Welcome to the final post of the series about setting up the diet. In this post, I will provide my 10 best daily supplements which I personally take. But first I would like to write a little about supplements in general, why you could consider using them, what to take and what to avoid.
What Are Supplements And Are They Really Necessary?
If you’ve read some of my guides regarding the setting up the diet you already know that almost everything we eat contains macronutrients and micronutrients. If your diet is well-rounded and covers all the macros and micros in sufficient quantities, supplements are not necessary. Although there are some micronutrients that can bring more benefits when taken in higher doses. These higher doses can be hard to achieve only through food alone and supplements can help.
Another case where supplements can be helpful is when your diet does not cover all the macronutrient and mainly micronutrient needs. Our western diets aren’t ideal in this regard and some very important micronutrients are not covered in sufficient quantities. Two micronutrients that are most commonly deficient or consumed in too low quantities are vitamin D and magnesium. Supplements can help to “fill in the holes” so your body can function better and can be more resistant to illness. And of course, they can help with your performance in the gym and can help you to lose fat or build muscle more effectively.
So to answer the question from the subtitle – if your diet is well set up the supplements are not necessary. If it’s not, you should first work on the basics like caloric intake, macronutrient composition, micronutrient intake and then worry about supplements. That’s also the reason they are the last step in the diet set-up.
What Is Worth Your Attention
What follows below is a list of supplements that I’ve compiled through online research from sources I trust (Eric Helms, examine.com, RP). I personally take all the following supplements almost on a daily basis. I wrote almost because sometimes I forget and sometimes I’m just too lazy to weigh the powders:) I think that there is almost always the option to buy pills instead of powders but the pills are more expensive, so if possible I choose the powder variant.
Whey protein is probably the most used supplement in the fitness world. It’s one of the two protein types found in the milk (the other is casein). It is the fastest absorbing protein known to us so it’s a good idea to take it around your training, during and after, to quickly feed your muscles with building blocks and to speed up the recovery.
There are three types of whey protein supplements available on the market:
- whey concentrate – contains 70 – 80% protein
- whey isolate – contains more than 90% protein
- whey hydrolysate – protein content is the same as isolate but larger protein structures are broken down into peptides and amino acids which enables the fastest absorption of all protein supplements on the market. This process also reduces the allergic properties of the whey protein.
You may have read that concentrate is better when bulking and isolate or hydrolysate it better when cutting. This recommendation is most likely based on the fact that concentrate isn’t as pure as the other two, which means that it contains a bit more fat and carbs. But the difference is minuscule, in my opinion, so my recommendation is to stick to the concentrate. It will give you the same benefits but with a lower price tag:) Unless you’re lactose intolerant or allergic to cow milk protein, in which case you should try the hydrolysate or some plant-based protein powder.
As far as dosage goes, take as much as necessary to hit your protein needs. If you take it only around training, like me, the recommended dose is around 30 grams of whey powder, which will give you around 22 – 24 grams of protein depending on the type of the whey supplement. If you use some purer form, you will need a bit less powder to hit the same amount of protein.
Casein protein is the solid protein found in milk. It’s the slow digesting protein, which means it won’t create such a big immediate anabolic (muscle growth) response compared to whey. But the advantage of the casein is that it will release the amino acids to muscles for a lot longer than the whey protein. Another great thing about casein is that it is safe to consume by people with an allergy to eggs or whey protein sources.
Use it when you won’t consume any protein food for extended periods of time to keep a raised level of amino acids in your body. It is often labeled as “night protein” because the night is probably the longest period without food we experience every day. I like to use it as my breakfast shake after which I usually don’t eat anything until lunch (4-5 hours). This allows me to spare my fats and carbs for the later meals:)
You can also use it to make the casein pudding just by adding a bit of water. I also like to mix it into yogurt if I want to up its protein content. It creates a certain texture that I really enjoy. And regarding the dosage, you can use as large dose as you need/want to hit your daily protein target.
Creatine is a molecule, produced by our bodies, which enables our cells to produce energy faster when the body is under high-intensity stress (like, I don’t know, lifting heavy stuff:)). It can also be found in food, mainly animal sources like eggs, meat and fish.
