Workout supplements
July 14, 2017 10:10 PM   Subscribe

Which workout supplement ingredients are best supported by actual science?

I'm looking for specific ingredients, not packaged supplements -- God know what's in most of them, and I want to roll my own. Primary goal is to build strength. Please take it as read that exercise and diet are far more important to gains that any supplement could be. Thanks for any help!
posted by pH Indicating Socks to Health & Fitness (3 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
AFAIK there are only two supplements that are actually borne out by any significant amount of science (not counting protein supplementation, which you should also do): creatine and BCAA. I won't be citing sources because I'm too lazy to dig them up right now, but everything I'm saying here is stuff I've seen the studies to back, and they should be googleable without too much work.

1. Creatine. This is the single most researched supplement on earth. Creatine (coupled with a good lifting program) will make you stronger, period (unless you're a non-responder). It'll help you grind out those last one or two reps in a set, and will generally contribute to strength gains. It's also super cheap. Look for Creapure creatine; that's a certification of purity and quality, and try to find micronized creatine, which will dissolve in to drinks a lot more easily. Be sure to drink a ton of water while you're on it.

2. BCAAs. This one is only semi-supported, in that the science that there is suggests that BCAAs will help minimize the amount of muscle you lose if you're eating a caloric deficit, but if you're bulking research suggests that it doesn't make too big a difference. All that matters is that you have them in your diet; the people you see insisting that it should be taken during or right after a workout are peddling broscience. If you're taking protein supplements, a lot of whey sups will have BCAAs anyway.

Other supplements may have some promising research to back them, but those are the two that come to mind as being generally well-backed in the literature.
posted by Itaxpica at 10:32 PM on July 14 [6 favorites]

Caffeine as a pre-workout is cheap and legit, though of course far from necessary.
posted by nicolas léonard sadi carnot at 10:35 PM on July 14 [3 favorites]

Yup, as said above.

Best supplements for gaining strength:
1. Caloric surplus. Not strictly necessary if you're just trying to become more efficient movements, but pretty darn important for building muscle. This becomes more true as you become more advanced. New athletes have a bit of wiggle room.

2. Enough protein. Protein as in the macronutrient, not necessarily an artificially sweetened milk powder. Cans of tuna, soy, milk, eggs, raw meat etc.

3. Enough carbohydrates. Yes, you could do this without carbs, but you'd be making your life a lot harder. Assuming you're not tied to some sort of ketogenic approach, moderate carbs will help you progress faster.

4. Caffeine. Take a shot of espresso before you work out if you like drinking espresso. Or don't. Your perceived exertion will go down and you'll probably get more work done in a session.

5. Creatine. As stated above, this is probably the best studied of the non macronutrient, non stimulant supplements.. It's good for you, it's good for your brain, it's good for your grandparents. It's cheap. The benefits will be too subtle to notice, but over about 2-3 years of hard training the slight advantage might add up. The placebo effect alone might be enough for some people.

6. BCAAs? Yeah, maybe. If your protein intake is good, BCAAs won't do too much for you.

The OP already acknowledges that supplements are a very small part of the equation. None of the above will really matter if your sleep and effort aren't dialed in. Consistency is really more important than anything.
posted by Telf at 6:28 AM on July 16 [1 favorite]

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