In one of my previous posts, I wrote about the diet that I, as a vegetarian and a regular gym goer, follow. I wrote about the foods that I eat, but also about the supplements that I take. In this post, however, I would like to focus more on the 4 health and bodybuilding supplements that I consume and genuinely believe in.
Please note, however, that I not a specialist in the field of nutrition, nor I claim to be one. I simply share my own thoughts on health and bodybuilding supplements based on personal experience and various research papers that I have read. If you are unsure of some supplement, do own research on it and consult with a certified physician or other healthcare professional.
Is the health and bodybuilding supplement industry a scam?
The first and most popular question that everyone asks is whether the health and bodybuilding supplement industry is a scam? To put it in short – no… or not entirely.
To see the whole picture, it is important to understand that the supplement industry is a giant beast. According to NutraceuticalsWorld.com, in 2016 the supplement industry was adding $121.6 billion to the U.S. economy.
Being a resident of Europe, I can say that supplements are pretty popular here as well. Funnily enough, even my friend’s grandma was taking a protein powder with her dinner. Apparently, someone told her that it’s healthy. Right…
And that brings us to the topic of health education, which is way behind the growth of the supplement industry. If you go to any online store, you’ll see that there are a gazillion different supplements, including vitamins, pre-workout powders, fat burners, testosterone boosters, etc. And each one of them is advertised as groundbreaking in the field of health or muscle growth.
But to make it worse, you have mass monsters that are clearly on steroids, but that claim to be 100% “natty” or natural, in other words. Because they have a contract with a bodybuilding supplements company, they are required to lie about their steroid use. Instead, they claim that it’s the supplements that grew them their 23-inch arms.
A person that is uneducated on the subject or simply new to the bodybuilding scene, will obviously believe them. You look at their muscle size, you listen to them talk, and that’s convincing enough. Because they are so big, they really must know what they are talking about. And I was no different when I was younger. I too thought that Schwarzenegger was natural.
Finally, to make it even worse, there is the research. The reason why I am not including any research papers in this post is because there is just too much of it. You can google it on your own. And when you do so, you’ll see that research has been done on almost every supplement, either proving its benefits, or disproving them.
The problem with research is that often it’s just poorly conducted. Either there are too few test subjects, the conditions were not optimal, or whatever else it may be. And at other times, the research was funded by a bodybuilding supplements company to get their product more exposure. The results of such research cannot be unbiased.
Again, unless you understand exactly what you are reading, and are willing to find more than just one research paper, there is no way to know for sure. It’s sad that not all research can be trusted, but that’s just the truth of the health and bodybuilding supplements industry.
That being said, you don’t need to doubt every single supplement out there. For example, whey and casein protein powders have been around for a very long time, and we know for a fact that they work.
Proteins are the building blocks of our muscles. Whether it is in the form of food or a protein powder, it doesn’t matter. If you don’t eat enough proteins, then it doesn’t matter how much time you spend in the gym, you simply won’t grow. There is nothing in that case that your body can use to build muscles.
As a general rule, the supplements that work are usually the ones that have withstood the test of time. Also, they are the ones that have most research supporting their beneficial properties. If a supplement is rather new and/or has controversial claims regarding its benefits, then there is no reason to think that it would work. This is my opinion.
To take or not to take?
I see nothing wrong with taking supplements when you actually need them or you are sure that it won’t be just a placebo effect.
There are people that waste thousands of dollars on health and bodybuilding supplements, taking absolutely everything, but they themselves don’t really work hard enough in the gym. On the other hand, there are people that say that real food is all you need. Yes, it’s true that food has all the nutrients, but not all food is available to us all of the time.
For example, I am a vegetarian and I don’t eat any type of meat, which means that I consume less creatine than people who do eat meat. Therefore, a creatine supplement is quite useful for me.
Another example is about receiving the right amount of proteins. If you work out frequently, you need more proteins than an average person. Ideally, you should have your first protein-rich meal right after working out. But what if you can’t eat right after your workout because you are traveling to work? Or what if you just don’t want to consume that many calories that come with the food? Well, I think there is nothing wrong with a protein shake in this case.
As stated above, some people are fanatical about supplements. Indeed, supplements are colorful and taste good. But unfortunately, nothing beats hard work in the gym. If you are on your phone or chatting with your friends at the gym, don’t expect supplements to grow the muscles for you.
The bottom line is that if you have the money, then you can experiment with health and bodybuilding supplements. But if you are running low on cash, save it for food. Supplements are, after all, not supposed to replace your food. A balanced diet always comes first, supplements second.
