I have seen literally hundreds if not thousands of supplements come and go since I first took an interest in the field of sports nutrition. I have been in the game so long I even see the same fads coming around twice. Any day now I expect to see a big push made by supplement companies extolling the benefits of bee pollen and glandular extracts. The one thing everyone wants is something they can take all the time, regardless of whether they are bulking, dieting, or maintaining, and regardless of the type of activity they do. Imagine a supplement which was so versatile it could be used by both women and men all year round.
That would be great huh? While certain supplements out there meet some of these requirements, very few that do can be used all year round, either because the body eventually adapts to their usage or they can have downsides if taken for too long a period of time. That pretty much cuts out any supplement which seeks to optimise the levels of a particular hormone straight away. So what do we have left? Here are the elite few supplements that everyone can benefit from regardless of the time of year, their goals, age or any other criteria. These are the workhorses that any good supplement regimen should be based on.
1. Protein Powder
A very obvious candidate but given the importance of protein in building muscle, sparing muscle when dieting, its appetite satiating effect, and the fact that protein powder is cheaper, and more convenient than food then everyone should be taking this year round. Although the actual intake of protein can vary (with intake going up when dieting) along with the type of protein used, there is no doubt that a high protein intake is fundamentally important. Although the research suggests around 1g per pound of bodyweight is sufficient, given the greater thermic effect of protein and its ability to curb appetite this is often increased when dieting to as much as 2g per pound of bodyweight. In terms of types of protein, whey protein is most popular for the rapid rise in blood amino acid levels and ability to elevate protein synthesis rapidly while slower acting proteins based around casein or milk protein, are preferred for their anti-catabolic effect (meaning they help to limit muscle breakdown). A popular approach would be to utilise whey protein after a workout or in the morning and then use casein based proteins at night. Alternatively using a protein blend comprising whey, casein and other proteins, such as Trutein, is increasingly popular.
Creatine is arguably the most researched ergogenic in sports nutrition with a plethora of studies supporting its use in enhancing strength, improving speed and endurance, as well as increasing vertical jump performance and the rate of recovery when performing repeated sprints. Although some reports have indicated it can cause cramping, there has been no study conducted which has reported this effect. This suggests that reports of cramping are much more likely to be due to poor fitness, inadequate hydration and excessive training volumes. There are many different types of creatine supplements today but the majority will find creatine monohydrate the appropriate creatine compound to start with. Others have reported better results from products based around Creatine Orotate, Creatine Nitrate, Kre-Alkalyn, and other newer forms of creatine supplementation.
3. Beta Alanine
Beta-Alanine is a non-essential amino acid and is the only naturally occurring beta-amino acid. Beta Alanine has been shown in studies to support increased strength and power output, delay muscular fatigue and thereby boost anaerobic endurance and aerobic endurance. Its effects are produced through Beta Alanine’s ability to increase carnosine levels which in turn buffers the onset of fatigue. Beta Alanine is typically used in conjunction with creatine as beta alanine’s ability to boost muscle endurance and strength over higher repetitions complements creatine’s ability to do so over shorter rep ranges. Dosages used in studies have shown levels of between 3.2 grams to 6.4 grams are needed to produce an ergogenic effect from Beta Alanine supplementation. Due to the feeling of paresthesia (prickling, tingling feeling on the skin) when first using Beta Alanine, it is recommended users increase their dosage of Beta Alanine slowly.
4. Fish Oils
Fish oils are a source of essential fatty acids. Essential fatty acids are just that, essential, yet they are often overlooked while people focus on protein and carbohydrate intake. This is a shame because of all the supplements on this list they probably have the most wide-ranging benefits including: Improving Blood Circulation Reducing Blood Tryglyceride Levels Reducing the risk of cardiac arrest Alleviating symptoms related to mental illness Anti-cancer effects Improving Immune Function Of particular interest to athletes is the ability of DHA/EPA to improve fat loss, lower resting heart rate, and improving joint function where inflammation is a factor. With all these benefits it is amazing that a good fish oil supplement providing high levels of DHA and EPA is not the first name on the shopping list of anyone who trains. A dosage of 2-3 grams a day of DHA/EPA is recommended to take advantage of the full effect of fish oils.
