Should You Take Supplements?
Supplements are a very profitable area of the health and wellness industry. According to this recent article the US alone generated $32 billion dollars in revenue in 2019 – an additional $2 billion dollars compared to the year before. The article states that due to consumers interest in health and wellness growing, so too is the market for supplements that support their specific goals and new lifestyle. But here’s the real question – do you really need them? Do you really need to spend your hard earned cash on expensive supplements that you don’t know much about?
Staying in the context of muscle and strength gain there are many options available to you including caffeine, creatine, whey protein, whey protein isolate, casein, branched chain amino acids (BCAA’s), beta alanine, citrulline malate and L-arginine to name a few. You probably don’t know what the majority of these are and what their main benefit is and I won’t be going into this level of detail until another blog post in the future (if requested).
You don’t need these supplements. Lets just make that loud and clear from the beginning. You don’t need these supplements to gain muscle, get stronger, lose fat, look awesome naked and feel more confident about yourself on the whole. When I first started lifting weights over 7 years ago I wasn’t taken any of the supplements in that list. Not a single one. I was focusing on learning about nutrition and fueling my body with the right foods and I was learning about training and perfecting my technique. I was focusing on the fundamentals, like those in my coaching program. The fundamentals that would sculpt my new physique that I was striving for at a young age and learning more about my body and how it responded to my training and nutrition.
I probably didn’t spend money on supplements for the first six months and when I did start spending money it wasn’t on a consistent basis at all because I was worried about my parents being annoyed that I was spending money from my part-time job working as a bartender on ‘daft’ supplements – for real! So after a while I was using supplements but only sporadically. I wasn’t buying X supplement every Y months and being really rigid and structured with my intake and use of supplements. I was consuming caffeine from coffee that my Mum got in the weekly food shop and I was buying whey protein every now and then because it was the cheapest and most affordable type of protein I could buy (and it still is). Really really basic. And looking back now I’m glad I approached my use of supplements in this way. If I was buying anything else other than whey protein, such as creatine that requires a structured and regimented intake every day, I would have wasted a lot of money! The benefits wouldn’t have been there if I was only taking it every so often.
If you’re in a similar situation to me 7 years ago, right now, and you’re questioning whether you should take supplements, I would wait for a little while and there’s three reasons why. Reason number one is that you’ve almost certainly not reached a plateau yet and if you have you can overcome that with modifications in your training and nutrition. This is especially true the less experienced you are because your body will respond positively to any changes in your fitness program even if those changes are bad.
Reason number two is you probably don’t know what the real benefits of these supplements are. There’s probably some supplement that catches your eye with a fancy name and nice colors, but you don’t know the benefits yet. Wait until someone with a lot of experience (like me) explains the benefits in great detail in my personalized meal plans and guides you towards choosing the right supplement to buy based on your specific goals.
And lastly reason number three and this is very subjective and up to you to decide, you might not be in a suitable position financially that allows you to buy these supplements. Don’t forget what I said earlier – some of these supplements require consistent intake if you want to really experience their benefits (for example, creatine) so if you can’t afford it long term you’re better off waiting until you are in a position where you can comfortably afford them.
If you’ve been training for several years already and you are more serious about your training and you have specific results that you’re striving for, then this is when supplements become more relevant and suitable. You’ve got a few years of training under your belt, you know what you want and you know what you need to get from A to B whether that’s with muscle gain, strength gain or fat loss. At least one of those goals (muscle gain, strength gain or fat loss) will apply to you which means that the most important supplements for you from the above list are caffeine, whey protein and creatine which you can learn exactly how to use properly for best results here.
I didn’t start taking creatine until I researched it and became more fascinated with resistance training in my late teens, which meant that I had about 3-4 years of training experience already. My focus during this time was getting stronger and hitting certain milestones such as a 300lb bench press. I had hit several plateaus by this point and I had done everything I could to keep breaking through these plateaus without the use of supplements like creatine. And that’s what you should do. Don’t rely on supplements like creatine during your first couple of years of resistance training. Focus on modifying your training and nutrition when plateaus arise (and they will, trust me) and understanding why changing X had an effect on Y. You learn how to break through your plateaus in my coaching program.
I cannot stress enough the importance of sleep and water intake either. Sleep and water are fundamentals just like your nutrition and training. You must develop habits in your life that maximize your sleep and water intake on a daily basis. Poor sleep means poor strength, regardless of whether you take creatine or not. Lack of water also has the same effect. If you don’t get your sleep and water intake dialed in, you’ll constantly be searching for supplements that claim to be ‘the secret’ to achieving the physique of your dreams when a lot of the solutions you’re looking for can be found in optimization of the basics.