You only have to enter our new, large and well stocked supplement superstore and take a brief look around to see the vast array of brands and products that we supply at CSN, this can be minefield for the beginner, so this guide hopes to supply you with a good insight into some of the key supplements and key ingredients we recommend to look out for those of you starting out on your fitness journey. First off we profess the importance of real foods as the basis of any diet for performance, muscle gain and fat loss, hence the word supplement , they are there to supplement the diet and not replace real foods, unless they have to be due to lifestyle and time commitments. In this article we're going to discuss the 5 supplements any beginner needs. Welcome to the Beginners Supplement Guide.
We’re going to start with the very basic and one you will have all heard of… protein. Now protein comes in many forms, even whey protein has three different types, not to mention casein, egg, beef, soy, pea and many others found in protein powders and blends. When starting out protein should be targeted to help recovery, so what we want is something that is quickly absorbed to be taken after training, which provides us with all the amino acids (building blocks of muscles) that we require. For this you can’t go wrong with a good quality whey protein, we suggest looking for a product that contains at least 70g of protein per 100g of product, and if you want to pay really close attention to detail contains whey concentrate, whey isolate and if possible hydrolysed whey. These types of whey are quickly absorbed and have many of the unwanted lactose sugars removed, which can cause digestive issues in those with lactose intolerances, after all whey is made from milk! Another thing to look out for is the addition of digestive enzymes; these can help with the digestion of the protein and support healthy digestion of other meals, these are not essential but a nice added bonus for those who are prone to bloating.
For those of us struggling for motivation in the early stages of taking up training, before it becomes a habit, a pre-workout can be of benefit. The primary goal of these is to provide you with mental focus and energy to help you get through your sessions, some have the addition of ingredients which improve blood flow and nutrients into the muscles, to give you the much spoken about ‘pump’ so many people crave. The primary stimulant ingredient in pre-workouts is caffeine; if you have a high caffeine intake then jumping in with the recommended dose may be ok. But a word of caution, if you go this route start on a smaller than recommended serving if you are not sure on your caffeine sensitivity. Another note is that tolerance to caffeine rises sharply so only try and use these for the workouts you are struggling or for brief periods of time if using constantly before having a few weeks off. ‘Pump’ ingredients come in many forms but will usually have some type of nitrate or nitric oxide booster, the in depth mechanism for how these work can be found in this example here. Other ingredients that help in the pump to look out for is Agmatine sulphate, if it has a combination of these then you’re on to a winner! Many pre-workouts also contain other things you need to look out for, beta-alanine is a brilliant ingredient for increasing blood flow and performance but can in rare circumstance leave you with a tingly, itchy sensation, niacin does the same but can leave you feeling hot and flushed and very red faced! But don’t worry these subside and are not in any way damaging, and are just something to keep in mind when trying these formulation.
Creatine is another typical ingredient in pre-workouts however for the beginner we recommend the addition of creatine on its own for those looking to gain muscle and strength. Creatine is a completely natural ingredient that helps in the production of energy, particularly in high intensity exercise such as weightlifting. Addition of this into the diet around training enables the body to maintain performance for longer, thus allowing greater increases in muscle size and in turn strength. Creatine comes in many forms but for the beginner a basic creatine monohydrate should suffice to see how you respond. For those who don’t respond, which happens in a small percentage of the population, other forms exist that improve absorption and uptake which may be worth a try if this situation occurs.
The next two supplements are what I would deem as advanced beginner, once the diet has been nailed and for those looking to bump recovery and performance even further as training intensifies, the addition of BCAA’s themselves to be taken during the workout, usually as a drink, are a useful addition. These are super-fast absorbing and digesting, providing muscles instantaneously with key amino acids that direct the muscle cells to increase protein metabolism, and in turn aid recovery and growth. Key amino acids to look out for in a BCAA drink are Leucine and Glutamine, these are usually accompanied with isoleucine and valine which work synergistically with the other amino acids to improve their effectiveness. The final recommendation would be the addition of a fast digesting carbohydrate to be taken with or slightly prior to our post-workout protein shake. During exercise muscle glycogen (the storage form of carbohydrate) is depleted rapidly during bouts of high intensity weight training, this needs to be replenished as soon as possible after training, certain fast digesting carbs such as vitargo and cyclic dextrin are designed to be able to digest and absorb in much greater amounts than those found in many sports drinks, meaning you can refuel quicker with less chance of a stomach upsets.
The other added bonus is that carbohydrate ingestion causes the body to release the bodies most muscle building hormone, insulin. After training this release of insulin helps the body transport not only carbohydrates into the muscle but also other nutrients, like your amino acids improving recovery and muscle growth. Here at CSN we love our supplements and the many benefits they can give you, we are passionate about educating ourselves and being able to provide our customers with the best possible advice and knowledge of the basic (and some of the not so basic!) supplements/ingredients available, in order to help you and direct you to the best possible supplements for your needs to help you achieve your goals. Paul Rimmer (BSc, MSc)