What supplements should I take? That’s a popular question: one I get asked often and one I asked myself (and still do!). The topic of supplements arises quickly on the road to getting fit. Do we need them? Which ones? I’ll share all about which supplements I recommend for women as well as ones I don’t think are worth your time.
My goal in sharing this is to empower you to make the best decision for yourself. You may be looking for a supplement that will help you with muscle recovery or you may want one that helps you with your skin. Because we all have different needs, I suggest you take everyone’s opinions with a grain of salt and do your own research too.
In this post, I’ll share non-biased information first on each supplement below and then, I’ll provide my opinion.
WHAT DO I KNOW ABOUT SUPPLEMENTS?
Just some background… both my husband and I worked in the supplement industry. I worked in the industry for about 2 years and Anthony worked in the industry for many years; he knows the ins and outs, so I’ve taken quite a bit of knowledge from him.
My experience has lead me to this conclusion… supplements simply supplement an already healthy lifestyle consisting of regular workouts and healthy eating.
This answers two quick questions:
1) Are supplements absolutely necessary? No.
2) Are supplements beneficial? Yes, they definitely can be!
Another helpful thing I’ve learned about supplements is that the companies are always changing. I do my research on not only the supplement but also the company behind it. If you see me recommend something specific, I put my stamp of approval on the product and brand.
Okay, let’s dive into the good stuff. Here’s the list we will cover:
- Amino Acids
Protein is one of the three macronutrients also known as the main components of food (fats and carbohydrates are the other two). We eat protein every day: chicken, fish, beef, etc. Protein is the macronutrient most responsible for satiety: the state of feeling full. It can play a large role in keeping cravings at bay as well as stabilizing blood sugar levels.
Protein powder supplements and protein in general are useful for the purpose of muscle recovery. Exercise causes tiny micro tears in muscle cells. The process of rebuilding that damage is known as muscle protein synthesis; it’s a process that requires a sufficient amount of protein ingested in our diets or through supplements. Because it is often difficult to get enough protein in through food forms, protein supplements have become a helpful alternative. They are also an easy addition to use in meals like protein smoothies.
Protein is my staple supplement. If I could only choose one from this entire list, it would be protein. I’m serious about my fitness/muscle goals and ensuring I hit my daily protein goals has helped greatly. There are a lot of different types of proteins and I’m pretty selective; this post shares exactly what I look for when buying a protein if you want to read that after this.
Just like the name implies, pre-workout supplements are those taken prior to a workout with the goal of allowing you to achieve a greater workout. How exactly? Well, that all depends on the specific pre-workout product. The one ingredient most often found in a pre-workout supplement is caffeine or stimulant ingredients used to boost energy levels.
Unlike drinking a cup of tea, coffee or any typical caffeinated beverage, pre-workout products also contain a cocktail of other ingredients. It’s important to look and these ingredients and understand why they’re added. Like I mentioned, many ingredients are used for the stimulant effect and others are used to help maximize the muscle pump. Working out increases our heart rate, dilating the veins and creating a greater flow of blood transported throughout the body. If you see these veins and arteries as a highway system, imagine that pump ingredients add an additional lane to a busy highway… the flow of oxygen-rich blood moves more efficiently and faster to the muscle cells.
Pre-workouts are a “fun” supplement to me and I drink a pre-workout about 4-5x per week, typically prior to a weight training workout. BUT, I often advise to proceed with caution when it comes to pre-workout supplements. I tend to shy away from stimulant heavy pre-workout products and prefer those that focus on the muscle pump. For caffeine content, I stick to a a “two cup” rule that I’ve made up which means having the equivalent caffeine to about two cups of coffee or 150-170 mg (even way less some days).
I prefer a muscle pump style pre-workout because I find it actually helps me feel the most of each movement while I’m in the gym, yielding greater benefits. To achieve that, I look for pre-workouts that contain ingredients like: agmatine, norvalline, citrulline malate, glycerol mono saturate and beta alanine (beta alanine is the feeling is tingly a pre-workout can provide, so don’t get one with that if you don’t enjoy that feeling lol.)
If you think of protein as a train; amino acids are each individual train car that make up the protein train. Branch chain amino acids or BCAA supplements aid the body in a variety of ways. They have been shown to reduce muscle soreness, which is key for those of us who are active. BCAA supplements also work to keep the body in an anti-catabolic state. When the body is in an anabolic state, it builds: like muscle cells. When the body is in a catabolic state, it breaks larger molecules down to use the individual parts. When a BCAA supplements acts in this way it means it’s working to prevent muscle from being broken down (promoting a fit body is how I like to think of it).
