having to be in the kitchen all the time

Protein works by delivering essential amino acids directly into your system. Every structure within the human body (organs, muscles etc) is made up of protein.

This means that in order to function effectively, your body needs a steady protein source for constant repair and replenishment.

As stated previously, it’s not actually the protein it self that your body wants. It’s the amino acids contained within the protein that serve as the building blocks necessary to advance, develop and repair biomass.

Once these acids successfully reach their target sites, repair and growth can take place.

Older man lifting weights on black background

Lifting weights is a great way to stay in good health, especially if you're supplementing correctly.

Once you’ve had a particularly grueling leg session for example, the first thing your body needs is a rapid and fast acting hit of protein to ensure that it can start the recovery process your legs so desperately need in order to grow.

Protein shakes are perhaps the best way to kick start this recovery process due to their incredibly high rate of digestibility.

Some protein products have even been engineered specifically for super rapid absorption.

These refined protein blends are often a cut above standard whey protein, though the percentile absorption increase they provide doesn’t make them wholly necessary.

Still, it’s nice to have the choice.

Dosage

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.

Risks

As we mentioned earlier, there are almost always risks associated with supplementation; high protein intakes are no different.

Most of the concern associated with protein supplements come from 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 maximum upper case 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.

Foods high in protein on the table

There are numerous ways to get protein through food, and via supplements.

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.

Not that we’ve explained what protein is, let’s get onto the supplements…

Whey Protein

Whey protein is perhaps the most well known protein supplement on the market; if you’ve ever stepped foot inside of a gym, there’s almost no way on earth you could have avoided either seeing it or consuming it.

It is simply a highly refined version of the whey protein contained in all dairy products; this allows the protein count it provides to be amplified to a high level.

Standard whey comes in a couple of different forms, which are:

  • Whey protein concentrate
  • Whey protein isolate

Whey protein concentrate is viewed as being the less “pure” version of whey protein available and is the most common type on the market.

In truth, the purity of whey concentrate is more than enough to cater for the needs of pretty much any gym goer or physical exercise enthusiast, and its cheaper price tag makes it the go to choice for millions of people to achieve their goals.

Whey protein isolate is, as the name implies, an isolated form of protein that has been refined to create an enhanced absorption rate within the body.

Isolate powder tends to be finer than concentrate; this represents it’s “purer” qualities and makes it highly digestible by the body.

The increase in absorption you would benefit from by purchasing whey isolate would likely not be huge, but it would certainly be enough to make a difference; a difference that for some is worth paying the extra for in the pursuit of their goals.

Whey protein has proven to be successful supplement. It can be used in cooking, combined with other foods and generally turned to almost any culinary feat.

Due to the fantastic array of flavours available, and the versatility of whey powder in general.

It can be used in cooking, combined with other foods and generally turned to almost any culinary feat that requires not only a little extra flavour, but a hit of protein for growth and recovery.

This is perhaps one of the many reasons it has proven to be such a successful supplement.

In terms of effectiveness, there’s little doubt whatsoever that whey protein works if you want to gain lean muscle mass.

It’s high bioavailability means it is digested rapidly, and the sheer number of grams of protein per serving make it one of the easiest and effective ways to ensure you hit your protein count.

It’s also cost effective. If you were to compare the price per serving to the same amount of protein you’d get from meat for instance, then you’d be paying significantly more for the meat. This is true for both whey isolate and whey concentrate.

Hands down, a couple of the best manufacturers for whey protein powder of any type are: The Protein Works And My Protein.

Both sites provide an almost unparalleled array of flavours and products; you can also shop by goal, making life much easier.

Soy Protein

Soy protein is a fantastic vegetarian or vegan option for those wanting to gain lean muscle mass.

For many years, vegan and vegetarian protein options for the health conscious market were largely overlooked in favour of marketing towards the meat eating crowd.

For quite some time, gym goers were almost stereotyped into being meat eaters by default which is why this aspect got so overlooked.

Soy beans

Soy is another popular choice for protein. This vegan and vegetarian protein option was largely overlooked in favor of marketing towards the meat eating crowd.

