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  • Writer's pictureStruan Bourquin

In a Sea of Supplements, What Are The Best Ones?

Updated: Jul 10, 2023

Supplements for muscle growth and better performance in the gym are everywhere, but how do you make heads or tails of which ones are best?

There are tonnes of supplements to choose from which is largely the problem in deciding which to buy and which will have a noticeable effect. It often boils down to a brand's marketing and price point - how cheap or expensive they are compared to their competitors, how cool their packaging looks and best of all, the"Beat-the-living-sh*t-out-of-your-workout" style names of these products which many of the pre-workouts lean towards.

After much trial and error, I have found that it's often better to determine which supplements are best by using them in their isolated form, as individual supplements rather than buying a tub of something containing a list of ingredients as long as your arm, some of which you don't need or may have little to no effect on your performance. Why pay for ingredients you don't need?


So if you're not sure what to supplement your diet with for strength and fitness gains, consider starting small and working your way up from there. This post covers 5 foundational supplements which I believe have noticeable effects, are widely available and don't break the bank. It's important to note that no matter which supplements you use, nothing will provide results instantly (well, nothing that's legal anyway). Supplements will assist your mind and body to perform incrementally better over time, ultimately elevating your body's ability to perform better. They should not be considered a magic potion for immediate results.

So without further ado, in no particular order...

#1: BCAAs (Branch-Chain Amino Acids) to Support Muscle Recovery & Growth

BCAAs, comprising leucine, isoleucine, and valine, are essential amino acids that play a crucial role in muscle protein synthesis and recovery. While there are various BCAA matrix formulas available, a 2:1:1 ratio (leucine:isoleucine:valine) is considered optimal for muscle building and reducing muscle damage.

When to take: BCAAs can be consumed before, during, or after workouts to promote muscle recovery, reduce muscle soreness, and support muscle growth.

A study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition suggests that "BCAA supplementation can decrease exercise-induced muscle damage, promote muscle protein synthesis, and improve endurance performance" (Ra et al., 2013).

#2: Beta-Alanine to Delay Fatigue & Boost Endurance

Beta-alanine is an amino acid that combines with histidine to form carnosine, a compound known to reduce muscle fatigue and improve endurance. By increasing muscle carnosine levels, beta-alanine supplementation allows you to push through intense workouts, leading to greater training volume and potential muscle growth. It's a really great choice if you're into Crossfit, HIIT, Hyrox and other functional fitness-style workouts.

An analysis published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition states that "Beta-alanine supplementation has consistently been shown to enhance exercise performance, particularly during high-intensity, short-duration activities".

When to take: It can be taken at any time of the day. Even though it will give you a slight tingling sensation, this does not mean that it is a pre-workout. You simply keep your body saturated by taking it daily, even on rest days when you are not planning to work out.

"It gives me a third lung" - Mat Fraser, 5x Fittest Man on Earth, referencing the effects of beta-alanine.

#3: Caffeine to Enhance Energy & Focus

Caffeine is a widely consumed stimulant known for its ability to increase energy levels, improve focus, and reduce perceived exertion during workouts and, is widely consumed anyway, bonus. By stimulating the central nervous system, caffeine can help increase alertness and delay fatigue, allowing you to push harder and train longer.

After spending heaps of money on pre-workout over the years and not really noticing a massive improvement in my workout when I was using it vs. when I didn't, I simply stuck with the shot of caffeine I would get from my morning coffee to give me the focus and energy I needed to get moving, and it wouldn't cost me anything extra.

When to take: It is recommended to consume caffeine approximately 30-60 minutes before exercise to experience its performance-enhancing benefits.

#4: Creatine to Increase Strength and Power

Creatine is the one supplement that most people have heard of and will likely be on everyone's shopping list anyway, but it still needs to form part of this list no doubt. It is a naturally occurring compound that plays a vital role in energy production within the muscles. It helps regenerate the primary source of energy known as adenosine triphosphate (ATP), during high-intensity exercises. Supplementing with creatine can increase intramuscular creatine stores, leading to improved strength, power output, and muscle endurance. Creatine monohydrate is the most researched and widely used form of creatine.

When to take: like beta-alanine, creatine should be taken daily, regardless of whether you plan to work out or not. I tend to take both together as part of my morning routine.

#5: Protein Powder to Build and Repair Muscles

Everyone's favourite supplement. For many, it's like a reward/treat after their workout. Protein is the building block of muscle tissue, and supplementing with protein powder ensures an adequate intake for muscle repair and growth. Opt for high-quality protein powders such as whey protein isolate, casein, or plant-based options like pea protein. These provide a convenient and efficient way to meet your protein needs, especially in post-workout recovery. It's worth your while to read one of my previous posts regarding pea vs. whey protein.

When to take: straight after a workout is ideal. It can also be consumed as part of meals or as a snack throughout the day to meet your protein needs.

Other Beneficial Supplements to Consider

  1. Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Omega-3s, found in fish oil or algae-based supplements, offer anti-inflammatory properties and support joint health, which can aid in recovery and reduce exercise-induced muscle damage.

  2. Vitamin D: Adequate levels of vitamin D are essential for muscle function, bone health, and immune support. Since it's challenging to obtain sufficient vitamin D from sunlight alone, supplementation can be beneficial, especially for those with limited sun exposure.

  3. Glutamine: Glutamine is an amino acid that supports immune function and muscle recovery. Supplementing with glutamine can help reduce muscle soreness and promote overall recovery after intense workouts.

Conclusion: what are the best supplements for you?

When done strategically and based on your needs, supplement stacking can provide additional support and optimise your fitness and muscle-building efforts. Combining caffeine, BCAAs, beta-alanine, protein powder, and creatine can offer a comprehensive approach to enhance energy, focus, muscle recovery, and strength. For me, it's a good foundation to start off with and avoids fillers that you very well may not need.

However, if you can, I would suggest you consult with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian before starting any new supplement regimen to ensure it aligns with your specific goals and health considerations and ultimately determine what the best supplements are for you.

Most importantly: nothing beats a well-round diet! Supplements should complement a well-rounded nutrition and training plan, they will not save you from a poor diet.

Please note: this post includes affiliate links, these link out to products that I have tried, do the job and won't break the bank!

Cheers 💪

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