Breaking Down the Barriers to Understanding Supplements


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There’s no doubt about it.

The supplement world can be incredibly confusing.

What are all those letters on the tubs of supplements in the store? Who are these supplement powders and pills meant for? And what exactly is in those shaker bottles everyone is carrying around at the gym?

In this article, we’re going to simplify the overcomplicated world of supplements one question at a time - from the what they do to how and when you should use them.


A dictionary tells us that a supplement is defined as “completing or enhancing something else”.

What are we completing by taking supplements? And what are we enhancing?

By taking supplements, you’re completing the nutrients that are lacking from your food, and topping up anything deficient in your balanced, healthy diet. When it comes to training and performance, the basic concept remains the same - with one small difference.

When you train your body, the stress of those workouts requires that you fuel your body with specific nutrients, and enough of them, to help you push harder, recover faster, progress toward your goals and prevent the risk of backsliding and injury.


To fully answer that question, we would need to know what you would like to achieve. Want to bulk up? Look good naked? Run farther?

Why you would choose to take supplements can depend on your health goals.

If you intend to gain muscle mass, you would eat more calories, mainly protein to help build muscle. You can enhance that goal with good protein supplements that give you a precise amount protein per serving and simplify your meal requirements.

If you have a goal to lose fat, you would create a calorie deficiency of carbs. You could supplement that goal with a CLA supplement that inhibits the absorption of fat and increases the fatty acid being burned off by your muscles.


It can be incredibly difficult to reach goals of fat loss and muscle gains through your eating habits alone. For example, if you are interested in bulking up, the recommended guide for protein intake is 2.5-3g/kg. So, an average 12 stone man would need 200-240g of protein. How much protein is that? Try eating 33-40 eggs a day.

Wow. That’s a lot of eggs.

A good protein supplement can give you 50g of that daily protein in one serving, without the need to cook food or eat massive amounts of calories.

Basically, taking supplements is a method of expressing an interest in your body’s overall health. While you can enhance your ability to reach a target, you should consider supplements a natural way to extend your healthy eating habits.

Let’s just cover off some of the most common supplements that you could use for your workout goals.


The word “complete” means that this protein supplement contains all the essential amino acids, or building blocks, to repair and rebuild muscle tissue, a huge component to working out. A reminder: most protein sources are animal-based, so look for soy-based products if needed.


One of the key proteins to take for fast muscle growth is whey. It makes up around 20% of the protein found in milk. It acts incredibly quickly, often being absorbed into your bloodstream within minutes and metabolized and rebuilding muscle tissue in about an hour. If muscle mass is your goal, add a whey protein to supplement that goal.


Another protein often derived from milk is casein. It makes up around 80% of the milk protein. It’s a good partner to whey protein. It acts slower than whey, releasing its amino acids over the course of several hours. It is known as the protein supplement to take to build your muscle mass while you sleep.


Your body breaks down the proteins you eat into amino acids, reorders them, and then synthesises protein your body can use to rebuilds your muscles. Taking amino acids as a supplement regulates the way your body synthesises muscle tissue. Amino acids also help provide essential energy during workouts and training sessions.


One of the most common forms of amino acids is Branched Chain Amino Acids, also known as essential amino acids. Because your body can’t produce them naturally, you rely on the food you eat (and the supplements you take) to fill that essential need. They are usually made up of leucine, isoleucine, and valine, three amino acids that are directly synthesised by the muscle, and not passing through the liver first.


Glutamine or “L-Glutamine” is your body’s most common amino acid. When you work out, you deplete your glutamine levels dramatically, affecting your stamina and recovery times. Glutamine supplements enhance your body’s ability to restore that amino acid for the next workout session. While it doesn’t build up muscle mass, it does prevent your body from catabolizing muscles for energy in the next workout.


Creatine is a form of stored energy that our body uses during times of high-energy output or depletion. The main reason to use a creatine supplement is to improve performance and stamina and reduce recovery times. Creatine rebuilds the energy source Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) in our body, but it has also been linked to bone density increase and improved brain performance.


When you start to take supplements, you may be unsure of what to take - and when. Your goals will dictate what supplements to take - and each one will be most effective when taken at the right time.

For instance, if you are interested in gaining muscle you may go for a protein supplement. You would be best off taking both casein AND whey. But not together. Casein is a slow acting protein, synthesised by your body for many hours. It can remain in your gut for a long time while your body breaks in down and digests it. If you take whey (a fast acting protein) along with casein, it would inhibit the whey from breaking down quickly, and you would lose the benefit of the whey protein altogether.

Understanding how supplements work and how to take them will help you maximize their effects. Let’s break down the most common supplements and how to use them.


  • Casein – As a slow-acting, slow-release of amino acids, a good time is right before bed. You won’t interfere with anything else and your body has the time to digest and synthesise the amino acids.
  • Whey – As a fast acting protein, take this immediately before or after an intense workout. It will hit your muscles with the amino acids they need to rebuild exactly when they need it.


BCAAs – Take this before and after an intense workout to boost your body’s synthesis of the protein with essential amino acids that are hard to find in whole foods.

Glutamine – As an energy source, take this 2-3 times a day. Make one of these times right before bed. Remember, this is a recovery booster, so multiple hits throughout the day are best.


Take it right before or right after intense training. Replenishing your ATP before your workout will give you an extra boost to push harder to the end. For maximum effect, you can take it at both times.


At one time, driving a car was confusing for you. But after some practice, you developed the ability to understand it completely without it overwhelming you.

Think of supplements in the same way. It looks confusing at first, but after some time and experimentation, you will discover what your body responds to and how quickly you can reach your goals.

And once you do, you’ll never look back.

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