It’s no secret that there are a lot of supplements out there to choose from, ranging from the vitamins and minerals with which we’re all familiar, to exotic or extremely scientific-sounding things like guaranine or 1,3,7-Trimethyl-1H-purine- 2,6(3H,7H)-dione (both of those are just caffeine, by the way).
This inevitably raises the question “what works and what doesn’t?”
But perhaps the more pertinent question is “what would or would not benefit a given individual?” – you, the reader, for example.
Now of course you’re reading this on a supplement website, which means we’re going to say that you should buy all of our stuff, right? Not at all. While we have done a great deal of due diligence to produce a line of supplements with which we’re proud to of, and that we don’t lose any sleep over recommending to even our friends and family because we know they’re effective, it’s STILL not the case that we recommend everyone takes all or even most of them, because like everything, different things have different uses for different people, and goals.
There aren’t many individuals that would need everything we produce! Supplements are and should always have specific roles and taking things that aren’t of direct benefit to you is a waste of money. As such we would like this guide to be the definitive answer to the question “what would help me?”.
First of all, supplements cannot make up the deficit created by poor nutrition, insufficient sleep, lifestyle stress, substance abuse, and ineffective training. If your lifestyle isn’t generally good, we would urge you to focus on getting that right first. You don’t have to live the perfect life – nobody does – but do get the big rocks at least partly in place before looking to supplements. If you’re sleeping 3-4 hours per night, living on lunches out of the local Greggs and the closest
you’ve come to going to the gym is speaking to Jim who owns a wobble board, supplements aren’t the answer. The basics are needed first, always.
Secondly, supplements (again with some possible phase 1 exceptions) are there to optimise and improve, not create results on their own. Supplementing with creatine, for example, won’t make you stronger, though it can augment the effects of hard training and proper nutrition. That means that you will progress without these things – you just might progress a bit faster with them and so they’re a good investment once all the other stuff is in place.
So with all of that being said, we would now like to look at the question above “what would help me?”. We’ve split this into three phases, phase 1 for someone starting out and looking to cover their basic needs, phase 2 for the progressive person looking to have more performance output in the gym or in their sport, and phase 3 for the individual pushing for results and maximum performance all while recovering as quickly as possible.
Phase 1 supplements are supplements that are likely to be useful for just about everyone, not because they do anything particularly ground-breaking, but in fact for the exact opposite reason – because they’re relatively simple. These can be loosely grouped under the heading of ‘food supplements’ because they are dietary supplements designed to add nutrients to the diet that may be lacking, or otherwise aren’t optimal, and thus are necessary for maintaining normal functioning and health.
Someone adopting a plant-based diet, for example, is more likely to be deficient in certain vitamins and minerals (iron, calcium, zinc, vitamin B12), someone in a calorie deficit is less likely to be able to maintain adequate micronutrient intake across the board simply due to low overall intake, and those who are lactose intolerant may be lacking in calcium. Finally, most people North of Madrid in the Northern Hemisphere are likely to fall short of their vitamin D (the sunshine nutrient) needs
(1) (that’s all of the UK and most of Northern America).
Using a multivitamin such as AWESOME DAILY DOSE is therefore a good bet. This acts like a ‘safety net’ ensuring that no matter what, you’ve got the best chance of getting all of the micronutrition you need.
Moving on from there we can look at Omega-3 supplements like AWESOME OMEGA 3 FISH OIL, which provide the essential fatty acids EPA and DHA. Unless you eat oily fish very regularly you are likely to have a very low intake of these two and, while this is not likely to harm you significantly, supplementing with them has been shown to improve blood lipid counts (2), inflammation (3), recovery after exercise (4), and even symptoms of major depression (5).
In short, pretty much everyone will benefit from these two regardless of goals or health status, with the possible exception of people who have a really varied and nutrient rich diet…which may not even be possible in practice. Unsure? Get a nutrient test or track your food intake on an app like ‘Chronometer’ for a week and see if optimal nutrient intakes are observed (comparing your values to researched doses, not the Government RDA as they are quite low for some key nutrients). For research level dosing we always use Examine.com as a reference point.