As our understanding of the human body evolved over the years, specifically in regards to nutrition; we started to see many more options available for health enthusiasts from all walks of life.

Soy also contains unique benefits of its own, making it a superior choice in the eyes of some to standard whey protein, even in the eyes of non vegetarians / vegans.

Some of the reported benefits include:

  • Improved colon health
  • Reduced risk of prostate and breast cancer
  • Reduced risk of osteoporosis

In conjunction with these benefits, you’ll still receive all of the same benefits typically associated with standard whey protein too.

Soy comes in the same concentrate and isolate format as whey protein, with each one respectively serving the same purpose as their whey counterpart.

It has been theorized that soy protein contains nutrient blockers that may actually serve to block testosterone production.

However, this has been proven to be inconclusive, and it should be noted that there are hundreds of successful vegan and vegetarian body builders out there who are living proof that testosterone production really isn’t an issue.

Some of the most reliable sources for soy protein and other vegetarian protein types are: Pulsin And Bulk Powders.

You can also use soy for cooking purposes as laid out in the whey protein section.

Casein

Casein protein is a fantastic way to protect your muscles against catabolism whilst sleeping, or at any other time of the day where you’re faced with the possibility of an extended period without food.

Casein is similar to whey in that it is derived from dairy; however, whey and casein are slightly different in their constitution at a molecular level.

All this simply translates to is that one digests slowly, and one digests more rapidly.

Some of the main benefits of casein include:

  • A digestion rate of up to 8 hours
  • A thicker texture
  • A wide variety of casein products that are not part of the standard whey protein ranges

This 8 hour digestion rate is the main benefit of casein, and is the reason why it’s a great choice of supplementary protein to work alongside standard whey isolate or concentrate.

Casein protein powder dosed

The 8 hour digestion rate is the main benefit of casein, and a reason why it's a great choice of supplementary protein.

When we sleep, our bodies go without food for up to 8 hours or more; this means there is a risk of catabolism (where the body eats its own muscular stores for energy).

Consuming casein means that your body will have a sustained release of amino acids throughout the night, ensuring growth and recovery still take place.

It’s the same with extended periods where no food is ingested too. If you know you’re not going to be able to take in the nutrients you need to grow, then this is easily one of the best ways to ensure that your hard work in the gym doesn’t go to waste.

What’s also great about casein is that, due to its texture, there are many dessert options available such as protein puddings and mousses that taste fantastic and serve to protect your muscles all at once.

These options are typically only found within the casein protein bracket as whey powder is a little too find to create the same effect with.

Good places to go for casein include: Optimum Nutrition and for some really inventive casein products USN.

It should be noted that casein can be consumed any time of the day just like whey can, but it wouldn’t be a great choice straight after training due to its slow releasing nature.

Egg Protein

Egg protein powder has been available since way, way before the huge supplement boom of the 2000’s.

This was the “weapon of choice” for many gym and fitness enthusiasts due to it having similar properties to the now incredibly popular whey protein (a high concentration of protein per serving).

With it being lactose free, it is perfect for those with intolerances and serves as a great vegetarian protein powder.

It can be used as a great addition to any savoury or sweet baking to create high protein snacks.

Hard boiled eggs and egg protein supplement

With it being lactose free, egg protein is perfect for those with intolerances and serves as a great vegetarian protein powder.

One of the best reasons to choose egg protein as your go to amino acid source is due to the fact that it contains an array of vitamins and minerals not found in other protein types.

Here’s a quick run down of the benefits:

  • Abundant in A, B and D vitamins
  • Very versatile as a baking ingredient
  • If the quality of the eggs used is high, then the egg protein powder may be high in vitamin E; a powerful antioxidant

As you can see, there are several reasons why choosing egg protein may be favourable to other types, especially if you’re a vegetarian.

There are several risks associated with egg protein; it has been suggested that this protein type may be at its best when cooked, as this will ensure that the avidin content has been eradicated.

Avidin can deplete natural B vitamin stores, potentially leading to hair loss and skin issues.

Traces of salmonella are also a potential threat due to the base ingredient being egg; it’s always best to ensure that you purchase the highest quality product available to alleviate the risk of contamination.

