Anyone interested in health and fitness is eventually going to question what the best supplements are. Before I even touch on the subject I want to make it clear that the intention of this entry is not to promote a specific brand of supplements. There are articles, advertisements, testimonials, and endless websites claiming to have the best supplement products that will improve your health and/or performance. In this entry I will be going over what I have come to believe the best supplement types are, not the best brands.
The supplement industry is a multi billion-dollar industry. There are thousands of products that can be purchased online, in grocery stores, specialty stores, and catalogs, just to name a few. Some of these supplements are geared toward everyday health and wellness while many are geared toward enhanced performance. Most manufacturers claim to have the best supplements and to give you an edge that their competitors cannot.
I do not believe in taking supplements that lack solid research proving or strongly supporting their efficacy. What I am listing below is fairly basic, but also solidly supported by research. That is why I consider these to be the best supplements out there right now. Knowing that, there may be products out there that do in fact improve health or performance, but until I see the proof (I’ll discuss later what the “proof” is in my view) I will not consider them in my list of best supplements. Having said that, let’s go ahead and begin taking a look at some of the best supplements out there.
Although not the most exciting supplement out there, a basic multivitamin helps to provide you with the essentials of what your body needs. It was not until I began studying for my first personal training certification that I learned that each vitamin plays it’s own important role in the human body. I do not want to go into depth in this article on what vitamins do what in the human body, as this topic is big enough for an article of it’s own. Needless to say, many, if not most people, do not get the all of the vitamins they need from their daily food sources. Athletes and those who have active occupations especially need to consider adding a multivitamin to their diet. The need for vitamins can vary based on your age, gender, physical activity level, pregnancy status, and even the climate you live in. Consider a good multivitamin. They are relatively inexpensive, but play an important role in general health. They therefore top the list of best supplements.
Glucosamine Sulfate and MSM (Methylsulfonylmethane)
When you see these products on the store shelf, you will often see a reference to “joint health” on the label. Whether it be from normal wear and tear, occupational causes, or injuries as we get older, most of us start to feel some pain and discomfort over time. Glucosamine Sulfate and MSM present an area of controversy for some. There have been studies that have shown that use of these products help improve joint pain, and there have been studies shown that they have no significant affect against a placebo. I have personally had several doctors and pharmacists recommend Glucosamine Sulfate as a viable means to improving joint health. In fact some doctors produce their own brands of Glucosamine Sulfate and MSM. While not “proven” to the extent we would like, if there is a good chance it works, many people will be interested in giving it a shot. Some people really advocate that these products have helped them. There are numerous products on the market that contain these supplements. Sometimes these joint supplements also contain other supplements purported to assist in joint improvement or repair. Glucosamine Sulfate contains shellfish products so be aware if you have allergies to such things. While not proven to the extent that we would normally like, the evidence suggests that these products may be helping many people with joint pain, and as such can be considered one of the best supplements.
When it comes to protein supplements, there are many. Protein is an absolute must for athletes and especially for those interested in making strength and/or gains in muscle hypertrophy (size). For many athletes, and for virtually all powerlifters, bodybuilders, and those looking to add on substantial muscle, doing so through diet alone is not only impractical but unhealthy. Consuming high amounts of red meat in an attempt to take in enough protein can lead to problems with cholesterol, as well as with the colon.
The main types of protein supplements on the market are soy and whey. Whey protein is commonly used more by those looking to add significant size and strength. It is derived from animal sources, i.e. milk. Because of this, some people who wish not to consume any animal products or byproducts will prefer to supplement with soy protein. As the name implies, soy protein is derived from the soybean. Some controversy exists regarding soy protein. It is believed by some that soy protein brings about estrogenic properties in males. Because of this, many male lifters and athletes do not use soy protein supplements. The research appears to be unproven either way at this time, however the mere possibility of estrogenic properties being brought on leads most male bodybuilders and powerlifters to stick with whey protein instead.
Creatine Phosphate is a product that began hitting the store shelves over a decade ago. Creatine plays a crucial role in the formation of energy in the body. Numerous studies over the years have concluded that supplementing with creatine can in fact increase performance. The studies typically show a control group given a placebo, and a test group given creatine. The groups given creatine consistently show increases in output. The results are usually a few additional repetitions beyond what the control group experiences, all other things being equal. For competitive bodybuilders, powerlifters, and athletes, an extra burst of power at the end of a heavy set can make all the difference. Most people will experience water weight gain while taking creatine. Therefore people will often presume after a week or so on the product that they have added a few pounds of muscle or more. In reality, this is usually water weight gain. The added benefit of being able to push the muscles harder and achieve extra reps at the end of a set will however result in long term muscle growth as the body is forced to adapt to the additional stresses placed on it.
Choosing a supplement
The supplement industry is not as regulated as some would like it to be. It is not difficult in most places to create a supplement, make outrageous claims about its effects, and then limit disclosure as to what has gone into that product, including research, if any. Many supplements claim to have their products “proven” to work. When you see these kinds of statements, it’s prudent to ask a few questions. First, who proved the effectiveness of the product in question? Was it a major university? Was it an independent third party with no vested interest in the outcome of the results? Or was it a company which also happens to be owned by the same people who own the product in question? Secondly, have the results been repeated. Again, it’s important that the results are repeated by someone not linked to the success of the product.
Choosing what’s right for you
Just because a supplement is effective does not mean it is appropriate. For example, a senior who is simply looking to stay fit probably does not need to consume a whey protein shake several times a day. Conversely, a young athlete may not need to consume glucosamine sulfate and MSM, even though his/her sporting activity places stress on the body and joints. Talking with your doctor will help you identify what if any supplements are appropriate for you. A good personal trainer can help you identify the best supplements in terms of reputable brands, as well as cost effective means of obtaining those supplements. Ultimately, the best supplements for you are those that have been tested, are reliable, and meet your specific needs.