Although 90% of supplements lack evidence and are basically of little value, there are some key supplements that everyone should be taking.
Without knowing whether or not your supplement actually works, chances are you’re spending a lot of money for a nicely labeled bottle and a supplement that doesn’t have any real effect.
Luckily, I’ve got you covered.
In this article, I’ll present the 6 key supplements that everyone should be taking, backed by hundreds of research studies.
Whey Protein Builds Muscle
Whey protein is one of the most commonly consumed sports supplements on the planet for good reason.
Whey protein is a part of milk protein that is separated from casein when the milk is coagulated. For some time, whey protein was simply tossed out as a bi-product of the cheese-making process, until it was revealed that it had some serious health and muscle building properties.
Currently, the leading theory behind muscle hypertrophy is the stimulation and fulfillment of Muscle Protein Synthesis (MPS) after a training session. Fortunately, consuming whey protein enables both the stimulation and maintenance of this protein synthesis to allow for muscle growth and repair.
Whey protein is also unique because it is considered a complete protein source, meaning it has all of the necessary amino acids to build protein.
Further, whey protein is very high in the branched chain amino acid, leucine which is considered to be the amino acid responsible for stimulating this muscle building process called MPS.
In fact, multiple studies have shown that consumption of whey protein does in fact increase muscle protein synthesis, allowing for optimal muscle growth following a workout (1, 2, 3).
Additionally, studies have revealed that consumption of whey may decrease appetite and even reduce body fat as a result (4, 5, 6).
While high protein whole food should still be a key part of your diet, whey protein supplementation is a close second and easily (and cheaply) allows you to increase your total daily protein intake. I recommend taking 1-3 scoops per day to ensure adequate daily protein intake. This can be taken before/after the workout and as a snack or with a lower protein meal.
Beta-Alanine Improves Performance
Beta-alanine is actually a slightly different form of the amino acid, alanine.
When ingested, beta-alanine acts as a precursor to the molecule carnosine, which acts as an acid buffer similar to sodium bicarbonate. This helps offset hydrogen build up during exercise which makes our muscular environment very acidic.
If you’ve ever experienced ‘the burn’, this is hydrogen ion build up. In short, beta-alanine reduces this build up, allowing for increased performance and the reduction of fatigue.
Long-term studies have supported this, showing that beta-alanine is effective for improving muscular endurance and short-term high-intensity exercise performance (7, 8).
Additionally, consumption of beta-alanine has even been implicated in increased lean mass, which is likely because it enables training more intensely and for longer durations (8).
Similar to other supplements like creatine, beta-alanine does not seem to have an acute effect, meaning that it requires regular supplementation on a daily basis and does not need to be taken immediately prior to working out.
I suggest taking around 3 grams per day pre-workout or 3x 1 gram servings if you suffer from the famous paresthesia (tingling/itching) that beta-alanine can provide.
Creatine Builds Muscle & Replenishes ATP Energy
Creatine is another one of the most consumed sports supplements, second only to whey. It has a whopping 500+ studies proving it to be highly effective and safe.
Creatine monohydrate is a supplement that acts somewhat similar to beta-alanine in that it allows you to train a bit longer and harder at a higher intensity.
Creatine stores must be increased within the muscle in the form of creatine phosphate for it to work effectively.
It works by increasing ATP energy production, the key energy currency for the human body that is responsible for life in general and specifically, muscle contractions or high intensity exercise.
Time and time again, studies have revealed that supplementation leads to improvements in areas such as power output, running capacity and even added lean muscle mass, along with marked reductions in areas such as fatigue and muscle damage (9, 10, 11, 12, 13).
All of these benefits equate to higher intensity, longer durations and higher frequencies of training, which can lead to improved growth. Some studies have even seen double the muscle growth compared to training alone, which is really unheard of in the supplement world!
As mentioned, muscle must be saturated with creatine in order for it to be effective which is why people take creatine daily for months and years (which has also been shown to be completely safe).
To quickly increase muscle stores, take 5g grams 4x per day. This is called the loading phase. After that, you can switch to a maintenance dose of around 3-5g per day for the long term.
Fish Oil / Omega 3 For Heart & Brain Health
Omega-3 fish oil supplements are a very popular health supplement with ample research backing up their claims.
