Before you ask about Supplements…?

So, a guy walks in to a local GNC Nutrition Store to do some field study for his rehab/fitness blog. It was almost too easy.

“How can I help you today sir?” 

“Can I get a price on your protein powders?”

“Well, we carry…” [Salesperson points to this, that and the other products, non of them simply straight-up protein.]

“No thanks man, just straight protein.” 

The young man then offered a host of vitamins and oils that “support” whey protein. He went on to question.

“What you training for bro?”

“Oh, you mean like, my training goals?”

At that point I decided to humor him.

“I’d just like to gain some weight. And also to lose weight.”

Without hesitation he turned, walked toward a corner of the store with fat burners various vitamins and male enhancement formulas. He handed me a bumblebee looking bottle of Ripped Fuel and a purple and white container labeled Low Caloric Effervescent Creatine.

I glossed over the fine print on a few of the labels. He stood there. The awkward silence was far too much for either of us to bear. So I jumped back into conversation.

“I’m not so sure. What I really need is a supplement that will make me better at life.”

He flinched, a brief move toward the Brain Boosters. But then he paused and smirked. He was FINALLY getting it.bro-workout

Athletes and parents frequently ask about supplements for performance. There are a very small handful of items that I -conditionally- recommend. But in the far majority of cases, asking about supplements is like asking a car dealer how to put a rear spoiler on a motorized scooter, or high performance tires on a mini van.

So, before you ask the question…

What supplements should you be taking?

  1. What did you eat for breakfast today? If you have no time to eat a decent breakfast, then you have no business asking about supplements. There is no supplement to make up for a well rounded diet.
  2. Did you repeat the same exercises week to week? Many people worry about training minutia but really need to be more consistent in mastering the basics, with a focus on perfecting movement patterns and getting more efficient (yes stronger) in a handful of the “big” exercises
  3. When was your last day off ? Seriously, the rhythm of hard work and RECOVERY is key. And if you go from one activity to the next, one weight training session to the next game to the following practice, you have no business asking about supplements. No recovery can achieve what a nap (or other down time) can. “Stimmed Out”? This is a reference to the jittery and fried feeling that comes from consistent intense training and competing, often involving stimulating Pre-Workout formulas. The answer to this problem is NOT a change to a different “long-effect” stimulant or a “relaxing/recovery formula.” If you need more than a light snack or a cup of coffee to get “up” for a workout, then you should probably just take a nap.  If you do not sleep well or you have not taken adequate time off between seasons and individual workouts, then you have no business with supplements.
  4. Want to get bigger? Learn how to move well, to squat, hinge/deadlift, and overhead press with precision. Train, eat, and recovery, doing what it takes to get stronger in a few key lifts.
  5. Want to get smaller/leaner? Learn how to move well, to squat, hinge/deadlift, and overhead press with precision and focus on behavior change more than simply diet.

In review, before buying supplements.

  1. Clarify your top priorities for training. How would you like your body and mind to change, and in what time-frame?
  2. Learn how to move well. This is the foundation of effective exercise, gradually pushing your limits without getting injured.
  3. Be consistent. Find a reasonable but focused training program and deliver the goods in effort.
  4. Quit eating like a bird. Quit eating crap (well, 90% of the time). Don’t over-think it. Fuel the life you have been given.
  5. Respect recovery! Can I bottle up some Effort & REST pills, put them on a shelf?
  6. Use common sense.

Now…yes, once those things are in order, I would recommend a protein supplement for busy times. Shaking a protein drink alone has been proven to provide MASSIVE gainz in feeling like you’re doing something…good. Creatine (straight) is worthwhile for mature strength/power athletes, as well as Omega-3 fatty acids and Glucosamine/Chondroitin for the middle-aged to older folks.

I’ve said it before, but you should check out for evidence-based info with countless citations and 0 marketing hype. Here is a huge Debbie Downer: concludes that outside of a few key supplements and practices, they ALL have a minimal effect.  Seriously check this out:

The secret formula for wellness and outstanding fitness truly is being better at life. Some individuals perform well or look good based on youth and sheer luck. But that type of success is always hit-or-miss and fleeting.  What we all need is something that cannot be achieved with the cutting-edge supplements, perfect training principles, or even a huge deadlift.

Sorry, GNC guy.

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