While diet and your training regime are the most important aspects when it comes to muscle growth and fat burning 1 2, you will find that people are more interested in learning about what supplements you take.
Supplements can certainly aid your transformation 3, but which ones are essential and which ones are best avoided?
If you continue reading you will soon discover for yourself which supplements you should be adding to your shopping basket.
- 1 Questions to Ask Before You Buy?
- 2 Top 8 Essential Supplements
- 3 Supplements You Should Avoid
- 4 Should You Use Steroids?
- 5 In Conclusion
Questions to Ask Before You Buy?
Before you buy any supplement there are a few questions you should be asking:
What Are Your Goals?
What is it that you want to achieve?
Are you looking to build muscle, or to burn fat? Or possibly both at the same time (body recomposition)?
You will need to choose a supplement that will help you achieve your goal.
Does the Supplement Work?
This is probably the most important question you should be asking.
If the supplement does not offer any benefit then is it really worth taking it? Sometimes (often) supplement companies will make big claims but are then unable to back up the claims with proof.
You should always look for a label, with ingredients and dosage information. This is the best way to know whether a supplement works or not.
Are They Expensive?
Can you afford to buy these supplements?
While muscle gains and fat loss may seem important you may have other bills to pay that are much more important to you.
There are also many supplements available that hide their true cost. For example, auto-ship programs or “free trials”, which tempt people just like you into signing up for expensive monthly payments.
You should always read the small print before you buy.
Can You Contact the Company?
If you have seemingly found the perfect supplement but the company selling it does not have any contact information then my suggestion to you would be to look elsewhere.
The ability to contact a company is incredibly important, just in case any issues arise.
Is There A Money Back Guarantee?
A money-back guarantee is like an extra little bit of assurance that if there is an issue then your money is safe.
If a supplement company does not offer a guarantee then perhaps they are not as confident about the claimed benefits as they should be.
Top 8 Essential Supplements
Without further ado, let's look at what essential supplements you should add to your shopping basket:
If you know anything about build muscle then you will know the importance of adequate protein intake.
While it is certainly possible to get enough protein for muscle growth just through diet alone, for some people it will be difficult.
Think of it like this. What would be easier, having to eat 4-5 (or more) protein-rich meals or to supplement your meals with a couple of protein shakes?
Protein shakes can help with:
Recovery – After an intense workout, your body requires protein for repair. If you supplement immediately after a workout it can help with muscle recovery, and help build bigger and stronger muscle.
Appetite suppression – You can use whey protein as a meal replacement shake. I don’t personally agree with skipping meals, but know that this is a popular method to lose weight.
Amino acid intake – Whey protein contains essential amino acids that aid protein synthesis.
I personally drink at least two protein shakes daily, usually one at breakfast and another immediately after a workout.
Although creatine is a naturally occurring substance you may not be getting enough of it through your diet alone. Therefore supplementation may be necessary.
It is produced in your kidneys, pancreas and liver before it is transported to your muscle tissue where it is transformed into creatine phosphate.
Next, ATP is produced, which is an energy molecule that will regenerate your muscles ability to contract and generate power during intense short bouts of exercise.
Branched Chain Amino Acids
The three BCAAs are leucine, isoleucine and valine. They are found in most protein sources, for example within poultry, eggs, fish and dairy products.
Glutamine can help slow down the rate that tissue is broken down during intense exercise, which helps to boost endurance and strength 10.
As muscle tissue is preserved, you are better able to burn off additional fat reserves. It can also aid recovery from workouts 11.
Originally used to treat both mental and physical fatigue in patients post-surgery. It has now become more popular as a performance enhancer.
Research has found that those who supplement with citrulline malate were able to perform more repetitions than those who took a placebo 18.
While research is a little thin regarding its benefits for weight training, there is research that has shown that it can reduce fatigue and can lower your perception of effort.
Omega-3 Fish Oil
Omega-3 fish oils offer many health benefits, offering anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties to those who supplement with them.
If you are performing resistance training then your muscle will experience microscopic tears. While these tears are necessary for muscle growth, if you are suffering from the pain and inflammation you will likely not want to train until the pain has subsided.
Supplements You Should Avoid
While there are certainly supplements available that can help with your goals there are also some that are best avoided. That offer no real benefit, or can potentially cause side effects.
