I am certain that the supplement shelf of any ambitious athlete might look better stocked than the drug closet of most ICUs. Gotcha! Because supplements are that popular among many people it is reasonable to question which one of them are really useful?
Most supplements come for a price. That’s because behind protein powders and vitamin c capsules is a huge industry, dominated by very aggressive marketing, daring promises, and much bullshit.
To save your money and eliminate some false promises I worked out this post. All supplements here are backed by science, tested by myself for a long period of time and most important – I don’t want to sell you anything, unlike all big brands.1
Alright, let’s take a close look at the substances that made it into the top ten of useful supplements for active folks!
Vitamin D3, also known as the sun hormone* is made by sunlight reaching your skin.
But there lies a big problem. Many folks in the Northern Hemisphere get way too less direct sunlight at their skin, especially when the days get shorter. That’s why it shouldn’t be a miracle why many of us don’t even reach the bare minimum of what is considered as optimal levels 2
Optimal supply with vitamin D is very important because this substance influences a LOT of bodily processes.
Vitamin D is most important for high testosterone leves, a balanced immune system, strong bones, and even your cognitive function.
I think I speak for all of us if I say – you don’t wanna mess with these guys!
My recommendation for every healthy adult would be 2.000-4.000 IU per day. Take this dose at any daytime you prefer, but together with your other supplements. Especially the combination with vitamin k2 and calcium is very beneficial.
This vitamin consistes of two different vitamins – K1 and K2:
Vitamin K2* is comparably new in the world of science. It can be found in guts and fermented products. K2 has nothing to do with your blood vessels. Instead it supports strong bones.
While Vitamin K1 is easily taken in with your normal nutrition if you donÄt just eat meat, K2 can be hard to find in our modern, western nutrition. Guts and fermented products as natto aren’t that common.
A great point is that vitamin K2 and D3 work synergistically to support strong and healthy bones. They even amplify each other.
Plus, K2 keeps calcium away from the vessel’s inner wall to prevent arteriosclerosis. That’s why the combo of these 3 can be very useful.
Take around 50-100 mcg of K1 per day, if you really need it. Of Vitamin K2 I would recommend taking around 100-200 mcg per day. Take it alongside your vitamin D and bone problems should bone issues should be no problems for you as an athlete.
Fish oil consists mainly of omega-3-fatty-acids. I think everyone heard of these guys somewhere.
It is true that these special fatty acids can improve many bodily functions. A few to stand out are your cardiovascular health, and inflammations.
The main issue is that most of us eat way too little fat fish – not to mention that most of them contain alarming levels of heavy metals. On paper, you should eat around 1kg of salmon per week to eat enough omega-3s. I am out when it comes to this number – I would have to sell my *** to buy salmon! 😀
When supplementing omega-3’s it is important to have a look at their content of EPA & DHA. Per day you should take around 1g of fish oil* or 250mg of DHA & EPA combined.
Don’t make the mistake and take linseed oil, like many brands advertise it. It contains a fatty-acid named ALA. And your body can make DHA and EPA from ALA. Sounds great, isn’t it? That’s what the brands tell you – BUT most of us can only convert a tiny part of the whole ALA to EPA &DHA. Therefore to get 250mg you would have to drink around 50ml-100ml per day.
Doesn’t sound that convincing, isn’t it? And the saved 800 calories can be invested more wisely – in sushi for example.
Creatine* is an amino acid commonly found in your body and one of the best-researched supplement there is.
Creatine’s main job is to quickly supply your muscles with energy when it is needed. But it also enhances congnitive functions.3
Let me tell you one thing right here – creatin doesn’t kill kidneys. That is a misunderstood myth by people who don’t get the difference between creatine, creatinine and what role they play for your kidney. 4
Take creatine not treatment wise. That is so 1980 – and also scientifically proven useless. Instead, take around 20g per week. I would take 5g 4 times a week before or after your day’s workout.
The exact time doesn’t matter because your body stores it away anyways. The only thing I wouldn’t do is to take 20g of creatine sunday at 9pm when you realized you forgot to take it the whole week. 😀
Which supplements are useful? – the ‘Nice-To-Haves’
Protein powder can be useful, but also wasted money. Much depends on your lifestyle.
The question is – do you need additional protein? Check your macros for that. Check how mich protein you should eat per day and how much you really manage to eat.
One of the biggest benefits of these colorful powders is their simplicity and awesome taste. For me there is nothing more gorgeous than the ritual of a tasty PWO-Shake after a successful session. Seems to be something like my cigarette afterwards. 😀
Decide for yourself if you can benfit from such a ritual, have problems getting sufficient protein in with your regular diet, or you like to exchange sweets.
I’m sure you know magnesium, well. Many people take the sweet effervescents. There is one problem with that – most of the time they contain cheap magnesium oxide. And Your body is horrible at absorbing this particular substance.
Magnesium citrate* on the other hand, can be absorbed way better. That way the magnesium you pour into yourself gets where it is needed – and doesn’t remain in your intestines.
Your body need magnesium to build a lot of hormones and for the nervous system to function properly.
I would supplement this substance if you don’t eat enough per your regular diet or you simply need more of it. This is the case for all athletes, pregnants and smokers. You should take around 400mg per day.
If you are unsure about the exact amount you eat per day – throw an example day of your life into a nutritional calculator. That should give you an approximate value.
Gelatine is an awesome supplement for healthy joints and connective tissues – unfortunately, noone knows it as that.