As a supplement, it’s probably the most researched one on the market and is proven to work. Examine lists more than 700 unique studies! Supplementation of creatine has many health benefits like neuroprotective and cardioprotective properties and can be beneficial for bones, brain, liver and … muscles!
Creatine has also performance enhancing properties and causes strength increases. But don’t expect to be The Hulk after a week. It will help you to use a bit more weight, here and there, which will allow you to build a bit more muscle. It doesn’t look like a lot in the short time frame. But if you look at it in the longer time frame, it can really help with strength and muscle gains.
The market is filled with various versions of creatine supplements but, in this case, the cheapest is the best – creatine monohydrate. More expensive version claim various benefits over simple monohydrate but, as far as I know, none of them has undoubtedly proven the claims. So my recommendation is to save some money and just go for the creatine monohydrate.
There are two ways how to take it. First “protocol” uses loading phase, where you take larger doses (20 – 25 grams, depends on your size) for about a week and then lower the daily dose to 3 – 5 grams. In the second option, you skip the loading phase and just take 3 – 5 grams daily. The benefit of the loading phase is that you’ll fill-up your creatine reserves faster but in the long run, it doesn’t matter. Whichever “protocol” you choose, just make sure to drink plenty of water. Timing doesn’t matter so take it whenever you want.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are often called fish oil. It’s because fish oil is one of the cheapest and most common sources of omega-3 fats and contains both forms – EPA and DHA. Fatty fish are the other very good source of omega-3 and if you consume them regularly, there is no need to supplement the omega-3s.
Sufficient intake of omega-3s is important for balancing out the intake of omega-6 fatty acids (red meat, eggs) where the ideal ratio is roughly 1:1. Supplementation of omega-3s has many benefits like lower lipid count, healthier blood vessels and it can help to reduce the risk of several forms of cancer and diabetes.
Fish oil should be supplemented in relation to the intake from food. The minimum recommended dose, for general health, is 250 mg per day of EPA and DHA combined and can be achieved via fish intake. The American Heart Association recommends 1g per day of EPA and DHA combined. Higher doses, around 4-6 grams spread throughout the day, can help to decrease muscle soreness after training.
Vitamin C, official name L-ascorbic acid, is an essential micronutrient which is water-soluble. This water solubility means that it’s relatively safe because it’s hard to overdose since the body will remove the excess vitamin C through urine. But don’t go crazy with vitamin C supplementation because high doses can cause stones formation in the urinary tract. I’ve heard the opinion that supplementing vitamin C in high doses just makes your urine expensive:)
Vitamin C can act as anti-oxidant but also as a pro-oxidant depending on what the body needs. Other benefits of vitamin C are improved blood flow, neuroprotective properties and it can also help to maintain normal levels of testosterone. One of the best sources of vitamin C is kiwi, which contains between 300 – 800 mg per kg. Other good sources are citrus fruits, fruits in general, peppers and leafy green vegetables.
Recommended daily intake of vitamin C is between 100 to 200 mg, this is easily achievable through diet. Higher doses need supplementation. These higher doses, up to 2000 mg, are especially beneficial for athletes where they can decrease the chance of “catching” the cold by half and also decrease the duration of the cold.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble, essential vitamin which is produced by our skin with the help of the sun. It can be also found in the food, specifically fish and eggs. Most people are not deficient in the vitamin D, but on the other hand, also don’t have the optimal levels.
Vitamin D has many benefits like improved immunity, mood and bone health. Its supplementation can reduce the risk of heart disease, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, cancer and can also increase testosterone levels. There are two versions of vitamin D available – vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) and vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) with D2 being inferior because our body can use D3 more effectively. So if you’re looking for vitamin D supplement pick D3.
Vitamin D should be taken daily with food or some kind of fat. I, for example, take it after lunch with omega-3 supplement. The recommended dose is between 1000 – 4000 UI. Use the lower value if you consume a lot of fatty fish and/or you spend a lot of time under the sun and use higher limit if you don’t.
