The Only Weight Training Supplements You Need

Have you ever been to a GNC or The Vitamin Store?  It is bewildering the volume and variety of weight training nutritional supplements available.  Ditto if you’ve ever read a fitness or weight training magazine.  Everyone has this product or that product they insist will give you amazing gains, deep cuts, and noticeable results in just (insert unrealistic time frame).

I’m here to tell you that, after 20 years of weight training, I’ve come to a conclusion:  there’s not very much out there that’s worth spending your hard earned money on. The majority of it is just bunk.  Some of it might work, but the effect is so minor as to not be worth it for the amateur weight trainer or fitness enthusiast.  If you were an Olympic athlete competing in events where fractions of a second can mean the difference between a Wheaties contract or four more years of anonymous high altitude training in Denver, then sure, go spend the money on anything that will give you even the slightest edge.  I’m pretty sure Michael Phelps doesn’t have an Intense Debate account, so I’m not going there.

For the rest of us who just want to be a little stronger, a little bigger, maybe a little more lean, here’s the supplements I recommend, because they’ve produced tangible, noticeable results for me.

High Quality Protein Powder:  Do you need a protein powder?  Strictly speaking, no.  You need to get enough protein to support your dietary and athletic goals.  How much do you need?  The answer is it depends, but using a protein powder makes it much easier to get there.  There is only so much tuna fish, only so many chicken breasts, and only so much skim milk one can consume before it gets old.  Using a protein powder also allows you get the protein you need without also taking in extra fats or carbs from whole food sources.

There are a lot of proteins out there, and this article isn’t intended to discuss the differences.  I will say that Whey Protein Isolate is generally considered to be the highest quality protein available, and you should be able to get a 5 lb tub of it for $40 to $50.  Whatever you do, buy a quality product.  The ten pound bag of protein imported from China you found on the clearance rack at WalMart might not be the best choice.

Lastly, don’t get hung up on all the extras companies throw into their protein powder.  For the most part it’s just marketing.  Remember, you’re buying protein.  Protein is the active ingredient in your protein powder.  That’s all that matters.  Skip all the extras and save yourself some money.

Creatine Monohydrate: This supplement really works.  Different people have differing levels of sensitivity to it, ranging from “OH MY GOD I AM HULK” to “Meh, I didn’t notice anything.”  Most of us will notice a nice boost in strength, muscle fullness, and overall fitness progress once the loading phase is completed.  It is cheap, it is plentiful, and for the majority of people it will have a noticeable affect.

Just like with protein powders, don’t believe the hype on the label.  All the extra shit they add in to make it sound like you’re getting the Super Soldier serum is either bunk, or has a flexible relationship to the truth.  You want a cheap, high quality, plain creatine monohydrate. I get a 1 kg tub of plain creatine monohydrate for $23, and it lasts me months. I aim for one 5 gram scoop of creatine monohydrate daily, usually mixed in with my protein shakes.

Glutamine: Glutamine is an amino acid (and amino acids combine to make proteins).  The reason I recommend glutamine is 1) it is the most widely used amino acid in the human body, and 2) glutamine is crazy cheap.  This makes glutamine a no-brainer to me. I buy a 2.2 lb tub of glutamine for $37, and again, it lasts me forever. I add 5 grams to all my protein shakes.

Some Sort of Workout Energy Supplement: There’s been a lot of talk in the Open Threads about N.O. Xplode, Jackd, and other stimulant drinks. Your mileage will definitely vary, and your personal feelings about stimulants will heavily inform how you feel about these products.  I love, love, love my N.O. Xplode because it helps me maintain my focus and energy at the end of my weight training workouts, whereas before N.O. Xplode it really took a lot of mental energy to get up for those last few sets before collapsing on the gym mat.

Can you get by with a cup of coffee before working out?  Sure!  It all depends on what you like in terms of a level of stimulation to get you up for and through a workout.  If you just want some caffeine, I recommend simple caffeine tablets. Choosing tablets allows you to precisely dose your caffeine intake, and they are mad cheap. You can get a bottle of 240 tablets for $11. Each tablet has 200 mg of caffeine, or about as much as is in a 16 oz drip coffee. That’s also $.05 per 200 mg dose, as opposed to $3 for a grande Starbucks drip coffee.

My philosophy on stimulants as a training supplement is that the worst workout is the workout you miss because you’re tired, or down, or generally can’t stomach the idea of getting to the gym. A little caffeine (or other stimulant of choice) goes a long way towards lessening the mental energy you have to muster to get yourself off the couch and  out the door. We have limited daily resources of will power and personal discipline, so why not make it all easier with some caffeine?

That’s it.  These are the only supplements I can wholeheartedly recommend, from personal experience and research, as providing tangible, noticeable results that justify their expense. There’s another set of supplements I might place in a category of “They Might Work, And If You Have The Extra Money, Why Not Try Them Out?” I’d include ZMA (gives you crazy dreams, watch out!), BCAAs, and some sort of testosterone boosting supplement if you’re over 40.  If you’re a person who has a hard time putting on weight, a meal replacement powder can be a god send, but it can make the rest of us fat very quickly.

Do you have a supplement or dietary practice that’s changed the way you workout?  Let us know about it in the comments!

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