"Supplements: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly" Part 2

by Dr. Eric Sobolewski

The key to determining what supplements you should take is determined by how you train.  If you don’t train hard, supplements are a waste of your time. You can drink all the pre-workout, get in all the BCAAs, and have the best post-workout protein shake in the world, but it won’t get you very far.  Supplements are used to help your body recover and prepare for a workout.  The most common recover/muscle building aids are Protein, vitamins, and fish oil.  Common training aids are usually Creatine, caffeine and B vitamins.  To understand why these are the most popular among athletes used I will go into a simple and brief explanation of each, but at the end of the day, a supplement is just that- A SUPPLEMENT—an additional resource taken with balanced diet.


Protein is the building block for every cell in your body. Proteins are the structures that give your cells shape and size (i.e. muscles). They are also part of enzymes that breakdown and rebuild the body as well as are used as signals to promote growth. Your body needs protein- period.  There is no way around this. All your vegetarians out there you need protein and lots of it especially if you are competitive exerciser. The daily recommend value for protein is .8-1 grams per kg, or basically about half your body weight (lbs) in grams a protein. Well they are wrong, just plain wrong. If you are training hard you need 2 grams per kg or about your body weight in grams of protein today. Outside of eating animals that taste good, protein shakes are the best bet, they are simple fast and relatively cheap. You will see many types of proteins out there ranging from Whey, Casein, soy, and others. Your best option for all of these is Whey because it is easily digestible and has all your essential amino acids. Some people like to play around with slow (casein) or moderate (soy) digesting protein, but the key is getting protein in your system and the most effective and cheapest of these is Whey protein. Most common serving of protein is “one rounded scoop, or around 20 grams. This is the usually amount of protein you can easily digest with in a feeding, but if you are used to consuming massive about of protein, your body can actually absorb more (~40g). So, bigger athletes can shoot for more than smaller athletes, who should aim for around 20g. A good rule of thumb is to aim for your body weight in grams per day. It will not overload your kidneys, because the demand for protein is so large in the body that you never really have excess protein.


This is an easy one- Everyone should take a daily multi-vitamin. Plain and simple, most daily vitamins have all the vitamins and minerals you need in a balanced diet. You don't need to get fancy with these. And don’t be alarmed if you notice that your pee turned a brighter shade of yellow- this is natural because your body is not used to absorbing the excess intake of vitamins yet.  This won’t last for long and the benefits of a multi-vitamin are well worth the price.

Fish oil

Fish oil is a great supplement to any diet for many reasons: it reduces inflammation and also acts as a natural blood thinner and antioxidant. There is a lot of research out there, some claiming the best to be 2:1 EPA to DHA, The research is mixed on which is best, but both seem to perform the above tasks. I would lean more toward getting the proper intake of grams of fish oil rather than trying to find the ideal ratio. The recommended amount per day is 1g, but athletes training at high intensities can intake between 2-3 g a day. If you are getting that much, you will be getting plenty of your EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids. 


Creatine is an ergogenic aid that we all naturally produce in our body. We can also get it from eating meat. This is the essential compound that allows for us to use the Creatine-phosphate energy system. This energy system is primary used for short, explosive exercise like resistance training and sprinting etc. By supplementing with Creatine, we can improve this system. The greatest benefit may actually be an acid buffer as it will bind to free protons reducing the acidity level in the muscle. If you want more on acidity level read Aerobic training for strength athletes: recovery explanations and tips.Traditionally, it has been recommended to load Creatine for five days at 20g per day. This brings the muscle stores of Creatine up to capacity, allowing you to just take a maintenance does of 2-5 grams a day for the remainder of supplementation period. To achieve the same end goal, you can also simply just take 5 grams a day and eventually you will saturate your muscle. I strongly recommend Creatine. It has been proven safe by over 30 years of scientific research.  Taking Creatine will help with energy in a set of resistance exercise as well as buffer acid- both of which produce higher performance for athletes. 

Caffeine and B Vitamins

Caffeine and B vitamins will be lumped into one category which are used as wake up aids. Most lifters drink coffee or different types of energy drinks. These aids are used to wake you up, Caffeine is the main ingredient that does this and gives you energy and it is perfectly safe. Energy drinks add a bunch of other crap to the ingredients list, but mainly what you feel is vitamin B-6 and B-12.  B-6, also known as Niacin, gives you the flushing feeling or redness and tingling. This is peristalsis or vasodilation, which are fancy terms for increase blood flow. Increased blood flow to your skin gives you the red glow and tingling feeling. Some people like it, others don't. If you don't like it don't take it, if you like the tingling feeling then take it. Niacin usually flushes out of the system in less than 30 minutes so the feelings will not last. B-12 increases your metabolism and kicks up your energy system to prepare for the workout. These wake up aids are purely subjective. If you decide to take them, be aware that you can become tolerant to each of them and need more and more. If caffeine stops getting you pumped up, try backing off for a few weeks to give your system a break.


Thank you for reading! If you have any more question about supplements, please feel free to contact us at Strength Ratio. As always, with taking supplementation be cautious and trust your body. If you take a protein and you get sick, it’s probably not the kind you want to keep taking. If you don't like the way B-6 makes you feel, stop taking it. Listen and trust your body. If it feels good, you will lift good and get stronger.

Zachary Greenwald