By Jared Malvin
Welcome to an introduction to workout supplements. Supplements often get a bad rap as not being necessary or effective, but I find they play a crucial role in maximizing your results from the efforts put forth in the gym. Like expecting great results while exercising with a poor diet you cannot expect results from supplements alone. They are a SUPPLEMENT to a good diet and to assist from hard work in the gym. Proper supplementation with a good diet will help provide energy for exercise and help aid recovery/soreness and rebuilding of broken down muscle tissue.
I like to think of workout supplements in three main categories: 1) Pre-workout 2) Intra-workout 3) Post-workout. Even though these are the main three timeframes some are taken throughout all times of the day, like protein powder. Protein powder is a post-workout supplement, but you will see a lot of information regarding taking protein powder upon waking in the morning, as a snack throughout the day or a drink before bed. Here is an introduction to the three categories.
Pre-workout supplements are taken to provide energy and focus before undertaking the physical activity of exercise. They are generally taken 15-45 minutes before exercise. A lot of pre-workout supplements are a stimulant that will increase your heart rate and may contain some type of vasodilator which opens up your blood vessels for more blood transport and helps transport nutrients.
Intra workout supplements are mainly comprised of amino acids, and possibly caffeine, to help replenish what your body is going to deplete while performing exercise. These are sipped throughout your workout to keep you fueled and hydrated while exercising.
Post-workout supplements are also amino acids and protein to help fuel the body in the rebuilding process from the damage that was done from exercise. Post-workout supplements should be taken as soon after exercise is completed as possible. It can be wise to take your post-workout supplements with you to the gym and consume immediately after your workout. If cardio is performed after your weight lifting you can also consume your post-workout drink after that and before cardio so that the amino acids and protein can get shuttled throughout your body immediately after your lifting.
When you begin to look at the supplements on the market you may quickly become overwhelmed. There are quite a bit of varieties, companies and types which makes shopping a little daunting and may leave you not knowing what is good or necessary. If your budget is tight, the minimum amount of supplementation I recommend is a pre-workout and protein powder that contains Branch Chained Amino Acids (BCAAs). This at least gets you the pre-workout to get you energized and in the gym to perform a good workout and the protein and amino acids post-workout to help your body refuel, recover and rebuild. Now let’s break down the three categories of workout supplements into more detail.
For me, pre workout is the most important supplement I could take. A good pre- workout gets me energized, pumped, excited, focused and ready to take on a grueling workout. Without pre-workout I don't feel like going to the gym as much and I don't have the intensity and focus while in the gym.
That being said, a lot of pre-workouts on the market are pretty unhealthy. They are loaded with caffeine, artificial colors, flavors and sweeteners. There are all natural pre workouts on the market, but in most cases I don't find them to give me the same, or enough, energy and focus. Like I said, pre-workout gets me in the gym and keeps me going with intensity, so I take that trade off of ingesting something not as healthy for me.
Fortunately as supplements progress there are healthier, effective options on the market. Since every pre-workout is going to be a different formulation, I find it important to check the labels and try different companies to see what you find most effective and best for you. Some pre-workouts will come with various amounts of creatine, but I add a little extra depending. Creatine, also widely used during post-workout, helps improve short term bursts of energy.
I find intra-workout supplementation to be the least necessary of the three categories, especially for beginners. You will still get through your workouts without it and intra-workout will provide little assistance in getting in a better workout. However, the more seasoned you are in the gym and the harder the workouts a good intra workout will help keep your amino acid levels up and provide better recuperation and recovery. There are also a lot of intra workout supplements on the market, but I find a lot of them to be again filled with artificial colors, flavors and sweeteners. To me this is not worth it in an intra workout so only look for better options. Here are some of the ingredients to supplement independently or look for in an intra-workout.
Glutamine is also the most abundant amino acid in the body and supplementation can help you recover from body soreness, DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). Your body can go through half of its storage of glutamine (an amino acid) during exercise so supplementation during your workout can help replenish what will be depleted.
Citrulline is found in good pre-workout supplements because it is a vasodilator, widening and opening the blood vessels for better blood and nutrient transport and creating a good "pump" while lifting weights. This may be found in some intra-workout supplements to keep the citrulline ingested while working out.
BCAAs are Branch Chained Amino Acids consisting of Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine. Amino acids are the building blocks in the body, so they are necessary to help your body rebuild and recover. BCAAs during your workout will help keep your levels up and will transport directly to the muscles while lifting.
Taurine is another amino acid that most people do not need supplementation of, however, if you follow a vegan diet you may get no taurine. Taurine does not occur naturally in any land plants (it is found in sea algae) so I supplement Taurine with my intra workout for energy and focus.
After you get through your workouts post-workout supplementation will help your body rebuild and recover. In a post-workout supplement, you will consume mostly the amino acids, those building blocks of the body, BCAAs and Glutamine. You should also consume protein powder. Depending on the protein powder you use it may come with BCAAs in it. Some can also come with Essential Amino Acids, EAAs, and Non-essential Amino Acids. I also add creatine again to my post-workout drink. If you want further supplementation you can add more BCAAs and/or Glutamine, especially if the protein powder you choose doesn't contain any.
Protein powders are also what can be consumed throughout the day as you deem necessary. It is common to consume protein powder at different times throughout the day as a meal replacement or to aid in higher protein consumption. BCAAs and Glutamine can also be consumed throughout the day to keep your amino acid levels up and keep your body effectively rebuilding and reducing soreness.
With all supplements the best you can do is read the labels, compare the products and test them yourself to find their effectiveness with you.