10 Questions To Ask Yourself When Choosing Your Supplements

The world of supplements can be a daunting place, what, when and how are some of the questions that might flash into your mind. Many turn a blind eye to these vital questions, even though they are integral to getting things right! Sensible and informed supplement choices can help you to maximise your efforts in the gym or with your sport, and save you money. If you wanna get it right then ask yourself the following questions:

#1 What do I want to achieve?

It’s pertinent to write your goals down, and a great way of structuring this is to adopt the S.M.A.R.T Goal principle. Knowing what it is you want significantly improves your chances of getting it, this may be obvious but many of us forget it!

Your goals may be one or more of the following:

  • Improve strength and power
  • Gain size and bulk
  • Increase lean muscle mass to fat ratio
  • Lose weight
  • Improve endurance
  • Minimise general aches and pains or aches caused by exercise
  • Improve your overall health

Once you have an idea of what it is you want to achieve you can make an informed decision about your supplements. It’s beyond the scope of this article to explain the exact supplements for strength, weight loss, endurance etc etc, but our ‘categories’ on our site at maltadextrin will direct you to supplements relevant to your goals. Once you have been pointed in the right direction, these considerations will help you to make up your mind when making that final decision…

#2 Are there any gaps in my diet? 

This is a massive consideration because after all, supplements are designed to do just that…supplement (add to) your habitual intake i.e. your usual dietary patterns over the course of a day. So if you have deliberate or accidental food aversions e.g. some people dislike oily fish and consequently become deficient in polyunsaturated fats, the essential omega oils, whilst others refuse to eat fruit and veg…a major source of vitamins and minerals. Vegetarians have an increased risk of becoming deficient in protein resulting in amino acids being leached from their muscles, which is obviously counter productive to fitness, health and longevity.

Identify these gaps and fill them with the appropriate omega oil blend, multi vitamin and mineral and protein shake...this truly is where supplements come into their own!

#3 Health implications and side effects? 

Quite often people worry themselves to the point of no return with this, but I’m here to tell you that if you have a clean bill of health and no underlying medical conditions, then chances are you’re going to be just fine. However, it is the nature of supplements to effect your body and occasionally the effects go beyond what they are labelled to do. Therefore it’s pertinent to know some of the key effects to watch out for in some of the most popular products.

Whey ProteinThere are no known side effects of consuming whey protein, so long as you stay within the recommended dosage. Some people speculate that protein may put strain on kidneys and increase the excretion of calcium resulting in reduced bone mineral density, however this again is not supported by adequate research and need not be a worry if consumed within the recommended daily amounts i.e. 1.4-2g protein per kg bodyweight.

Creatine The only known side effect of creatine is the osmotic shift of fluid into the muscle resulting in increased muscle size. You may also notice that you excrete more urine than usual because of osmosis (the shift of water from an area of low solute concentration to an area of high). Consequently you should only consume creatine for 4 weeks at a time in order to allow your kidneys time to clear out excess creatine, and to rest.

Fat BurnersOne of the main mechanisms by which fat burners work is to increase metabolic rate. An elevated metabolic rate can increase a physiological response known as thermogenesis, and a consequence of thermogenesis is raised body temperature. So fat burners may make some people feel flushed, and those that contain stimulants such as caffeine may also increase resting heart rate. Therefore it’s important to trial fat burners in smaller dosages to assess tolerance before commencing a full course, and consult a Doctor if you have any underlying medical conditions.

Pre-workout SupplementsMost pre-workouts contain active ingredients such as Nitrates, Beta-alanine, L-arginine and Caffeine which act on the circulatory system. So consumers should again asses tolerance by taking an adjusted, smaller quantity before consuming a full course. Consulting a Doctor before use is also advisable if they have any underlying medical conditions.

#4 How long will I have to take them?

Remember that supplements do not work over night, the only supplement that comes close to an immediate effect is a pre-workout supplement which acutely increases levels of L-arginine etc in the body, which in turn increases the perfusion of blood to your brain and muscles. Generally you should allow a few weeks to feel the benefit of supplements, if indeed you feel any benefit at all. Some supplements do their job under the radar meaning hormone levels etc rise but without any overt difference to fitness or strength for the first few weeks. So to avoid disappointment acknowledge that supplements work at different rates with their benefits being exhibited in different ways and at different times!

#5 Will I need more than one course of this supplement? 

Remember that some supplements need to be consumed over the course of several months, and examples of these include whey protein (this should generally be a staple of your diet), multi-vitamins and minerals, testosterone optimisers and Beta-alanine (in order to maximise its buffering capacity i.e. its ability to stave off muscle fatigue). In the same note, some supplements must NOT be consumed over several months, examples include creatine and pre-workouts. Creatine must be cycled i.e. 4 weeks on and 4 weeks off in order to allow the kidneys time to rest and flush, whilst pre-workouts can increase the strain placed on the cardiovascular system (heart) if consumed for prolonged periods without rest.

#6 Will my supplements compliment one another? 

