It can be so difficult navigating the world of workout supplements. There are so many different products on the market promising to increase your performance, improve your recovery, boost your energy or help you build lean muscle. However, despite all the claim on the packaging, not all workout supplements are worth your time or money. Below are three of the most effective supplements which will deliver you on result supported by scientific research:
1. Protein Powder
Eating more protein can help to speed up your recovery after exercise, build lean muscle and reduce muscle loss. Protein powders are essentially a quick and easy way to get more protein in your diet. Per kilo they are usually a lot cheaper than other sources of protein. They are also really convenient as they are quick to prepare (usually just mixed together with water, cow’s milk or milk alternative) and highly portable.
A typical protein powder will be fairly low calorie and boast around 15-30g of protein per scoop. It is possible to get all of the protein you need without using supplement therefore protein supplements are definitely not essential, but with being said they can be a very useful dietary aid.
Whey & Casein Protein
Whey and Casein Protein are both derived from milk and are complete proteins as they contain all 9 essential amino acids. Whey protein digests quickly and usually has a relatively low lactose content. It’s generally used pre and post workout. Casein protein however, digests much slower. Casein is commonly used before going to sleep or before periods of fasting.
Vegetarian & Vegan Protein Supplement
For those who do not eat dairy there are many plant-based protein supplements such as Soy, Pea or Brown Rice protein.
How to use Protein Powder:
Protein powder and shakes can be used daily as an aide to hitting your protein goals. There is a lot of flexibility you have with regards to how and when you use protein powder. You can simply mix them with liquid (milk/water) or you can add it into recipes to boost their protein content (such as breakfast smoothies, porridge oats or protein pancakes).
- Pre + Post Workout: You can use protein supplements around your workouts. Studies have found there is no difference between having protein before or after a workout. You don’t have to time your consumption of protein directly around your workout either as recent research has dismissed the existence of “anabolic window” or period of time where your body more effectively utilises protein.
- Between Meals: You can also use protein shakes as a snack between snacks. Protein consumption can curb your hunger. One study found that high protein snacks allowed people to go longer between eating and caused them to eat less in the following meals.
- Before Bed or Fasting: Another option is drinking a slow release protein such as Casein before bed. The International Society of Sports Nutrition deem that “casein protein (~ 30-40 g) prior to sleep can acutely increase muscle protein synthesis and metabolic rate throughout the night”. This is a good option for those who train fasted or before breakfast.
Creatine is one of the most researched sports performance supplements. It’s highly effective for increasing strength and power capacity with resistance and high-intensity training which can also help you to increase lean body mass. Studies have found that creatine supplementation can decrease sprint times, improve resistance training performance by 5-10% and can double lean muscle mass when combined with weight training.
Creatine is a molecule produced naturally in the body and plays a key role in energy production. It can be found in foods such fish and meat however active individuals can also supplement creatine in powder and capsule form.
Creatine is generally safe to use however improper use or overuse can lead to minor gastrointestinal issues. Creatine can also cause your body to retain more water than it usually does. Therefore, it might look like you are gaining weight on this supplement, but this will be water weight.
How to use Creatine
Taking 3-5g of creatine daily with water will fuly saturate your creatine stores in approximately 28 days. However you can rapidly increase your creatine stores by loading phase where your take 20g of creatine (split into 4x5g) servings for 5-7 days.
It’s best to take creatine shortly before or after workouts, ideally with a meal containing protein and carbs. I personally find it easiest to add creatine to my post-workout protein shake which I have with some fruit.
Caffeine is a stimulant, found in lots of food and drink such as coffee, tea, chocolate and soft drinks. Caffeine is usually the primary ingredient pre-workout supplement, but you can also find it pill form as well. Caffeine affects the body in numerous ways; it increases adrenalin levels in the body, activates areas of the brain and nervous system to increase focus & energy, increases endorphins contributing to that “feel good” sensation when your work out and it can even help you burn more fat.
Caffeine can be used by athletes and active individuals to increase performance, boost focus and reduce perceived physical exertion during exercise. Caffeine has been found to be beneficial for both endurance and anaerobic exercise.
Daily caffeine intakes of up to 400mg are considered generally safe for most people (for reference a cup of coffee is around 95mg of caffeine). Please note that too much caffeine can over stimulate your system leading to negative side effects such as headaches, nausea and acid reflux and extremely high intakes can result in overdoses. Regularly consuming caffeine can lead to tolerance where the effects become diminished therefore cycling off caffeine for a period of time will allow you to feel those benefits again.
How to use caffeine:
As previously mentioned, if you are some who regularly has caffeinated drinks or chocolate you might of built up a tolerance to caffeine. However, typically doses of 3-6mg of caffeine per kg of bodyweight for strength training or 3-9mg of caffeine per kg of bodyweight for endurance activities 30 minute prior to exercise is usually recommended