There are three kinds of people in this world:
- People who spend thousands of dollars a months on supplements.
- People who think supplements are a scam and a waste of money.
- People with their head screwed on right.
The third type of person is someone who knows that not all supplements are necessary but some supplementation may help people improve their health and overall fitness by being smart about them.
When we talk about supplements there are some that stand out as ones that virtually all people would benefit from taking, especially men who are focused on training hard and being as healthy and fit as possible.
The list we are going to cover is straight to the point.
No BS or unnecessary things are listed. Heck, I even wrote this thing to be as distilled and to the point as possible.
1. Whey Protein
For several decades the recommended daily allowance for protein was 0.8 grams per kilogram per day. This was held as gospel, immutable, divine information given from the nutrition gods above.
However, more recent evidence has shown that intakes of 0.8 grams per kilogram per day are often not adequate to thrive and maximize health and lean body mass. That RDA was the point at which you were likely to prevent anything bad from happening, not the level at which you would thrive.
It turns out that intakes much higher than this appear to be much more suitable for optimizing lean mass, bone health, longevity (still debatable), and overall thriving as a human. The newer, more rigorous data suggests that most people, especially active people, should be consuming in the range of 1.2 to 1.6 grams per kilogram per day.1
Now for many of us this level of intake might be hard to achieve for a host of reasons: time, availability, convenience, or even the fact that cramming down 5 large chicken breasts a day might give your jaw muscles a serious case of the DOMS. This is where a high quality whey protein can step in and fill a role in your diet.
Whey protein should be viewed as supplemental; it should not replace whole food sources for a variety of reasons: micronutrients, food volume, palatability, etc. However, when used as a supplement to your diet it can be incredibly helpful as a snack or protein booster for certain meals (e.g. in your oatmeal, smoothies, post workout shakes, pancake batter, etc.)
2. Vitamin D
Vitamin D deficiency is quite common, with roughly 42% of people living in North America having vitamin D levels that fall in the “deficiency” range2. This is due to things like: genetics, latitude, our mostly indoor lifestyles, and micronutrient poor diet.
While the huge vitamin D craze of the mid 2000s may have blown the negative aspects of low vitamin D out of proportion, low vitamin D levels are certainly associated with higher rates of upper respiratory tract infections (e.g. colds and flus)3, associated with lower performance in some athletes4, and may impact your bone health.
Virtually every study on these parameters has shown that shoring up a vitamin D deficiency reduces your risk of all of these, so if you are deficient you should aim to get that fixed.
Outside of moving to a tropical island, or eating obscene amounts of vitamin D rich foods, your best bet to address vitamin D deficiency is to supplement it. For most people, you can take 2,000 to 5,000 international units (IUs) of vitamin D3 a day when you have low blood levels of vitamin D (<25 ng/mL).
In the world of supplements, there is one supplement that has stood up to 30+ years of extensive research to show repeatable, reliable, results for improving training capacity and aiding in training volume based muscle gains: creatine monohydrate.
Here is what it is, what it does, why it’s so effective, and how to take it.
What it is: Creatine a polypeptide made up of glycine, arginine, and methionine that is found naturally in the human body and is accumulated in muscle tissue primarily through dietary sources and endogenous production.
What it does: Creatine’s main function in the human body is to provide a phosphate source to replenish ATP rapidly during short, intense bouts of training.
Why it is so effective: During short, intense bouts of exercise, your stores of creatine phosphate deplete quickly, limiting your ability to create ATP and contract your muscles. Supplementing with creatine increases your creatine phosphate stores and extends your capacity to produce ATP.
How to take it: Creatine works by accumulating in the muscle tissue, meaning, at the muscle level it does not truly act acutely, so you can take it at any time of the day. This also means in takes several days to a week to fully saturate creatine stores and elicit its ergogenic effects. There have been several studies published showing how to take creatine and there are two main ways of taking it:
- Load creatine 15-20 grams per day for 3-5 days and then 5 grams a day thereafter.
- Take 5 grams per day from day 1.
Either way will eventually saturate your muscle creatine stores, the first option just accelerates the saturation process. Some people experience GI issues taking 15-20 grams a day.
4. Fish Oil
The fatty acids that float around in your body matter, not just because they provide energy but they regulate a lot of your body’s biological functions, including inflammatory processed and intracellular signaling.
Two main classes of fatty acids that we hear a lot about are omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. They are both important in our diets; however, we often get more Omega-6 fatty acids than we need and not as many omega-3 fatty acids as we need. Fish, specially their oily fats, are an excellent source of omega-3 rich fatty acids.
For many of us, eating high-quality Omega-3 rich fish like salmon is a difficult task due to lack of available fish or the expense of fish. When you break it down per serving, a high-quality fish oil becomes an incredibly cost-effective, convenient way to get more omega-3 fatty acids in your diet.
Sleep is my favorite supplement. If you want to recover better, get stronger, stay healthy, and live longer, supplement with sleep.
If you are training hard, eating right, but sleeping like a jerk, you are leaving a lot of gains and progress on the table.
Here are several ways to “supplement” your sleep to get more:
- Turn your TV off a few hours before bed.
- Turn the lights off in the room.
- DO NOT use your phone in bed.
- Develop a sleep schedule. Seriously, this will change your sleeping habits immensely.
- Experiment with minimally invasive sleep aides like meditation, magnesium, reading, white noise, etc.
The Wrap Up
Most people have some holes in their diets that can be shored up with minimal, but smart supplementation.
Whey protein can help people hit their protein requirements while Vitamin D can help maintain adequate vitamin D levels during winter months and fish oil can help provide essential fatty acids for land-locked people.
Creatine is a cheap, safe, effective way to increase your training capacity.
- Protein “requirements” beyond the RDA: implications for optimizing health
- Prevalence and correlates of vitamin D deficiency in US adults.
- Vitamin D supplementation to prevent acute respiratory tract infections: systematic review and meta-analysis of individual participant data
- Plausible ergogenic effects of vitamin D on athletic performance and recovery