Americans spend $30 billion per year on dietary and workout supplements to aid their fitness journeys. It’s a huge industry with tons of information to digest, and it’s hard to wade through everything and figure out “which workout supplements are the best for me?” Or if supplements are worth your money at all.
Well, we want to help make some sense of the big world of fitness supplements. We’re professional personal trainers with decades of experience, and we pride ourselves on making sense of complex topics like nutrition and diet.
So the big question is: are fitness supplements worth your hard-earned money? And if so, which supplements should you be taking?
The Rise of Workout Supplements
Spurred by famous weightlifters, bodybuilders, and athletes, supplements like protein powders, BCAAs, and various vitamins have taken center stage in every conversation around fitness goals in the gym. Whether you’re a weightlifter, college athlete, or marathon runner, you’re currently taking, or have considered taking, one supplement or another.
Supplements allow average Joes and athletes alike to ensure they’re getting adequate nutrients to propel their fitness journeys forward.
Some supplements stimulate us for intense workouts, others help with recovery, and some are daily maintenance pills and powders that promote overall health and wellness—which is important for getting stronger in the gym, or wherever you train.
At least that’s what the supplement companies say.
So, will workout supplements really help you get closer to your strength or weight loss goals?
Combined with the proper diet and exercise, we think so.
And we’ll share our 5 favorites at the end of this article.
What are Workout Supplements?
Supplements are non-prescription, non-medical consumable substances that contain micro and macronutrients in the form of powders, pills, liquids, and foods. Whew, that’s a mouthful.
Basically, supplements are concentrated doses of nutrients our bodies crave before, during, and after intense exercise.
For example, we all get some protein in our diets, but protein powder (a popular supplement for people who strength train) gives our tired muscles even more fuel for recovery and growth.
Here are the most popular supplements you’ll see in stores, or hear about at the gym...
Popular Workout Supplements
You’ll recognize some of the supplements on this list, and maybe you’ve tried them before. Did you have good results? Did you know why you were taking them? It’s always a good idea to consult a physical or fitness professional (like one of our team members at The Gym Connection) before trying anything new or starting a new supplement routine.
Personal trainers, coaches, and mentors can provide great information on things like...
BCAAs (branch chain amino acids
While no number of supplements can outperform a bad diet, millions of fitness enthusiasts use them to fill the gaps in their nutrition to reach their goals. Protein and BCAAs prime our muscles for growth. Vitamins and minerals support the essential functions of the body (which are oftentimes lacking in modern diets). Herbal supplements might sound a little outside your comfort zone, but if you’ve ever added extra acai powder to a smoothie, you’ve used an herbal supplement!
The Benefits of Supplements in a Fitness Routine
Fitness supplements contain nutrients we already seek out: protein, carbs, fats, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. But supplements give us convenient access to concentrated doses of what our body is most craving before, during, or after a workout.
Here’s why we take supplements (and you should, too)...
Boosted Energy Levels
Pre-workouts are a popular fitness supplement. Many of us regularly use one already: caffeine. Combining caffeine (increased heart rate and focus) with beta-alanine (an amino acid responsible for increased muscle endurance) primes your body to exercise.
You might start your workout with a caffeine and beta-alanine supplement to stay focused, perform better, and reduce your fatigue.
Muscle Growth and Repair
There is a small group of amino acids that make up the many kinds of protein in the body. BCAAs (branched-chain amino acids) are three of these (leucine, isoleucine, and valine) and are known to work with protein to repair and build muscle.
Repairing and building muscle through protein synthesis reduces muscle soreness and fatigue during exercise, leading to better recovery times.
In short, combining protein supplements with BCAA supplements maximizes the benefits of strength training.
Post-workout nutrition (maybe a protein shake that contains BCAAs) is important not only to maximize the benefits of your effort but also to prepare for your next workout.
BCAAs and protein supplements boost muscle growth, but omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to reduce inflammation and improve brain function.
One final recovery supplement is creatine. Creatine delivers energy to muscles during intense exercise and helps them recover later. Unlike the previous supplements listed, creatine requires a bit more planning (there are two types - Creatine Monohydrate and Creatine HCL). Before adding creatine to your supplement stack, we recommend consulting your personal trainer, coach, or your doctor.
During exercise, your muscles tear and break down. Before you get back to the gym, you must rest and recover. The supplements listed above can help.
Support in Nutritional Gaps
Nutritional gaps are possible in any strength, weight loss, or fitness program. When we eat meals throughout the day (even when we include some of the supplements listed in this article), we don’t always get a well-rounded nutritional profile. Lots of micronutrients—which are an essential part of an active lifestyle—get forgotten.
