Supplementation 101 Back to Basics

Many people, when starting out on their weight loss/muscle gaining journey tend to get sucked into all the big marketing hype and shiny claims from most supplement companies these days. It forces them to immediately ask the question, “Which supplements should I take?” This is before they have even sorted out their diet or training.

Your 3 main priorities when starting out should be:

1. Diet
Clean up your diet and figure out the right foods and the right amounts of those foods that you need to be eating in order to achieve your goal.

2. Training regime
Formulate an intense training programme that targets every muscle that you want to work.

3. Rest
Sleep and rest is often overlooked and is a critical factor in achieving either weight loss or muscle gaining goals. With an intense enough exercise programme, you are going to need it!

What needs to be understood is that if your diet is terrible, taking a supplement is not going to magically make you lose the fat or suddenly gain pounds of muscle. As has been said so many times, supplements are there to “supplement” your diet; to add onto an already strong base, being a good solid diet and training programme.

bodybuilder and supplements

So with that being said, once you have been training and eating right for a good number of months, only then you can look to supplements to give you that little extra boost. But don’t just go out and buy 10 different ones and use them all at once, no. Take one or two at a time initially to see how your body responds, so you can assess and judge what to take next and see what works and what doesn’t.

Here we will have a look at the absolute basic supplements which are a good place to start.

Just remember, at the end of the day, those supplement companies are there to make money, so be careful of the over exaggerated marketing claims that some of them put out there.


This is the bread and butter of supplementation. Protein builds muscle, so we do need to make sure that we are taking in enough protein for our bodies. Even when wanting to lose fat, it’s a good idea to keep your protein intake up to preserve your muscle. So protein shakes are a good and convenient way to get more protein into your body easily.

There are 3 main types of Protein shakes:

1. Whey protein (Whey concentrate and whey isolate)

Whey protein is said to get absorbed into your blood the quickest. It is great to use before or after your workout, or even first thing in the morning. But don’t worry, it can be used any time throughout the day. Any protein shake is great in the sense that it will get absorbed quicker than food in most cases because it is liquid, so it doesn’t have to be broken down as much as food does.


2. Casein (calcium casienate) protein

Casein protein is said to have a digestion rate much slower than whey protein, so it’s marketed as ‘ideal’ to use before bed or in-between meals. Honestly, the rate is not that significant and you should not get caught up on such small factors. Rather, start off with a good whey protein, or even a mixture of both proteins and you will be good to go.

3. Mass Gainers

Mass gainer shakes are marketed to guys who want to pick up a lot of mass. They consist of protein and a high amount of carbohydrates. With these you must learn to read the ingredients list, well with any food product these days you should know what ingredients are going into the product. Most of these shakes are a mixture of many lower quality protein sources such as soya protein. So if you read the list and the first ingredient is soya protein, then know that the majority of the protein is coming from soya protein. The ingredients listed first usually make up the bulk of the supplement.

There are so many ways to make your own mass gainer shakes at home, using whey protein and oats for instance; so unless you are really, really skinny and struggle to gain weight, rather make your own.


Glutamine is one of the most abundant naturally occurring amino acids found in our body. Some of its benefits include: Aiding with protein synthesis, recovery and repair of muscle tissue, and used as a cellular energy source next to glucose. It is a great substance to supplement with even in times of illness, since it is good for recovery and can help with muscle soreness (DOMS) as well as boost your immune system.



Branch Chain Amino Acids consist of three essential aminos, leucine, isoleucine, and valine. What makes them ‘essential’ is the fact that the body does not produce them naturally and thus they need to be ingested in the form of food or supplementation. Their significance is shown by understanding that the BCAAs make up 40 percent of the daily requirement of all nine essential amino acids.

Some of the advantages of them are:

  • Aid with the rate of protein synthesis
  • Increases cell’s capacity for protein synthesis
  • Reduce muscle soreness
  • Speed up recovery
  • Improves the body’s ability to use fat for energy.

As you can see they provide a host of benefits and can definitely assist in speeding up your recovery periods. Whey protein does consist of BCAAS as well, but free form BCAAS tend to be digested and absorbed better.

Multi vitamins

Multi vitamins are supplements which are marketed to everyone, no matter the age, weight, sex, everyone ‘should’ be taking a multi vitamin according to the media, and many people seem to agree. The notion of more is better is portrayed here. But is that really the case? Will overloading yourself with vitamins really help you; for instance, help you prevent an illness? More is not always better. In most cases, if you do not have a vitamin deficiency, taking a high dosage of a vitamin can actually be harmful to you. Another factor which needs to be taken note of, is the fact that most of the absorption of these multivitamins into our bodies and blood streams can be minimal.

Dr. Dan Engle MD, director of medicine at the Rejuvenation and Performance Institute said:

“There are varying studies on the absorption rates of vitamins and minerals, with many showing that the compressed pill form of vitamins have very poor absorption rates.  Add this poor absorption rate to the use of synthetic ingredients, toxic binders, and excipients in most of the tableted supplements and what results is essentially expensive urine.”

So can taking a multi vitamin be useful? Well yes they could be, the best way is to try it for yourself and see if you honestly experience a difference over a period of time. The ideal option is to eat as organic as you can, and include a wide array of vegetables and some fruits in your diet.

food vs vitamins


1. Aledo, J. C. (2004). “Glutamine breakdown in rapidly dividing cells: Waste or investment?”.BioEssays 26 (7): 778–785. doi:10.1002/bies.20063PMID 15221859

2. Lee, W. J.; Hawkins, R. A.; Viña, J. R.; Peterson, D. R. (1998). “Glutamine transport by the blood-brain barrier: A possible mechanism for nitrogen removal”. The American journal of physiology 274 (4 Pt 1): C1101–C1107. PMID 9580550

3. Shimomura Y, Murakami T, Naoya Nakai N, Nagasaki M, Harris RA (2004). “Exercise Promotes BCAA Catabolism: Effects of BCAA Supplementation on Skeletal Muscle during Exercise”J. Nutr. 134 (6): 1583S–1587S.

4. BCAAs: The Many Benefits Of Branched Chain Amino Acid Supplements:

5. Ten Benefits of BCAAs By Poliquin Group™ Editorial Staff:

6. Multivitamin Researchers: “Case Is Closed… Because I Said So?”

7.  Are multivitamins a waste of money? Editorial in medical journal says yes:

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