With the difficulty most people will have in preparing 4-5 balanced meals daily, the fact that athletes have higher mineral and vitamin needs, as well as the fact that due to modern farming methods there is an imbalance in the ratio of nutrients found in food compared to in the past (use of fertilisers for instance denudes the soil of many nutrients while increasing others), the need for a multivitamin and mineral which supplies not just the RDA but an optimal level of these micronutrients becomes obvious. When buying a multivitamin it is important to ensure we purchase premium quality products as many cheap ones suffer from poor bioavailability making them worthless. Taking a single serving daily is a prudent way to maintain optimal health which in turn allows for training gains to be maximised.
The one brand name supplement on our list, DCP is truly a one of a kind supplement based around the combination of TTA, Salvia Miltiorrhiza, Propionyl-L-Carnitine, Raspberry Ketones and Potassium Pyruvate. DCP has properties including increasing your metabolism, helping with insulin sensitivity and of most interest to dieters, is that it frees up so called "fat burning units" via PPAR-alpha, which results in increased caloric expenditure. TTA also activates PPAR-delta, which causes fatty acids to be drained from the bloodstream and further assists with fatty acid oxidation.
The question you might be asking is, what makes DCP different from other fat burners? The answer is that as much as it is useful for dieting, many have found it equally essential when bulking due to its nutrient repartitioning effects allowing for muscle gains to be leaner. As it does not impact on hormone levels in any way either, DCP is a perfect candidate for a year round supplement. 2-3 tabs 30 mins before a meal is the best approach to get the most out of this product.
7. Essential or Branched Chain Amino Acids
Amino acids are normally obtained via protein intake (protein being broken down into amino acids), but their inclusion on a standalone basis is highly desirable with research supporting their use as both an anti-catabolic aid (preventing muscle breakdown), enhancing fat burn, supporting muscle tissue while dieting, and promoting protein synthesis. Given the vast amount of research the only reason you can argue for not using them year round is that, perhaps, their use is less important when bulking as opposed to dieting. The best way to dose either Essential Amino Acids (EAA’s) or BCAA’s is to use them either immediately before and after training, or, in the form of an intra-workout drink, sipped while training. Recommended doses will be 10-40g a day.
8. Acetyl-L-Carnitine (ALCAR)
Acetly-L-Carnitine is a very good supplement which is relatively underrated given it has research supporting its nootropic effects and attenuating the onset of cognitive diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, enhancing fat loss, possibly conferring protection against cardiac disease, and enhancing sperm motility in men. It is suggested to take 3g of Acetyl-L-Carnitine daily.
9. Citrulline Malate
Citrulline Malate is an interesting compound being an enhancer of muscle endurance (especially in higher repetition ranges) and aerobic performance, as well as boosting nitric oxide production making it popular for those looking to maximise muscle pumps. As an intermediate in the Urea Cycle Citrulline helps to remove toxins such as lactic acid and ammonia which are produced through exercise. By aiding their removal, Citrulline Malate can accelerate recovery. Furthermore, studies indicate it can aid in replenishing the body’s phosphocreatine stores and support ATP production. Clearly, Citrulline Malate is one product that is going to be of benefit to everyone!
10. Dosing of Citrulline Malate is suggested at 6g a day every day.
11. Orotic Acid
Not too many people will have heard of Orotic Acid but it is frequently found bound to creatine in the form of Creatine Orotate. On its own it Orotic Acid can support ATP stores, as well boost endurance performance and work capacity. In addition, research supports its role in helping to boost muscle hypertrophy and enhance carnosine levels (increasing carnosine is how Beta Alanine works remember). You will struggle to find Orotic acid sold on its own but look out for it in the form of Creatine Orotate products.
