Supplements are all the craze these days, and have been for some time. It’s gotten to the point where there’s one for everything or depending on the purpose you may find several. Just a few short internet searches will get you a hundred products with a hundred claims behind them, and if you’ve done your homework you know the handful of molecules out there that are actually useful, and where to get them.
It’s pretty easy to fall victim to spending a lot of time and money trying out what looks like magic in bottle after reading a few product labels among the search results. Of course it’s only natural when embarking on a fitness endeavor to want to use all the tools out there to squeeze every ounce of progress possible out of the work we put in, and I get that. I was the same way.
I did my homework…
I paid attention to what is backed by scientific data, and also how sound the scientific data was backing it. After all, there are a lot of studies out there, performed by all sorts of entities with various agendas, motives, and funding. But that aside just paying attention to the sample group and duration of the study goes a long way in determining whether the data actually applies to the average person. Not only did I study the do’s and don’ts but I put them to the test, and I learned a few things. It is very valuable to have real world confirmation of the data you collect from research. So I’m going to save you the trouble of going through vast amounts of data and the time it takes to confirm what you study through trial and error.
First things first. People have been built phenomenal bodies long before supplements were around. So that makes one thing very clear.
You can do it without them.
No amount of supplementation can substitute what you get out of eating and training properly.
There aren’t any out there that will make you wanna get up off the couch and go workout. Looking to supplements for a shortcut will only lead you to disappointment and despair. If there existed a safe, natural supplement that did exactly that it would be phenomenal! But there are no shortcuts in those fancy bottles, if someone claims they’ve discovered that shortcut they are either uninformed or there’s probably something they aren’t telling you… Like a conflict of interest or something to do with a weekly injection that they don’t want to mention.
That said, there are some advantages to using the ones that actually help. I like to think of it as gaining an edge. The edge comes in different ways, time, convenience, comfort, etc… but you can’t have an edge without the blade, and that blade is manifested in the execution of proper training and nutrition. No blade, no edge. For example: many of my favorite supplements for fat loss would be rendered useless if a calorie deficit is not maintained.
So let’s talk about the hot items in the supplement game.
Whoever you are, fitness folk or otherwise, you have probably heard that getting adequate protein is important.
No surprise here, it’s true. Protein is the building blocks for many things within our bodies, and when you look at the data it’s very clear that protein is a big deal for anyone who is looking to build a body, support an activity or even just maintain optimal health.
Now if you ask your local supplement shop about protein, they are going to push the powder.
If you think about this logically though, you don’t HAVE to have protein powder to meet your needs. There are plenty of natural sources both plant and animal, that can fulfill the requirements of most everyone with no trouble at all.
A few of my favorite sources are lean meats, low fat dairy products, black beans and other legumes, eggs, certain grains, and shellfish.
The most popular protein powders I’ve seen are composed primarily from whey, which is found in milk, and is considered a complete protein.
Whey is great, it’s not hard to get a hold of and most people handle it very well. A brutally simple source is cow milk, which is inexpensive and readily available almost everywhere. I particularly like goat’s milk for this because of the higher percentage of whey content.
The only potential downside of getting your protein from whole sources like the foods discussed above is that many of these foods contain nutrients other than just protein. This is preferable in many cases where the tag-along nutrients are also useful in nourishing our bodies. It becomes a problem though when those tag-alongs are counter productive to a goal like a specific dietary target (calories + macros) or balancing your nutrient intake in general.
I believe that anyone can hit their goal without protein supplements, but it definitely takes more time and energy to keep everything in check.
This is where protein powders shine. They make it easier to get protein intake where it needs to be without the expense of the additional time and energy.
And when you think about it, protein powder contains the same stuff that the whole sources do, only the tag-alongs have simply been taken out.
So is protein powder for you?
Ask yourself some questions about your lifestyle and preferences. Do you want to save some time? Do you want to make hitting macros and balancing your diet easier?
If you answered yes to either, shopping for a protein supplement is worthwhile for you.
So which one?
I get asked this a lot. So I wanted to hammer out some protein supplement recommendations, along with my two cents about them.
Tasty flavored powders
These varieties are probably the most popular, and for good reason, you can drink them on the go, make pancakes with them, or throw them in a smoothie.
Some of the best tasting brands I’ve tried tend to also be of good quality, while some of the blandest ones are usually the cheapest and lowest quality. I have definitely noticed a correlation between price and quality, but that doesn’t always mean that the most expensive is the best.
LEGION Whey+ (whey isolate)
Legion’s whey is at the top of my list for a few reasons. I’ve used it before, and I know it tastes great, plus the information behind the level of quality is clearly detailed on the site, and Legion has face behind their product who creates other useful content in other categories that is of extremely high quality and backed by scientific evidence. So the facts are there in black and white and there’s someone I trust backing the brand.
LEGION Thrive (plant based)
There are several reasons to consume plant based protein over whey. One is that dairy doesn’t agree with everyone, another may be personal beliefs against consuming animal products. Either way there are options for high quality plant based foods, and if you want the convenience of a powder that doesn’t taste like sawdust, Thrive is probably one of the best out there.
Legion is direct to consumer, so if you want to check their protein powders you can find them online at https://legionathletics.com
If I’m in a pinch and I need to grab something like this off a retail shelf, I really only have one go to brand.
Optimum Nutrition – Gold Standard 100% Whey
The whey products are the most available from ON, and they taste very good. The chocolate is great in milk or water, and the vanilla is killer in pancakes and smoothies. If you need something fast then give these a try. One of my favorite reasons for choosing this brand is the fact that they can be found in most any supplement shop, as well as big box grocery stores like HEB and Kroger.
Unflavored bulk powders
This has been a go to for me for a while. It’s probably the best tool for balancing intake when you prepare the bulk of your food yourself. The downside is that most of these are unflavored, which is great for things like baking but not so much when you just need to throw some in water to mix on the go.
