Look, supplements are a touchy subject. I get it: the supplement industry sells billions of dollars of these things every year, but there’s little industry regulation, so all those sales are driven by marketing. From a consumer’s perspective, that sucks, because marketing is designed to persuade you to buy something. It’s not going to provide a balanced take on the issue. Knowing that, how can you trust anything you read?
It’s honestly not much better for supplement companies (unless you’re one of the huge, well-established ones). Marketing is expensive, and even if you have a truly unique, superior product, there’s no way to get it to stand out from the crowd without paying for that marketing. And, as a Granite Supplements athlete, I’m part of that marketing effort. I realize that.
For that reason, I shy away from sharing too much information about supplements. I don’t want to come off as a salesman because while I care about your progress, I really don’t care what supplements you use or don’t use. Your success is always going to come down to the effort and care you put into your training and recovery, and ultimately, supplements are only a small part of the story.
However, I get so many questions about my supplement regimen that I wanted to at least explain what I use, why I use it, and what I generally recommend. If you want that little extra edge that supplements can provide, I hope that this article is helpful. If not, and you choose not to use any supplements, you’ll still be just fine.
And, while I don’t want you to feel compelled to buy any Granite products, if you do, you can use my code POLLACK10 – you’ll save 10% and I’ll get a 10% commission. Just so we all know what’s up.
With all that out of the way, let’s get to the good stuff.
I’m bunching all stimulants together because a lot of this section is going to come down to personal preference. There are so many varieties of preworkouts, and everyone’s body is so different, that I really hesitate to give any blanket recommendations. Instead, I’ll explain what I use and find effective, but note that you may well prefer other preworkout strategies.
- Some amount of caffeine is essential for peak performance. I use large amounts of caffeine before training: 400-800 milligrams, spread out over the course of 1-2 hours. Most people underestimate their caffeine intake. If you drink coffee and use preworkout supplements, don’t be surprised if you’re actually consuming close to this amount already. However, the amount that you should use will depend on your size and how you respond to it. If you suffer from side effects like anxiety or insomnia from high doses of caffeine, obviously you should use lower amounts! Keep in mind also that caffeine tends to work well when spread out over training, not taken all at once.
- For my absolute heaviest training, I add a small amount of ephedrine to my preworkout stack. Ephedrine is an ingredient found in some over-the-counter cold medicines.It increases nervous system activity and works very well in conjunction with caffeine. However, you should be careful with your use of it, as it can have even stronger side effects than caffeine. It is also banned in USAPL competitions.When I use it — which is generally 1-2 times per month — I take 12.5-25 mg of ephedrine.
- Ingredients like DMAA, DHMA, and PEA are fairly similar to ephedrine. I strongly recommend that you not combine these, but you will likely prefer one over the others. As always, stick with what works.
- For the rest of my training, I try to limit use of other types of stimulants. While they work very well, I find that they really encourage overreaching: when you’re stimmed up, you’re more likely to overestimate your own capabilities and train longer and harder than might be optimal!
There’s a huge variety of other ingredients found in preworkouts — nootropics, nitric oxide enhancers, other types of stimulants, and probably a bunch of shit I don’t know about. I categorize all of these as “nice-to-haves”: they very well might enhance your training, but they’re not essential. If you’re looking for product recommendations, though, I highly suggest Granite Supplement’s Hy-Stim, which contains some proven ingredients in addition to caffeine and a PEA-like analogue.
Creatine is, without a doubt, the most important non-stimulant I use.It’s proven safe and effective, it’s cheap, and you have no reason not to be using it. Not surprisingly, the industry has tried to make creatine more expensive and complicated, but I promise: all you need is plain-old monohydrate. It’s that simple, but I do get a lot of questions about creatine use, so here are some of my opinions on how best to take it:
- The most important thing is to make sure you’re getting enough. For a long time, I thought I just didn’t respond to creatine, because I’d take the standard 5 grams per day and not notice anything. Once I upped that to 15 grams per day, I started seeing all the benefits that everyone else raved about. Now, depending on your size, you might not need that much, but if you’re using creatine and not seeing results, I strongly suggest you try a higher dose.
- Timing does not matter at all. However, many people find that they get a bit of stomach discomfort from creatine, and if you’re in that group, try splitting your total amount up into smaller doses taken throughout the day. This will not increase effectiveness, but it may help you to keep your gut happy.
- Personally, I have seen no benefits from using any of the fancy variations on creatine monohydrate, including the most popular, Kre-Akalyn and creatine HCL.
- Creatine will probably cause you to hold on to some extra water weight, so it’s advisable to stop using it 7-10 days out of a powerlifting meet or bodybuilding show.However, you do not need to cycle creatine at other times — just use it year-round.
If you’ve used creatine differently, and had success, that’s great — stick with what’s working! Otherwise, I suggest you grab some creatine monohydrate from Bulk Supplements on Amazon — it’s probably the best deal you’ll find.