Fish oil is a term used to generalize supplements that contain the Omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, both of which have been linked with many different health benefits such as improved cardiovascular and brain health.
The most common use of fish oil is to combat inflammation. This is primarily in order to offset the high amount of the inflammatory Omega-6 fatty acids that we typically consume.
Fish oil supplementation’s many documented different health benefits include:
- Reductions in triglycerides, blood pressure, cholesterol
- Decreasing whole body inflammation and depression and anxiety
- And even increasing fat oxidation (fat burning) (14, 15, 16).
You can obtain omega 3 from a few food sources such oily fish; however, you would need to eat 3+ portions per day to obtain the recommended dose, which is not sustainable or realistic for most people!
For that reason, many experts suggest taking 3 to 5 grams per day of an omega 3 supplement that is high in EPA/DHA, the two key fatty acids. As a guideline to ensure quality and effective dosing, for every 1g or 1000mg of omega 3, at least 600mg of that should be EPA/DHA.
You can learn more about Fish Oil Supplement here.
Vitamin D is a micronutrient that is synthesized when the skin is exposed to the sun. When sunlight hits skin, it causes a conversion of something called 7-dehydrocholesterol into cholecalciferol, otherwise known as Vitamin D3.
While sunlight is the most natural source, few people see enough sunlight on a daily basis to get their daily intake. Depending on where you live and your lifestyle/job, there’s a good chance your Vitamin D levels are low, especially if you perform regular high intensity exercise. For that reason, Vitamin D is often consumed in supplemental form via Vitamin D3 supplement.
Returning your body to optimal Vitamin D levels has been shown to have a number of different benefits ranging from reducing depression, improvement in testosterone, increased fat loss, improved insulin sensitivity all the way to a reduced risk of multiple sclerosis (17, 18, 19).
I suggest taking 2000-5000 IU or in the range of 20-80 IU per kilogram of bodyweight, daily with food to maximize absorption.
Probiotics Optimize Gut Health & General Health
Probiotics are one of the newest and most popular supplements on the market.
Research is continually revealing that our gut microbiome or gut bacteria health is so large that it plays an integral role in many different processes ranging from how we eat, how we digest food and even how we develop illnesses and disease.
Recent research has revealed that using a probiotic supplement may lead to improvements in hormone function, reduced risk of obesity and also reduced inflammation, making it an attractive supplement for a wide range of different ailments (20, 21, 22).
Probiotics are interesting since they are actually bacteria, which are alive and provide new healthy gut bacteria for our body.
While many companies offer probiotics, ensure that you are consuming a quality probiotic rich in Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium lactis, as those are the strains with the most research. The research shows around 15-30 billion bacteria per day is the efficacious dose.
Learn more about Probiotics here.
6 Key Supplements Everyone Should be Taking
The health and fitness industry is saturated with many different types of supplements including many that have no evidence to support their claims.
By understanding that some supplements simply don’t work while others have an abundance of research behind them, you can ensure that your money is going towards those that will actually get you the results you desire.
While many other supplements don’t have much research revealing their efficacy, using the supplements described above will ensure that your body changes according to your goals both effectively and efficiently.
Learn more about supplements that actually work here.
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2. Tipton, K. D., Elliott, T. A., Cree, M. G., Wolf, S. E., Sanford, A. P., & Wolfe, R. R. (2004). Ingestion of casein and whey proteins result in muscle anabolism after resistance exercise. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 36, 2073-2081.
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13. Bassit, R. A., da Justa Pinheiro, C. H., Vitzel, K. F., Sproesser, A. J., Silveira, L. R., & Curi, R. (2010). Effect of short-term creatine supplementation on markers of skeletal muscle damage after strenuous contractile activity. European journal of applied physiology, 108(5), 945-955.
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15. Ciubotaru, I., Lee, Y. S., & Wander, R. C. (2003). Dietary fish oil decreases C-reactive protein, interleukin-6, and triacylglycerol to HDL-cholesterol ratio in postmenopausal women on HRT. The Journal of nutritional biochemistry, 14(9), 513-521.
16. Martins, J. G. (2009). EPA but not DHA appears to be responsible for the efficacy of omega-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation in depression: evidence from a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 28(5), 525-542.
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