There is a lot of bad advice and poor products out there, so I figured it might be useful to do a run-down of some of my tried and tested shakes and supplements.
These are the supplements I’m currently taking and have found useful, and below that you will find a list of things you probably don’t want to waste any money on!
Protein shakes, creatine and pre-workout mix
First things first: you don’t *need* protein shakes. If your diet consists of sufficient amounts of protein (roughly 1.2 grams and upwards per kilo of body weight, per day), you don’t necessarily need to guzzle down protein shakes on top of that. Forget all about what you’ve heard about the so-called “anabolic window” as well, it’s not based on facts. However, for the sake of convenience it might be easier to grab a protein shake after your workout, if you know it’ll be a while until you get a proper meal in your system. And similarly in the mornings, if you don’t grab breakfast straight away a morning breakfast shake or smoothie upon waking could be useful. In the evenings, intake of a slow digesting protein such as casein or hemp might help increase muscle protein synthesis overnight and help you recover more quickly.
I avoid sweeteners as much as I can, because we don’t know the long term health implications of sweeteners, as well as there being some evidence to suggest they can confuse your body and mess with insulin levels. And what about stevia, you may ask? It is found in nature, yes, but the stevia used in commercially protein shakes and drinks has been synthetically processed, so it isn’t actually all that natural. And again, we don’t know the long-term health implications of it.
Recently I’ve swapped any products containing sweeteners, artificial thickeners or anything else unnecessary for better alternatives, and I feel much better for it. Additionally, I much prefer the taste of more natural products. Once you ditch the sweeteners you’ll be surprised you could ever stomach those super-sweet artificial shakes, believe me. As an aside, most of the supplements are vegan as well!
I don’t eat my proper breakfast until later in the morning, so this keeps me satiated and gives me a nice energy boost full of nutrients. If you have a Nutribullet or similar you could blend the oats yourself. The Protein Works have a decent range of sweetener and thickener-free products, but you have to deliberately look for the unflavoured version (if there is one) and carefully check the ingredient list. Most of their other products include thickeners and sweeteners - they love putting sucralose in everything - but the unflavoured versions of those three listed do not.
Lots, and I mean lots, of ready-mixed pre-workout blends have a lot of artificial ingredients, fillers, sweeteners and other nasties in them. I make my own pre-workout consisting of those three ingredients and either a shot of espresso or a caffeine pill for that good old energy boost. I usually work out in the afternoon, but if I do an evening session I skip the caffeine as I’m sensitive to it and it tends to interfere with my sleep if I have any too late in the day.
Beta alanine and citrulline malate may both help counteract fatigue in different ways, and the positive effects of creatine have been widely tested and studied. And caffeine is just a good old energy boost than can positively impact your workouts if consumed with a bit of caution.
70-80g ultra carb mix (dextrose, maltodextrin and glycine)
5 g creatine, sold as “Creapure”
I usually don’t have the chance to grab a meal until a while after finishing my workout, so within an hour of a training session I will have this mix usually. After hitting the weights hard your muscles need their glycogen stores replenished, which the carb mix sees to, and the protein helps kickstart the muscle recovery process. Studies have shown that having creatine after a workout might be the most beneficial time, so I cover all bases by having it in both my pre-workout and post-workout blends.
I used to drink pure casein at bedtime, but the taste is horrific, it requires huge amounts of water to be able to be mixed properly and it just turns into a gloopy, slimy mess. After searching around I came across this high-protein hemp shake, which tastes a lot better and is actually mixable. It doesn’t taste very nice, as it’s quite earthy, but it goes down easily and hemp is a super-nutritious protein source, containing all the essential amino acids as well as being high in omega 3 and 6.
Flavoured, fruity protein!
If you think you might find these unflavoured protein shakes hard to stomach, I can also recommend Real Food Source’s organic whey protein, which comes in strawberry, chocolate and banana. I mostly use these when making my overnight oats, and they’re delicious and sweet while not being overpoweringly so. Additionally, they contain only organic whey protein and organic fruit powders.
Things to not buy…
BCAAs (Branched Chain Amino Acids):
Let’s settle this, once and for all. If you eat sufficient amounts of protein and unless you’re doing extreme versions of fasted training, BCAAs are useless and the equivalent of flushing money down the toilet. Additionally, there’s some evidence to show that they can actually hamper muscle growth in certain circumstances.
There’s no conclusive, unbiased evidence to truly show that raspberry ketones help with weight loss. Again, don’t waste your money.
D aspartic acid:
D aspartic acid is an amino acid regulator of testosterone synthesis. However, most fit, healthy and fertile males will probably not see much benefit from supplementing with d aspartic acid, and any increases in testosterone will probably be short-lived. You might get a small boost from it, but it’s probably not one worth spending lots of money on. I’ve tried it on numerous occasions and can’t say I noticed any significant effects from it.
The evidence that Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) helps fat loss and lean muscle gains is widely contested by studies showing is has very little effect. It could work for you, whereby as a genuine result of taking it or as a placebo effect, but the effects will probably be small and definitely not near levels of it being the miracle fat-loss pill as some manufacturers claim it is. I’ve tried this one as well and all it seemed to do was give me heartburn and indigestion!
I'll add a point about Examine.com, which is a great website to check out anecdotal, scientific evidence on a wide range of supplements. Have a look here to work out whether or not you should be spending your money on them first!
Happy supplement shopping!