Protein and Carbohydrates
Protein and carbs are last on the list not because they’re less important than the others, but because I don’t really consider them to be supplements. They’re just food. Protein and carb powders can be a hugely convenient way to get more protein and more calories in your diet, but unless you’re trying to be Mr. Olympia, you probably won’t notice any difference compared to just eating a comparable amount of regular food like chicken and rice. There are some times when protein and carb supplements might be considered essential:
- If you have a very busy schedule and aren’t able to cook or sit and eat a regular meal.
- If you have trouble eating enough food to gain weight (protein/carb shakes are generally easier to digest).
- If you feel uncomfortable eating regular food at certain times, like first thing in the morning or right after training.It’s still important to get nutrition during these times, even if you don’t feel like it.
- If you’re prepping for a bodybuilding show, the benefits of supplements over regular foods might be noticeable, although I still personally wouldn’t consider them essential.
Personally, I use protein powder sparingly: in my postworkout shake, and if I’m in a rush. Protein powder isn’t “worse” than other lean protein sources, like chicken breast, tuna, or egg whites, but unless you’re using powders exclusively, I also wouldn’t worry too much about the difference between casein, whey, or vegan types of products. Same with carb powders: high-molecular weight carbohydrates will digest quicker than foods like oats or rice, but chances are you just won’t notice that.
Everything in this section I use because I enjoy. Again, if you’re looking for a little edge, check this stuff out, but don’t expect any of it to change your life — or your training — significantly.
Essential Amino Acids
Amino acids are the compounds that make up protein and “essential” amino acids are the ones your body can’t synthesize from other molecules. Research shows that aminos work: leucine in particular signals your body to produce muscle, so even taking leucine alone — especially around a workout — can be beneficial. The question, of course, is how beneficial.In my experience, you probably won’t notice huge changes from including aminos in your regimen.
That said, they will make a small difference, and most amino products taste great. I use Granite’s aminos, of course, but to be honest, most amino products are pretty similar outside of taste. In my mind, if drinking aminos gets you to drink more period, they’re worth the cost. However, amino acids do have calories, even though they’re not required to be labeled as such. If you’re adding them to your diet for the first time, make sure to account for that.
In the powerlifting world, a lot of people will tell you that the pump doesn’t matter — and that’s pretty much true. The thing is, most people don’t just want to get strong — they want to get big and strong. And the pump can be pretty helpful when it comes to hypertrophy.
Pump enhancers work by vasodilation, or increasing blood flow, through various means. The exact products that create vasodilation don’t really matter, as long as they work for you, but arginine and glycerol-based products work best for me. According to theory, increasing blood flow brings more nutrients to the muscle and stretches the fascia, resulting in more hypertrophy.
I honestly don’t know how much stock I put in that, but I do know that a good pump will make it easier to “feel” your muscles working, and that’s really important. If you have trouble activating certain muscle groups, take a good pump product, and do a few very light, very high rep (think 50-100 rep) sets of an isolation exercise for the problem areas. Trust me: this works, and works really well.
A pump can be beneficial in other ways, too. Light pumping sessions can help improve recovery (when used sparingly and appropriately) and reduce soreness. And let’s be real: everyone likes to look good. If you’re going out this weekend, go blast a pump product, hit the gym for a light pump workout two hours or so before you get ready, and then take more of the product when you get back home. If you have any muscle at all, you’ll get compliments (not that I’ve ever done anything like that myself, of course…)!
The truth is, lifting heavy-ass weights isn’t really healthy. It’s fun, it’s rewarding, and it has a lot of physical benefits, but if you were lifting for health, you’d be doing a few moderate-rep sets of basic exercises in addition to a fair amount of cardio, not trying to load up the bar and get swole as fuck. That said, if you’re health-conscious, a lot of supplements can strengthen your cardiovascular and endocrine systems, improve your mood, enhance your sleep.
These are the supplements I take for health (in no particular order). This list is not exhaustive, and I do recommend you look into other ones if you have specific issues you’re concerned about.
- Vitamin D
- Fish oil (I strongly recommend that you use liquid fish oil, not capped)
- Melatonin (I actually use melatonin together with this for better sleep)
- CBD oil
- A good joint support product
- Probiotic enzymes
Again, I don’t consider any of these strictly essential, but I do see at least minor benefits from all of them.
I know discussing supplement is kind of a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” kind of thing. I also know a lot of people believe that supplements are either gateways or cover-ups for performance-enhancing drugs. I’m not trying to change anyone’s opinion with this article – but I do believe supplements can be helpful, especially the ones I listed under the essentials section above.
I’m certainly no expert on the topic, but if you have questions about specific supplements that I didn’t address in this article, please ask them in the comments below, and I’ll do my best to answer. I also recommend the site Examine.com for a good summary of scientific research related to supps. Again, I don’t put all my stock in research, but I think it’s good to be aware of what’s been studied and what hasn’t.
No matter what, supplements are no substitute for hard work and consistency. That’s why, as always, I hope that you continue to Think Strong and train hard!