With that said, should you have responsibly sourced your egg protein; it is perhaps the best protein type to use for food integration.

It is not recommended that you drink this protein type as a shake (though you could; it would just increase the risk of the above mentioned points) and instead use it to supplement food.

Here are two great places to get some high quality egg protein: Holland and Barrett and the ever popular My Protein.

This is a great supplementary protein type that deserves a try.

Creatine

Next to whey protein, 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 powder next to weights on wooden surface

Creatine supplementation theoretically boosts our natural creatine stores, allowing us to perform more reps over a slightly enhanced period.

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:

  • Creatine monohydrate
  • Kre-alkalyn
  • Creatine ethyl ester

Of the three, creatine monohydrate has proven to be the most popular and well known.

Of the three, kre-alkalyn is regarded as being the most potent form, as it directly delivers creatine into the muscles with minimal wastage.

Ethyl ester is also a potent form, performing the same task as kre-alkalyn, but with a slightly higher risk of some the creatine entering the system not being converted into a usable fuel source for the muscles.

Creatine monohydrate is the most cost effective yet impurest form on the market; as with whey protein concentrate though, monohydrate is still effective enough to serve the needs of the vast majority of gym goers.

There is a potential risk of wastage as not all of the creatine consumed is likely to be directly converted into a useful form, however there should still be enough to create a positive result.

Some of the other risks associated with creatine involve water storage under the skin of the stomach, and mild stomach upset when consumed in large (or extreme) quantities.

On the whole, studies show that creatine is a safe, tried and tested supplement.

Great places to get yours are: Muscletech and Optimum Nutrition.

It is never a guarantee that creatine will work for you, however, it is safe to say that many people have experienced positive benefits.

As a result, it’s worth trying especially in the initial years of your training to help you advance at an accelerated rate, no matter what the percentile increase is.

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.

Bcaa powder with desserts on wooden surface

There are times when the protection of the muscles becomes incredibly important. At those times branched chain amino acids are extremely useful as a safeguard.

This is especially true when dieting; on a low calorie nutrition plan, of the type a person my follow when “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.

As with many other supplements, there is a very diverse range of flavours available when it comes to BCAA’s.

As they come in powdered form they are also very easy to combine with other supplements.

Highlights include:

  • Easily digestible
  • Protect the muscles against being broken down and consumed for energy
  • Fairly cheap when compared to other supplements on the market

They have become increasingly popular over the years among the resistance training community, as “cutting” is a fundamental part of the process of bodybuilding, and to some extent, all weight training related goals in general at some point.

Risks associated with BCAA use include potential headaches and nausea; should you experience any of these symptoms then you should cease using them immediately.

The same can be said for any supplement, in the unlikely event you experience negative side effects, that is a signal to stop using it with immediate effect.

Luckily side effects are very rare, and this is a tried and tested supplement that has passed the test of time.

You can find them anywhere you like to buy supplements.

Glutamine

Glutamine is another very popular supplement being used by avid gym goers across the globe.

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.

Glutamine is the answer in fighting fatigue, lack of strength and impaired recovery after intense workout.

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)

A common glutamine variant is glutamine peptide; this is a form of glutamine that has been bonded with other amino acids to increase its absorption rate.

As with any of the more “premium” supplement options on the market, you’ve got to keep in mind that the increase these options will provide will at best be marginal.

You do not need to spend excessively if you want to benefit from supplementation.

In their base form, most supplements are still stable and digestible enough to create the positive effect you purchased them for.

Great sources for glutamine products are: Gaspari Nutrition and BSN.

At present, there are no proven detrimental health risks associated with glutamine and its use.

This means that provided you stick with the recommended dosage, there is no proven reason to have any concern.

Weight Gainers

Eating enough food to gain muscle isn’t easy. Or that is to say, sometimes it’s not easy.

Really, it all depends on your body type and 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.

As such, a convenient method of not only taking in enough calories was called for, but a method of taking in those calories in the most balanced, useful and healthy way possible for the body whilst pursuing muscle gain.

Man drinking weight gainer on black background

Properly implemented, mass gainers can actually replace standard whey protein and can be implemented very easily into your daily meal structure.

