A while ago, I opened up my Snap Chat for a Q&A session, and received an absolutely shocking number of questions. I did my best to answer each one, with all but a few receiving responses. The response was phenomenal! I will definitely be opening up for more of these- with specific topics- in the future. That was so much fun!
One topic that I did not get a chance to address, though, due to time constraints after heading back to work after the school break, was the numerous questions I received regarding supplements. Specifically, many of these questions revolved around creatine and BCAAs. Due to the prevalence of these questions around the internet, I decided that a written format would be better, so that the responses can be referred back to.
Question: What supplements do you recommend and use?
Despite being sponsored by a supplement store, I take very few supplements, and recommend very few. In fact, I think supplements are pretty much a racket. Too many people think that supplement=requirement… but if that was true, they’d be called “building blocks” or “necessities.” Supplements are just that- to supplement, or augment your diet and training- NOT to make up the base of it! For the most part, my own stack is essentially a “just in case,” measure. “Just in case” I’m not taking in enough in my diet. Due to the sheer volume and variety of plants and animal proteins that I consume on a daily basis, it is likely that I am already getting everything I need, but, as a competitive athlete, I’m not taking any chances with my performance and health.
My own daily stack includes:
- Creatine monohydrate, 3g daily, mixed with
- BCAAs, 1 scoop daily
- Zinc, 25mg (increased insulin sensitivity, potential slight boost in testosterone, immune support, potential mood enhancing benefits)
- Magnesium, 400mg (because it helps you poop, may increase insulin sensitivity, and helps with sleep quality- and I’m TERRIBLE at sleeping)
- Vitamin D, 4000iu [6000iu in winter] (increased cognition, protective effects on pancreas [I have a genetic disposition towards diabetes and have been identified as prediabetic] and increased insulin sensitivity, and overall noticed mood enhancement)
- Vitamin C, 500mg (I’m a teacher, so immune health is important!)
- omega-3 (most people take fish oil, I take krill oil because Zack gets the fish burps something fierce, and it has a higher bioavailability.)
Nothing too spectacular here, right?
I have spent a lot of time researching supplements, deciding what is necessary, what is hype, and what is myth, and this was the stack I created for myself. I have experimented with B12 supplementation, as well as a few nootropics along the way, but these are what you will find in my pill container every day without fail. I set up my weekly pill container every Sunday, and take my vites each night before I brush my teeth for bed. My creatine and BCAAs I mix together and take to work, drinking them as I teach my first couple of classes. No magical pills, no special branded supplements, nothing that makes claims to make bigger muscles, smaller waists, increased intensity, or accelerated superphysiological gains.
Know why? Because almost all of that is bullshit. Supplement companies have your insecurities by the balls- you want these things? let me print them on a bottle and say I can fix this. “You’ll have a fast car and a beautiful model wife and a giant house and be 200 pounds at 4% body fat if you take this neon yellow bile-and-lemon flavored unicorn horn powder!” No. Stop. Be smarter than the advertising. Which leads me to…
Question: Where can I go to see unbiased research on supplements?
If you want to research the effects and effectiveness of a supplement as a whole, or a specific ingredient, the absolute best, scientifically based, research study cited, unbiased-and-never-selling-anything, free to use, broken down in simple terms place to do this is Examine.com. I use this resource ALL THE TIME- if you clicked through any of the links to the supplements above, you’ll see they all lead here. Remember when I did a teatox, and I broke down the ingredients one by one? Largely thanks to Examine. It is not a supplement company, they do not sell anything- they only provide information.
Question: When did you start taking supplements?
Take a gander at my supplements list. Does anything there seem as though you might need any certain physical requirements before taking them? No. Vitamins are a precaution that don’t really have a downside, excepting instances of taking too many (can you really be trusted with those Flinstones or gummy vites?), or in certain instances of medical concern, in which case you should consult with your doctor.
When I first started “getting into fitness,” I guess you could say, I bought into all the fitness hype. I needed a preworkout drink and a postworkout shake, I needed a thermogenic fat burner, obviously, if I had any hope of losing weight.
No I didn’t.
And I still don’t.
And neither do you.
Yes, these things made me feel like I was doing everything right. Wow, very energy, going to lift. Oooh, many gains such protein; I am health!
What these things really did was set my up with routines that were healthy- consuming adequate protein, going to the gym, consciously thinking about what I was putting into and getting out of my body.
But realistically, not necessary. I’ve since stopped taking pre workout altogether almost, reserving it for only days when there is dire need. Instead, I’m more likely to grab a cup of black coffee if I need a boost, occasionally a Bang energy drink (usually half, shit is intense!), or, more often, nothing. It does you no favors to rely on whatever concoction you choose for motivation and energy in the gym. I’m not there to have a dance party for 5 hours, I’m there to work. For me, personally, after the initial suck period, I’ve found that I am more able to focus on what my body is doing and how it is doing it without a pre workout. I feel in control and steady- and I rather like that when I have twice my body weight balanced across my traps.