For example, when was the last time you considered calcium, iron, B Vitamins, or Vitamin D?
These smaller nutrients are often forgotten in diet conversations focused on protein, carbs, and fats.
When you take care of your complete nutritional profile, your body and mind are better prepared for your next workout.
For those with dietary restrictions or deficiencies, nutritional gaps are common. Consult your personal trainer or consider doing a bloodwork panel with your doctor to determine where your gaps are, and what supplements you can take to fill them in for a healthier, stronger you.
There is no “Magic Pill”
There’s a common misconception in the fitness industry, primarily among those new to taking supplements. It’s that you can supplement your way to the body and athleticism of your dreams. But there isn’t a “Magic Pill” or an assortment of supplements that provide instant results.
Things tend to get too complicated when we rely on too many supplements to achieve our goals. A balanced diet and regular training are the two most important things to focus on, and supplements come after these.
Our bodies are very efficient machines, and many of the nutrients in popular workout supplements are in our diets already. In other words, don’t buy a supplement just because someone said to, or because you think you might need it.
When trying something new—in the gym or that new supplement—always talk to a certified personal trainer. You can contact us at The Gym Connection if you need recommendations or have questions. A good personal trainer will be able to answer questions with their own experience and testimony. Don’t ever be afraid to ask questions, because we’ve probably asked ourselves the same before.
Try These 5 Fitness Supplements
A well-rounded supplement stack (AKA, the different supplements you take to help achieve your goals) energizes you for training, improves your endurance during workouts, and assists recovery to get you back in the gym.
These are the five supplements we recommend for anyone who has strength, weight loss, or general fitness goals.
1. Whey Protein
Whey protein is the most common workout supplement for muscle growth and repair, often coming in powder form. Whey protein is great on the go and ensures you flood your body with nutrients immediately after working out.
Whey protein is an easy addition to any fitness program.
2. Pre-Workout (With or Without Caffeine)
Pre-workout supplements give you focus, endurance, and energy for your workouts. Caffeine is a popular pre-workout ingredient, but it’s not the only option. For those who avoid caffeine, you’ll find lots of pre-workouts containing other ingredients that increase blood flow to your muscles (like nitric oxide) and improve focus during your workout (like nootropics).
Creatine is a popular, well-rounded gym supplement that has three major benefits:
It aids in building muscle mass
It delivers energy to your muscles, preventing fatigue during workouts
It helps your muscles recover after working out
There are two types of creatine available for gym-goers: creatine monohydrate and creatine hydrochloride (HCL). These two variations of creatine require different planning and use, so always consult a pro before taking it.
4. Glucosamine Sulfate
Glucosamine Sulfate is an important supplement for anyone who values joint health, particularly those who participate in intense exercise like weightlifters, runners, and cyclists. This joint supplement is often found in pill form and repairs and lubricates the cartilage around areas prone to injury and pain; like the knees, hips, elbows, and more.
5. BCAAs (Branch Chain Amino Acids)
Leucine, isoleucine, and valine are the amino acids that make up branch-chain amino acids—the building blocks of protein that aid muscle repair and recovery. While you can get BCAAs from eating lean animal protein, those with specialized diets (like vegan or vegetarian diets) can benefit from supplementation.
BCAAs often work best when taken with protein, and some whey protein powders list them as an ingredient. If your favorite whey protein doesn’t, your body will get the best results by adding BCAAs to your supplement routine.
For people in today’s fast world, nutrition isn’t always the first thing on our minds. There are lots of places we can improve our health: lifting weights, cardio exercise, cutting back on alcohol...but those “nutritional gaps” we mentioned earlier is an easy place to start.
A multivitamin will complement a well-rounded diet by filling in the gaps with micronutrients like Vitamin C, Zinc, and Iron.
A Personalized Approach: Which Supplements Are Right For Me?
There is no one perfect solution that works for every individual when it comes to health, wellness, and fitness. There are tons of different supplements you can take. Your friends, influencers online, and everyone you meet in the gym will have opinions on building the perfect stack of supplements to help you meet your goals.
But guess what?
Everyone is different. We have different bodies, different goals, and different starting points.
It’s so important to talk to someone with fitness and nutrition experience (like our trainers) who can help guide you in the right direction. Remember, there is no shortcut to success in fitness, even with supplements. A balanced approach is best, and that means listening to your body over a long period of time. Drink protein shakes if that fits your goals, try different pre-workouts, and talk to a pro about creatine and BCAAs.
But most importantly: stay in the gym.
Hard work and a good diet will unlock everything you want to get out of fitness.
And we’re here to help if you have any questions or are ready to get started with a personal trainer. Just reach out, your first consultation is always free!