Finding the right supplements for your health and fitness goals can be a difficult task. With so many products on the market you are probably confused as to which you should actually be taking and which are just a waste of your money. Since there are so many new supplements popping up each year I will never be able to analyze each and every single one.
That’s why it’s important you know how to do this yourself. So in this post I basically outline how I evaluate a new supplement and how I built my personal stack over the years. I’m sure you will benefit from this and it should help you sort through all the information available on the internet a lot faster.
1. Define your health goals
Assuming that you are starting from zero and aren’t taking any supplements, your first step would be to define your personal goals that you want to achieve with the supplements.
To not get confused by all the fuss out there you have to know what you actually want to achieve with the supplements you are taking. For example, for me personally, the two main goals were always either to increase my health and immunity or to boost muscle growth (and fat loss to a smaller degree).
2. Create a list of potential supplements
Once you have defined your goals you create a list of potential supplements for each goal. Where do you get ideas for this list?
The best address for trusted information on supplements is examine.com. They compile pretty much all the data available on most supplements out there and aren’t affiliate with brands of manufacturers.
They have most of the information on individual supplements on their website, but if you want a complete list of all supplements for a specific health goal I suggest you get their stack guides. Examine has stack guides not just for fitness, but also for vegans, seniors, joint health, sleep quality and many more.
Of course, there are also other websites that will recommend supplements for specific health goals, just make sure they aren’t funded by a major supplement company.
Once you have done your research on potential candidates for your stack you want to write them down. Let’s take the example of muscle building supplements. After a few minutes of research you will probably have identified the most common supplements recommended for beginners.
They usually include:
– protein powder
– fish oil
– beta alanine
– and all kinds of pre-workout supplements
But what do you do now? Do you buy them all and just hope for the best?
Probably not, unless you want to throw your money out of the window.
3. Identify the most important supplements on your list
Basically, your next task will be to identify the most important supplements on that list and to single out a few you want to start with. Finding the right supplements on that list comes down to checking them for effectiveness and reliability.
So, the first thing we will do is eliminate any supplement that isn’t directly related to your goal of building muscle. For example, fish oil and multivitamins might be good supplements, but only in regards to general health. They won’t do much for increased muscle growth beside keep up your immunity.
Next, you want to figure out which of the remaining supplements have been tested the most and showed reliable results across the board. This requires some research of course. You can either do the research yourself by looking at the available data. Google scholar would then be a good starting point.
Or, if you don’t have time for this, you can also outsource this process to your favorite blogger or fitness website. Check out different sources and see if you can find an emerging pattern. Again these can be websites like examine.com or webmd.
One blogger or website recommending a product doesn’t mean much, but if the vast majority supports a product you might be on to something. One thing you should keep in mind though is that often people in the fitness world take way too many supplements.
They also often recommend their own products or are affiliated with certain brands. If you don’t like being sold to all the time, make sure the person or website you listen to is an authority in their field, who also treats their fans with respect.
Let me give you two examples to show you what I mean. First creatine. Creatine is among the most studied supplements out there and it has been shown to be both effective and safe for healthy adults, as long as you get a high-quality product like creapure. This isn’t news among the fitness community and pretty much any coach or establish website will tell you the same.
On the other hand you have BCAAs, which are either branded as extremely important or unnecessary depending on who you ask. So if you find conflicting advice on a supplement you want to look for more than one or two opinions and of course do your own research.
When you do this you will quickly notice that even though BCAAs are extremely important for muscle growth and maintenance, you are already getting enough of them if you total daily protein is met and especially if you also take a whey protein powder. Supplementation of BCAAs is therefore not necessary unless you train under specific circumstances (like in a fasted state).
Another thing you will notice when researching potential supplements is that there is actually only a small number of supplements proven to bring you results. This is not only the case for muscle building supplements but for health & fitness in general. While this means you will have to do some digging to find them, it’s definitely better for your wallet and will save you a lot of money in the long run.
Let’s illustrate this with the list of muscle building supplements again. As a beginner, the only supplements that are really helpful and that I generally recommend are creatine and protein powder. Both are fairly cheap and staples in the bodybuilding world.
You might also benefit from beta alanine, but the positive effect is a lot less than from the other two. Glutamine, BCAAs and pre-workout supplements are usually not necessary and if you really need a boost before your training, go with a simple caffeine supplement instead. It’s just as effective and a lot cheaper.
Starting out with fewer supplements also has other benefits besides being cheaper. It’s a lot easier to monitor their effects if you start with only one or two products in your stack. For example, if your protein intake is lower than optimal both protein powder and BCAAs would probably help you see better muscle growth.
If you started taking them at the same time you might think the combination was what got you the results, but if you first tried protein powder and then BCAAs you would see that protein powder was all you needed and the improvement came from bringing your overall protein intake to ideal levels.
Of course, with some supplements, especially if they are for general health, you won’t see immediate results and they will only show their effects after years of taking. But you can still rule out allergies or intolerances when you take them individually.
The problem with multivitamins
This is also the reason I’m not a big fan of multivitamins. Often they either over or underdose a vitamin, which might lead to all kinds of adverse effects. But in a multivitamin supplement you take all the vitamins and minerals in one pill you will never know which is to blame.
Getting them individually might seem like unnecessary at first, but it’s the only way to identify the vitamins you really need and rule out all the ones you are already getting enough of.
The same applies to supplements in general. Only when you take them individually and give enough time to see any benefits or side effects will you be able to tell if a product is worth your money.
And that’s pretty much the entire process you need to know. First you define your goals, then you list potential supplements and lastly, after doing some research you try out one or two proven options to see if they are right for you.
Once you have done this a few times it will be super easy and you can build your supplement stack further. It’s what I have been doing for years and what has allowed me to be able to see through the jungle of marketing and hype that surrounds the supplement industry.