4 health and bodybuilding supplements
Here are the 4 supplements that I take regularly and that I feel confident about. I have also taken other supplements, but their effects on me personally are questionable.
Protein powders are probably the most popular and oldest of the supplements. Also, there is no doubt that they work.
As I mentioned previously, we need protein to build muscles. If there is not enough protein coming in, then we won’t have the building material that is necessary for muscle growth.
However, not all protein is the same. Protein is made up of amino acids, and not all protein sources have all 20 amino acids in them. This means that if you eat food with an incomplete amino acid profile, you need to find the remaining amino acids from some other food. We need all of the amino acids to ensure that we are building muscles.
Most protein with a complete amino acid profile comes from animal sources: meat, eggs and dairy. This is the reason why whey protein and casein protein, which are made of milk, are the most popular of the bodybuilding supplements.
If you are a vegan, you must have a balanced diet consisting of different protein sources. This way you can be sure that you are receiving all of the essential amino acids.
Fortunately, soy is known to have a full amino acid profile as well. So if you don’t want to consume whey protein, you can replace it with soy protein. The only downside is that some people get a bloated stomach from it.
I am pretty sure that all health and bodybuilding supplement companies have their own protein powder products. It’s more a matter of which tastes better for you. I won’t name any products separately here, but you can check out these stores and see for yourself:
Muscle & Strength is also a great resource for bodybuilding articles and videos.
Fish oil contains Omega-3 fatty acids, which are good in so many ways that it’s hard to name all of them here. But some of them include:
- lowering blood pressure
- reducing the chances of having a heart attack or stroke
- reducing anxiety and depression
- uplifting the mood
- helping with arthritis
- helping with fat loss and muscle growth
- increasing HDL (good) cholesterol
- reducing the risk of developing certain types of cancer
- much, much more!
I pretty much take fish oil on a regular basis. A good resource if you want to read more about fish oil and other supplements is Examine.com.
Note: If you are a vegan, you are most-likely consuming very little Omega-3 fatty acids, since most of them are found in seafood sources. In the long run, this will hurt you. If you want to avoid this, you should consider at least a DHA (1 of the 3 fatty acids) supplement. The only DHA-containing product that is not animal based, but that has enough DHA, is microalgae.
Creatine is one of those interesting supplements that I discovered not that long ago. What was really nice about it, is that I almost immediately began to feel its effects. Over time, it has significantly helped me with muscle growth.
Creatine can be found in various meat sources, but it is also synthesized in our body by the liver, kidneys, and the pancreas. So although not completely deficient, vegans and vegetarians will have a lot less of creatine in the body than people that do eat meat.
To put it very simply, creatine in our body turns into creatine phosphate, which is then used to move your muscles. The more you work out in the gym, the more creatine you use up, and the more tired you get. If you were to increase the amount of creatine in your body with a supplement, you could possibly have a longer workout session, do more repetitions in a single exercise, and have a faster recharge.
I do experience these beneficial effects, but some people don’t, which is why creatine is not for everyone.
The downside of creatine is that it retains water in your body. On the one hand, this makes your muscles look bigger (yeey!), but on the other hand, it puts more stress on your kidneys (awww…). So make sure your kidneys are in good health prior to using creatine.
One last thing to note is that creatine, due to its water retention property, can have a laxative effect. This is not that common, but happens nevertheless. For example, I am totally ok when taking the recommended 5 grams (0.17 ounces) per day, but if I take 5.5 grams (0.19 ounces), I will spend the rest of the day in the loo. 🙂
Vitamins and minerals
We all understand the need of vitamins and minerals to stay healthy, fit and happy. If you have a vitamin and mineral deficiency, you will inevitably begin to feel worse.
It is known that people who actively exercise need more vitamins than others. However, be careful when buying bodybuilding supplements that have an insane amount of vitamins in them, such as 600%-1000% of the daily norm. Having too many vitamins in the system can be just as bad as having too little, so be careful. I once had my blood tested while I was taking one of those sport vitamin packs. My B12 score was far over the limit. Too much is too much.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this post on health and bodybuilding supplements. If there is some supplement you feel should be added to the list, or you want to ask me something about the topic, feel free to do so in the comment section below. Alternatively, make sure to check out Muscle & Strength for more info regarding supplements and workouts.
P.S. You might want to check out Athletic Greens. It’s a high-quality supplement that has pretty much all vitamins and minerals that you will ever need to achieve maximum health benefits.
Thank you for stopping by and good luck!