One of the common questions I tend to get is which supplements are worth taking. In other words, there any magic pills that will make them jacked and tan. Being the nerd that I am, supplements are one of my favorite areas to study and learn about in fitness. I’ve always loved trying different stuff, so over the years of researching, testing, and trying different things, I feel like I have a pretty good handle on how well most over-the-counter dietary supplements work, and which ones are worth using.
Rather than ramble on endlessly about why they aren’t actually necessary until your diet and training are consistently dialed in, I figured I’d just share a list of everything I like to rotate in and out of my supplement routine. Most of what I take is for health, and a few are for advanced performance improvements. Some are just because I’m a bro and like to feel good in the gym 🙂
My training and nutrition is very consistent, so with these supplements I’m talking about a 5-10% boost, at the most. They are useless if your diet is inconsistent, and they are not necessary by any means.
Before we dive into the world of unregulated powders and capsules, here are a few thoughts.
- I’m a research nerd, and I’m well aware that some of what I take hasn’t been proven by literature. This does NOT mean they don’t work; just that research may not have caught up. Some supplements have blatantly been proven to do nothing, but for the “questionable” ones, well, I’m all for being a human guinea pig. Until the science community catches up, I’m going to keep using these if I believe they work.
- I like to test supplements by adding them to my nutrition plan, leaving all other factors alone, and looking for a difference. I assume most supplements are garbage unless proven otherwise, usually by scientific research, but sometimes by simply noticing a dramatic effect in myself.
- This is not necessarily a list of supplements everyone should take. The first three are supplements everyone could probably benefit from, yes, but the rest are the ones I like for myself. I’ll explain why I take them, but do a little research for yourself first before dropping any money on these products.
- Don’t buy shit that has the words “proprietary blend” anywhere on the bottle. You’re probably buying something that’s made up of 90% of the cheapest ingredient on that propriety blend, with tiny amounts of the other ingredients. Don’t waste your money.
Whenever I consider a new supplement, I check out all the individual ingredients on Examine.com, to see if the ingredients actually do anything, and if they do, if the supplement I’m considering has dosed it correctly. I also look on Labdoor, which independently tests popular brands in a lot of categories for things like label accuracy, product purity, and more. I highly suggest you use both of these sites.
IMPORTANT: I recommend only supplements that I do personally use. Most of the ones listed below are direct links to Amazon, but are a few are from Thorne and TrueNutrition, two companies I love and have the highest quality product. With Thorne I’m actually a registered health care professional and provider, so if you’re a client of mine, let me know and I’ll add you as a client and hook you up with a big discount (Thorne provides supplements for the US Olympic Teams, they are legit). I also bugged the owner of TrueNutrition for a discount code. You can use any brand you like, but if you click through my links, and/or use my discount codes, I do get a very small kickback, and you save some money.
The supplement industry isn’t really regulated; they have regulations, yes, but you don’t have to prove you meet them to get your product on the shelf. So there are a LOT of brands out there under-dosing, lying about what’s inside… try to stick with reputable, well-known brands whenever possible.
Category A: Health Supplements
These are the ones that I think most people could benefit from year-round. Regardless of your training goals, or if you even workout, these fill in the gaps in most diets and make sure your internal health is optimized.
Note that these are all maintenance supplements. There are very specific products you can take as a natural boost to help with cholesterol, blood sugar, insulin sensitivity, metabolic benefits, things like that, but those are more case-by-case, so I’ll leave them off this list and save them for individual client recommendations. These are just the ones you should take year-round regardless.
A good greens powder should be the foundation of your supplement stack. A lot of people keep a good eye on their macronutrient intake, but not many people pay attention to their micronutrient intake. A greens powder is the next level of the multivitamin.
While multivitamins are a bunch of vitamins and minerals compressed into a nasty pill, greens powders are freeze-dried superfoods, usually containing a wide range of green vegetables and anti-oxidant containing fruits. I’ll take real foods over vitamins every single time. Also, multi-vitamins have a tendency to make most people feel quite sick if taken on an empty stomach, something that can be avoided with a powder.
I try a lot of different greens formulas, but this is the one I come back to the most. The absolute Gold Standard is Nutridyn, but it’s also a bit pricey. If you have the money, and/or never eat veggies and need the best, go for it, otherwise just stick with the first one.
Fish oil is super, super important. It’s high in omega-3s, which are very anti-inflammatory, and has a whole host of health benefits. You’ll be improving the health of your brain, heart, cardiovascular system, joints, improving insulin sensitivity, and so much more. Unless you eat wild-caught salmon 4 times a week, I see no reason why you shouldn’t be taking fish oil every day.
I like to take 2 capsules with breakfast and dinner each. Look for the highest ratio of EPA/DHA to total grams of fish oil you can find; those are what you’re looking for. The best one I’ve found is Nordic Naturals Ultimate Omega, you get the recommended EPA/DHA without having to take 8 capsules or anything crazy. If I didn’t use Ultimate Omega, I’d have to take a lot more than 4 capsules/day to get the recommended dose of EPA/DHA.
The sunshine and happiness vitamin, vitamin D, is super important for just about everyone. Unless you get 30 minutes or so of direct sunlight every single day, you should take a vitamin D supplement. Vitamin D play a vital role in your bone density and hormone production, and most importantly to me, your mood. Lack of vitamin D can lead to increased depression, so you need your sunshine or vitamin D.
It’s best to get your blood work checked first, as this is one of the few vitamins that you can actually take too much off. Excess vitamin D can be stored in your body rather than excreted, so it’s important to check your levels first. Most people are probably fine with 2,000 I.U. per day, consumed with a fatty meal, but check your blood work first.
Bonus tip: Take your Vitamin D with a bit of added K2, they work synergistically together and K2 is super important for heart health.
Here’s my go-to.
The active ingredient in turmeric is curcumin, which is an incredibly potent anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, and has even been shown to help in reducing depression and anxiety with long-term use.
Anectotally, taking 2-3 times the recommended dose dramatically helped me heal a severely strained ligament in my hand. After 5 weeks of the pain staying at about an 8 or 9 out of ten, I started triple dosing turmeric, and within 2 weeks, the pain was down to barely noticeable.
This could be coincidence, but I’ve heard plenty of other smart people say they noticed similar effects with injury healing. I take it daily now as an anti-inflammatory supplement, and even with lifting weights 4-5 days per week, the joint pain I commonly get from wear and tear is virtually non-existent.
I use Thorne’s Meriva-500 every day, a very high-quality source of curcumin and the best brand on the market, from personal experience and even experts like Dr. Rhonda Patric.
This is the second most common deficiency in the U.S. behind vitamin D, and I think everyone should take it. 300-500mg/day is a good dose for most, and if you’re deficient, you’ll feel the supplement. Symptoms of deficiency include headaches, stress, anxiety, heart issues, muscle cramping, and SO many more things, so if you notice issues with those, magnesium is very useful. Many also find it very relaxing, which is why it’s often sold as a sleep or anti-stress supplement. I take it before bed every night, and I sleep like a baby.
Be sure to take it away from any other dairy or calcium containing foods; I personally stop eating about 3 hours before bed, and take this 1 hour before bed.
Essential Amino Acids (NOT BCAAs)