A final supplement that could be considered useful for literally anyone is a protein supplement, such as AWESOME VEGAN PROTEIN or AWESOME WHEY PROTEIN. Aiming for roughly 2.2g of protein per kilogram of bodyweight is likely to maximise hypertrophy (6), and a little more, 2.3-3.1g per kilogram of lean body mass (bodyweight minus fat mass) may be necessary to preserve muscle mass while you’re in a calorie deficit (7). Achieving this is entirely possible through normal dietary habits, but
at the same time there is no reason to avoid supplementation and, thanks to the low price and undeniable convenience of these products (which require no cooking or storage and are cheaper, gram for gram, than more or less any protein source) doing so can in fact make adhering to a higher protein intake far easier.
Want to save money with us? You can, order our Health Stack here and also see the other bundles we have available.
Notice here in Phase 1 we are not trying to claim you need probiotics, enzymes or anything else often claimed to improve your health. Anything beyond an optimal intake of micronutrients, playing more attention to omega 3 fats, magnesium, zinc, iron, calcium, vitamin D and vitamin B12 for vegan or plant based eaters is over-hyped marketing. It's why we keep it simple, to what works, for 99% of people.
Getting 25-50g of your daily protein from a protein powder can make a muscle building or fat loss phase much easier, and even those who simply want to lead a healthy lifestyle can benefit from the low cost and convenience offered. It can be used as a breakfast option with a piece of fruit, blended into a smoothie as a meal or snack, used in cooking, taken after the gym to tide you over, or used as a way to boost your protein intake. A very cost effective and convenient form of protein to have handy in the cupboards. That or you can opt for a protein bar, which is that snack or meal addition that you can literally have any time, something many use as part of a quick breakfast, a snack, or pre or post gym. So opt for a protein powder, bars, or both for true flexibility.
Next we have phase 2 supplements useful for those who are very active, and who hope to improve general gym performance. This is slightly different to the former section because the supplements you see here are not designed to deliver something that can typically be consumed in the diet; rather they are substances which are typically consumed through food in very low doses, however when a dose is increased significantly there is evidence of an improvement in gym/sports performance. In brief this group of supplements are extremely useful for those looking to build muscle, improve fitness and otherwise maximise gym performance, and can thus be recommended alongside phase 1 supplements.
The two most commonly mentioned supplements are creatine monohydrate and beta alanine, and for good reason! Creatine monohydrate is able to increase strength, hypertrophy, and the performance outcomes from high intensity interval training (8), meaning that anyone training with intensity will get more bang for their buck by throwing a dose of creatine into their water every day. Similarly, beta alanine can increase performance in hard training that lasts longer than 60 seconds (9), making it perfect for high intensity and functional training , sports, or hard conditioning. It’s because of this research that AWESOME PERFORMANCE BLEND was formulated, and this is why we recommend it to anyone looking to stay on top of their game in the gym. Of course not everyone is going to need beta alanine, because while everyone does some intense training (even ultramarathon runners climb hills!), not everyone works for over 60 seconds at a time and so not everyone will benefit from this. That’s why Awesome
Supplements also stock AWESOME CREATINE – an extremely pure, flavourless creatine monohydrate supplement that you can add to any drink to elevate your results.
Alongside this, caffeine is a useful supplement for gym goers because it can increase alertness and performance in exhaustive exercise (10), while also boosting upper body strength and overall power production (11). Using AWESOME CAFFEINE TABS 15-30 minutes before you train can therefore help you stay sharp and get more work done, while feeling like the effort you are exerting is actually diminished (10)! We created caffeine tabs because caffeine should be a personalised dose based on
your weight, sensitivity and time of the day, so we created it as a stand-alone product so you can control the dose to your needs.
The final supplement we would place in this bracket is perhaps the simplest on the list, salts. When we think of hydration we think of water, but your body doesn’t just need this to properly hydrate – it also needs the essential salts (primarily sodium and potassium) which help to properly store water where it needs to be, in the correct proportions. In extreme cases taking on too much water without salts can lead to a condition called hyponatraemia, which kills marathon runners every year. This is why we recommend AWESOME ELECTROLYTES to anyone that sweats heavily while training, to anyone training in the heat, to anyone training at high intensity such as in high intensity and functional training, group training or HIIT training, or to anyone who will be spending a lot of time outdoors when the temperatures get hot. Our staff also take it on holiday as a hydration drink for the heat!
Once we step into this category we can help simplify things with our performance stacks, which you can check out as they’ll save you money.