Post-workout shakes are fine, if you really want to have one, but the “anabolic window,” the 30 or 60 or 90 minutes post workout where you have the “most potential for gains,” and therefore NEED protein is largely overstated. It’s going to have no noticeable effect on your results, but might save you some cash. I frame it like this: protein powder is essentially the same as a chicken breast, or egg whites. It is not magical, it is a food product. If you wouldn’t eat a chicken breast at a specific time, you don’t need a shake, either. Use it to supplement protein if you need to in order to hit your protein goals for the day, but don’t think it’s a requirement. Personally, I like to have a sandwich after I lift.
Thermogenics, also called metabolism-boosters, fat-burners, or diet aids promising fat loss- are largely, well, bullshit. Ever taken one? They make you feel like I imagine a tweaker feels lie- shaky, unfocused, sometimes nauseous, nervous, and general “off.”
That must mean it’s working, right?!
Thermogenics have almost no effect on fat burning. A pill does not burn calories. Know what does? Exercise. Or simply taking in fewer calories to burn. These pills typically contain large amount of stimulants, like caffeine, as well as a host of other magical unicorn horn insanity touted to make you lose 700 pounds in 4 days and feel amazing and learn how to paint like Matisse in that time period. Really what happens is you end up fidgeting as a result of the stimulants and burn maybe if you’re lucky an extra 100 or so calories over the course of a day. This pills are almost always super expensive, and make promises they can’t back up. Have a cup of coffee, or go for a walk on your lunch break, or both, instead. You’ve got to put in the work in terms of diet and exercise- there’s no shortcut, save for delving into the non-OTC supplements found on the WNBF banned substances list.
Question: What does creatine do to help build muscle?
For this one, I’m going to point you to that research website, again- examine.com. Their most read information is about creatine, and I highly recommend taking a gander.
The TL;DR is this: creatine helps you hold water INSIDE your muscles, intracellularly. This has the effect of giving you better pumps in the gym (you know you wanna flex), slightly increased stamina and muscle endurance, as well as decreased fatigue (push out that last two reps, come on!), increased power output in lifters, and ultimately increased lean mass (like as a result of these there factors- more reps, more weight, more gains, ya know?), as well as a host of other benefits. Creatine is SAFE and one of the most widely and deeply studied supplements on the market. There is no need to cycle it, and there is no need to do a loading protocol. 3-5g per day, forever. You likely won’t notice big changes when you start, but it’s when you STOP that the effects become noticeable. You’re tired, dragging in the gym, gravity is high, ick. So just take it. Daily. Or don’t. You make the choice. But I recommend you do, if muscles are your thing at all.
Question: What about BCAAs, then?
I got like 19 questions about BCAAs. So I’ll just do a quick summary based on the ones that I got.
BCAA is short for branched chain amino acid. Amino acids are the “building blocks” that make up proteins. Specifically, BCAAs contain three key amigos- leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Leucine is the key amino acid that stimulates muscle protein synthesis, and is arguably the most important one in terms of muscle growth. All of them are present in protein-rich foods, such as eggs and meats, but you can also get them in the form of a supplement- a powder or a pill.
Now listen up, this is key:
If your diet contains sufficient protein, you do not need to supplement BCAAs.
They tend to be one of the pricier supplements and have conflicting information regarding their effectiveness. The idea is that by providing sufficient leucine to the muscle, even when not eating, you can optimize muscle protein synthesis for growth, or at least to stave off muscle breakdown. Often, people who practice intermittent fasting take BCAAs for this purpose during their fasting window. In fact, this is the exact reason I began taking them. Now that I have stopped using IF, I pretty much use them as habit, and because my unflavored creatine mixes nicely with them, and because I like beverages. I do eat sufficient protein (about 1g/lb body weight daily, though even less, as little as .5 to .8g/lb lean body mass is considered “sufficient,” I just like protein), so it’s probably not necessary, but, it’s also not harmful, so I just continue.
I take them either before or during my workout, depending on the day, simply because that’s how the timing lines up. During contest prep, when macros are painfully low, I make them into slashes in the freezer and sometimes have two or three, rather than one, simply to get a flavor in my mouth and something that feels like it’s in my belly– and spooning an amino slushy into my mouth repeatedly is sometimes the only thing that’s keeping me from murdering a student.
My favorite brand is Scivation Xtend, because the quality is unbeatable, they mix without making a gross silt in the bottom or having floats in your mouth, and every flavor is delicious. I’m typically a Mango Nectar girl, but I’m really feeling grape right now.
Taking BCAAs, whether in a drinkable powder or capsule form, will not provide any acute, noticeable changes to your physique or performance. You will not “notice” it “taking effect,” because, well, there isn’t one.
For further reading, again, I’ll send you over to examine.com, but, this is it, really. BCAAs- expensive, probably not necessary, definitely not harmful, and delicious.
Supplements: Keep it simple. Don’t get sucked in by clever marketing and grandiose claims. Do your research before putting anything in your body blindly.