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

If properly implemented, mass gainers can actually replace standard whey protein (provided they contain a decent blend of proteins including a percentage of isolate to ensure they have a fast acting element should they be used post workout) and can be implemented very easily into your daily meal structure.

Some of the best examples on the market contain compounds to help promote the release of growth hormone as well as a plethora of other vitamins and minerals to support everything from the growth of muscle, to your immune and digestive function.

Any risk associated with mass gainers simply comes from buying ineffective mass gainers; and they do exist.

Carbohydrate and fat sources contained within a high quality mass gainer will come from healthy, slow release and omega 3 / 6 fat rich sources.

In the bad ones, carbohydrate calories will mostly come from sugar and the fat they contain can be just as bad as the type you would find in an off the shelf cake.

Also, the protein quality can be very diminished too; not offering a high protein count per serving and being a very low quality form of concentrate.

As a result of these elements, low quality weight gainers can certainly make you gain weight; only it’s the bad kind, the one you’re going to the gym to avoid in the first place.

Some of the best mass gainers can be found here: CNP and Gaspari.

If you make sure to purchase a good quality product; you’ll gain some good quality muscle as a result.

It’s best to increase calories progressively, and implement mass gainers at a slow and steady pace to avoid gaining excess body fat at the same time as you develop lean muscle mass.

This can be done by starting with a calorie excess of a few hundred initially, before increasing minimally on a weekly basis should bodyweight not be increasing.

Natural Testosterone Support

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.

This supplement type is often taken by younger gym goers as a perceived way to enhance their testosterone levels.

But what it’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.

Man wearing black hood on black background

Until your early 30’s, you are producing the maximum amount of testosterone possible for your body to process. However, if you are 40 or above these supplements could give you a much needed boost and impact your training sessions.

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:

  • Tribulus terrestris
  • Fenugreek extract
  • ​ZMA (zinc and magnesium aspartate plus vitamin B6)
  • D-aspartic acid

All of these naturally occurring items have been proven to have an effect on the testosterone production levels of some of the individuals using it, and will perhaps increase your strength and growth capabilities in the gym if used as part of a well structured nutrition and training program.

Potential side effects are incredibly rare, however they do range from mild testicular pain to oily skin and bad boy odour.

Should you notice any of these signs, it does not necessarily mean that you should stop using the product as these are all natural side effects of enhanced testosterone production.

Should any one of these symptoms appear in a severe fashion however, immediately cease usage.

You will find some of the best boosters on the market at: UK Bodybuilding and Animal.

Should you be suffering from low testosterone levels; trying any of the natural testosterone options available on these sites could possibly help.

Growth Hormone Boosters

In the same way as testosterone boosters can have a positive impact on the production of testosterone within the human body, natural growth hormone boosters can potentially lead to the same effect for the production of growth hormone.

Growth hormone is a vital part of the muscular growth and repair process, as well as a wide spectrum of other activities within the body including the repair of general tissue damage and the healing of wounds.

Man preparing to lift a barbell on a black background

Growth hormone is the most important element of the muscular hypertrophy process and for ensuring you produce peak levels.

Arguably, growth hormone is the most important element of the muscular hypertrophy process and ensuring you produce peak levels at all teams through both natural supplementation and simple implementations like getting 8 hours sleep and ingesting healthy fats will ensure your muscular gains are maximised.

Some of the main benefits of a high level of growth hormone in the system include:

  • Advanced cell repair both internally and externally
  • Enhanced strength
  • Accelerated muscle mass development

Almost every regenerative and evolutionary process within the body requires growth hormone to perform.

There are a few risks associated with growth hormone including carpal tunnel syndrome, nerve and / or joint pain and swelling due to excess fluid.

It should be noted that any side effects are unlikely when using natural supplementation, as natural products only promote the maximisation of natural growth hormone production levels as opposed to feeding the system with surplus growth hormone to its natural limitations.

You can get some effective natural growth hormone supplements at: Reflex and My Protein.

As with any supplement, there is no guarantee that a natural growth hormone promoter will have any positive effect.

