Creatine (specifically creatine monohydrate) is, by far, the most researched supplement in the world of exercise. All research indicates that it increases muscle size and improves strength and performance. What is creatine? It’s a naturally occurring amino acid in your muscles, which helps produce additional energy (ATP) when you lift heavy or do high intensity training. It is also found in small amounts in beef, chicken, pork and fish. To maximize creatine levels in your muscles, most research recommends taking 3-5g of creatine per day (equivalent to 1-1.5kg of meat). I think it’s fair to say most of us don’t have the appetite to eat that much, which is why supplements are more convenient.
Pro Tip: Creatine is best absorbed by the body when your insulin is spiked (i.e. after you’ve eaten some carbs).
Omega-3 Fats (aka Fish Oil)
These are essential fats, which means that the body cannot produce them. We only get them from food. They support hormone production for blood circulation and various other essential bodily functions. What we’re concerned with is that they help reduce inflammation in the body. Whenever you exercise, you the body under stress that causes inflammation. This is useful while exercising because it stimulates muscle growth. However, after you finish exercising, your goal is to recover as soon as possible. Reducing inflammation is critical to recovery. Most of us don’t consume enough fish (e.g. Salmon, herring, mackerel) to get the omega-3 we need. Hence, supplementation is the easiest way to close the gap.
Pro Tip: Always check that your fish oil supplement has adequate amounts of EPA and DHA. Those are your actual omega-3 fats. The remainder are other fatty acids that support absorption. Look for 1,000mg capsules with combined EPA and DHA of at least 500mg.
Magnesium does A LOT in our body. It’s involved in more than 300 chemical reactions involving bones, nervous system and even the digestive system. We won’t bore you with the all the details. What we’re concerned with is magnesium’s ability to help muscles relax. It does so by counteracting the effect of calcium (which causes the muscles to contract). If you tend to get cramps or muscle spasms during or after workouts, it probably means you have low levels of magnesium.
Pro Tip: Taking magnesium after dinner will improve your sleep and muscle recovery.
Vitamin D is a very underrated and underappreciated nutrient. It plays a critical role in building strong bones, lowering the risk of cancer, heart disease, it boosts your immune system, improves energy levels and mood, and helps increase muscle strength. Needless to say, being deficient in vitamin D is not good. Although our skin produces vitamin D when it’s exposed to ultraviolet sunlight (which we have a lot of in the UAE), the Dubai Health Authority states that 90% of residents are vitamin D deficient. Clearly, many of us do not get enough sunshine on a regular basis, which is why this supplement is critical. Common symptoms of deficiency are feeling weak, tired and having bad moods. If that sounds familiar, get your blood tested for vitamin D levels.
Pro Tip: Vitamin D is fat-soluble and NOT water-soluble. That means its best absorbed by the body when consumed with fats (e.g. coconut oil, avocados, butter or even eggs). If you take it with just water or coffee, you’ll pee it out within 2 hrs.
No list would be complete without whey protein! And for good reason. Protein is an essential macronutrient for building muscle. Whey is produced from milk which contains whey and casein protein. What’s important is that it is a complete protein source: meaning it contains all 9 essential amino acids. If you’re aiming to gain size or lose weight, you need to consume adequate amounts of protein. Otherwise, your muscles won’t recover as fast and you’ll slow your progress. For most of us, its just not practical to eat 4-5 high protein meals a day and that’s why supplements are the best whey to go!