The final group are Phase 3 products. This is the group that are only likely to benefit specific people, as opposed to phase 1 that would be great for anyone, and phase 2 which are ideal for almost all gym goers. This is where things are only relevant for those with really specific goals or you’re simply aiming to cover all your recovery and performance angles and want all the tools you can use to help.
Firstly, let’s discuss prolonged performance.
When you are exercising continuously for over an hour at a time, one problem that you do run a risk of facing is ‘hitting the wall’ – literally running out of fuel. The same issue can be faced if you exercise intensely multiple times in the same day in quick succession. This is an acute situation where your body’s stored glucose starts to deplete so you fatigue extremely quickly, and it’s best avoided by slowly drip feeding a multiple-transporter carbohydrate into your system. Carbohydrates need to be ‘transported’ into your blood from your digestive system after you consume them, and the problem is if you only consume one kind of carbohydrate (say, glucose), you effectively limit the rate at which it can be absorbed because there is too much traffic.
Opting to combine glucose-based carbohydrates with fructose-based ones increases the rate at which carbohydrates can be absorbed, which doesn’t matter at all in day to day life, but can make a huge different if you literally need those carbohydrates right now. As such, a mixed intra-workout carbohydrate product like AWESOME ELECTROLYTES AND CARBS is absolutely perfect for those who are performing continuously for over an hour, or for those that are doing something multiple times in a day, such as someone doing high intensity and functional training who needs to do multiple WODs in a row for a competition or is just having a hard training day. And as a super cheap supplement, it really is a no-brainer.
For the more typical exerciser – the gym goer looking to get stronger and build muscle – there are various substances that can be taken beforehand to improve some aspect of your training. Glycerine based products can, for example, hyper-hydrate you allowing you to get better muscle pumps, and they may also increase aerobic and anaerobic exercise performance (12). Similarly, betaine can increase work capacity and may help improve muscle size (13), while certain substances like
Vitacholine (choline bitartrate) may improve endurance for maximal effort exercise (14). Overall the combination of these, such as you’d find in AWESOME PRE-WORKOUT can have a small but meaningful effect on your ability to perform at your best during a typical gym session, making it a great investment for those looking to squeeze the last few percentage points out of your workouts. This is especially the case for those training through exhaustion, such as high intensity and functional training athletes.
Finally, due to the extremely tough training session and competition situations faced by those with really specific and lofty goals, the importance of training performance is matched only by the importance of proper recovery from each session. After all, training hard and dominating the gym/track/field is useless if you can only do it once. Post workout protein shake supplementation is not necessary, but can certainly help with recovery speed, especially if you’re not going to eat for a while (someone looking to perform optimally and optimise body composition wants to aim for an intake of protein every 4-5 hours, so if you haven’t eaten for a while, and won’t for a while after the gym, a shake might be really helpful, eating when convenient later).
The final thing you may wish to consider are more experimental products that are not so well researched but an interesting idea nonetheless. Transdermal (through the skin) magnesium application has been used for decades for muscle recovery in the shape of Epsom salt baths and, more recently, high concentration magnesium oil that’s rubbed directly onto the muscles. The theory here is that magnesium is necessary for proper muscle contractions and is thus depleted during hard exercise. This of course needs to be replaced, and the best way to replace it is to do so directly to the areas used in training, as opposed to simply taking an oral supplement that needs to pass through the digestive tract. In this way the oils/bath salts work like a cream, seeping in through the pores and being transported to the local blood flow. While the research in this area is thin to say the least, for generations users of magnesium oil have sworn by its ability to attenuate soreness and cramping, and so we produced Awesome recovery spray. It’s in a black bottle because it’s the ‘black sheep’ of our product line – it’s not well researched – but we stand by it, as do those who have written us glowing testimonials about its efficacy. It’s certainly always proved popular with our customers. However, this is currently out of stock.
As with Phase 2, phase 3 is made easier and more cost effective here at Awesome Supplements with performance bundles, making it both easy to choose based on your goal, all while saving money. Check out our performance bundles.
Supplements are tools. This means that you don’t only need to find the ones that work, you need to find the right ones for the job - a sledgehammer and a screwdriver both ‘work’ but there’s certainly a better choice when putting a screw into your wall to hang a picture. Every athlete and non-athlete alike have different needs, goals and dietary shortfalls, and hopefully this blog has outlined a good strategy for thinking about these as they relate to supplementation.
