Is it safe to use supplements when trying to gain muscle and burn fat? I’ve estimating I’ve spent well over $10,000 on supplements—here’s my take.
In April 2010, I bought my very first supplements. Some whey isolate protein from the grocery store, creatine monohydrate, glutamine, Myoplex Mass Gainer, QuickMass, and some caffeine pills.
I gained over 22 pounds in just 30 days, and that totally transformed my life. I became pain-free as my chronic tendonitis went away, the hole in my beard filled in, and I had a ton more energy and strength. Not to mention I *looked* healthier too. Here’s my four-month skinny ectomorph transformation:
But how much did supplements play a role in my initial transformation?
At the very same time, I overhauled my diet and was eating 3,200 calories, most of which were made up of whole foods. I was lifting weights 3x a week. I was walking outdoors for nearly 5 hours a week to get to and from the gym. So there was all that as well.
Over the past eleven years, I’ve now probably tried hundreds of supplements. I can’t even remember them all.
Most of them, I couldn’t feel any difference—good or bad.
A few of them caused me health issues that I had to figure out how to fix.
And very few of them actually made me feel better, lift better, get leaner, etc.
Supplements Are Drugs?
I’ve come to see most supplements like drugs. Some can be as powerful as medicine. In fact, one that I took that really messed me up is sold both as a vitamin on regular grocery shelves and as a prescription cholesterol medication (Vitamin B3 / flushing nicotinic acid). Like drugs, if you care about your health, it’s probably not a good idea to take supplements.
Aside from negatively affecting my health, these supplements cost me thousands of hard-earned dollars and countless hours researching them (and then sometimes researching how to “reverse” them.)
Food Is Perfectly Balanced
Nutrients come in ratios. If you take too much of one thing, it unbalances another. Your body wants to get into balance. And if you feed it with real food, with perfect ratios from nature, your body can use it properly. For example, if you take zinc too long, it might cause metabolic disease as seen in rats (2012). This is because zinc can change the way our body absorbs minerals, especially copper.
Today, the things I currently take are called whole-food supplements. It’s basically food put into a capsule, tablet, or powder. I don’t take these every day, but they are things I’ve re-ordered a few times:
- Freeze-Dried Beef Organs
- Bee Pollen
- Camu Camu Powder (complete vitamin C complex)
- Collagen/Gelatin/Bone Broth Powder
- Ocean Water (sodium reduced)
- Concentrated Seawater Spray (Topical Natural Magnesium)
- Cod Liver Oil (occasionally in the winter for vit A + D)
Supplements I don’t ever plan on taking again:
- Ascorbic Acid (incorrectly labelled as vitamin C)
- Zinc (ionic, citrate, food-isolate)
- Any multi-vitamins
- Fish Oil
- Potassium Citrate
- Pre-workouts (C4, Superpump, J4cked, etc.)
- Citrulline Malate
- Synthetic B-Vitamins (complex, and some isolated)
- High-dose synthetic Vitamin D
- Synthetic Vitamin E
- Synthetic Vitamin K1
- Synthetic Vitamin K2
Unsure About These Supplements
A few supplements I’ve seen good results with, but I’m unsure of the long-term health consequences:
- Whey Protein Isolate
- Creatine Monohydrate
Whey protein is super processed, and it may be wiser to get the full complex with casein and the fat-soluble vitamins—aka milk, yogurt, cheese, etc.
Creatine monohydrate gets people results because it relieves the burden of creatine synthesis in the body (which needs methionine, glycine, and arginine, etc.), and most people are very, very low in creatine already. (Vegetarians and vegans are so low, creatine supplementation improves their memory, reaction time, etc.)
But most people that are low in creatine would do better with just eating more meat, bone marrow, and bone broth anyways. You’d get the other things that ought to go along with it like taurine, carnitine, glycine, proline, etc.—and all in perfect ratios.
Unless you want to continually play scientist, and keep trying new supplements and learning how to re-balance your body after it’s messed up, I’d really encourage you to avoid most supplements and instead focus on improving your diet quality.
If you’re running into problems, it’s not always about adding in more things (like supplements.) Sometimes it’s about removing things too. You might be eating something that is inflaming your body, throwing you off, etc.
Anyways, to sum up, supplements are cheap, attractive, and give you a sense of control by making you feel like you’re doing something.
But in my experience, 99% of them aren’t worth the time, money, or negative health issues supplements could cause. It is better to focus on improving your diet, improving your food quality, and then making sure to consume a wide variety of foods (including nose-to-tail.)
(I am writing this as a person who is relatively healthy though and enjoys pursuing optimal/excellence. So some people in pain may experience some relief with supplements, but that’s a different story as I’d see that more as medicine.)