However, with the risk of side effects being very minimal, it’s certainly worth trying.

Unlike testosterone boosters, growth hormone boosters could potentially be effective for those of a younger age too.

Weight Loss Supplements

You’ve probably already come across several weight loss supplements already; it’s very difficult to miss them, as next to protein supplements they are easily the most popular supplement type available today.

They come in many, many different forms; some of which are absolutely fantastic, safe and help to boost your health whilst assisting with fat burning.

Others are downright dangerous and should be completely avoided all together.

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.

Young woman exercising and different weight loss supplements in bottles

There are certain vitamins, minerals, and nutrient concentrations that, when taken along with a healthy diet and workout regimen, have the ability to rev your metabolism and help your body process macronutrients more efficiently.

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.

How Does Weight Loss Actually Work?

Before buying any supplements, it’s important to understand how they’re actually going to assist the weight loss process.

Here are the ingredients needed to create weight loss:

  • A calorie deficit
  • A high water intake
  • ​Consuming more calories than the body takes in
  • A high fibre intake

There are certainly other variables involved, but at a very basic level; that’s how you achieve weight loss.

How a fat burner can help you to achieve this is by allowing the body to consume more calories than it needs to sustain its current weight in some cases.

In others cases weight loss supplements will contain active ingredients that have been proven to have some success when it comes to metabolising (breaking down) body fat.

Many fat burning supplements are a hybrid of the two.

Much like whey protein, there is little doubt that some of the weight loss supplements on the market genuinely do work.

Especially the stimulant based ones as they elevate the heart rate for sustained periods which in turn cannot fail to burn more calories.

It’s just a scientific equation; simple in essence on every level but still undoubtedly effective.

Let’s take a look at some of the most common types of weight loss supplements available.

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:

  • Caffeine to help elevate the heart rate and burn excess calories
  • Ingredients to help suppress appetite
  • ​Ingredients to help with the digestion of fat molecules and even promote the body to use fat as its primary energy source
  • Energy release vitamins to help raise serotonin levels and improve mood; this in turn can help to divert the mind away from food for comfort

You’ll find that some of the best options will actually include several of these elements at once, thus providing a very strong foundation for fat burning within the body.

What’s incredibly important to note is that without a sensible nutrition and exercise plan in place, no fat burner on the planet is going to have a beneficial effect.

This is a common pitfall many people fall into; they purchase a fat burner to replace good nutrition and exercise, when in actual fact, fat burners are designed to enhance your fat burning capabilities as part of a well formed program of health and wellness.

This is the same with any supplement; it’s important to keep in mind that no one aspect of your positive habits can drop in favour of using them. They are designed purely as an assistive aid.

Potential risks of fat burners are very low provided you are responsible in the manner you integrate them into your routine; perhaps in this instance more than ever, you need to pay very close attention to the recommended dosage on the packaging.

Risks do include vomiting, excess sweating, nausea and even cardiac arrest; this is why you’ve got to be incredibly careful. Some fat burners are more potent than others, and exceeding the recommended dosage truly can be fatal.

Sticking within the recommended guidelines for any natural fat burner will almost always be safe provided you read any medical warnings included with the product and dose responsibly.

Some great fat burner options can be found at the below locations: Grenade and Warrior.

Keep the above points in mind and give fat burners a try if you want to enhance your weight loss capabilities!

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.

Girl holding a towel and guy holding weights

Fat burners are supplements with the aim to help burn excess body fat away from the body while fat controllers are designed to literally stop your body from absorbing excess fat from the diet.

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).

And for many other non prescription though still effective options: Amazon.

Always read customer reviews and cross reference ingredients at a responsible source like Webmd should you feel that there is not enough information available on a chosen product for your safety.

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:

  • Reduces 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

Some carb blockers also suppress appetite, helping to reduce cravings which when combined with the reduced uptake of sugar means the benefits are amplified as overall carbohydrate intake reduces.

Bottle of carb blockers on wooden surface

Carb blockers work by stopping carbohydrates from being broken down into sugars, meaning that there is no excess wasted energy to store as body fat.

The carbohydrates that do enter the body are controlled further by the supplement.

