There are so many food and vitamin supplements on the market that it is hard to know where to start. Most supplement stores will recommend every product under the sun regardless of your goals. In this article I will explain all the different vitamins and supplements that you could ever possibly need. By the end of this article you will understand the differences between Casein, Whey, BCAA, Creatine and much more.
It’s important to realise that some food supplements will be used to aid weight loss, others to gain muscle, some supplements will be used for both weight loss and the retention of muscle and others will be used for general health. I shall explain what each vitamin and supplement does and what they should be used for in terms of weight loss, general health etc.
The first supplement to start off with, is protein.
Many years ago protein powers used to carry a certain taboo, it was thought that protein had steroid like effects and even worse that these protein shakes were only supplements for men. Back in the day women would never be seen taking protein shakes. Thankfully the world has caught on and now protein shakes are part of every day life.
So what is protein?
Protein is made up of amino acids (a word you will see through out this article).
Amino acids can come from either animal sources or plant based sources. Your body produces a certain amount of amino acids, while others amino acids are created from the food you eat in your diet. Amino acids have many essential jobs to carry out in our bodies, in terms of exercise the most important job they have is to build and repair our muscles.
We need amino acids to repair and build our muscles because every time we workout we tear our muscle fibres. When the amino acids get to work they slowly patch up these tears, making our muscles bigger.
How much protein do you need?
When I first started lifting, I drank 1 protein shake a day and thought I was going to become huge and win the next olympia, sadly that did not happen.
I thought that one shake was going to perform miracles for my body, when in fact I was not getting in enough food, or protein to grow. The amount of protein you need in you diet is important, but just how much you need will depend on the source you ask.
The amount of protein you will need is a highly debated topic, some studies suggest you need at least 2g of protein per lb of lean body weight. While other research says that 0.8 to 1.5g is more than adequate. In my opinion you should test both ends of the scale out and see what works best for you. I tend to stick to 1gram per lb of body weight when i’m trying to lose or gain weight, I tend to adjust my carbohydrates rather than my protein levels.
If you weight 170lbs then try and get in at least 170lbs of protein. Then adjust from there.
Do you have to take protein shakes?
No, Protein shakes are not essential. If you can get all of your protein from whole foods rather than taking supplements then do it.
The reasons why protein shakes exist is that not everyone can afford to eat 5 meals a day of chicken breast, steak, lean mince, fish and what ever you may eat on your diet.
Protein shakes are cheaper than whole foods, and you may find them more convenient than having to stuff so much food down your mouth. It’s much easier to drink 2000 calories of shakes every day rather than having to prepare and eat all of that food.
Are there different types of protein shakes?
Yes, there are three types of protein shake supplements, which are:
- Plant based protein powders
- Whey protein
- Casein protein
Plant based protein powders are not as common as the other two protein supplements, however they are especially useful if you are vegan. This vegan protein supplement will help you get protein into a protein challenged diet, therefor its actually a really useful supplement if you are struggling to get enough protein naturally.
Whey protein is the most common protein shake supplement on the market. If you have ever drank a protein shake then it more than likely would have been whey.
Whey is one of the best protein supplements to take as it is thought of as the complete protein as it contains 9 of the essential amino acids responsible for repairing damaged muscles.
Whey protein is a fast acting protein that is broken down and gets into your blood stream very quickly to repair the damage caused by exercise. Because of how quick whey protein gets into the blood stream it is recommended that you take a whey protein supplement shake immediately after the gym, this will help your body recover quicker by repairing your muscles as soon as damage occurs.
The truth however is that whey protein can be taken up to 48 hours after exercise and it will still be effective.
Recommended brands of Whey protein
There are so many brands of protein out there, along with different versions of each brand that buying protein online or in store can be confusing. In the past I have tried and used a wide variety of protein brands including Maximuscle, Phd, Sci-mx, USN and many more, but there are only two on the market that I would recommend to you.
The first product I would recommend is from a company called Myprotein. Myprotein offer tons of different types of protein and other supplements, so in order to avoid the confusion the product that I recommend is the Impact Whey.
If you are on a budget then I do not think that you can beat the Myprotein impact whey on price, quality or taste. You can get an unflavoured 1kg bag for under £15. However I would recommend spending that little bit extra and having a flavoured protein as it makes it so much easier to drink.
In the past I have had the strawberry, banana and the mint chocolate flavours. The mint chocolate tasted like Nestle Aero chocolate which was amazing, but over time it did become a little sickly/hard to drink.
My go to protein from Myprotein is the strawberry flavour, it mixes well with both water and milk. A 2.5kg bag tends to last me the month. If you’re looking to buy a good whey protein on a budget then I think it is the best protein you can get on a budget.
If you can however afford to spend a bit more then the next whey protein powder is one of the best you can get.
