Supplement (In)Sanity

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A few days ago I responded to an email where I was asked my general thoughts on supplements:  do I find them useful?, which ones do I take?, which ones do I feel are useless?, so on and so forth.

Now, I’ve written similar posts in the past – HERE and HERE – but since I ended up writing more than I thought I would, I figured I might as well use my response as its own impromptu blog post.

It’s my blog, I can do what I want!

Compared to many, I take more of a simpleton approach to supplementation.  For me, and I’m completely stealing a line from Alwyn Cosgrove here – “supplements are progress enhancers, not progress starters.”

More often that not, if someone’s not making any progress – whether it’s strength related, fat loss, or performance based – you can usually chalk it up to sub-optimal training, nutrition, or both.

I’m sorry, maybe it’s the cynic in me (although I like to think it’s common sense) but taking some super-duper-crystallized-dragon’s breath-protein-synthesizer-mass-bulking formula supplement which promises things like packing on 30 lbs of muscle AND increasing your bench press by 100 lbs (while instantaneously turning your abs into a bulletproof vest) – all by next Wednesday – is utter nonsense.

I had an athlete of mine ask me the other day what supplements he should be taking to add a little weight.

I said, “calories.”

After a few awkward seconds of starring at one another, he realized I was serious and then we had an awesome ten minute conversation on how he could go about including more quality calories into his daily repertoire.

This isn’t to say that I don’t think supplementation isn’t efficacious or worthwhile for some – it absolutely is!

I just feel that far too often people resort to some mythical “magic pill” that’s going to get them results, when in fact, it’s nothing more than putting in their time under the bar (and doing so consistently) and actually giving a shit what they put into their bodies in the form of REAL, natural, minimally processed, nutrient-dense food.

Bringing this full circle, I feel supplementation is highly overemphasized by some.  But I can also appreciate that certain supplements are invaluable in what they have to offer as far as general health benefits are concerned.

Moreover, I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge those supplements that undoubtedly help people take their training to the next level.

Which Leads Us To This

Pigging back off my comments above, and despite the contrary, I actually do personally take (and advocate that others do as well) some supplements.

For their health benefits alone, I take:  fish oil (heart health, reducing inflammation, and a encyclopedia’s worth of other benefits), Vitamin D (deficiency in this vitamin is almost universal), a powdered Green’s product (I think of it as mineral/vitamin safety net), and dandelion root and ginger (both for their role in reducing inflammation and promoting liver health).
On the performance side of things, I think anyone who lifts weights on a consistent basis (and not the pink dumbbells) should include two supplements:  protein powder and creatine.

Granted protein powder may be a moot concept assuming someone ingests ample protein in their diet (grass fed beef, chicken, eggs, fish, yogurt, cottage cheese, Bambi’s mom, etc), but you can’t argue with the research which routinely demonstrates that downing a protein drink shortly after – or even better, before – training helps to promote protein synthesis and recovery.

Likewise, creatine is the most researched supplement in the history of the world, and I’m always amused at those people (sadly, even physicians at times) who claim that taking it is going to make your kidneys explode or give you a third nipple.

While there’s a small portion of the population who are “non-responders,” I think it behooves anyone who weight trains not to consider including creatine into their daily mix, as it’s been routinely shown to increase strength, performance, and recovery.

And sometimes increases your chances of seeing someone of the opposite sex naked.   It’s a win-win.

Supplement Hijinks

Embarrassingly, I don’t keep up with the latest supplement superstars.  Every now and then I’ll notice one of our athletes walk in with some flashy container with the typical flashy words on the label and roll my eyes.

I’m sure if I walked into my local GNC store I’d find a plethora of related supplements that will just as equally make a small piece of my soul die.

I especially love those souped up creatine formulas that promise all the bells and whistles and end up costing what mounts to a student loan payment for a month’s supply.

Fun fact:  just stick with plain ol’ creatine monohydrate which costs like $15 for a three month supply.  It’s just as “effective” as the more expensive brands, and you’ll save yourself a bit of money in the long run.

Having said all that, there have been several times where I used myself as a
guinea pig and tried a few supplements – some of which I KNOW have some solid research behind them – that I never really got  much out of.

The one that comes to mind the most is beta alanine.

I realize there are a lot of people who swear by it – particularly endurance based athletes or even the CrossFit diehards out there (and like said, there is plenty of research out there that backs it up) – but for me it was sorta like “eh.”

At the end of the day, I try to stick with the mantra that supplements are exactly that……supplements.

Far too often I feel many people are under the assumption that the missing link as to why they’re not getting results is because of some hidden supplement they’re not taking.  The truth of the matter is:  1) they don’t train nearly as “hard” as they think they do and 2) their diet doesn’t reflect their goals.  Think of that last point the next time you chug an energy drink (which typically contains a boat load of sugar) just to go for a walk.

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