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Supplements Part 3: Top 5 Best and Worst Supplements

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Okay folks, here it is, the best and worst supplements to take. Now, please be advised that while this is in my own opinion, it is also backed by research and agreed upon by many nutritional organizations and certification bodies. Yet, I still take 100% responsibility for creating this list, so don’t blame anyone else if your favourite pill or powder is on here (if in the worst 5). Anyway, before I waste anymore time, lets get right into it:

Top 5 Supplements:

The "Heroes"

1.Fish Oil

Fish oil is the top supplement that I think everyone should be taking, unless you already have a healthy amount of fish in your diet. Fish oil provides you with EPA and DHA, which are Omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids can help you in a plethora of ways. These fats have been found to improve brain function and memory, while also reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. They can also improve cardiovascular function, reduce cardiovascular disease, improve bone health, reduce osteoarthritis, reduce the risk of cancer, improve fat loss, and even improve hair and skin health. With so many benefits, it is very hard to pass up on this dynamite pills. With a lower price as well (you can buy 300 tablets for $40), it makes it a simple purchase. However, these are not a “take 1 per day” type of pill. Recommended dosages can range from 3-7 grams, and each pill is 1g, therefore you will need to take a handful of these per day to see the most benefit. Also, when choosing a fish oil supplement, look for the ones with the highest amount of EPA/DHA to get the most bang for your buck.

2.Whey

            Protein is a must in our diets, as it is one of the three macronutrients we need. If you are able to consume enough protein without taking a supplement, then good for you! However, in today’s “go-go-go” world, it can be tough to take the time to make a proper protein-rich meal, especially if you are rushing from the gym to work. Whey protein powder is completely safe to take, and can offer the same muscle building benefits of whole foods. The difference is that it is more convenient, quicker digesting, and even cheaper than buying a bunch of chicken breasts (trust me!). Therefore, if you are someone who is in a rush after your workout, or aren’t hungry enough to chow down on a steak after a hard training session or practice, then whey protein might be right for you!

3.Creatine Monohydrate

            Without getting too scientific on you, creatine is needed in our bodies to recycle energy, known as ATP. In short explosive bursts of energy, such as a 100m sprint, a set of squats, or runing to catch the bus, you will be using ATP that is attached to creatine. By taking creatine monohydrate, you are basically giving your body a bigger storage for this quick hit of ATP (which will help when you are really late for the bus and need to sprint a little faster/longer!). Creatine is completely harmless to take, even for younger athletes, as I know this is a big concern for parents, as was for myself too. I didn’t take creatine in High School while my buddies did because I wanted to be “all-natural”. Well guess what young Cole (and others like him), creatine is natural! We get creatine in our diets from eating red meats. Therefore, supplementing with creatine is not needed if you consume a large amount of meats, but if you are a vegetarian/vegan, you may want to consider it. Also, creatine monohydrate has been shown to improve power output and muscular gains from training, so it can be beneficial if you are hitting the gym and looking for that added boost. While there is some fear that creatine will cause dehydration because it is a diuretic, research actually shows that those who take it are better hydrated than those who do not, possibly because it causes you to be more thirsty and drink more water.

4.BCAA

            Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. There are 20 of them in total, and 8 of them are known as essential, meaning we cannot make them on our own and need to get them from our food. Three of these essential aminos: Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine are what’s known as Branched chain amino acids (BCAA). These three have the specific job of making protein for muscle in the body. Research has shown that muscle mass can be preserved with just amino acids, not whole protein itself. BCAA also have almost no calories, but still provide you with the building blocks for muscle. So, basically, you could take BCAA to maintain your muscle mass without consuming a ton of protein. This can have benefits especially for those who are looking to lose fat, but maintain their muscle (so basically everyone), as they still get the building blocks of protein without the calories from protein. BCAAs have been shown to be most beneficial when consumed during a workout to preserve muscle mass, and once again, without having the added calorie punch of a protein supplement.

5.Vitamin D

            Vitamin D is essential for humans to get. It helps your body absorb calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphate and zinc. The most important of these is calcium. While you may be swigging back milk and crushing yogurt like a champ, you won’t be digesting and absorbing all of these bone-building minerals with inadequate Vitamin D, which can lead to bone-related injuries like fractures or breaks. While your body can create Vitamin D on its own, it needs sunlight in order to do so. Now, while some of us have the benefit of living in sunny Florida year round, others of us live in “Beautiful BC”, where now suddenly we get snow and rain for 9 months of the year.... Therefore, if you live somewhere rainy or cloudy, it is best to make sure you are either getting vitamin D in your diet through fish, egg yolks, or Vitamin-D fortified foods, or taking it through supplementation. The dietary recommendation is get 15-30 minutes of sunlight a few times per week, or take 600-800 International Units of it through food/supplementation.

Worst 5 Supplements:

All right, now time for the "villains" of the supplement world!

