A measure of safety is to look for the designation “USP” on the label. A supplement that meets the requirements of the U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP) meets the standards and ensures the product is pure and actually contains the listed ingredients.
For information about supplements, https://examine.com is a must-read before buying any product.
Dose: 1 serving
Purpose: Cover any potential nutrient deficiencies
You don’t need to go expensive here. Look for products that have close to 100% RDA on most vitamins and minerals. Avoid ones that have too little or too much (common in bodybuilding brands). Pay specific attention to Vitamin K, Magnesium, Calcium and Zinc, which is what most people lack. If you’re a woman, make sure it has a good amount of Iron. And if you’re a men, make sure it doesn’t have too much.
– Vitamin D3
Dose: 2000-5000+ UI (depending on sun exposure)
Purpose: Eliminate Vitamin D3 deficiency (which is almost inevitable without supplementation)
If you can, take a blood test to see what your vitamin D levels are. Your blood levels should be between 35-40 ng/ml.
As a general rule, it takes 100 IU (2.5 mcg) of Vitamin D per day to raise levels by 1 ng/mL. If you want a more accurate calculation, you can use this: http://www.vitamindservice.com/node/87. It’s still not a perfect formula as different people metabolize the vitamin differently, but it’s a good guide.
If you can, take it with 100 mcg of Vitamin K2 as MK-7, or look for a product that has both. This is recommended but not critical.
– Fish oil (Omega 3)
Dose: 2-3g of combined EPA+DHA (with a meal)
Purpose: Increasing HDL-C and reducing LDL-C. Might reduce blood pressure and inflammation. Help with joint pain. May help cognition with people with major depression.
Getting Omega 3 through fish is preferable to supplementation. But if you must supplement, make sure it contains vitamin E and store it in your fridge. This is important to make sure it doesn’t oxidize. I’d also avoid buying in bulk (otherwise the fish oil is older and higher chance of oxidation).
Dose: 1.5-3mg per lb of bodyweight 60 mins before training
Purpose: Greater focus, power output and fat oxidation
Take it only on training days, and don’t take on deload weeks.
Caffeine is synergistic with L-theanine. Promotes cognition and attention, and it can maintain caffeine’s stimulant properties, while attenuating the ‘edge’ of caffeine high dosages. Take it along side caffeine, with half the dose used of caffeine. Adding L-theanine is not necessary, but can be useful for high dosages.
Dose: 3-5g per day
Purpose: Greater power output
Use creatine monohydrate. Take it with your post-workout meal or shake. When first taking it, you can do a loading phase, taking 20g per day for a week, spreading over 2 or 3 dosages per day to avoid stomach discomfort. This will make the creatine levels saturate faster and start giving results quicker, but it’s not necessary to do and won’t make a difference long-term.
Purpose: Improved energy, reduced fatigue
Usually only has a significant benefit for long sessions, but likely still worth taking for a small effect. If you’re training fasted or with little food and carbs, it can make a large difference. Can be taken pre-workout, intra-workout, or both. Here’s a simple guideline:
Training under 1 hour: 30g (Half pre-workout, half intra-workout)
Training for 2 hours: 60g (20g pre-workout, 40g intra-workout)
Training for 2+ hours: 60g + 60g per extra hour (30g pre-workout, rest intra-workout)
– Whey/Casein protein powder
Dose: As needed, usually 1-2 scoops per day.
Purpose: Increase protein intake.
Useful if you have a tough time reaching your protein intake. Whey is especially good pre and post-workout because it digests very quickly and with little stomach discomfort. Casein is the opposite, and digests very slowly, so it’s more useful at bedtime. If you’re losing weight, casein makes you fuller than whey, so if you’re using protein powder outside of peri-workout nutrition, casein is likely a better choice when cutting.
– Joint supplements
I would only use this if you’re dealing with injuries. The evidence on these isn’t great, so it’s possible that it doesn’t do much if anything. If money is a concern it might not be worth it.
Dose: 250-500mg of curcumin extract with a meal divided into 1-3 doses through the day. For joint pain, it can be increased up to 1000mg.
Purpose: Reducing anxiety and depression or help with joint pain
Curcumin is poorly absorbed, and requires an “enhancer” such as piperine, meriva/BCM-95, theracurmin or polyvinyl pyrrolidone. Using at least one is absolutely necessary, or it won’t be effective even at high dosages.
Dose: 500mg of glucosamine sulfate, 3 times per day with a meal
Purpose: Help with joint pain
Glucosamine supplementation doesn’t work for everyone. If you don’t notice a benefit after several weeks, you likely don’t respond to supplementation and you should stop taking it. Don’t take glucosamine hydrochloride.
– Boswellia serrata
Dose: 1800 mg of crude oleoresin, 3 times per day.
Purpose: Help with joint pain
It’s traditionally taken with Curcuma longa. But it’s unknown if the 2 are synergistic.
Dose: 200-400 mg of chondroitin sulfate, 3 times a day
Purpose: Help with joint pain
Don’t take Chondroitin if you’re on blood thinning medication.
Popular supplements probably not worth your money:
Studies fail to show an increase in muscle growth or strength.
Doesn’t increase fat loss (except in rats).
Leucine is important for muscle growth and triggers protein synthesis, but it needs the other amino acids to sustain it. Just taking BCAAs in isolation doesn’t seem to do anything. However, leucine can be useful if you want to use to use a low-dose of protein. For example, some people don’t tolerate food well before training, even whey. Leucine can be useful to bump the quality of a low-dose protein meal. So you could take 2-3g of leucine plus 5-10g of whey. This is more unlikely to upset your stomach versus a full scope of whey.
While this has good evidence to improve performance, it seems to be more beneficial for more endurance type sports where the effort is prolonged (over 60 seconds). Lifting, even with high-ish reps, is unlikely to have a significant effect. Plus, you have to take it every day, several times per day, and some people don’t tolerate the itchy side effects well. You can take it if you’d like, but I don’t think it’s worth it.
Where to buy supplements:
It honestly doesn’t matter too much, I’d just try to stick with relatively known brands. Generally ordering online is much cheaper. I personally buy my supplements from 3 stores: Prozis, MyProtein and BulkPowders.