Brand: Any-In general, look for something that breaks down the Branch Chain Amino Acids on the nutrition facts to ensure quality.
How much: Whatever you need to take to hit your Protein Macros.
When: Whenever you need a lean quality protein source.
Purpose: Whey protein has one of the best amino acid profiles of any protein. When we get to BCAA supplementation we will talk more about Leucine and its value in muscle protein synthesis. To put it simply Whey has a large amount of Leucine, so its amino acid profile is great for muscle building and recovery. However Leucine in BCAA supplements and in Whey are different in that BCAA supplements have free form amino acids. If you have GI issues Whey protein isolate is the “whey” to go…..see what I did there? If you have no issues with lactose then feel free to use concentrate.
Unfortunately plant proteins do not have the same great amino acid profile as whey, actually they are awful in comparison. So I would not recommend pea, rice, soy, or hemp protein, that is unless you are a vegan. They do not even come close to comparing with the amino acid profile, digestibility and bioavailability of whey protein.
2) Vitamin D
Brand: Any, liquid has the best bioavailability
How much: 1000-5000iu/day. Amount depends on sex, age, nutrition, sun exposure. Stay under 10,000iu/day.
When: Does not matter, but take with a fat source.
Purpose: Research shows that 90% of the US population may be deficient and Vitamin D is important in many metabolic processes, hormonal processes, and immune response function. Also, Vit D deficiency has been linked to many autoimmune disorders and many general health conditions such as COPD and heart failure.
3) Fish Oil
Brand: Carlson’s, Nordic Naturals are top of the line, outside of those all are close to equal.
How much: 1-2g of EPA/DHA a day
When: Does not matter. Maybe take with Vitamin D because it is a fat source
Purpose: Fish oil has been touted to have many anti-inflammatory properties. However this is only true when properly dosed and coupled with the decrease of dietary omega 6 fatty acids. There have been multiple studies about the positive effects of fish oil in people with heart conditions and/or advanced autoimmune disorders. Yet the studies on fish oil are still mixed to this day. Why? Basically fish oil can oxidize rather easily and potentially cause some damage via production of free radicals. Unfortunately we can’t just mega-dose fish oil (10-20g a day) like many were lead to believe. This is due to its ability to oxidize easily.
Brand: Creatine Monohydrate!!! Micronized or not, it doesn’t matter, but ONLY creatine monohydrate has been shown that it is maximally absorbed in the skeletal muscle tissue. Many companies try to sell you fancy stuff with transport systems and better bioavailability…..simply not true!
How much: 5g/day every day. Your own creatine production won’t forever decline, no need to cycle on and off. However, your own creatine production will slightly decrease but with supplementation it simply doesn’t matter.
When: Dose not matter. Take consistently as we are just accumulating creatine, not taking it and immediately expending it. Consistency is key here.
Purpose: This is the most lengthy/heavily researched supplement and it works! Creatine supplementation increases creatine-phosphate and creatine-kinase in the muscles, which can be used to produce energy in the ATP-CP pathway, which is very important for short intense activity. More energy for force production equates to more strength/more volume, which means you will get another rep or two at the same weight. Creatine can also increase the number of nuclei in muscle fibers. See myonuclear domain theory. Basically states that the more nuclei we have per muscle fiber the more likely we are to grow and recover faster. There have been some pretty amazing studies showing the supplementation of creatine helping neurodegenerative diseases in adults and infants as well!
5) Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)
Brand: Powder forms. Check for a 2:1:1 ratio of Leucine:Isoleucine:Valine.
How much: 10g
When: Take 10g pre and post workout and possibly between meals if needed.
Purpose: BCAAs are a low calorie protein source that have been proven to stimulate muscle protein synthesis (MPS). In short, BCAAs in free form get absorbed very quickly from the small intestine, they will then bypass the liver (where any other amino acids will go first), and go directly to skeletal muscle tissues. So we talked about this leucine thing above with Whey protein. Studies show that about 3-4g of leucine every 3-4 hours can stimulate MPS and BCAAs are leucine rich. Side note, iso-leucine and valine are required for leucine use/absorption. So just taking leucine does not work as well. Certain populations who are less sensitive to amino acids, i.e. women, older persons, someone with GI disorders, might require a higher dose. Additionally, those who carry a significantly higher lean body mass may take more (a 250lb male at 14% body fat will need more than his 160lb counterpart).
6) Beta alanine
Brand: Doesn’t matter
How much: 6g/day everyday.
When: 3g pre workout, 3g post workout. 6g in two servings on non-training days.
Purpose: Increases muscle carnosine levels which can act as a buffer against local acidic conditions (lactic acid) that occur in intense training. Some people really feel the tingly/flushed skin feeling which is a normal side effect, and varies person to person. It does take about a month to accumulate peak levels, so when you stop taking BA it takes about a month for effects to diminish.
Brand: Doesn’t matter
How much: 2g a day
When: 1g pre and post workout
Purpose: Potential to reduce fatigue, improve ATP regeneration/recovery and aid in the shuttling of fat to the mitochondria to be “burned”. If you are training hard and trying to lose weight at the same time this is a product for you!
Brand: How do you ever pick?!? Maybe by taste
How Much: Varied by brand.
When: About 30-15 minutes before your workout.
Purpose: Since many pre workout supplements are a “proprietary mixture” you can never be sure exactly how much of what you are getting. But most will put in Creatine, Beta Alanine, BCAAs, Caffeine, and the list goes on. However this does not mean they don’t work. Most work due to B vitamins and caffeine which when dosed appropriately give you a rush of energy. To make the most of your pre-workout, avoid stimulants as much as possible throughout the day. Some of these may work simply by placebo effect. Which, in my opinion, if it makes your workout better, who cares if its placebo or actually working?
Mike Grillo B.S. Exercise Science, NASM CPT, NASM CES, USAW, CrossFit Level 1