For the original version of this article posted on Elite FTS please click here.
As co-owner of a supplement company, I get a lot of questions about the role that supplements play when trying to reach fitness and athletic goals. Many of these questions are about trying to find the perfect supplement.
I want to state a simple truth…the most important factors toward achieving your fitness and athletic goals are your training and nutrition. Supplements can certainly help but should be considered after you have those factors in line. Supplements will never be the magic bullets that help you get your next PR in the gym, obtain the physique you want, or acquire the medals on the wall. Getting there takes epic amounts of consistency, will, and discipline. No amount of magic in a bottle will do it. Simply put, there aren't any shortcuts and there isn't any easy way.
There isn't any easy way.
If your goal is to gain strength, add muscle mass, or improve your athletic performance, get your training and nutrition dialed in. Make your training more effective by tailoring it to your specific goal, whether it’s strength, hypertrophy, a combination of both, or sports related.
Make sure it utilizes effective training principles like progressive overload. Have a basic understanding of your nutritional requirements. If your goal is muscle gain, eat at a caloric surplus. Fat loss? Eat at a caloric deficit. Understand what macros (fats, carbs, proteins) are and have an idea of your daily requirements. This is nothing new to most people reading this, but it needs to be stated over and over.
You’ll be hard pressed to find someone who does everything right when it comes to training. It’s difficult to find someone who eats a perfectly balanced diet, but here are some examples of what I’m talking about:
Joe wants to gain muscle mass. He spends time searching for the best type of creatine but doesn’t hit his daily protein goals.
Mike wants to gain weight. He thinks a mass gainer product will help him do this but eats at a caloric deficit.
Jill wants to lose fat. She decides to purchase the newest fat burner on the market and do tons of cardio. She eats at a caloric surplus.
Bill purchases a pre-workout/intra-workout/post-workout stack in the aim of increasing strength but doesn't consistently follow a training program that utilizes principles like progressive overload.
So why is the co-owner of a supplement company telling you this? Because I think more people need to hear it instead of falling for the marketing voodoo so rampant in the industry and because I want to help people know what to look for when making supplement decisions.
Here are three principles I believe will help you make smarter supplement decisions:
1. Non-proprietary blends:
Proprietary blends are bundled ingredients in which the amounts of all the ingredients in the blend are stated on the supplement label as one combined number. Simply put, the blend lists ingredients without the amounts. It’s important to know what you’re putting in your body and be able to determine if the ingredient in the product is at an effective dose.
Here's an example of a proprietary blend:
The FDA requires that the dietary ingredients in a proprietary blend be listed in order of predominance by weight. So in the example above, maltodextrin is the most abundant ingredient in the blend. Not what we would call getting your money's worth.
2. Proven ingredients:
Is there scientific backing/evidence showing that the supplement will actually provide a positive benefit? Many claims are made about proven ingredients, so it’s important to see what the research actually says. Consider the number of studies showing positive benefits along with the number of studies showing no benefits or even negative impacts. Were the studies on humans or critters? What do experts think of the ingredients in question? Spend some time looking into the ingredients so that you can decide for yourself.
Here’s a great resource for looking into the scientific research on supplements www.examine.com.
3. Effective doses:
Does the ingredient dose used in the product replicate the dose used in scientific studies or clinical trials when the ingredient’s effectiveness was established? There isn't any point in taking a dietary ingredient if you aren't getting an effective dose.
Here's an example of a non-proprietary blend with a few proven ingredients but ineffective doses:
In the example above, the mix contains 30 mg of creatine monohydrate. The daily effective dose of creatine proven through research is 3–5 g. You can see that the mix is under dosed (by 100 times), so you won't get any benefit from that ingredient. Although creatine is a proven ingredient, it also has to be combined with an effective dose to ensure that you’ll see a benefit.
In closing, humans are hardwired to seek the path of least resistance. You have to understand that there isn't any such path when it comes to achieving your fitness and athletic goals. If you understand that, have a solid training and nutrition program, and make informed decisions about the supplements you take, you will have a much better chance at realizing your goals.