Overall, either one of these benefits could potentially impact weight loss greatly.

Risks associated with carb blockers include gastrointestinal upset and excess gas; should you experience any of these symptoms in an extreme form then you should cease use.

For some of the best examples of carb blockers, these sources are reliable: My Protein and XLS Medical.

Trying either carb or fat blockers may positively impact your weight loss, and scientifically, both products certainly make coherent sense and reviews show that they definitely have been beneficial for some.

Low risk of side effects makes them a safe option to try should you believe they’ll help.

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 as a result of an enhanced state of mental wellbeing
  • Potentially less calories consumed due to less binge eating
  • Enhanced levels of energy and mental alertness due to a positive frame of mind

Whilst natural appetite suppressants are generally considered to be safe, there are some potential side effects involved.

Red apple on blue background

Instead of cooking up a meal, a single apple can help to suppress your appetite enough to tide you over.

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.

Good places to source appetite suppressants include: Powerhouse Fitness and Predator Nutrition.

As this supplement is in widespread use and the risk of serious side effects is minimal, it’s certainly something that’s worth trying should you wish to assist your weight loss goals without the use of stimulants.

L-Carnitine

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

This is, as you can see, a serious supplement that packs a potentially powerful punch.

This plethora of benefits are just some of the many reasons that people have turned to carnitine as one of their go to supplements, though fat burning is certainly the most popular.

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.

Girl showing slimmed waist

Enhanced levels of carnitine could lead to more fat being used for energy than normal.

Some people have reported high blood pressure, sleeplessness, headaches and diarrhea whilst supplementing with carnitine.

You should watch closely for any of these adverse effects and cease use if they manifest.

Great places to go for carnitine include: Bodybuilding and Natures Best.

As a supplement with a myriad of properties, you’d be hard pressed to find another one as potentially useful for you as l-carnitine.

Herbal Weight Loss Remedies

If you want something that feels a little more “in touch” with nature, there are many herbal weight loss remedies available on the market to tick the box for you.

What’s good to know is that some of these herbal remedies come from 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:

  • Green coffee bean extract
  • Raspberry ketones
  • ​Ginseng
  • ​Caffeine
  • Hydroxycut (no, this doesn’t grow in the wild; it’s a combination of several herbal products in one)
  • Glucomannan

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.

Herbs in a grinder and pills in a bottle

Some of these herbal remedies come from tried and tested sources that have been consumed by humans for years.

Side effects associated with herbal weight loss supplements include stomach upset, headaches and occasionally skin issues.

Closely monitor how you feel whilst taking any herbal remedies, and ensure you read any material regarding health warnings should you suffer from any ailments to ensure the product is compatible with you.

Good sources for herbal weight loss remedies include: Holland and Barrett and Natures Best.

With the plethora of potentially positive effects these herbal weight loss aids can have on your health, they are certainly worth integrating into your supplement arsenal should weight loss be one of your primary goals.

Energy Boosting Supplements

Energy enhancing supplements have become an incredibly popular feature amongst not only fitness enthusiasts and gym goers, but people from all walks of life in general.

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 directly affects the outcome of every health based goal in existence; your job and general life performance will be positively affected with higher energy reserves too. That’s always a good thing.

Energy boosting supplements, much like appetite suppressants will typically fall into one of two main categories which are:

  • Stimulant based
  • Non stimulant based

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:

Caffeine

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 the primary ingredient in most energy drinks and the reason your mental alertness can immediately spike after drinking them.

Girl holding orange cup of coffee

Coffee is the most common way to get some caffeine, with nearly no calories.

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

Each of these elements carries its own benefit, especially in the case of greater blood flow as this can potentially have a positive effect on any joint related issues.

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.

Some of the best places to get caffeine in a refined form include: My Protein and Bulk Powders

You can of course also get caffeine by purchasing tea or coffee too; 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.

Energy Drinks

Energy drinks have become a prominent feature in almost every supermarket, filling station and pretty much any shop you’ll walk into.

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.

Glass of energy drink

Energy drinks aren't the cleanest option, but they offer a quick fix.

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.