BCAA supplements fall into my top 3 picks along with protein (#1) and a pre-workout (#2). I use this supplement on more of an as needed basis instead of regularly. Some days, I use the supplement during my workout then again in the evening blended with ice to crush a craving. Other days, I won’t use it at all. I’ve actually gone months without using this product.
Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body and it can be found just about everywhere: muscles, ligaments, tendons, bones, blood vessels, hair, skin, nails, the digestive system, etc
The shape and structure of collagen provides insight into it’s role in the body; in non-scientific terms… it’s 3 ropes tightly twisted around each other. The strong shape lends well to it’s role as a supportive molecule within the body.
As we age, collagen production slows down, which is evident through agin skin, wrinkles, changing hair color, less flexible joints, etc. This is why many individuals seek collagen through diet and supplement form.
In college, I picked up running and had to call it quits because of knee pain. A friend suggested a collagen supplement and I have no clue if it was my desire to pick back up again or if it actually worked, but I truly felt improvement. Life got busy. I was on a budget. For whatever reason, I stopped taking collagen.
Fast forward 5 years or so… after I had my first son, Leo, I again noticed major joint pain when I returned to exercise. My husband actually reminded me of the collagen I took in college. I did my research and kept coming across 1 brand that had, in my opinion, the best quality and greatest product offerings: Vital Proteins.
They’ve been my go-to collagen choice for 2 years now. What I personally notice most is less joint pain, which is so important to me in keeping me staying fit and active. Thanks to this community, I’ve received tons of compliments lately on my hair and skin so I do think collagen has helped with that too!
Finally, my daily protein goal is very important to me in building muscle. Like I mentioned, collagen is a protein and 1 serving of Vital Proteins unflavored peptides (that I usually add into my smoothies) provides 18g of protein!
Glutamine, more specifically L-Glutamine is an amino acid; it’s the most abundant amino acids found in the body. It is produced in muscle cells and transported via the blood stream to organs that need it. There are so many roles that glutamine plays a part in that it’s almost too much to list, so for the sake of keeping this short and sweet, just know glutamine is involved in a a lot of the body’s processes. If the body uses more glutamic than the muscles can make, such as during times of dress, muscle wasting an occur, which is often one reason people look to glutamine supplements.
A glutamine supplement can be beneficial for recovery. Workouts, especially weight training and HIIT type of workouts are an intense expense for the body: for the muscles and central nervous system. Because of that, our immune systems actually suffer after exercise. Some studies have shown glutamine helps support the immune system especially in exercise recovery. Also, post-workout, we have depleted muscle glycogen stores (glycogen is the body’s storage form of carbohydrates). For this reason, we like to have a nice meal after we workout to refill these stores and aid in recovery. Glutamine has been shown to help the muscle cells replenish their glycogen stores.
The jury is still out on glutamine for me. Overall, I just see this as one more supplement to add to the list and in my case, it’s one supplement I just rather not add to MY list although I do know many ladies who take it regularly and love it.
A multivitamin has a simple goal of providing our bodies with vitamins that benefit overall health. Vitamin deficiencies are caused by a slew of reasons from poor diet to certain illnesses. Because vitamins play a vital role in our bodies, a multivitamin ensures we are getting in sufficient levels.
This isn’t new news and you very well may have heard this before, but awhile back, there was news report after news report sharing findings that multivitamins of all sorts were being found in the septic systems. Use your imagination a bit here so I don’t have to get graphic lol. They weren’t finding full multivitamins; they detected the presence of them in what passes through us. The reason this is important is because it indicates they weren’t absorbed in the body and were simply passed through. Now that’s money down the drain if I’ve ever heard of it haha.
This is a little elaborate for some and I have yet to personally do this, but I’ve heard of a great option for those concerned about vitamin and nutrient levels. You can get blood work done to show all your vitamin levels. Each of us as individuals have individual needs… some of us have low iron, others of us have low vitamin D levels, etc. But, we aren’t just naturally low in all vitamins.
I kind of see a multivitamin as a bandaid. If there’s a real issue, I want to know about it, so spending some extra time at the doctor to dig to the bottom of it sounds like the better option. I don’t take a multivitamin, but I am interested in using blood work to reveal if I need something specific as these needs change regularly with age, hormone fluctuations and life events.