Don’t look at this guide like levels – it’s not that you need to master all of Phase 1 before you can move on to Phase 2 – but rather look at it like a hierarchy of priorities. Look to Phase 1 and decide if you need something, then Phase 2, then Phase 3, moving up in specificity as you go, and in line with your goals.
And of course, after reading this if you still have questions, just get in touch with us. We’re always there to help and will even jump on the phone with you to discuss your needs. Like we say, always here to help.
- Spiro, A. and Buttriss, J. (2014). Vitamin D: An overview of vitamin D status and intake in Europe. Nutrition Bulletin, 39(4), pp.322-350.
- Shearer, G., Savinova, O. and Harris, W. (2012). Fish oil — How does it reduce plasma triglycerides?. Biochimica et Biophysica Acta (BBA) - Molecular and Cell Biology of Lipids, 1821(5), pp.843-851.
- Calder, P. (2017). Omega-3 fatty acids and inflammatory processes: from molecules to man. Biochemical Society Transactions, 45(5), pp.1105-1115.
- Black, K., Witard, O., Baker, D., Healey, P., Lewis, V., Tavares, F., Christensen, S., Pease, T. and Smith, B. (2018). Adding omega-3 fatty acids to a protein-based supplement during pre-season training results in reduced muscle soreness and the better maintenance of explosive power in professional Rugby Union players. European Journal of Sport Science, 18(10), pp.1357-1367.
- Burhani, M. and Rasenick, M. (2017). Fish oil and depression: The skinny on fats. Journal of Integrative Neuroscience, 16(s1), pp.S115-S124.
- Morton, R., Murphy, K., McKellar, S., Schoenfeld, B., Henselmans, M., Helms, E., Aragon, A., Devries, M., Banfield, L., Krieger, J. and Phillips, S. (2017). A systematic review, meta-analysis and meta-regression of the effect of protein supplementation on resistance training-induced gains in muscle mass and strength in healthy adults. British Journal of Sports Medicine, pp.bjsports-2017-097608.
- Helms, E., Aragon, A. and Fitschen, P. (2014). Evidence-based recommendations for natural bodybuilding contest preparation: nutrition and supplementation. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 11(1).
- Cooper, R., Naclerio, F., Allgrove, J. and Jimenez, A. (2012). Creatine supplementation with specific view to exercise/sports performance: an update. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 9(1).
- Saunders, B., Elliott-Sale, K., Artioli, G., Swinton, P., Dolan, E., Roschel, H., Sale, C. and Gualano, B. (2016). β-alanine supplementation to improve exercise capacity and performance: a systematic review and meta-analysis. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 51(8), pp.658-669.
Paluska, S. (2003). Caffeine and exercise. Current Sports Medicine Reports, 2(4), pp.213-219.
Grgic, J., Trexler, E., Lazinica, B. and Pedisic, Z. (2018). Effects of caffeine intake on muscle strength and power: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 15(1).
- Patlar, S., Yalçin, H. and Boyali, E. (2012). The effect of glycerol supplements on aerobic and anaerobic performance of athletes and sedentary subjects. Journal of Human Kinetics, 34(1), pp.69-79.
- Cholewa, J., Wyszczelska-Rokiel, M., Glowacki, R., Jakubowski, H., Matthews, T., Wood, R., Craig, S. and Paolone, V. (2013). Effects of betaine on body composition, performance, and homocysteine thiolactone. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 10(1).
- Penry, J. and Manore, M. (2008). Choline: An Important Micronutrient for Maximal Endurance-Exercise Performance?. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 18(2), pp.191-203.
- James, L., Stevenson, E., Rumbold, P. and Hulston, C. (2018). Cow's milk as a post-exercise recovery drink: implications for performance and health. European Journal of Sport Science, 19(1), pp.40-48.
- Norton, L., Layman, D., Bunpo, P., Anthony, T., Brana, D. and Garlick, P. (2009). The Leucine Content of a Complete Meal Directs Peak Activation but Not Duration of Skeletal Muscle Protein Synthesis and Mammalian Target of Rapamycin Signaling in Rats. The Journal of Nutrition, 139(6), pp.1103-1109.