I get a lot of questions from my readers about supplementation so I thought this would be a good time to put together a short post on workout supplements.
Q: Do I need to take any supplements after I work out?
Q: Should I take protein?
Q: Is Creatine safe?
Thousands of theories exist on the subject, some in favor of supplementation, others completely against it.
Here are my two cents…
Here’s the all too common answer:
“You don’t need supplements. You can get all of your essential nutrients from the foods you eat.”
If we lived in an ideal world, then this might be true. But as much as we’d like to think we eat right, we simply don’t provide our bodies with all the valuable nutrients it needs to repair and grow to its full potential.
Supplements were designed for those of us living in an imperfect world. A place where zero calorie sodas are considered “healthy”. A place where traffic jams at the McDonalds drive through are kind of normal.
There’s no denying it – we live in a world that craves convenience. If it takes time and effort, then forget about it. We already have so much on our plates that we only got some room left by the edges.
Do I need to take workout supplements?
Your body is a machine. It requires quality fuel in the right quantities at the right time. The body is in constant need of energy to rebuild tissues and run its numerous systems. Yet providing your muscles with the proper fuel is probably the most underestimated and ignored element of any workout routine.
Just for a second, think about what happens to your body when you go through an intense workout. Your muscle fibers are broken down. Your energy sources are depleted. This is the moment your body is craving for sufficient nutrients to re-build tissues. What happens when you don’t give the body the energy it wants (read: needs), it goes into a catabolic state – a state where your body starts to break down whatever it can find from fat stores and protein in your muscles to fuel itself. So instead of building your muscles to be bigger and stronger, you’re actually breaking your body down. You’re going backwards!!
What you need to do is get that body back into anabolic state. (Sorry, no steroids here) This is a naturally occurring state in the body that happens when you consume the necessary amount of quality energy (from protein and carbohydrates).
So can you keep your body in anabolic state with food alone? That’s for you to decide (but my guess would be no…and I’m usually pretty good at guessing stuff).
If you can provide your body with adequate fuel via food, then no you probably don’t need any supplementation. But if you’re like the rest of the world, and you simply don’t find this (financially) feasible, then supplements might be what you’ve been missing all this time.
What supplements should I take?
I can’t tell you what to take or what not to take. In fact, by law I’m required to tell you to consult with your doctor before trying any new supplement (and you should). So instead, I’ll tell you a little bit about the two major players and my experience (or lack of) with each.
This macronutrient is the most important muscle building (and muscle sustaining) element in your body. It’s the essential building block for muscle. Without going into the differences between essential and non-essential proteins, here’s what you need to understand: without sufficient protein intake, your muscles will not grow. They will not re-build to their maximum potential.
For this reason, I almost always recommend some sort of protein supplement. They come in various forms (powders, bars) but powders are the easiest to consume. I’ve tried dozens of variations and found Optimum Nutrition to be one of my favorites.
Remember that protein is not just for gaining muscle, but it’s also for sustaining muscle. So if you’ve been skipping out because you don’t want to “look like Arnold“, you’ve been making a big mistake. Most likely your body has been living in a catabolic world where muscle falls apart like Charlie Sheen’s career. Protein is vital.
When do I take my protein powder shake? I’ve changed up my schedule many times and have found this combination to work the best:
Directly before a workout. Research has shown that it takes your body anywhere from 45 to 60 minutes to absorb the protein. Since my workouts never last longer than this (and neither should yours), it works out quite well. Right after my workout, when my body is begging for nutrients, the protein is there and available. If I take my protein shake after the workout, my body has to wait another 45 minutes to get its fix. Why make it wait? That’s nowhere near efficient.
Before going to sleep. Think about it – your body goes through its longest fasting period over night and gets zero nutrient consumption. But it’s still rebuilding and repairing during this time period. It’s important to provide your body with the necessary nutrients over night.
It’s important to understand that your body naturally creates Creatine in your muscles. It’s particularly used during anaerobic activities (high intensity activities causing your body to use stored energy because oxygen cannot be delivered in time). Taking a Creatine supplement will give you additional energy to keep pushing throughout your workout.
I have personally never used Creatine and I’ll tell you why in a second. I have, on the other hand, spoken to numerous friends who have used it religiously. Each of them had made substantial gains. Each of them also had the same substantial losses (when they stopped using it).
It’s ok to be skeptical. I mean the supplement world is a vast ocean of confusing products. Thousands upon thousands of supplements all promising to turn you into superman.
But Creatine’s effectiveness has been scientifically documented and it has now become an accepted nutritional supplement. I’ve done enough research on the topic to know it’s a safe product. Millions have used it to drastically boost their performance.
But even with all the positive reviews and supporting scientific documents, there was always something holding me back.
The fact is, Creatine is still a fairly new product and, even though all current science points to it being a safe workout supplement, there are no long-term studies done. Creatine just hasn’t been around that long and therefore we just don’t know what kind of effects it can have on our health in the long run.
I want to enjoy all my years of life.
So those are my thoughts on workout supplements.
I know supplementation in general has had a bad rep for some time. And it’s normal to not want to put something in your body that you’re not sure about – good for you.
But let me ask you one thing.
What was it keeping you from putting down that whopper from Burger King?
What made you put it in your mouth and flood your body with damaging chemicals?
Take a second to think about all of the junk food and processed food we consume on a daily basis. These foods were not designed to help your body function properly – in fact, their addictive nature and unhealthy properties keep you coming back for further damage.
Workout supplements such as protein shakes are designed to give you everything that your body needs to function and perform to its full potential. They’re designed to help build your body up, not break it down.
So do your research and make the decision for yourself. Just don’t let the big bad world of supplements scare you.
What are your thoughts on workout supplements? Do you use them? Are you scared of trying them? Share your stories and experiences in the comments below.