You can find a decent range of energy drinks at the following locations: Muscle Finesse and any good supermarket; you’ll find a wide range in most of the larger stores.

Herbal Energy Enhancers

As with herbal weight loss remedies, herbal energy enhancers are a great option if you’d prefer to stray 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.

However, there is still a risk, and herbal energy enhancers are far less “processed” than their highly commercial counterparts.

The vast majority of these products are made with ingredients sourced from plants, including green tea extract, kola nut extract, guarana and ginseng.

Ginseng roots differently processed

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, 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

With this in mind, it could be said that herbal energy boosters are perhaps for the more “patient” of fitness enthusiasts and healthy lifestyle followers.

This is simply because 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.

As with anything, stop using these products if you experience any of these side effects

Great sources for herbal energy boosters include: Simply Supplements and Healthspan.

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.

Energy Bars

Energy bars have steadily increased in popularity over the years and are become particularly popular with endurance athletes.

They have also found widespread use as snacks and even breakfast replacement options.

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.

Energy bars on a cutting board

Some energy bars are great meal replacements as they contain an array of vitamins and minerals along side healthy carbohydrates and fats.

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.

You can find some good energy bars at the stockists below: Pulsin and Dolphinfitness.

There are no adverse side effects associated with the use of energy bars (unless they contain caffeine, in which case the same potential risks apply.

Potential weight gain is the only other possibility should overconsumption take place) so feel free to implement them into your routine should you be in need of a convenient pick me up.

Supplements Designed To Specifically Improve Workouts

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 alter the course of your workout in every way imaginable.

Arguably, these supplements are the best value for money on the market as they make such a direct and proven difference to your training.

How Are These Products Different From The Rest?

To put it bluntly; they’re not. You can actually use any protein powder as a post workout shake for instance, or even intra.

Where the difference lies here though is that each supplement has been specifically designed to assist your training over the course of three very different windows known as:

Of all three windows, the most important is arguably the post workout window. During this window, your body is highly depleted of glycogen and the nutrients it needs to start the growth and recovery process.

Water bottle and supplement in a bottle on a bench

There are three different windows to use these supplements: pre-workout, intra-workout, post-workout.

As a result, you need to feed it with the building blocks it needs within an hour of finishing your training.

All post workout supplements are designed to maximise growth and recovery during this critical window.

Intra workout supplements may reduce the risk of catabolism in the middle of a training session (where your body turns to your muscular stores for energy due to having no other resources available in the system) during periods where the body is taking in a minimal calorie count.

Pre workout supplements are simply an advanced form of energy drink containing vitamin blends, creatine (usually) and many other assistive elements to help power your mind and body through a gruelling training session.

Simply put, if you want to maximise your training results then these specially designed products can make all the difference.

Pre Workouts

Of all the supplements available, it could be said that pre workouts are perhaps the only item guaranteed to work in a significant manner; similar to energy drinks, they create a direct effect on the body that is simply impossible to avoid.

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

They can make all the difference in the world when an individual is experiencing a period of incredibly low energy or fatigue.

Guy doing pushups preparing for a workout

Pre workouts can get you super hyped for your next training session.

Though the positive benefits are perhaps more noticeable with pre workouts than any other supplement, the potential risks certainly match them. They are the most dangerous of all of the supplements for a number of reasons.

After sustained use, the body has a tendency to develop a tolerance to pre workouts; this can lead to people taking more than the recommended serving size in the pursuit of the effects they achieved when initially trying the product.

As a result, several deaths have taken place, and some are so powerful that even when sticking to the recommended serving size, they have fatally affected users with existing heart problems or other medical issues.

Whenever you purchase a supplement, you must always take the responsibility to research any health warnings associated with them.

Not doing so can be disastrous; warning labels and printed materials will almost always accompany any supplement you purchase; you should never ignore them or try the product without reading them thoroughly.

Other than potential fatality, other side effects are typically the same as those you may experience when taking caffeine, though they would likely be more potent.

Always stick with the recommended serving size and avoid using pre workouts too regularly (two sessions out of five would be a safe ratio before having a break for several weeks.)

Great places to purchase pre workouts are: Grenade and Gaspari.