Gelatine solves one issue caused by modern eating habits. We don’t eat any connective tissues, like cartilage, bones or tendons. Most of our meats are lean. But – connective tissues are built of very special aminoacids.
That’s why gelatine can help your joints. It provides kollagen, as well as the amino acids prolin and gylcine. Plus, it is supercheap.
If you wanna read more about gelatine check my post about this supplement out.
Which supplements are useful? – the ‘It-Depends’
Caffeine and L-Theanine
Caffeine* – which weirdo doesn’t know and deeply love this black goodness? While coffee was close to the devil 100 years ago, nowadays modern society wouldn’t function without its steady supply.5
Caffeine is a well-researched performance-enhancing substance and stubstance of choice for many people to push themselves a bit. The only issue with that is – you accustomize yourself to caffeine quickly. It is like with any other drug – abuse is the wrong way to go.
That’s why it makes sense to stay away from coffee every 2-3 months. I go more in detail about caffeine in this short infopost.
Give this combo a try – I really enjoy it. Especially if you are sensitive or don’t like the effect of caffeine that much.
This one is a great supplement to get a good nights rest. I’ve experimented with it for years now.
Melatonin* is a hormone found in your body and heavily influenced by light. It is one factor that tells the body: “Ey dude, it’s getting late – let’s switch the lights off!”
The problem regarding melatonin secretion within your body is that blue light inhibits it. And blue light is what most screens, bulbs (and daylight, too) emit. They are really effective at surpressing melatonin.
Even a small red LED of your TV can suppress melatonin by 15%. A fuckin small LED 😀 6 You can read more about melatonin in this infopost.
Won’t I stay weak without BCAAs?! Do I survive a day without Beta-Alanine?!
Complete Nonsense and a waste of your Money
BCAAs, EAAs, Testo booster, and fat burners earned their place to be named before any other bullshit substances. Those few are useless for everyone. Ok, maybe not for the marketers selling them – they fill their pockets.
BCAAs and EAAs are incomplete and isolated aminoacids and can be replaced by any whey.
The best testosterone boosters there are, are healthy nutrition, strength training, a good night’s sleep, and sex. The only other thing that can increase your testosterone significantly – is injected testosterone. Wow! That said – check that the basics are in place and stay away from daring marketing lies (and of course anabolics).
The best fatburner are training, movement, a balanced diet, and stop eating like an ***. Fat loss works that easy – not because of raspberry ketones… I only know of one substance that can burn fat in huge amounts – DNP. BUT – don’t get tempted and try it. There is a huge risk of burning metabolically from the inside out.
Be skeptical of new supplements, aggressively marketed novelties, and shortcuts to 200kg of lean muscle mass in 20 days. Check every supplement you wanna take on examine or over here. This will save you a lot of money. The best supplements are those around for some time and backed up by science.
My advice would be to take stock of all the supplements you use.
Because there are many supplements, which effects are non-existent or very small. First, off you should check if your basics are in place. No supplement there is can help people without proper sleep, who are on a strict diet, and working out like insane and are stressed out as ***.
Sources and further reading:
A great site to check all your supplements is Examine. It is a scientific page, easily written for the average joe. The team over there does great work and tries to cut out the bullshit plagueing this industry.
You can find much more information about Vitamin D3 in these two articles: This one describes the vitamin itself and this article presents the newest research about it, plus how you should supplement vitamin d optimally.
On this page of examine and this Wikipedia article you can learn everything you wanna know (and don’t wanna know) about Vitamin K.
There is a great and very detialled Wikipedia article, about omega-3-fatty-acids and fish oils, as well as an excellent Examine post. If you wanna dive deeper into research about this particular substance check out the studies and meta-analyses over at the NCBI.
There are lots of research about creatine. Great articles are this easily digestible on at Examine and this more complicated one at the NCBI. All about which form you should take (Spoiler: Take monohydrate – everything else is ‘premium supps for a premium price tag for the premium idiot’) can be read in these posts.
All about Whey Protein and about how much protein you should eat per day can be read in these articles or my post about protein powders.
Read about more Magnesium at this post over at Examine or this short Wikipedia page.
For something these science nerds must be useful! Besides that – some brands do a great job, too, despite their will to sell something, informing the customer about well-researched supplements. But most suck at this point and just want to sell the rubbish trending at a given moment…
This article of the NCBI shows the aftereffects of vitamin D deficits. Even more interesting is that many people living in Saudi Arabia, have also a medical relevant vitamin D deficiency. Too bad we humans, sit all day in offices and cover every bit of our skin with clothing…
I would recommend to listen to the brilliant Podcast Smart Drugs Smarts (this whole podcast is about neuroscience, nootropics and the recent research about your brain) by Jessie Lawler. He dedicated a whole episode to creatine featuring the expert Dr. Maurizo Ballestrino and talked with him about it in general as well its effet on the brain.
Protein, as well as creatine aren’t harmful for your kidneys – as long as you are health and they aren’t severely pre-injured. He, who tries to tell you that, isn’t well informed. That is false. More about this topic right here in this article at Examine about protein and kidneys.
Try it out. Kill the coffee supply of a nearby corporation and shut them off from it completely. They won’t get much done – except trying to kill you repeatedly.
For more really interesting knowledge about sleep in general I can wholeheartedly recommend the book Why We Sleep* by Prof. Matthew Walker. I found it very informative, easy to understand, and eye-opening. It showed me how fucking important sleep really is.