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5 Common Supplement Questions

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Your supplement crash course.

Supplements are an interesting part of the fitness industry. You generally have a few very varied opinions—some people love them, some people hate them.

At RFS we are a bit of a rarity because we’re somewhere in the middle.

To tell the truth, we probably get asked about supplements more than anything else. Well, we also get asked quite a bit about what our Hogwarts house is (David’s a Ravenclaw, Peter’s a Slytherin, John’s a Gryffindor, if you’re wondering).

So, this article is to address those questions — to help you decide what supplements you should take, and which ones you’re better off without. 

Supplement Question One: 

Are supplements “necessary?”

We get this A LOT. It’s usually from young guys who don’t know much, and for some reason equate supplements to steroids. So, when they’re asking things like, “can you really get that big without X, Y, or Z,” they are asking, in large part, out of ignorance.

First and foremost, supplements are obviously not like steroids. Certainly, they help you build muscle (if you use the right ones the right way), but there is nothing steroidal about them.

The other types of people asking this question are the young guys who have been to GNC or the like after going in for protein powder and coming out with the latest NO2 supplement they didn’t know they ‘needed.’

So, let me just say right now – no, supplements aren’t necessary to have a great body.

Long before the first protein powder was ever invented, people got great results from training.

Before there was ever an idea for a Nitrous booster, guys in the gym got “a sick pump.” So, obviously, if they can do it, so can you.

However, it’s also true that with the right supplements the time it takes to get results has decreased even when following the same programs. Which brings us to our next question.

Supplement Question Two: 

Do supplements “work?”

Now, THIS is an interesting question; or, rather, it’s really a very predictable question, and it’s the ANSWER that’s interesting.

And by “interesting,” I mean, “confusing.”

The answer, of course, is “sometimes.” Some supplements work, and some do not. Some are good, and some are not. The hard part is telling which is good from which is bad. Which, of course, is our job—so you don’t have to worry much about that.

Some supplements are better in certain situations than others.

A very easy example is fat burners—even if one is very effective because it blunts your appetite, you wouldn’t take it if you were trying to eat a lot and put on muscle, would you? If you have a hard time eating more quality calories you wouldn’t.

And you wouldn’t consume a calorie-dense weight gainer shake if you were trying to lose fat.

Does that mean that either isn’t “good” or that they don’t “work”?

Not at all. It means they have a directed application and time of use. But, of course, those are the obvious ones.

There are also supplements that, for the purposes of health, you can take regardless of your goal—and which will help you meet it anyway.

It’s NEVER a good idea to be nutrient deprived.

If you’re trying to lose fat and not eating enough vegetables, your body will slow down some metabolic processes and make it hard to lose fat. 

On the other hand, let’s say you’re a skinny guy trying to bulk up, but you get full easily. You don’t want to fill yourself up with veggies because they don’t have the calories you need in order to gain muscle.

HOWEVER, you also realize you need a lot of the nutrition in those veggies be healthy, even if you’re eating a lot that doesn’t mean that you’re necessarily getting what you need to be healthy and function optimally.

For both fat loss OR muscle gain, this can dramatically slow results.

So, what do you do?

A solution for either goal is to use a supplement that will cover those nutritional bases, fill in nutrient “gaps” and increase the rate at which you lose fat and gain muscle.

An example of that would be a supplement like Athletic Greens, which is a greens powder you can take in the mornings with just water—we use this EVERY day; easy, tasty, and makes sure to fix all the stuff you don’t realize you’re screwing up.

There ARE some decent supplements out there.

And to be honest, most of them are like Athletic Greens — they’re the supplements you should be taking to support your overall health.

Beyond that, you just have to figure out which are really in line with your goals. Once you do that it becomes A LOT easier to figure which ones to stay away from.

So, Everybody’s supplement regime will be slightly different, because, well, everybody’s different. Different goals, different budgets, different preferences. But, they’ll all have the same foundation to support overall health. 

Supplement Question Three:

Okay bro, do YOU take supplements?

Yes, we do. Now, we don’t take many, and the ones we do, we take for a certain purpose.

After wasting heaps of money in my youth, I eventually learned that “dietary supplement” really SHOULD mean what the literal translation of those words implies: in addition to a good diet and training program.

NOT “in place of.”

Let me repeat that again for the people in the back: Supplements are in addition to diet and exercise, NOT in place of diet and exercise. 

The way to get the most out of your supplements is when everything else is dialed in.

Supplement Question Four:

Really? I did not expect you to say that. You’ve thrown me for a loop. So uh, which supplements DO you take?

Okay, now we’re talking. 

Since we’ve been around the proverbial block, we tend to dislike most stuff. And sometimes we get angry emails when we tell people we don’t like or use certain supplements. 

“Why don’t you recommend Super Mega Nitro Maxi-Pump? Can I still take it?”

No. Well, okay, you can—but if we don’t recommend it obviously we don’t think too highly of it. Or at least think it’s not worth the money.