The brands I’ve used have come in anything from 5lb to 44lb quantities, and yielded 25-27g of protein per 30g serving.
Glanbia Provon 292, Dana Foods, and Now foods are a few of the brands I’ve found to be quite good. NOW has some flavored stuff that is alright in terms of taste, but nothing special.
This is another supplement I get asked about frequently. Surprisingly enough I’ve heard some crazy things when listening to what some individuals have been told about this simple compound.
You see creatine is not some chemical or drug in disguise. It’s nothing more than a few protein molecules that are commonly found in everyday foods like meat and fish, and is even produced within our bodies.
Creatine is a molecule in an energy system that can rapidly produce energy to support cellular function. A compound formed of three amino acids: L-arginine, glycine, and L-methionine.
Our blood is made up of about 1 percent creatine.
So creatine is not bad, it’s not some unnatural thing you shouldn’t put in your body. As a matter of fact, it’s quite helpful if you are an athlete or exercise regularly.
Creatine is very well researched.
The tough spot that creatine supplementation encounters is that you don’t feel anything significant when you take it. It’s not like protein where you taste it and it fills your stomach, and it’s not like the caffeine in coffee that gives you a stimulating effect after you drink it. Creatine takes time to reveal its usefulness. It’s one of those things you kind of have to just trust the science on and act intelligently by throwing it into your daily habits.
As far as what form of creatine you should supplement with I recommend the simple gold standard that has been used in the bulk of research on it’s benefits, creatine monohydrate.
Creatine monohydrate is inexpensive and there are tons of sources. I want to stress that you should not overpay here. There are many other forms and there just doesn’t seem to be any benefit over monohydrate unless it doesn’t agree with you, in which case I would go with creatine HCL due to the fact that it is more water soluble.
So which one?
My first choice is Legions product Recharge. For several reasons, it contains the go to creatine form (monohydrate) along with a couple other helpful molecules, and the bottle includes 60 servings. There’s nothing more annoying than having to restock a product every few weeks, so this is a nice touch. It’s also not overpriced even though you’re getting a two month supply. Lastly you can get it flavored or unflavored, making it a flexible option for shakes and smoothies.
Legion is direct to consumer, so if you want to check out Recharge you can find it online at https://legionathletics.com
You really can’t go wrong here as long as you have a product with a clearly defined label. You can get plain creatine monohydrate from companies like Optimum Nutrition, Dymatize Nutrition, and more… Just remember that there’s really no reason that this product should cost significantly more than the inexpensive options, If you find one priced higher (and you will) you are likely paying for hype not effectiveness.
I saved this one for last simply because there is some controversy over whether it’s more or less important than the supplements I’ve discussed thus far. Regardless it’s a hot topic for sure, and there’s a huge blanket of what can be considered a pre workout.
Nine times out of ten whatever your choice is it contains some form of caffeine. For good reason too, caffeine is extremely useful for stimulating our physical and cognitive performance.
I won’t go too deep into the caffeine conversation, but I will say that so long as you don’t abuse it caffeine is not bad for you.
So if you are like me and you are always looking to satisfy your caffeine fix and increase the effectiveness of your workouts, a good pre workout is key.
So which one?
I don’t discriminate here, there are many sources for caffeine and many products to get you all hopped up for your workout.
There is one criteria I do hold for actual pre workout products…
When you look at the supplement facts on a pre workout bottle, you will see one of two things.
This is a big problem for me. You see with a proprietary blend, the actual amounts of each ingredient are hidden from you. It should be obvious as to why this is a problem, but these are extremely common, and while it may be a decent product you cannot know for sure.
NO Proprietary blend
These products have an obvious upside. Complete transparency so you know exactly what you’re putting into your body.
I’ve tried a lot of different pre workouts, and this one never stops shining. There are several excellent flavors (blue razz is the best) and you won’t find any secrets on the label. Plus one bottle will easily last you a month or more.
Legion is direct to consumer, so if you want to check out PULSE you can find it online at https://legionathletics.com
If you’re part of the coffee crowd, I don’t have to tell you this is a good source for a pick me up.
Aside from the caffeine contained within coffee there are many other factors that make this an excellent choice if you prefer it over a flavored powder. There’s been massive studies on the effects of coffee consumption on how long you live, and there’s even evidence that it may make you happier 🙂
So drink on fellow coffee peeps.
If you’re not into coffee you probably drink tea, and I’ve never met a coffee nut that doesn’t also love tea.
Tea contains caffeine, so you can gain the advantages that are associated with it that I’ve discussed above, in addition to the fact that it may make you less likely to die.
The only thing is, you’ll have to drink more of it to get the same amount of caffeine as the other sources. But hey, more of a good thing right?
The Bottom Line
Don’t get me wrong. There are more than three different types of supplements that I consider worthwhile, but if you are new to the supplementation game, these are the three heavy hitters and a great bunch to start with. If you want to get fancy and move on to others, these three don’t become any less important. So keep them in mind.
You may have noticed that I made quite a few recommendations for Legion’s products. I want to be transparent and state that I am affiliated with the brand, and I get a commission on any purchases made through my links.
There is however a reason why I’m affiliated with Legion Athletics.
I trust them.
I’ve done business with them a long time, and I’ve literally never been dissatisfied with their products or service, and that says a lot when we are talking about a supplement manufacturer.
The biggest thing I want you to take away from this is that when you are shopping in the supplement space, choose a product from an entity that is not hiding behind bogus claims and proprietary blends, and above all make sure they are trustworthy in your own mind.
Thanks for reading!
If you like my take on this, have questions or something to add to it, comment below or feel free to reach out to me via email or social media.
I’ll always do my best to help 🙂