12. Glycine Propionyl-L-Carnitine (Glycocarn)
Glycocarn is the patented name for this highly bioavailable form of Carnitine. Glycocarn has been demonstrated in research to enhance nitric oxide production, increase aerobic power, increase fat loss and have potent antioxidant effects. By improving blood flow Glycocarn helps in the production of ATP and reduction of free radical damage (which in turn means muscle recovery is enhanced). It is suggested to take 3-4.5g daily.
13. L-Carnitine L-Tartrate (LCLT)
L-Carnitine L-Tartrate is a combination of L-Carnitine and Tartaric acid which shows a multitude of benefits. These include its ability to enhance recovery from exercise by reducing the metabolic stress of exercise, enhance ammonia clearance, and reduce muscle soreness. A 2008 study showed that ingestion of 2g/day can enhance oxygen consumption in the muscle cell which makes it valuable for both anaerobic and aerobic training. If all this was not enough, LCLT has a novel benefit which has pricked up the ears of many in the industry, namely that ingestion of 2g/day has been shown to increase muscle cell androgen receptor density. This will result in an optimisation of testosterone activity in the body. If all this was not enough the same study has shown its ability to increase IGF-1 levels – a key hormone in the muscle building process.
Plenty of people will have heard of Arginine despite its dubious benefits for bodybuilding. Agmatine is related to Arginine but is a more potent elevator of blood flow which makes it useful both in promoting muscle pumps but also enhancing recovery after workouts. In addition, Agmatine has been shown to maximise recovery when taken post workout where its insulin sensitising effectsallow for enhanced nutrient partitioning to muscles, accelerating the muscle recovery process. If all this was not enough, there is evidence from studies supporting the fact that Agmatine can be neuroprotective, lower blood pressure and have beneficial effects in the heart.
15. Joint Aids
I was divided about including a joint aid in here as not everyone suffers from joint aches and pains. However, based on their protective as well their rehabilitative effect on soft tissue, the use of a joint aid centred around nutrients such as Glucosamine, Chondroitin, and Cissus is a wise investment. Glucosamine in particular has a vast amount of research behind it supporting its efficacy in managing cartilage related joint problems. Further research has shown that the combination of Glucosamine and Chondroitin can produce superior outcomes compared to prescription drug painkillers such as Celecoxib. Cissus is a relative newcomer and most of the evidence behind it is anecdotal but there seems little doubt that it possesses significant pain reducing effects. In addition, the use of Cissus is frequently noted by users to produce an elevation in body composition (theoretically, due to a possible increase in testosterone levels).
Reading through the evidence and research for so many different nutrients is a massive task, of course, and there is bound to be some supplement or other which could justify its conclusion in our list above. However, all the above nutrients are ones we have personally found beneficial improvements from. Of course, nobody is likely to take all the ones consumed individually so below we will point out some products which contain some or more of the more obscure nutrients you are less likely to be familiar with. Creatine Nitrate SAN CM2 Nitrate (also includes Beta Alanine) Essential or BCAA’s ALRI Humapro Scivation Xtend (also contains Citrulline Malate) Anabolic Innovations Recoverpro Acetyl-L-Carnitine NOW Foods Acetyl-L-Carnitine Powder Citrulline Malate i-Force Nutrition Hemavol (also contains Agmatine) MAN Sports Body Octane (also contains Beta Alanine, and L-Carnitine L-Tartrate) Scivation Xtend (also contains Citrulline Malate) Glycocarn MHP NO Bomb Athletic Edge Nutrition Presurge Unleashed L-Carnitine L-Tartrate MAN Sports Body Octane (also contains Beta Alanine, and Citrulline Malate) Gaspari Anavite Agmatine i-Force Nutrition Hemavol (also contains Citrulline Malate)
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