For someone new to the fitness industry, supplements can be an intimidating subject. We are flooded with conflicting statements about which supplements are good for you, which ones might be bad, and which ones are total junk. One day you feel like you should be taking everything, and the next day you might feel like they are all worthless. It’s actually quite paralyzing for someone who doesn’t know how to navigate through the jungle of information out there.
Over time, the idea of supplements becomes less daunting, especially after you realize that they’re not drugs or replacements for healthy meals, but rather just as the name states: “supplements” to a good diet. As basic as it sounds, this is the realization that I had years ago that helped me to realize that in moderation, most all supplements are perfectly safe for most people. And there are a few that are absolutely critical to the success of your health and fitness goals.
So what kind of supplements do I use to maintain my look year-round, and what can you use to achieve the look that you want? The first rule would be to take supplements that most help protect muscle tissue. All of us have to remember that muscle is metabolically expensive to maintain. What I mean by this is, whether you are a man or woman, your body does not want to hold onto large amounts of muscle. Simply put, fat tissue is more calorically dense than muscle, so if you were starving, fat is more valuable to your survival. That’s why your body innately desires to preserve body fat over muscle tissue. This is where the strategic use of supplements can be very pivotal.
Branched-Chain Amino Acids: BCAAs are one of the most crucial building blocks to developing and keeping a muscular physique. Not only do they initiate post-training protein synthesis, BCAA supplements provide your body with a readily accessible source of amino acids to be used for fuel. In case you didn’t know, your muscles are ultimately made up of amino acids that your body can use for energy in the absence of glucose. So providing your muscles with a steady flow of amino acids means that it doesn’t have to pull them out of your muscles. Another upside to BCAAs is that it is almost impossible to overdo them. I more or less sip on BCAAs all day.
Glutamine: The other supplement that you cannot get enough of, in my opinion, is glutamine. Glutamine is the most common amino acid found in your muscles, but it is also the most depleted when dieting and training hard. Much like BCAAs, I sip on glutamine throughout the day. As a matter of fact, it has become a go-to for me when I’m getting hungry, as I treat myself to a well-flavored glutamine drink. This is a great trick to adopt because glutamine has one of the most anti-catabolic (muscle-sparing) effects on the human body. In addition, I suffer from an inflammatory intestinal disorder and I find amazing benefit in taking glutamine to help curb intestinal pain. When we train hard and deplete glutamine, it can actually be hard on the stomach and intestines, so supplementing with glutamine can help regenerate the gut, therefore contributing to better digestive health (and better nutrient absorption.)
Protein Powder: This is the supplement that I probably get asked about the most. It gets tricky because there are so many different protein powders these days, but I have always been a huge advocate for whey protein isolate. First and foremost, I am lactose intolerant and the filtration process whey protein isolate goes through removes almost all of the lactose. This means that I can get in my protein without the bloated gut and indigestion. (I know I’m not the only one that feels that way.) Secondly, whey protein isolate is easily absorbed. In the process of creating whey protein isolate the highest-quality protein-rich components are extracted from the whey. This leaves you with an easily digestible protein that also provides a natural small spike in insulin (this can help you absorb more amino acids but without taking a big hit of carbs with it).
Natural Testosterone Boosters: Lastly, I want to address a category that I feel gets a bad rap. People hear the word “testosterone,” and they automatically assume the worst. The fact is, testosterone is critical to the healthy function of many organs, let alone muscle tissue. This is true for men and women. There are so many environmental factors now that are reducing the testosterone levels of men and women that I feel taking a trusted testosterone support or mild booster can provide serious benefit to the athlete and the health-conscious alike.
There are many other vitamins and supplements that I take and would recommend. A good fish-oil supplement and some other supportive nutrients like vitamin D3 are important to maintaining healthy brain function. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that we can’t do much with our physical bodies without our brains!
So get out there, continue to train hard, and treat your supplements as an important part of your training and diet protocol that leads you to success.
By Thomas DeLauer