When it comes to supplements, we know that the massive range of different ingredients, combinations, and products can be quite overwhelming. Some work, some don’t, and some are even outright scams. It’s hard to know what you can and can’t trust.
To save you the stress, we’ve put together a list of the top 5 fitness supplements that you can count on to give you results, every time.
1. Whey protein – Growth and Recovery
If you’ve been in the fitness world for even a week, chances are you’ve heard of protein powder – specifically, whey. Protein in general is extremely important for the physically active population, especially those who perform resistance training.
- Increased muscle use causes a “good” type of muscular damage, which triggers extra repair and growth (1). To help your body perform this growth and repair, you need to provide it with more “building blocks” – this is exactly what protein is!
- Whey protein is one of the two proteins found in milk. The other is a slower-absorbed one, called Casein.
- Whey is cost-effective, easy to consume, and has been shown by literature to activate muscle growth (2).
- If that wasn’t awesome enough, it’s also one of the fastest-absorbed protein sources available. This makes it perfect for consuming post-workout, when your body is most in need of protein for recovery (3).
- You can also use whey throughout your day to meet your protein goals. If you do resistance training like weight-lifting, this should be about 0.8 grams per pound of bodyweight (4).
- It can be taken as a shake, or added to a bunch of high-protein recipes. A typical dose is a 30-gram scoop.
- These are our favourite picks:
MuscleTech (pure whey, great flavour, zero fat and sugar)
Purition (all natural ingredients, flavours and super seeds/grains. Has high content of “good fats” and fibre and can be used as meal replacement).
2. Creatine – Strength and Power
Creatine is possibly the most-researched and proven supplement used today. It’s a naturally-occurring compound which can be found in small amounts in meat, fish, eggs, and other animal food products.
- When used in large amounts, it can increase strength, power, and endurance (5, 6).
- It does this by boosting the production of ATP – the body’s energy source.
- ATP gets used up rapidly during intense exercise, but creatine quickly regenerates it, making sure that your muscles have a steady supply of energy (7).
- Although many types of creatine are sold as supplements, creatine monohydrate is by far the best-researched and cost-effective form you can find (8).
- It is best taken around the time of your workout, with a source of carbohydrates. It needs to be taken daily to experience its effects, which you will see with longer-term use as it accumulates in the muscles.
- A typical dose is 5 grams daily, on both workout and rest days.
- Our favourite pick: MyProtein Creatine Monohydrate
3. Beta Alanine – Endurance
Another very well-researched ingredient that has stood the test of time is beta alanine. Beta alanine is also naturally occurring, and is used by the body to make another substance called carnosine (9).
- Carnosine reduces the build-up of lactic acid and free radicals, which accumulate in your muscles during intense exercise. These conditions are the cause of fatigue, so eliminating them with extra carnosine can hold off fatigue longer and significantly increase your endurance (10).
- Although the effective dose used in studies is about 5 grams daily, this is usually split up into 2 or more smaller doses because of a harmless side effect called paraesthesia.
- This is a fancy name for the tingling sensation you might have heard about, which is felt throughout the body after consuming larger amounts of beta alanine (11).
- Our favourite pick: My Protein Beta Alanine Amino Acid
4. Citrulline malate – Endurance and Recovery
A newer supplement that is showing plenty of promise is citrulline malate. Citrulline is an amino acid that increases levels of another amino acid – arginine – in the body (12). Arginine turns into nitric oxide – an effect which is promoted by many supplements.
- Nitric oxide is a vasodilator, which means it dilates your blood vessels. This can increase blood flow, supplying your muscles with extra amounts of valuable nutrients that keep them performing for longer (13).
- Vasodilation also enhances “the pump” while lifting weights. “The pump” is the informal name for the temporary enlargement of the muscles you are working. It’s great, not only for your confidence in the mirror, but for extra muscle growth as well (14).
- The most studied form of citrulline is citrulline malate, which improves endurance, supports energy production, and reduces muscle soreness from exercise (15).
- The recommended dose of citrulline malate is between 6 and 8 grams, which should be taken about 30-60 minutes before working out.
- Our favourite pick: Unflavoured Citrulline Malate Supplement
5. ZMA – improved sleep and hormone production
ZMA is the name given to the combination of Zinc, Magnesium, and Vitamin B6. These three ingredients work synergistically to improve sleep quality and hormone production – especially testosterone. Both of these benefits are great for recovery and lean muscle gain.
- Zinc is an essential mineral, which is involved in many enzymes in the body. It plays an important role in the production of testosterone (16).
- Your zinc levels are also depleted with intense exercise, so athletes need more of it than regular folks (17).
- The recommended daily intake of zinc is 15mg for the average person, and even more for athletes.
- Like zinc, magnesium is also an essential mineral.
- According to examine.com, it’s the second most common vitamin or mineral deficiency seen in the developed world.
- Aside from its key functions in maintaining healthy blood pressure and insulin sensitivity, supplementing with magnesium is great for improving quality of sleep (18).
- Quality sleep has been linked to increased testosterone levels, which is due to the majority of testosterone being produced while we are sleeping (19).
- An effective dose of magnesium for sleep improvement is 51 milligrams, but can be even better at greater doses.
Vitamin B6 is included since it may increase the absorption of zinc (20).
- For best results, ZMA is typically dosed an hour before bed time.
- Our favourite pick: ZMA Capsules
So, what should I try first?
Before all else, we recommend that you make sure you’ve perfected your diet and exercise routine. This means regular workouts and eating a well-balanced diet that matches your goals. Whey protein is the only one that should be used here, since it can be used to help you reach your diet requirements. Once you’re already aligned with your goals, supplements will provide you with an extra “boost” to get you there, rather than take you the whole way.
Pick one or more from the list, based on the effects you desire – be it extra strength, endurance, recovery, or all of the above.