Vitamin K is also an essential vitamin, it’s fat-soluble and is very important for bone health and blood coagulation. The best sources, in the western diet, are green vegetables like spinach, kale, watercress and broccoli. It can be also found in animal products like egg yolks and chicken thighs but in a lot lower quantities. But the best food source available is most likely the natto (fermented soybeans).
There are two forms of vitamin K – K1 (phylloquinones) and K2 (menaquinones). K2 has other subtypes marked MK-x. Just remember that MK-7 looks like the best form of K2 to use as a supplement.
The recommended intake of K1 and K2 combined is around 1000 mcg. This amount is hard to reach from food alone so you should consider supplementing it. Examine recommends something like 500mcg from each K1 and K2 (MK-7). A lot of supplements available on the market combine both of these forms so you don’t have to take them separately.
Zinc is an essential micronutrient, mineral which plays very important role in the regulation of many enzymes. It can be found in eggs, meat fish and legumes. If you receive enough zinc through food, supplementation is not needed.
On the other hand, if you don’t have sufficient intake of zinc from food, supplementation is recommended because of its antioxidative and immune boosting properties. It can also help to optimize the testosterone levels, but only if you have a zinc deficiency. Zinc is lost through sweat so the supplementation is important especially for athletes.
Zinc is available in a few different forms (eg. zinc citrate, gluconate, sulfate) where the difference is in how much “pure” zinc there is. For example to get 10 mg of “pure” zinc you need to take 45 mg of zinc sulfate, but only 30 mg of zinc citrate.
If you want to supplement zinc just as prevention, aim for 5 – 10 mg daily. If you’re in the risk of zinc deficiency (you’re vegan, vegetarian or you sweat a lot) consider the higher dose of 25 – 40 mg daily. Since zinc can improve sleep I would recommend you to take it before going to bed and make sure you don’t take it with a calcium because it can impair zinc absorption.
Magnesium is, similarly to zinc, an essential mineral. It is an electrolyte and plays a role in the function of more than 300 enzymes. It holds the second place among the most commonly deficient micronutrients in the western diet, right after the vitamin D. It’s because the best sources of magnesium, like nuts and leafy green vegetables, aren’t very common in our western diet. The other noteworthy sources are legumes, beans and meat.
Magnesium has many forms but the most common are probably the magnesium oxide, chloride and citrate. Out of these three, the citrate is most likely the best form suitable for supplementation, because it has the highest absorption rate. It should be taken daily with food at doses of 200 – 400 mg.
Calcium is the third and last essential mineral on this supplement list. It’s important for bone health and prevention of osteoporosis, or more precisely significantly decreasing the risk of developing it. Another benefit of sufficient calcium intake is improved cardiovascular health. The best food source of calcium are dairy products and also vegetables, but these contain it in a lot smaller concentrations.
If your diet doesn’t cover your calcium needs you should supplement it. The dosage of the calcium supplementation should be done according to your calcium intake from food, so you reach the recommended intake. This recommended daily intake of calcium (not just supplement) is 1000 mg for adults between 19 – 50. If you are a bit younger or older, the recommended intake is 1200 – 1300 mg (source). Calcium can be taken whenever you like but you should take it with food for better absorption.
On the other hand, if you have an excessive intake of calcium it can cause some adverse effects like abdominal cramping and pain, constipation, diarrhea and bloating.
And we’re finished:) I’m sorry about a bit longer post than usual but it wasn’t planned. To completely finalize the article let’s review the recommended doses once more:
|recommended dose||recommended dose|
|whey protein||as much as necessary||vitamin D||1000 – 4000 UI|
|casein protein||as much as necessary||vitamin K||500 mcg of both K1 and K2|
|creatine||5 g||zinc||5 – 25 mg|
|omega-3||250 – 1000 mg (up to 6 g)||magnesium||200 – 400 mg|
|vitamin C||100 – 200 mg (up to 2 g)||calcium||1000 – 1300 mg|
Don’t forget that supplements are here to supplement our diet, not to make the bulk of it. So concentrate on setting up your caloric intake, macronutrients, micronutrients first, then eat mostly whole foods with a little treat here and there and then worry about supplements.
If you find the article helpful you’re very welcome to share and like it:) And if you have questions, suggestions or experience you would like to share feel free to leave a comment below.