My favourite yet more expensive whey protein powder is the Optimum Nutrition Gold standard whey. ON Gold Standard whey comes in a few different flavours, my favourite one being the double rich chocolate, and unlike many other protein powders this one did not become sickly after continuous usage.
The ON Gold Standard whey mixes well with both water and milk, it tastes more like a milk shake rather than a lumpy protein shake. If you can afford to pay the little extra each month then I would say try the ON Gold Standard whey, if not then the Impact Whey from MyProtein is an excellent alternative.
Casein protein is one of the less known proteins, it certainly is not as popular as whey and you may have never taken a casein protein shake. Casein although not as popular as whey, is very useful. Whey protein is fast acting, where as casein protein is slow acting.
Casein is slowly released into your blood stream so that your body has a slow release of protein through out either the day or night.
Most people take a casein shake before going to bed, as they sleep the protein is slowly released into their body repairing any muscle damage as they sleep. Others take casein when they first wake up, the reason for this is that they slowly feed their body protein through out the day. This not only stops their muscles from wasting away, but it also keeps them fuller for longer.
Recommended brands of Casein protein.
For casein protein again I would only recommend either Myprotein or Optimum nutrition. After my positive experiences with both brands Whey protein I think it was only natural for me to try out their casein. Both brands did not disappoint.
There is not much difference between the two brands and in my opinion the taste from optimum nutrition is slightly better as it tastes like a McDonald’s milkshake. Performance wise I would say they both work the same.
Whey protein powder Vs Casein protein powder
Both proteins have different usages and using both can have its advantages, but I personally think, if you are not competing to be a bodybuilder then I don’t see too much of a need of using casein protein. For the every day lifter you are not going to be too worried about your muscles shrinking over night. Muscle loss (muscle atrophy) occurs when the body starts breaking down muscle for energy, this is mainly done at night when our body is put into a fasting state.
The results from the muscle atrophy however are minuscule, which leads me to the conclusion that casein protein is a good addition to supplement your diet with, but if you cant afford to buy two proteins a month then just get a good whey protein.
Whey protein in my opinion is the best supplement you can add to your diet, it has helped me a lot over the years because I am not a big eater and when I want to put on weight eating so much food often would leave me feeling sick. Adding a few protein shakes to my diet would mean that I have enough protein to build and repair my muscles, it also meant that I would have enough calories to gain weight.
Protein is an excellent supplement to add to your diet, especially if you are not getting in enough from your food. The next supplement I will discuss is Creatine.
If there is one supplement on the market that is worth taking it would be whey protein, the next best supplement would be creatine. Creatine is naturally made within the body, and can also be obtained from eating red meats.
To get the benefits from creatine, eating red meats will not be enough.You will need to supplement creatine if you want to get its awesome benefits. The best and easiest way of adding creatine to your diet is through a product called creatine monohydrate.
Creatine is used to create an explosive force of energy known as ATP. Supplementing creatine to your diet will mean that you will be able to increase the amount of ATP that your body has stored, giving you more explosive energy to exercise.
Creatine also allows you to workout harder for longer. In my personal experience when I took creatine I found that quite often where I would start to fail on my reps in the past, I could now do a further 2-3 reps.
Creatine is one of the most studied mens supplement on the market. I would even go as far as saying that creatine has had more studies performed on its effects than whey protein. Below are some of the benefits of adding creatine to your diet:
Workout harder for longer
Creatine is used to provide the body with an immediate energy source. The result of this is your muscles don’t fatigue as quick, allowing you to work out harder for longer. In simple terms creatine is like having a battery and then adding more power to it, so if the battery could last for 6 hours before it could now last for 8.
Creatine helps you recover quicker
The effects of creatine as a supplement have been studied for all different uses, one of these studies looked at if creatine could be used to help your body recover from high levels of activity.
In a study carried out in 2004, researches found that athletes who had taken creatine for 5 days before exercise recovered at a much quicker race than the athletes that didn’t.
For you this means that you can train your muscles far more often as they recover quicker. So for example, if you train your chest on a Monday, you may find that you can’t train it again for another 4-5 days, taking creatine could mean that your body recovers quicker and now you can train your chest every 3 days. This gives you the option of training your body parts twice a week compared to the once a week previously. The increased training frequency could then lead to increased muscle growth at a quicker rate.
Creatine improves performance in sport
In another study carried out on athletes, it was found that creatine taken for just three days before a competition improved the performance times of every athlete (sprinters) that took the supplement compared to the athletes that did not take it.
In my personal experience when I took creatine and played football, I could feel myself being much quicker and also felt much stronger. Now this could be a placebo effect, but I remember thinking to myself that I felt much quicker than I had been in the past. I also felt that I could run for much longer before getting tired.
