Top 7 Workout Supplements You Need to Try
While dozens of workout supplements are on the market, the following seven supplements rank as the most popular because of their unparalleled performance benefits.
Whether you're an amateur or seasoned bodybuilder, you've probably already considered adding workout supplements to your regimen. And we already know the importance of vitamins and supplements.
Exercise alone doesn't always translate into bigger muscles. Without the proper nutrients, your body won't have the tools it needs to increase muscle tissue and strength.
Thankfully, the right supplements can fuel your body with key nutrients and help you achieve your personal fitness goals.
While there are dozens of types of workout supplements on the market, the following seven consistently rank as the most popular because of their unparalleled performance benefits.
1. Protein Powder
Known as the building block of muscle, protein plays a vital role in athletic performance. It consists of amino acids that catalyze muscle growth and repair. A study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine (BJSM) found that athletes who supplemented their diet with additional protein developed bigger, stronger muscles than their counterparts.
Other studies have reinforced these findings, attesting to the importance of protein supplements for athletes and bodybuilders.
Unfortunately, dietary sources of protein -- meat, nuts, dairy, etc. -- aren't always enough.
To ensure your body has enough protein to effectively synthesize muscle tissue, add protein powder to your regimen.
There are different types of protein powder supplements, the two most popular being whey, and casein. The former is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream, making it ideal for use immediately before and during your workout sessions. The latter is absorbed more slowly, making it suitable for use in the morning and at night.
Currently, my favorite protein powder is from Old School Labs.
Protein powder is best in smoothies -- and after your workouts!
Kick it up by adding a banana, peanut butter, spinach, berries, and other ingredients.
Another powerful workout supplement you need to add (if you haven't already) is creatine monohydrate.
First identified by French chemist Michel Eugène Chevreul in the 1830s, it's a nitrogen-based acid that occurs naturally in humans and other vertebrates.
Creatine allows our bodies to produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the primary energy source for muscular and cellular functions.
Whenever you flex and contract a muscle, the corresponding tissue uses ATP. Without ATP, your body wouldn't have the energy needed for muscular contractions, thus hindering your performance at the gym.
According to a meta-analysis of more than 700 studies cited by Examine.com, creatine supplements increase muscle gains, minimize body fat, and improve the performance of high-intensity exercises. Creatine is found naturally in foods like beef and fish. Because of the small concentrations, though, it's recommended that you take a creatine supplement.
Taking a creatine supplement immediately before you work out will boost your energy, allowing you to lift heavier weights with more reps.
However, research has shown that taking a creatine supplement after working out allows for faster, more efficient absorption by the body. Whether you take it before or after, a creatine supplement will provide your body with the fuel it needs for an effective workout regimen.
It comes in both powder and pill form.
My advice on the best time to take it? Add powdered creatine to your water during your workout.
When shopping at health and fitness stores, you'll probably see a variety of branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) supplements for sale.
Although they've been around for several decades, they've become increasingly popular in recent years.
BCAA supplements consist of essential amino acids -- isoleucine, leucine, and valine -- that your body needs for muscle synthesis. Including it in your workout regimen will reduce muscle recovery and fatigue, increase strength, and even normalize your blood sugar levels.
BCAAs are considered essential amino acids because they can't be produced from amino acids.
Eating protein-rich food or taking a BCAA supplement is the only way to get aminos. I recommend taking a BCAA supplement with a meal 10 to 30 minutes before working out.
Adding a scoop of BCAAs in powdered form is also a great addition to your drink while working out.
Beta-alanine is a nonessential amino acid that increases carnosine levels in the muscle. This factor is important because carnosine, a dipeptide, neutralizes lactic acid in muscle tissue.
When you lift weights or perform other strenuous exercises, acidic compounds will accumulate in your muscle tissue. Characteristic symptoms of lactic acid buildup include muscle soreness, fatigue, and longer recovery.
Taking a beta-alanine supplement will ensure your body has the necessary levels of carnosine to keep lactic acid in check. And by minimizing lactic acid in your muscles, you'll be able to work out longer and recover more quickly.
However, start with a small dose (800mg or even less) because it can cause uncomfortable tingling -- although not harmful.
Like beta-alanine, glutamine is a nonessential amino acid. It's the most abundant amino acid in the human body.
Glutamine is used primarily for muscle synthesis, allowing our bodies to repair and rebuild muscle tissue. However, it also detoxes the body by regulating levels of ammonia.
Glutamine doesn't necessarily remove ammonia. Rather, glutamine converts this toxic, colorless gas into amino acids.
It's a common myth that glutamine supplements contribute to fat gain. Although it stimulates muscle production, which may cause you to gain weight in muscle mass, it doesn't affect fat.
On the contrary, you'll probably burn more fat due to the performance benefits offered by a glutamine supplement.
6. Fish Oil
Fish oil supplements contain omega-3 fatty acids -- eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) -- derived from the oily tissue of fish like sharks, tuna, and swordfish.
EPAs and DHAs are beneficial fats that promote muscle synthesis and inhibit muscle degradation. Taking a fish oil supplement will increase your gains and shorten your recovery times.
Fish oil has also been shown to lower the risk of heart disease. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends eating two servings of fish per week. The healthy fats in fish and fish oil regulate cholesterol levels, thereby protecting against heart disease.
Fish oil has also been found to help with mood disorders -- I take it daily.
Glucosamine is a type of amino monosaccharide that's produced naturally by our bodies. It allows our bodies to produce long-chain carbohydrate polymers.
Known as glycosaminoglycans (GAGs), it produces and repairs joint tissue.
If you experience pain in your shoulders, knees, hands, or other joints after working out, a glucosamine supplement may help. And when you no longer suffer from joint pain, you can work out longer and harder.
To further enhance the effects of glucosamine, consider pairing it with chondroitin and turmeric supplements. Some supplements even contain all of these substances because of their synergistic properties when used together.
Another option that I'm currently taking is a collagen-combined supplement, which has these joint recovery ingredients.
Regardless of which supplements you choose, purchase them from a reputable, trusted vendor. Not all companies offer the same quality supplements, and choosing an inferior product won't offer benefits to your workout goals.
Tony Lee, MS, RD
Tony Lee, RD, MS, is a highly qualified and accomplished Registered Dietitian with a Master’s Degree in Nutrition Sciences from Arizona State University. Tony brings over two decades of experience in dietetics, specializing in sports nutrition. Interests include studying all aspects of wellness, fitness, genetics, and peak health performance.