5 FITNESS SUPPLEMENTS TO AVOID (AND 5 YOU SHOULD TAKE)
As any fitness enthusiast can attest, a successful regime does not only depend on the hard work performed within a gym.
It is well-known that a proper diet, rich in nutrients, is essential to achieve the dream build you aim to get. To achieve this goal, researchers have developed a plethora of supplements meant to assist with specific issues—build muscle, burn fat, increase endurance, and even more.
However, in the persistent search for the most effective supplements, it's common to end up falling for fads that are backed by marketing instead of science.
Protect your body and wallet by knowing how to distinguish the best from the worst—check out the list of five fitness supplements you should avoid, and the top five that should always take a spot in your shelf.
Supplements to avoid
The following five fitness supplements are a waste of money—be it because they have counterproductive effects within the body, or simply because they are glorified placebos that have no real impact on your performance.
1. Human Growth Hormone (HGH) boosters
Fads are unavoidable in the fitness world—skillful marketing can turn any new product in the latest miracle drug to achieve peak physical shape, and that is the case with the Human Growth Hormone (HGH) and its boosters.
As its name indicates, the human body creates HGH according to life cycles, when growth is needed—peaks during puberty, remains constant to stimulate and the health of organs and muscle mass and decreases after middle age. Subsequently, certain studies have linked HGH with aging.
From then on, HGH boosters and synthetic alternatives have become a quintessential item for the anti-aging crowd, as well as fitness fans. They are not wrong, either—HGH promotes muscle building and protein production, as well as providing an extra energy boost.
Problem? It only works on children, adolescents, and adults with medical deficiencies.
Extensive research has proven that there is no significant difference in strength, stamina or resistance after oral consumption of HGH, and any increase in lean body mass is merely fluid retention. On the other hand, the side effects are notoriously counterproductive—including swelling, joint and muscle pain, and more.
Close up of vanilla protein powder in a spoon by Marco Verch is licensed under CC BY 2.0.
It’s hard not to be starry-eyed at glutamine. It has a spotless reputation, and it’s a long-term staple in fitness circles—even respected celebrities like Ryan Reynolds swear by its effects.
Sadly, it’s nothing short of useless.
Glutamine—particularly L-Glutamine—is an amino acid, produced naturally by the body. It aids in the building of protein, fights muscle breakdown, and provides fuel.
Sounds perfect, but there’s a problem—the human body produces massive quantities of L-Glutamine, and acquires an additional amount through food, particularly leafy greens and animal protein. What’s more important, it’s only essential for humans during injury or disease.
Meaning, your body’s demand for glutamine is not notable, making its consumption through supplements virtually pointless.
Likewise, studies have shown that L-Glutamine’s effects on muscle mass and strength are indistinguishable from placebos, and glutamine ingested orally remains in the digestive system.
But not everything is detrimental—research has confirmed glutamine supplements
may aid during recovery after exercise, and help reduce muscle soreness. Regardless, the effect is almost insignificant, so it might not be worth it to invest in this type of supplement.
3. Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)
Working out and building muscle are inevitably tied to the mention of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), perhaps the most widespread and popular supplement across gyms. It’s not hard to see why.
The BCAAs are three essential amino acids—valine, leucine, and isoleucine. Human bodies do not produce them, so they must be obtained by external means. Their importance is incommensurable, as they build blocks for protein and muscle, increase energy production, and reduce fatigue.
Nonetheless, while BCAAs themselves might be necessary, consuming them through supplements is virtually useless.
Those interested in building muscle must be already consuming high levels of protein-rich food, therefore getting all the BCAAs they need. Specifically, regular whole protein sources and supplements provide most BCAAs and are far more effective at it—research proves that BCAAs are more efficient if taken alongside other essential amino acids.
Bottom line? BCAAs are crucial for any workout routine, but it is far more efficient to acquire them through
and protein supplements.
4. Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA)
Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) is an omega-6 fatty acid, making it beneficial in a plethora of ways. Like all omega-6 acids, CLA is essential—meaning you have to obtain it through diet.
The importance of CLA relies on its attributes as a type of fat used for energy, which led to an interest in other potential benefits associated with weight loss. Subsequently, studies done on mice proved it to increase metabolic rate and a positive effect in fat burning processes.
However, conclusions have failed to be consistent when studied on humans, as results have been both positive and negative. These results make the use of CLA supplements unreliable at best.
At worst, excessive consumption of CLA supplements could cause irreversible damage to the body. Mice studies yielded their positive results through large doses, but they also caused fat accumulation on the liver, with humans showing a mild disposition towards it.
In conclusion, while CLA can have positive effects on weight loss and muscle building, it is more effective when consumed in smaller amounts. For such a goal it’s better to rely on a healthy diet—if you regularly consume beef and dairy, odds are you won’t need any CLA supplement.
The risks outweigh any potential benefit.
5. (Most types of) Creatine
When something grows in popularity, it’s time to look out for copycats. Such is the case of creatine.
Endlessly praised, creatine is the golden child of fitness enthusiasts. Subsequently, this has led to the massive marketing of multiple versions, each of them with their own specific and targeted benefits on gym performance.
Most of these are mere frauds.
For example, take creatine ethyl ester, marketed as an advanced version of regular creatine. It is said to increase its bio-availability and absorption prowess, but research proves it is no better than a placebo.
Another variant is creatine serum—which is, as its name indicates, regular creatine with a liquid presentation. While this is done to appeal to tastes and preferences, a study discovered that, when suspended in any solution or serum for an extended timeframe, creatine loses its properties and converts to creatinine.