Provided you keep the previous cautions in mind, pre workouts can be one of the most powerful additions to your supplement arsenal.

Intra Workouts

Intra workout supplements are engineered to be used in the middle of your workouts to safeguard against catabolism.

They come in many different flavours and can contain many different ingredients to assist with your muscular growth and recovery process.

Guy holding weight with both hands

Intra workout supplements are engineered to be used in the middle of your workouts to safeguard against catabolism.

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.

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.

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

Intra workouts are at their best when you are following a calorie restricted eating plan as they are ultimately designed to help replace the building blocks your body needs to ensure muscle wastage does not take place.

Any potential side effects would be incredibly unlikely, however being that some intra workout supplements contain stimulants you may experience caffeine related symptoms.

Unlikely side effects include headaches, stomach cramps and nausea; though the risk is low.

Great intra workout products can be found at: USN and BSN.

Though you can simply use BCAA’s as an intra workout product, some of the options available within this category may be superior due to added ingredients.

Post Workouts

Of all three of the products listed within this category, post workout supplements should be the only one considered an absolutely vital component.

Without adequate post workout nutrition, the benefits of your training session will be critically diminished.

Guy resting after intense workout in the gym

A post workout recovery drink can help get your gains on point.

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

You can simply have some whey protein powder and a fast acting carbohydrate source post workout.

However, the best post workout options contain everything from high quality protein blends (usually featuring casein, isolate and concentrate mix to ensure both rapid and slow release integration of amino acids) to supplementary ingredients designed to improve protein uptake and energy replenishment.

There are not many potential risks associated with post workout supplements, though the ones that do exist include stomach upset, nausea and headaches depending on the ingredients used.

It’s unlikely that you will experience any of these side effects, and generally speaking post workout products are very safe.

Some of the best options available can be found at: CNP and The Protein Works.

A High quality post workout supplement will make an enormous difference to your training results; you really should consider investing in one as at the very least, the effects will be positive.

We’re Not Quite Done Yet...

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.

Green vegetable and banana smoothie

A green smoothie is a great way to take certain supplements, and to fill in the blanks and ensure you're getting a lot of your nutrition directly from real foods.

Some very important tips to bear in mind before you purchase any supplements are:

  • Never purchase or use a supplement without first reading any associated health warnings
  • Never assume that a supplement will override the need to train hard and eat a healthy, balanced diet
  • ​Should you experience any negative side effects (provided they are not typically associated with the initial use of the supplement and are of a severe nature) then you should always stop using said supplement
  • ​Always make an informed decision; compare user reviews and check for potential side effects at a reputable source like Webmd before choosing to use a supplement
  • ​Always shop with a well established, respectable company to ensure the highest quality of ingredients have been used in the creation of a supplement
  • ​Never exceed the recommended dosage of any supplement

By following these guidelines, you’ll almost always have a positive experience when using supplements.

Frequently Asked Questions About Supplements

Should I always buy a supplement if it can help me with an existing issue I'm faced with?

Should I only buy natural supplements?

How long should I wait before I stop using a supplement if I experience adverse effects?

How do I know if a supplement will work?

How do I know if a supplement is working?

Should I take anything I've been given, or take something someone else has recommended I take?

Conclusion, And What's Next?

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.

Every retailer listed here is well established and highly reputable; anything you purchase from these stockists will be of a high quality, and you can buy from them in total confidence.

Though this article has by no means been a fully comprehensive guide, it has certainly provided enough information for you to be able to enter the supplement world in confidence and make an informed, high quality decision.

Black and white fitness quote

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 no doubt 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.

We’d love to hear about your own experiences with some of the supplements listed within this article, and better still.

Share these words with friends and family over social media to help cut through the widespread confusion about sports supplementation.

Good luck in your gym based endeavors, and happy training.

About the author

Michael Garrico

I’m a 29-year-old personal fitness trainer and nutritionist living in sunny Miami, FL. I’ve spent the last 10 years staying at the forefront of the health and fitness industry.

In that time, I’ve helped hundreds of people shed the excess weight and get into shape, maintaining their healthy new lifestyle through proper training and eating habits.

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