You might have seen some of our videos or read our articles that discuss the relevance and application of ‘supplement stacks’? Incidentally this whole article is designed to help you formulate the perfect supplement stack for you. Rarely will one supplement do the trick on its own, and by no means am I saying that supplements should replace whole foods because they categorically should not, but supplements can work cumulatively e.g. the acquisition of muscle mass is improved when creatine is taken alongside a whey protein. The term ‘supplement stack’ relates to the deliberate combination of supplements in order to maximise their total effect. Other examples of an effective supplement stack can be found in my article Stack It Up To Max It Up : Stimulate Muscle Growth With This Supplement Stack’.

#7 Any medical considerations?

Any supplement (or foodstuff) has the capacity to cause an adverse reaction if you have an intolerance or allergy, so always check the ingredients before consuming, or indeed buying a supplement. One of the most common things to look out for is the addition of stimulants, some people are relatively intolerant to stimulants and may find they become jittery if they consume large amounts of caffeine, ginseng and taurine to name a few. If you have any medical conditions then be sure to consult a Doctor or specialist medical practitioner in order to assess risk and benefit. If you have chronic conditions/diseases such as Diabetes, Cardiovascular disease, Coeliac disease or lactose intolerance (for example) then be sure to seek expert advice from a registered practitioner such as a Dietitian, Doctor or specialist nurse.

#8 Are my supplement choices cost effective?

We are all guilty of sometimes going for the cheapest option available, after all why would you pay more if you didn’t have to…maybe for piece of mind? Well, I’m about to clear it up for you, in the supplement world sometimes the most expensive isn’t always best, granted most of the time it is, BUT NOT ALWAYS! Examples are creatine monohydrate, if it’s 1g of creatine monohydrate per 1g then it’s a safe bet it’s a good quality creatine guys. Protein is another one, and this is a little bit more complex because of the addition of fillers and cheaper forms of protein, but if a protein comes in at or around 70% then you’re on the right lines, usually irrespective of price. Great examples of a 70% protein includes Optimum Health Ultimate Whey and XL Nutrition Xtra Whey Protein, 80% proteins include Optimum Nutrition 100% Gold Standard Whey and USN Pure Protein GF-1, whilst 90% proteins are Reflex Nutrition Micro Whey and Optimum Nutrition Hydro Whey.

#9 Taste and consistency? 

This is highly subjective, meaning it varies from person to person. Taste is down to you and sadly it isn’t always possible to try before you buy, so what can you do? Well occasionally samples are sent to us, but this is at the brands discretion, so if you want to try a flavour then give us a call and ask because you never know your luck. We also sell smaller tubs of protein etc so should you wish to try it then this is always an option. Over the years supplements have become far more palatable to the point where they are as nice, and often better tasting than a conventional milkshake, with a broader range of flavours such as chocolate, banana and strawberry, right the way through to rocky road and cookies and cream flavour! Consistency is another matter, but the introduction of new coil shakers and grid shakers mean that there is not usually a problem with any shake when it comes to mixability. Generally the higher the quality (higher percentage of protein) of protein the better it mixes because of less fillers…and we pride ourselves on only stocking good quality proteins, so your safe.

#10 Do I need any extras?

So just to round this article up…do you need anything else? Well if you’ve got your whey protein, creatine and pre-workout, chances are you’ll need one or two shakers (one for the protein and creatine, and one for the pre-workout). If you are planning on getting a fat burner and some beta-alanine then you may wish to separate and organise these by purchasing a pill box or better still a Smartshake shaker which has a pill separator, additional compartment for your spare protein powder and a shaker all in one…pretty smart right? You might also want to consider an energy gel dispenser and cycle holder for your triathlons, cycling or running sessions to save the awkward and monotonous process of tearing off the tops of your energy gel mid run/swim/cycle. And finally, DO NOT neglect hydration, and what better way to remind you to drink than a nice convenient water bottle sat ready and waiting.

Oh and #11 Ask Tom (me) or Scott for more information should you still have unanswered questions…we are here 9-5:30pm to answer any query you might have.

Happy supplementing and maybe speak soon!

About the Author

Job Role Qualified Dietitian and Sports Nutritionist Qualifications BSc (Hons) Sports Science | BSc (Hons) Dietetics Tom has always participated in sport both recreationally and competitively which led to an unquenchable thirst for information on anything health, nutrition and fitness. After leaving school Tom went on to play for a football academy during which time he studied Sport and Exercise Science. From here he went on to study a BSc (Hons) Sport Science at UEA followed by his second BSc (Hons) degree, this time at the University of Hertfordshire studying Dietetics. Tom has worked in the fitness, educational and clinical nutrition industry starting out at David Lloyd Health and Leisure Clubs. He then went on to work as a Dietitian (RD) in the NHS, during which time he conducted clinics for healthy eating, weight loss and weight gain, as well as specialised consultations on Diabetes, IBS and Coeliac disease to name a few. He has vast amounts of experience at devising diet plans and supplement regimens, as well as working in the community with schools and competitive athletes. As Head Nutritionist and Supplement expert at Discount Supplements Tom is here to provide current and evidence based health and nutrition information to help you reach your health and fitness goals!
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