Creatine makes you look bigger
Adding creatine to your diet will cause your muscles to swell and hold more water. Studies suggest that it is very common to put on up to 6lbs in your first week of taking creatine.
Some people say that creatine gives you a bloated look, I personally didn’t feel that I looked bloated. I also didn’t gain 6lbs in a week, the first time I used creatine I was bulking (putting on muscle/weight) and I did see an increase of 2lbs, however I was also eating in a calorie surplus at the time.
The second time I used creatine I was on a cut (losing fat/weight) and I found that I didn’t increase in weight at all, but my strength levels and endurance was much better than when I wasn’t taking creatine.
What is the best brand of creatine?
I honestly couldn’t tell you the best brand of creatine to try as I have only ever used one at that is the creatine monohydrate by Myprotein. It came in a powdered form and I mixed it with a small glass of orange juice.
I read somewhere that it is best to take creatine with a sugary drink as it delivers the creatine into the muscles much quicker, I honestly don’t know if there is any truth to this but I had orange juice in the fridge so I just did it anyway.
Something that confused me before taking creatine was that some people would recommend loading creatine (taking high doses) for the first few weeks, as it helps fill your muscles with ATP quicker, this is not something I did. I found research that said that this was not needed so I didn’t bother to do it. I followed the dosing recommendations on the container and it worked for me.
One thing to keep in mind when taking creatine is that you have to drink a lot of water while taking it. If you don’t get enough water in then your muscles will cramp, which can obviously be dangerous if you are lifting weights. It is recommended to drink at least 3-4 litres of water a day while taking creatine. Some people also recommend to cycle creatine, so if you use it for 8 weeks take a break of 8 weeks before using it again.
BCAA or Branch chain amino acids are known as the building blocks of muscle. BCAA make up more than a third of your muscle mass. But what exactly are BCAA, do they make a difference and do you need them?
I have read many technical explanations of what BCAA are and what they do, but without being too scientific I will explain them in everyday terms, that way I don’t confuse you or I.
BCAA are made up of three different type of amino acids which are responsible for preventing muscle breakdown and promoting muscle growth within the body.
What do BCAA supplements do?
The main job of BCAA tablets is to help stimulate protein synthesis. The BCAA supplements help the body use up proteins and other amino acids to help repair damaged muscle tissue caused by exercise.
Studies have showed that if you take BCAA tablets before or during a workout they help with muscle breakdown, muscle recovery and muscle hypertrophy (muscle growth).
A lot of online supplement stores will say that BCAA supplement tablets are essential for building a lean but muscular physique. I have seen claims that our bodies only produce 10 amino acids naturally, but to be a physical master piece then you have to supplement so that you can get the additional 10 amino acids that are not possible through diet.
My thoughts on BCAA tablets
I have never taken BCAA tablets on their own. Some protein powders that I have used in the past have advertised as having a few grams of BCAA per scoop, but I have never intentionally gone out and bought them.
The reason why I have never bought BCAA tablets is that I have never felt the need for them, by eating in a calorie surplus and lifting heavy I have been able to put enough quality muscle on over the years.
If I had taken BCAA tablets maybe my progress would have been better, but the truth is I have no way of knowing. If you have taken BCAA tablets, let me know in the comment section below.
Good BCAA brands?
I have never tried BCAA tablets so I have no way of knowing a good BCAA supplement brand. So below I have listed in price order a few that I have read good reviews about.
Reflex nutrition BCAA – cheapest i could find.
Optimum Nutrition 1000mg BCAA – These had a lot of good reviews.
Other Food supplements and vitamins explained
If I were to go through all of the food supplements on the market then we would be here all day, I have gone over the main supplements, but there are still some I haven’t covered. Below are some of the less talked about but still widely used supplements.
Glutamine is the most commonly found amino acid in our bodies. Over two thirds of the amino acids in our bodies are made of glutamine. Glutamine is responsible for transferring nitrogen around our bodies.
Supplementing glutamine into your diet will increase your bodies ability to produce the human growth hormone, also known as HGH. HGH helps burn body fat and produce new muscle growth.
One major problem that bodybuilders and weight lifters face all year round is that we are much more likely to become ill. This is because we are constantly stressing our bodies by breaking down our muscles. Glutamine is said to help support our immune systems making us less likely to catch common colds and other illness due to our immune system being weak.
Benefits of supplementing Glutamine
- Glutamine can help slow down and even stop the break down of your muscles.
- Glutamine can improve the production of the human growth hormone by 400%.
- Glutamine helps support your immune system.
I must admit, I have only heard of people taking L-carnitine a handful of times. I personally have never tried it, but from my research it seems as if l-carnitine can be used for both weight loss and muscle gain.
