This post has been updated since its original posting in 2014 to remove a Tier 3 supplement and add citrulline malate to Tier 2. Also, you’ll now find links (click on each supplement’s name) to the specific products I use. Other than my horrible writing from three years ago, it was nice to revisit this list and be able to stand by my initial recommendations.
I’ve split my recommended supplements into tiers and here’s what you need to know:
- Tier 1 contains the supplements that I highly advise using whether you are wanting to lose fat, perform better, or just improve your overall health.
- Tier 2 contains supplements that will give you an edge but to a lesser degree than Tier 1 supplements. I consider these optional, but if it fits the budget, then by all means, add them in.
- Tier 3 is comprised of herbs that I have personally used and that have scientific research behind. There are tons of herbs and spices that have health benefits but in most cases, I recommend getting them from food or in their natural state.
Notice you won’t find whey protein in my tiers below. This is because I consider whey protein a food source, and not a supplement. Meeting your protein intake goals with whole food is the most optimal route, but for on-the-go athletes with higher protein goals, it’s a no-brainer. If you’re looking for a high-quality whey protein from a trusted brand, look no further than Optimum Nutrition’s HydroWhey. I’ve used Optimum for years and love this product because of its whey isolate (superior to whey concentrate) content.
One more thing before we get into the list. Examine.com is hands down the best resource I know of for researching ingredients. They compile scientific evidence on individual ingredients/supplements to see if each one lives up to supplement companies’ claims. For a tutorial on how to use Examine to determine if a popular supplement is going to be effective and how to make your own for a fraction of the cost, check out this video. Okay, let’s get to the list.
- Nervous system, brain, and cardiovascular function
- Fat burning
- Improved immune system
I’m a believer in higher doses of fish oil since most Americans are severely lacking omega-3 fats. Try taking 5 grams of fish oil per day for two weeks and see how much better you feel.
- Improved power output (run faster, jump higher, lift heavier)
- Increases ability to provide ATP for cell function
- Cognitive function
Creatine is possibly the most researched supplement currently on the market. There are no side effects like dehydration or bloating as long as you are drinking water. Crazy idea right? Shoot for 5 grams per day and there is no need to cycle creatine use. Be sure to use creatine monohydrate and not the crazy stuff the GNC salesman tells you will absorb better. Creatine is common in preworkout formulas but there are no acute effects of creatine, meaning when you take it makes no difference.
- Fat burning
- Performance enhancer
- Cognitive function
- Reduces risk of Alzheimer’s, cirrhosis, and liver cancer
There are too many benefits to list here. Caffeine is awesome and you should already know this. Be careful not to use TOO much, as it can act as a diuretic and cause dehydration.
Note: I didn’t link to caffeine because I prefer drinking coffee, preworkout, or the best drink in the world, Ultra Sunrise Monster Energy for my caffeine intake.
- Improved muscular endurance
Beta-alanine buffers acid build up in muscles, allowing you to delay fatigue for performance benefits. The scientific dose that has been shown to have the best effects is 3.2 grams per day. Similar to creatine, beta-alanine does not need to be cycled and can be taken year round. Beta-alanine commonly causes a harmless tingling sensation in the skin. There are no other acute effects aside from this so take beta-alanine at any point in the day.
- Increased fat oxidation during exercise
- Anti-catabolic (reduce muscle protein breakdown during exercise)
- Stimulates protein synthesis (builds muscle)
BCAAs are made up of three amino acids, leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Although they are found in all forms of protein like eggs, animal meats, and whey protein, they are in smaller doses than in a BCAA formula. Leucine has been shown to be the most anabolic of the BCAAs and should be in at least a 2:1:1 ratio to isoleucine and valine. If you have adequate protein intake throughout the day there is really no need to supplement with BCAAs but if you have the disposable income and want the added benefits they will do nothing but help benefit your recovery and muscle-building potential.
Note: Unflavored BCAAs should/will taste horrible. Be sure to mix it with something. I prefer low-sugar orange juice or crystal light mix.
- Decreased risk for cardiovascular disease
- Increased bone mass density
- Improved body composition
- Improved hormone function
Take 2,000 IU of vitamin D3 per day. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, therefore toxicity could be reached if too much is consumed. Implement slowly and use caution with your dosing.
- Increased blood flow and nitric oxide production
- Increased training volume and work capacity
- Decreased soreness and recovery time
- Increased endurance
Citrulline is typically underdosed in preworkout supplements. Be sure to get 6-8 grams 30-60 minutes before your training session.
Note: Similar to BCAAs, citrulline tastes like death.
Tier 3 (Herbs)
- Reduce the effects of chronic stress (minimize fat storage in those problem areas)
- Minimize depression
- Increase HDL (good cholesterol)
- Decrease cholesterol
That’s a wrap. It’s a short list, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. You know I like to keep things simple around here. If you have any questions about the list, feel free to shoot an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you only take one thing away from this article, let it be to do your research before supplementing with anything.