1.Fat Burners

            Fat burners are nothing but a bunch of energy-revving chemicals that cause your metabolism to go up by a minuscule amount. They cost a fortune, when all you need to do is take care of your nutrition a little more by eating less (which saves money!) and work a little harder in the gym. These fat-burners can also mess with your metabolism and cause gastrointestinal effects (can you say diarrhea?). They can also harm your liver and heart by trying to rev it up and work overtime, which is never a good thing. Therefore, just save your money and spend more time in your own kitchen instead of looking for a quick fix.  

2.Mass Gainers

            These are very enticing as they seem harmless and appear to work. In fact, most of them actually are and do. But guess what: there is no special formula in them! All that is contained in that giant tub of powder is whey protein (which is good), some added vitamins and minerals you get from your diet anyway, and maltodextrin. Malto-what?! Maltodextrin, which is basically sugar. So, what you are really buying is a tub of protein and simple sugar. So, if you are looking to put on weight, having a bunch of sugar will help, but it is just a filler carbohydrate that is super cheap to use, and super expensive for you to buy. So, save your money once again. Just get whey protein (or eat protein) and eat some good complex carbs. Looking to put on mass? Just eat more whole foods and don’t pump your body with this “Arnold Approved” sugar.

3.Pre-workout

             Okay, here is a big one. Lots of people I know take pre-workout. “Dude, it said don’t exceed 3 scoops…I took 4!” Wow, cool man... Guess what? You could have just saved your money and got a coffee and ate a spoonful of sugar and it would have the same effect. These supplements are just an expensive mixture of a bunch of cheap chemicals. They basically come down to caffeine and sugar, two things that will amp you up. However, taking pre-workouts can have harmful side effects such as dehydration as caffeine is the main ingredient and is a diuretic, kidney damage as the mixture of ingredients puts extra stress on the body, and high blood pressure as all stimulants cause elevated blood pressure, but can be even more severe when taking a bunch at once everyday. So, just go get a coffee to pump you up and reap the ergogenic benefits (help your exercise) of caffeine, or maybe don’t stay up until 3 am watching Netflix so you wont be so tired and need the pre-workout to amp you up. Sound good?

4.Testosterone Booster

            To put this one simply, these do not really work. Most research shows that testosterone boosters have no effect and can even lower the amount of testosterone produced by the body. How so? Well, when we ingest it, we are basically telling our body that we don’t need to produce it anymore as we are getting it elsewhere, which leads to our bodies producing less of the hormone itself. To top it all off, if it happens to actually work for you, you may want to be aware of the harmful side effects:

  • Oily skin leading to more acne (yay, puberty round 2!)
  • Enlargement of breasts
  • Shrinking of the testes leading to infertility
  • Being extremely moody and aggressive

While these usually occur due to overdoing it or the presence of a little something extra in your “all-natural booster”, there appears to be only two options when it comes to taking a testosterone booster: either it is all-natural and doesn’t work, or it is basically the same as a steroid you become an aggressive big-boobed 13 year-old boy. Rough.

5.Any other form creatine

            So, as mentioned before, creatine can be very beneficial for those looking to increase their performance in power-type activities. However, be aware! There are many types of creatine to take, such as Monohydrate, Ethyl-esther, and HCL. Do not be fooled by the smooth talking Supplement storeowner! Stick with the Creatine Monohydrate. It is the only one with years of research to prove that it actually works; the others are just expensive gimmicks. I actually fell for the gimmick myself, buying Creatine HCL. The seller told me “It is new and therefore the research shows it is better than creatine monohydrate, but it just hasn’t come out yet”. Give me a break! If a new supplement came out and it showed how great it was, that research would be out yesterday. So, do not fall for the sales pitch. Just get the monohydrate (only if you need/want it) and move on! These other forms also usually have good theory behind them. For example Creatine HCL (hydrochloride) has been found to be more soluble in water than monohydrate, however, this does not mean it is taken up into our bodies and used the same, which is exactly the case. Creatine HCL, or any other kinds, do not stand up to the years of proven research behind monohydrate.

            Well, there it is folks, my Top 5 Best and Worst Supplements for athletes, or anyone else to consider. As always, make sure you know what you are putting into your body. For more info on that topic, check out my post on supplement safety and regulation. Be informed by checking the label, doing some of your own research (www.examine.com), and by following my Top 5 things to think about before purchasing a supplement. I would also like to point out that I am not making any money by pushing products or endorsing them, as I am not THAT famous…yet. This is just my way of informing young athletes and their coaches on what they can do to enhance their performance, and decrease the harm to their bodies.

Peace.Gains.

Cole Hergott

References:

  1. Andrew Heming, Supplementation for Athletics and Fitness, TWU HKIN 420 Class Notes
  2.  Berardi J, Andrews R, St. Pierre B, Scott-Dixon K, Kollias H, DePutter C.The Essentials Of Sport And Exercise Nutrtion. 3rd ed. Precision Nutrition; 2017.
  3. Smith-Ryan A, Antonio J.Sports Nutrition & Performance Enhancing Supplements. 1st ed. Linus Books; 2013.
  4. www.examine.com
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