However, not all creatine is a lost cause. These extensive variations exist, precisely, because one version of creatine is overwhelmingly successful as a supplement, and they attempt to imitate said accomplishment.
Curious? It’s time to explore the other side of the supplement spectrum.
Supplements you should take
Don’t lose faith—plenty of supplements are as effective as they claim, maybe even more. Be it because they improve your general performance or because they target specific issues, these products are a must for every fitness enthusiast.
1. Creatine Monohydrate
All other types of creatine fell short while trying to imitate the overwhelming effectiveness of the original version.
In simple terms, creatine monohydrate is a molecule that resides in muscle cells—both human and animal—composed of three amino acids: arginine, methionine, and glycine. Creatine monohydrate, then, stimulates a biochemical reaction in your body that increases energy, therefore improves your exercise performance, strength, and muscle mass.
The numbers are not insignificant, either—controlled research discovered that in 22 studies, creatine monohydrate use increased muscle strength by 8%, weightlifting performance by 14%, and bench press up to 43%.
Regardless, creatine monohydrate does not only boost your muscles’ strength—an unsung benefit of this molecule is its positive effect on the brain and miscellaneous affections. Plenty of studies affirm it improves brain health, memory, and intelligence, while one research proposes it as an effective treatment against fatty liver disease.
The best part, however, is that creatine monohydrate has
no proven side effects whatsoever
—while there have been rumors and individual claims, extensive research has confirmed it as the safest supplement available, with the Society of Sports Nutrition vouching for its quality.
2. Protein Powder
Popularity, sometimes, is backed by science.
Protein’s importance in the fitness community is undisputed—it is not only one of the three macronutrients, but also increases the feeling of fullness, suppresses hunger, maximizes muscle growth, and increases metabolic rate. Considering the importance of a high-protein lifestyle, it is not surprising that powder protein supplements have become a best-seller.
Protein powders allow for the consumption of massive quantities of said macronutrient, making it easier to reach the daily intake goal without increasing caloric intake. Subsequently, it aids in weight loss and assists in recovery after intense exercise.
The marketplace offers a wide variety of protein powders, each with its benefits and downsides. For example, whey protein is a reliable source of the previously-discussed BCAAs, not to mention it may have a beneficial effect against diabetes, lower blood pressure, and reduce inflammation.
Vegans or lactose intolerant folks have pea protein—equally rich in BCAAs and highly effective in the promotion of muscle thickness during resistance training.
However, be careful—
read the labels of your protein powder carefully
, as some of them may contain high levels of sugar and calories, and certain brands contain heavy metals and mixed toxins.
3. Fish Oil
The classics have reached that status for a reason.
Fish oil supplements are the quintessential item in any fitness fan’s shelf, and it’s because they are remarkably effective at what they do—providing omega-3 fatty acids.
The human body cannot produce omega-3 fatty acids, so diet and supplements must provide it. Amidst its many benefits, fitness enthusiasts acknowledge their role in reducing post-workout inflammation, healing muscle damage, burning fat, assisting the synthesis of protein, and reducing the possibility of further weight gain.
Outside of life in the gym, fish oil exhibits plenty of qualities that benefit your general wellbeing—it has demonstrated astounding benefits against depression, improves memory, and is a powerful ally in the reduction of high-risk heart diseases.
in fatty fish—salmon, tuna, herring, sardines or mackerel—flaxseed, or chia, reduces the need for fish oil supplements. However, most people do not meet the daily requirements for omega-3, making it necessary to complement their diet with fish oil.
4. Citrulline Malate
Few pre-workout supplements are as effective and easily absorbed as Citrulline Malate, esteemed as an effective anti-fatigue supplement that boosts performance and increases endurance.
It is a combination of two elements—L-citrulline and malate, a component of malic acid. While L-citrulline is powerful on its own, it is more valuable when bound to malate, as researchers speculate the latter could have specific performance-enhancing properties.
However, the importance of this supplement revolves around nitric oxide, a well-known vasodilator. Citrulline Malate stimulates nitric oxide production, which increases blood flow towards the muscles, boosting energy and physical activity. A study reports that citrulline malate reduced muscle soreness by 40%.
Likewise, different research suggests that citrulline malate may assist the body during the recovery stage after intense exercise, reducing traits and bothers often associated with it.
Other supplements, like L-arginine, boast of the same properties. However, citrulline malate remains the most effective of all, as
L-arginine is broken down before reaching the bloodstream, unlike citrulline.
Regularly regarded as a “superfood”, there are few things spirulina cannot do.
Spirulina is the regular name of an algae-like aquatic organism, consumed since centuries ago by Mesoamerican and African cultures. It’s quite rich in protein—up to 70%—and its nutritional value is extensive.
As a supplement, spirulina is unmatched—no calories, high protein, rich in vitamins, lowers cholesterol, promotes stomach and intestinal health, increases serotonin production, and more.
Workout benefits are just as plentiful.
It is not only a vegan alternative for those that seek one, but also has outstanding anti-oxidative properties that help reduce inflammation, boosts metabolism, and increases exercise performance.
Conclusion - Be mindful of what you buy
Every few years, a new supplement becomes the new workout wonderchild. Backed by industry-sponsored research and massive publicity, it might be hard to distinguish real breakthrough knowledge from yet another scam.
However, you have the power. Understand what your body needs, envision your fitness goals, and research the supplements that are most effective to achieve your desired body.
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