Supplements are big business. Whether you’re at the mall or shopping online, you’ll run across stores dedicated to just fitness supplements.
Supplements may make you think of a gym bro chugging his fourth protein shake of the day while loaded up on pre-workout stimulants. But supplements can work for the casual gym-goer too.
Do You Need Supplements?
By name, supplements are only meant to supplement your food intake. This means they’re non-essential in every way.
It’s always best to meet your dietary needs from fresh, whole foods. Of course, when that can’t or doesn’t happen, supplements can come in handy.
If you’re eating a vegan diet, it’s probably best to take a Vitamin B supplement since you won’t get any from a plant-based diet. Of course, for this article, we’re looking at fitness related supplements. So if you feel your performance or aesthetic goals need to be enhanced, a supplement could be a reasonable option.
What’s The Deal with Women’s Supplements?
Women’s fitness supplements are really on the rise. Unfortunately, it’s mostly just hot pink marketing.
In fact, I noticed that a few popular women’s protein powders are identical to the men’s version but with a smaller scoop included. This is so they can conveniently call the women’s one “low calorie.” Well, if I eat ⅔ of the cookie, I guess that’s lower calorie too!
You’re perfectly fine taking the same supplements that men use. With the exception of testosterone boosting products, women can buy whatever powders and pills they want.
One key difference is usually dosage. Men have higher daily calorie requirements and therefore higher supplement intake as well. Most supplements have recommended dosages for both men and women so just check the label to be sure.
Common Fitness Supplements
1. Protein Powder
Protein powder is a great choice when you aren’t consuming enough protein from your diet. Whether you’re vegan or paleo, there are options for every diet.
The most common choice is a high quality Whey Protein Isolate. Although it’s a milk-derived protein source, an Isolate has had all fat and sugars (including lactose) removed, leaving behind pure protein. Any Isolate protein should have 25g of protein per 100 calories. This is a great choice for getting the most protein for the least amount of extra calories. This is also the most expensive type of whey protein powder. For a little less money, you can get a Whey Protein Concentrate. Still look for about 24g of protein for 120 calories.
If you’re on a plant-based diet, there are several vegan protein powder options. I recommend avoiding soy protein due to possible effects on hormones and thyroid function. There are still plenty of options like pea, brown rice, hemp, and various vegan blends.
The recommended daily intake for sedentary adults is .4g of protein per pound of bodyweight. If you’re training for strength or endurance, you can consume up to double that amount each day.
2. Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Some amino acids are “essential,” meaning that your body cannot produce them and you must consume them from food of supplementation. BCAAs are three of the essential aminos that have been deemed significant for training and recovery.
BCAAs are helpful in a couple of situations. The first is for those who train fasted. If you can’t stand the thought of eating first thing in the morning before hitting the gym, BCAAs are a good option. They give your muscles some fuel but have almost no calories.
They have also been found to improve recovery time. If you suffer from sore muscles for days after your workout, you might want to try adding a BCAA supplement.
Most BCAAs are sold as a flavored powder. Simply mix a scoop or two in water and enjoy. They are intra-workout supplements, meaning you can drink them while you exercise.
Omega-3 fatty acids are great for brain function, heart health, and overall wellness. Very few people following a standard western diet consume enough through food, so supplementing is key.
For a fit female, Omega-3s may also improve bone and joint health and have anti-inflammatory properties. Adding Omega-3s to a strength training routine is a great way to have strong bones and a body that ages gracefully.
Look for a supplement that just has Omega-3s. Steer clear of the Omega 3-6-9 blends as you likely already get an abundance of Omega 6 through diet. On the label, look for DHA and EPA as the only two fatty acids.
4. Fat Burners
As a woman shopping for supplements, someone will try to sell you a fat burner. It’s a huge market for women so I wanted to address them in this guide.
The most common fat burning pills are thermogenics. These slightly boost metabolism by raising internal body temperature. Yes, you will probably feel flushed and might even sweat some. The main ingredient in most of them is caffeine, but at a much higher dosage than a normal cup of coffee. The caffeine may be paired with other synthetic or natural stimulants to make a more potent product.
From there, you may also see more “natural” thermogenics like green tea extract or green coffee bean extract.
Please keep in mind that there is not a single supplement out there that will make you lose weight without diet or exercise. If you do decide to try a fat burning supplement, start slowly and listen to your body. If you experience increased anxiety or restless sleep, discontinue use.
Creatine is a pretty misunderstood supplement. It helps grow muscle, but it’s not a steroid. It’s naturally found in fairly high doses in meat and fish.
Creatine is more for the bodybuilding crowd than the average gym goer. But if you are looking to increase muscle size, creatine has been widely tested and proven to be effective. Expect an initial increase in weight (2-3 pounds) due to increased water retention if you start taking creatine.
When choosing a product, stick to Creatine Monohydrate as the active ingredient. It’s the most studied form of creatine currently on the market.
Supplements can be a great way to fill a deficiency caused by diet. They offer plenty of benefits for different types of athletes, so see which ones fit your training needs. Absolutely none of them are required. You should still get great results from consistent training and a balanced diet.
While supplements are convenient, you can also get what you need from whole foods, especially if you’re following something like the Paleo diet or whole30 diet.