I would recommend avoiding supplements that contain any of the following ingredients:
Aconite is a plant that is used in traditional medicine. It is often used to treat inflammation, joint pain and gout. However, it has been linked to numerous side effects, including:
- Low blood pressure
- Heart rhythm disorders
Bitter orange, which is often referred to as citrus aurantium is another plant. It contains synephrine, which is a compound similar to ephedrine 28.
It was once a common ingredient found in fat burners as it was a natural stimulant shown to increase the heart rate, and therefore your metabolism.
In 2004, the FDA banned ephedrine due to the serious side effects it could cause. It is thought that bitter orange could cause similar side effects and has been banned by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) 29.
Chaparral is an extract found in the creosote bush, it has been used in weight loss supplements in the past.
Unfortunately, it has been shown to cause a host of problems including kidney and liver damage 30.
The FDA (US Food and Drug Administration) has recommended avoiding its use 31.
Hydroxycut was once a popular ingredient found in many weight loss and fat loss supplements.
It was banned and recalled in 2009 because of the risk of serious side effects, which included hepatitis, jaundice and damage to your kidneys, liver and other organs. There was even one death involved 32 33.
Fen-Phen is a fat burner made from a combination of two ingredients; Fenfluramine and Phentermine.
Fenfluramine has been linked to heart damage and lung disease so was taken off the shelves in the late 1990s 34.
Phentermine is still available, but only with a doctors prescription.
Meridia or Sibutramine is a prescription weight loss drug that was withdrawn from the market in 2010 35 after being shown that its use could increase the risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke 36.
2,4-dinitrophenol is often found in black market fat burning supplements, and while it can increase your metabolic rate, therefore helping to burn calories and fat, it also causes serious side effects that could result in death 37.
DNP has been shown to cause overheating and serious issues, with 23 deaths reported in the UK since 2011 38.
Should You Use Steroids?
If you are struggling to get the physique you want you may be tempted by steroids, but should you risk using them?
Let's look more closely at anabolic steroids to see if the potential benefits outweigh the risk of side effects.
What Are Anabolic Steroids?
Anabolic steroids are synthetic drugs that are derived from testosterone, the male sex hormone.
They were originally created back in the 1930s to help treat a condition called hypogonadism.
This condition stops the testes from producing enough testosterone to promote growth, development and sexual function.
It wasn’t long after it was created that it was discovered that steroids could also be used to enhance the performance of athletes.
Steroids work by causing both anabolic and androgenic changes to your body.
Anabolic changes include muscle growth, an increase in bone density and an increase in red blood cells. Androgenic means changes to your sexual characteristics.
Most steroids are anabolic, but some have more androgenic characteristics than others.
When you take steroids (either orally, or via injection) they will travel through your bloodstream until they come into contact with your steroid receptor molecules. These are found in your muscle cells.
These receptors are then stimulated, which will help to release enzymes that promote muscle growth through an increase in protein synthesis.
Potential Benefits of Anabolic Steroids
There is plenty of research available that shows the potential benefits of steroid use. This is why steroids have been banned from most sporting events 39.
Research has found that the benefits gained are not for the short-term either. With studies showing that powerlifters who had used steroids in the past still holding a competitive advantage over their competitors many years after discontinuing their use 44.
Side Effects of Anabolic Steroids
There are a variety of side effects you should be aware of when using steroids, many of which may even be permanent 45:
- Higher blood pressure
- Increased risk of heart disease
- Increased risk of liver disease
- More aggression (roid rage)
- Acne on your face, back and chest
- Unusual hair growth
- Hair loss
- Gynecomastia (man boobs)
With the risks associated with steroid use is it really worth the risk using them?
The final thing that we are going to say is that supplements can only do so much. They are not going to work unless you put in effort of your own.
At the very start of this article, I stated that your diet and exercise regime is the most important aspect, and this is still true. Supplements can only supplement your own good work.
If you believe that drinking some whey protein and popping a few pills will give you the body of Arnie then you are going to be disappointed. Without work, even the strongest anabolic steroid won't give you the body you want.
Hello there!! My name is Jonathan, and I am a fitness blogger and bodybuilding enthusiast. I am also the founder of GainMuscleNotFat.com.
I want to provide you with the best advice to help you gain muscle mass and strength, without getting fat!
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