L-carnitine is known as the transporter, L-carnitine carries fatty acids in the blood to the energy producing furnaces known as the mitochondria. The fatty acids are then used up as energy rather than getting stored as fat, this has many of the same principles as the coconut oil diet that I have been trying in the last few weeks.
Another good reason for using L-carnitine is that it can improve your performance in sports by limiting the build up of lactic acid.
Beta alanine supplement
Chances are that if you have taken a pre workout supplement in the past then you have taken beta alanine without knowing it. Do you ever remember taking a pre workout and feeling either a slight burning or tingling sensation on your skin? That is Beta alanine.
What is beta alanine?
Beta alanine is a naturally occurring amino acid which is needed for the production of carnosine. Carnosine controls the amount of acid accumulated by the muscles and it is thought that too much acid accumulation will lead to muscle fatigue.
In simple terms a Beta alanine supplement will slow down the process of fatigue during exercise which will in turn allow you to exercise for longer.
There have only been a few studies carried out on beta alanine, one such study showed improved muscle endurance when added to creatine. The only beta alanine that I have taken is one that has come with a pre workout drink. For that reason I can’t give an opinion on whether it works or not.
Also because no long term studies have been carried out on beta alanine I would be cautious if you are thinking about taking it.
Caffein supplements finds its way right down the bottom of the list, not because it isn’t effective but for the fact that you probably already take caffein in one way or an other. You probably don’t need to supplement caffein at all, but just incase you do I will give you some information on caffein.
Caffein is one of the most used supplements, and the reason why so many people use it is because it wakes you up, gives you energy and increases your mental alertness, all of which are needed when participating in sports or exercise.
Benefits of using a caffein supplement
Caffein tells your body to start using your fat stores as energy, this means that the glycogen that would have been used up is then stored for use later. When your body runs out of fat to use for fuel it will then turn to the glycogen. The stored glycogen is then used resulting in you lasting longer in your activity.
When I was a student and didn’t have much money for gym supplements I would often use caffein as a pre workout. Caffein is one of the cheapest supplements that you can buy that will make a difference to your performance in the gym.
You can either try a plain old black coffee, some caffein pills or if your feeling extra adventurous you could try a drink called HYPHYMUD, which is basically caffein and cola mixed. It tastes horrible but it is a cheap way of getting yourself motivated for a heavy lifting session. If you want more information on HYPHYMUD check out the video below.
There are some vitamins for sale online which cost an arm and leg and then there are others that cost a few quid, is there a massive difference between them? In honesty I don’t know. I personally only take a cheap one every day, in the past I have used more expensive ones, but personally I have noticed no difference in my overall health.
Most supplements are advertised as supplements for men, and although men need the right level of iron in their diets, it is quite often that women are the ones lacking iron in their bodies.
If you constantly feel tired even if you are physically fit then there is a good possibility that you are deficient in iron. Iron is very important in the transfer of oxygen around the body, if there is not enough iron in your diet then you are going to become fatigued.
If you think you could be deficient in iron then I recommend going to see a doctor so that he can recommend you on the next steps if in fact you do have an iron deficiency.
You may think you build your muscles in the gym, but you would only be half right. To build your muscles you need to leave them rest, and what better way to rest than to sleep. Here is where the next supplement comes into play, ZMA is a mineral supplement which helps you to sleep better.
You should not confuse ZMA with a sleeping tablet, because it is not. ZMA is a combination of minerals that helps with muscle gain, increase in strength, muscle recovery and even weight loss. ZMA has been extensively researched. Some research has found that taking ZMA for 4 weeks can boost your natural testosterone by 30 percent.
From my own personal experience I can tell you that the main advantage of using a ZMA supplement was that after falling asleep I would sleep all night. Like I said above, ZMA is not a sleeping tablet, it wont make you feel drowsy or sleepy but when you do fall asleep you will have one of the best sleeps in your life.
The ZMA that I use is not a fancy named brand, it is just a off the shelf cheap one from a shop called Holland and Barret. The UK users of this site will have heard of this shop, so if your in the market have a look there first, if not another more expensive alternative would be this one.
To conclude this article I would just like to add that there are still hundreds of other supplements out there for sale which I haven’t spoke about, maybe I will keep updating this site with new vitamins and food supplements every few weeks.
If you are starting out in the gym and your looking for supplements to help you, then I recommend keeping it simple, you don’t need a ton of supplements to gain quality muscle. Firstly eat as much as you can, and try to get in what your body needs through food. If you then have trouble reaching certain amounts of proteins, vitamins or minerals then look to supplement them with some of the supplements mentioned in this article. If you do need to buy some supplements but don’t want to spend all of your money then I recommend the following three supplements:
- Whey protein
- Casein protein
To finish off this post I would like to ask you, what supplements do you like using the most and what benefits do you get from using them. Please comment below, and if this article helped you please share it so that others can benefit as well. Thank you.