BUT, if you already spent money on it and you’re enjoying the effects, then you have our blessing in finishing the container. That said, please don’t spend any more money on that stuff. Mmmkay? Cool.

Here’s the truth.

We’ve developed sort of a love/hate relationship with supplements—and supplement companies.

On the one hand, we love supplements (when they do what they claim). And, without the convenience of protein drinks, meal replacements, vitamins, and the occasional protein bar, we just wouldn’t be able to achieve the results we’ve gotten for people.

On the other hand, a lot of supplements are just flat out crap. They’re filled with only half of what the label says, and who knows what the other half is.

And of course, many supplement companies have shady marketing tactics like photo-shopped before/after pics and all that other under-handed bullshit—and we’re just not into that.

Having said all that, if chosen wisely and used correctly, supplements can make any program more productive and accelerate your progress.

After all, you owe it to yourself to seek every possible advantage—and that starts with getting educated.

What You’re Never Told

Most consumers don’t know that the FDA (the Food and Drug Administration) does not test, monitor, or approve dietary supplements.

Just think about that for a second.

This means that all the hundreds of thousands of fat burners, performance boosters, vitamins, minerals, herbs, and protein powders you see online and on store shelves everywhere are completely unregulated. It’s difficult to know what you’re really getting.

The FDA leaves it up to the individual supplement companies to formulate, test, and monitor their own products. As you can imagine, many supplement companies cut all kinds of corners when it comes to quality control to boost their profits.

The following are five of the most common offenses in the dietary supplement industry regarding quality control.

  1. Many companies do not hire qualified Registered Dieticians, PhDs, or Medical Doctors to formulate their products based on the latest research. This results in products that lack safety standards and aren’t effective.
  2. Many companies use untested, artificial, and low-quality ingredients that are often contaminated and in amounts that are ineffective.
  3. Many products are not manufactured in an FDA-rated facility under the strict, government-approved Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP).
  4. After the product is manufactured, many companies do not test the product to ensure its ingredients match what is listed on the label. Nor do they test the product to make sure it’s pure and free from contaminants like lead and bacteria. (Note: Independent testing shows that many supplements do not contain the ingredients listed on the label. This is true in an alarming amount of cases.)
  5. Finally, many companies ship out their products and let their customers be the guinea pigs when it comes to quality control. The supplement companies that we use, know, and respect do the exact opposite of the above. The difference here is that the owners and formulators of these scientifically-backed products are creating them to be used by themselves, as well as their customers.

That’s why, just as often as it’s important to research what supplements to take, it’s equally important to research what companies you’re getting them from. There are lots of great supplement companies out there who make their products with the utmost integrity. 

Supplement Question Five:

Okay, SO What Are The BEST Supplements To Take?

This is a loaded question, and leaves a massive variable out of the equation: “What are your goals?”

That, right there, is one of the most important questions you need to ask yourself when choosing where to invest your dollars.

And make no mistake, that’s what you’re doing: investing. Improving your body is an investment that will pay dividends every single year.

Knowing the answer to this question will allow you to determine which direction to go when optimizing your supplement regime.

The good news is that when it comes to supplements, most goals require covering the same foundation. Supplements can help everyone — whether you want to lose fat, build muscle, or improve performance — get their goals by making them healthier overall. Protein powder, for example, can aid in muscle gain, fat loss, and recovery. A good greens supplement can improve everyone’s immunity, recovery, and overall function. 

That foundation is what we’re going to look at today. 

These apply to everyone, whether your goal is to gain 20 pounds or shred 10% body fat.

Not unlike the founding principles of training and nutrition, supplementation has a set of “principles” and foundations that must be in place before you can move any further ahead. Ignoring the chance to optimize these foundational principles is akin to putting only part of your energy into training on the gym floor.

Covering protein needs, optimizing hormone levels, staving off muscle loss, maintaining cellular health, getting the full spectrum of antioxidants, and maximizing your sensitivity to carbohydrates are of utmost importance. If you don’t address these things, you’ll start feeling weak, tired, and even notice you’ll lack motivation.

Don’t feel like doing all your sets? Might as well just skip it.

Sprints don’t seem appealing on the day? You’ll do them later.

Not feeling good? You deserve a day off, right?

Wrong.

Blatantly ignoring the responsibility of addressing your nutritional and supplementation weaknesses is the exact same scenario.

The supplements you’ll read about on the following pages are valuable tools in your arsenal. And, they’ll help you achieve results beyond what you’ve imagined…


Ready to learn exactly which supplements you should be taking?

You can read the rest of our supplement guide as a bonus download for joining our brand new BioAnalytic Coaching Program.

Learn more about our new coaching program.

bioanalytic coaching supplement guide

About the Author

David is a writer and strength coach and co-owner of Roman Fitness Systems. In addition to helping run RFS, he's also the head editor for prohockeystrength.com, the official website of the Strength and Conditioning Association of Professional Hockey.

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