The Pros and Cons of Weight Training Supplements


Let’s say that you have decided to take your weight lifting seriously. You have committed yourself to a demanding schedule, have done all the right research into what exercises you should be doing, when you should be working out, and how to execute them with perfect form. You have ensured that you get about eight hours sleep per night, and are doing your best to eat a varied diet of whole foods that meet your caloric needs. Do all that and you’re bound to get results, but what if you want to take it to the next level? What if you decide to dip your toe into the world of weight training supplements? Is this a good idea? A terrible one? Which ones are worth the serious athlete’s time, if any?

First, let’s make a general blanket statement that will dismay training supplement creators everywhere: the vast majority of supplements are unnecessary if not an outright waste of your money. This is especially true if you are eating a well balanced diet that meets your body’s needs. A quick example: branched chain amino acids (BCAA) have been found in many studies to greatly stimulate skeletal muscle growth, and thus are one of the most consumed weight supplements out there. Yet what they don’t tell you is that you can get as much BCAA as you need from simple dairy proteins such as whey or casein. So if you consume dairy, don’t waste your money on BCAA.

All right, so thousands of products are a waste of both your time and money. Does that mean you should avoid supplements altogether? No. As long as you understand that weight training supplements are best used as supplements to a healthy diet, you can add a couple of items to your training regimen to great effect. I’ll summarize the best ones here, though I encourage you to do further research on each before trying them out.

The single best supplement has to be creatine. It has been studied incredibly thoroughly for decades now, and has been shown to deliver consistent, safe results. Creatine can help athletes develop greater stamina in the weight room, allowing them to lift heavier weights for more reps and reap the consequent rewards.

Second, protein powder can help you reach you caloric and nutritional goals if you are seeking to build muscle. The perennial favorite is whey protein, though there are almost literally dozens of other alternatives out there. My advice is to buy from an online wholesaler whose prices will most likely be half of that found in a shop on the street.

Third, many people love how caffeine consumed about an hour before their workout will help them both have more energy throughout their workout and mobilize fat consumption right after. You don’t need to drink much, and while many serious body builders might espouse other stimulants such as ephedrine, but my advice is stick to plain coffee and don’t complicate things.

Finally, if you are going to be working out hard, you might want to invest in a joint supplement that contains a combination of chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine sulfate. These are especially useful if your joints aren’t conditioned for continued wear and tear. Remember, however, that they can take up to a month and a half to begin to take effect.

So there you have it. Those are the basic supplements that will improve your training. Definitely do your research before adding any of our suggestions to your diet, and if you are considering something more esoteric that’s the latest rage in the gym, be sure to find some research articles backing up the claims first. I’m willing to bet you won’t find anything concrete. Remember: you can consume everything you need through a rich and varied diet of whole foods, so spend your time and energy on your nutrition plan before investing it in supplements!

Phil Tucker is an Insanity Workout reviewer and extreme fitness blogger who’s looking to feel ever younger as he grows older.


Note from I Think I Can Fitness: We have a difference of opinion with Phil about the research surrounding Creatine.  Our main concern it is that it has, in rare cases, caused kidney damage, and wanted our readers to be aware of this possible side effect.  We will be addressing this issue in a coming blog entry.  However, we agree wholeheartedly with Phil’s cautious and strategic use or non-use of supplements so we decided to publish his excellent writing despite this difference of opinion.

One Response to The Pros and Cons of Weight Training Supplements
  1. Amanda @RunToTheFinish
    July 13, 2012 | 6:29 pm

    I do use protein powder after workouts because I know I don’t get enough. Beyond that supplements for me are more like vitamins just because I know I’m not fully absorbing all of what i need from food.

    I think there is always the hope that a supplement is a magic bullet and that’s why it’s such a big industry

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