It happens tolerably often that I get asked various questions related to supplementation and its role in the process of physical training. The questions often have the flavor ‘what is the best supplement?’ ‘which supplements should I take?’ ‘what do you think about supplementation?” and so on, which of course is why the Internet is littered with articles like ‘The 7 best supplements for fat loss’. It is a perilous state of affairs.
Before tackling this question itself head on, it is necessary to take a small detour.
The body operates under certain (physical) laws. This is why we often look towards physiology to learn how to train. We may then possibly be able to glean what are the optimal ways to manipulate it. So that it adapts orderly and desirable fashion [and we can get proper jacked in due time]. That is the idea anyhow.
Under these laws the body will change depending on the status of certain conditions. Some of these are of major importance, some are of lesser importance and some are basically insignificant. In the human body the major determinants of the direction of adaptation is: The work undertaken (the movements, their sequence, intensity, individual volume, the gross volume etc) – The context in which the work was undertaken (recovery state, nutrition, stress levels to name the most obvious).
So when I am asked about supplementation I will invariably saw something along the following lines: How is your sleep? How is your diet- do you eat enough? How consistent are you being with the training? …
If those aren’t dialed in then most supplements are going to be a waste of time and energy. B-alanine supplementation cannot undo a diet of mostly pickled onions. Creatine isn’t worth anything if you never stress the ATP-CP energy system. Thusly the solution is simply to be consistent with sleep, diet and training. Usually there is no need to go beyond this point. Focus on getting the basics dialed in.
Let us say for arguments sake that those boxes all are ticked off. In that case we can go further by considering supplementation within the broad category ‘food’.
The question then becomes something along the lines of how is your diet? Are you eating regularly? Are there things lacking in your diet? How much do you spend on food? What I am getting at here is really rather simple.
These days real whole foods are becoming a precious commodity in many places. If a diet consists of largely of fast foods and other “food-like-substances” that your grandmother wouldn’t recognize then that is what needs fixing. Many supplements are also expensive – and within the very real constraints of a food budget – they take away money that could have been spent on something much more nutritious and enjoyable. What is the point in subsisting on Soylent Green?
The point of absurdity is reached when a protein shake is more expensive than a steak. Yes, yes it may be gourmet, grassfed GMO-free, soy-free, gluten-free, organic, non pasteurized whey – but at the end of the day it is still very much inferior to a steak. In other words: if the supplement has a cost that means that the overall quality of a diet will decrease, then forget about that supplement.
If all of these things are in check, and you still feel compelled to supplement then by all means have at it. Consider what you are wanting to achieve with the supplementation and whether a given supplement will be able to do what you are after.
There are plenty of website providing sensible recommendations for the efficacy of different supplements – you can even go all out and make “a stack”. Just remember to test it against the larger picture, and also to get off the supplements periodically to see if you still need them.
[This blog was first published on dreamwidth.org]