4: The 4 Must-Dos When Choosing Supplements

Healthy Food

We are now moving to the fourth principle in the “How to Become a Bodybuilder” series. In the next three series we will be focusing on Nutrition. In my opinion, nutrition is one of the most important if not the most crucial aspect of having a healthy body both inside and out. When our discussion about nutrition and the remaining principles are completed, I will give you a snapshot of what a full week in my bodybuilding life looks like when combining nutrition, supplements, sleep and exercise.

My trainer always says, “Fitness is 20% exercise and 80% nutrition. You can’t out-train a bad diet.” He’s right. On top of that another very important part of nutrition is including supplements. Why? Adding supplements to your nutrition program completes your diet in case you are not eating enough high quality foods to gain the nutrition your body needs to grow, repair, etc. Using the right types of supplements can also enhance your diet so you can get maximum results from your workouts.

What are Dietary Supplements?

Dietary Supplements

Let’s talk about supplements. What are they?  According to the U.S Food and Drug Administration, a dietary supplement is defined as “a product taken by mouth that contains a ‘dietary ingredient’ intended to supplement the diet”. Dietary supplements normally include one or more of the following:

  • Minerals
  • Vitamins
  • An Amino Acid
  • An Herb or other botanical
  • A concentrate, metabolite, constituent or extract
  • A dietary substance for use to supplement the diet (the FDA gives examples including enzymes or tissues from organs or glands)

If you do a quick visit to the Health Store, you will see thousand of brands selling the same thing as well, different supplements for all type of reasons. If you just walk in without any research on the ones you want, I can guarantee that you will be confused. One of the most confusing things for me was choosing the right supplement and brand. How do you choose the right one?

In this article I will be suggesting 4 Must-Do when choosing supplements.

1st Must-Do: Ask Yourself 5 Questions Before You Choose a Supplement

In most cases, for bodybuilders, the aim is to get the best results in the fastest time. This is all determined by your goals and plans. If you apply the same thought process when choosing supplements, you are on the right track.

Just before you go all crazy and choose every supplement there is, here a few things you need to ask yourself first.

First: Ask yourself “Why?”

If you go to purchase sneakers for the gym, you know what the shoes is for and why you want it. You don’t go in the store to buy gym shoes and walk out with 6 inch stilettos instead. It doesn’t work like that.

Therefore, use the same logic when buying supplements. Know what you want before you enter the store. If you don’t, you might come across a sales clerk who is willing to sell you just about anything to get a commission. What you want will depend on your goal. For Example:

  • Muscle Growth
  • Weight Loss
  • Reduce Body Fat
  • Enhance Immune System

Second: Are You an Athlete Competing in a Tested Competition?

Depending on which federation you decide to compete in you would be required to be tested for banned substances. Therefore, it is very important to do your research on the federation you are participating in to see the list of banned substances and choose your supplements accordingly. If you take a random substance that happens to be banned, you could be disqualified from the competition and banned from competing for a few years.

Third: Ask Yourself If The Substance Can Be Harmful?

There are tons of supplements on the shelves but not all are healthy or safe to consume as some potentially have some dangerous side effects. Even if the federation you are competing in is non-tested, you really have to examine the substance and see if it’s worth it to take in the long run. I will go in further details about this later in this article.

Fourth: What Are The Best Supplements for You?

Before you consider taking supplements seriously, it’s best to know your medical history and check to see if the supplements you are planning to consume has ingredients that your body has issues with.

Now, if you have a trainer you could simply ask him/her to assist you with choosing your supplements. I would suggest consulting a sports dietitian afterward to see if the supplements your trainer suggested is safe for you to consume especially if you have a history of illnesses.  

You can also read through the reviews on this bodybuilding forum regarding different supplements. That aforementioned forum is my go-to website for anything bodybuilding. The forum is a great reference because the members and gym goers can give you an idea what to expect when taking it based on their experiences. Bare in mind however it’s best to collaborate with your dietitian or doctor  to establish a clear answer to your particular situation.

Fifth: Does it Fit Your Budget?

There are a lot of great supplements out there with different ingredients and purposes but guess what they all have in common? Many are expensive! Dietary supplements especially for bodybuilding is nowhere near cheap. The more credible or more advertised the brand is the more it costs.

If you are running on a low budget it is best to choose wisely. Determine before, how much you are willing to spend on supplements. This is a bit easy for you if you know your goal, as you will know which supplement is the most important and choose accordingly. Choose what is most important to you if you are working with a tight budget.

You can also check out the bodyspace profiles on the Bodybuilding.com forum and see what the bodybuilders with bodies you admire are taking.

A last resort also, is calling the company that sell the supplements. Although the aim is to sell you their product, they can advise you on which one of their product to take that best fits your goal.

Second Must-Do: Choose Wisely

You really have to decide what you want to achieve. Having a great nutrition program is the best method for muscle growth. It’s not the amount of supplements you take. You could consume all the best supplements in the world but if you have a crappy diet you still won’t see the results you want. Supplements should be taken in addition to regular food and not instead of food. That is why they are called “supplements”, to supplement your diet, not replace your food.

I can’t stress this enough that choosing supplements all depends on your goal. The other thing that you can determine as well, is whether you are looking for a fast fix or something long term. For example: You wouldn’t want to take a “Fat Burner” long term. It just doesn’t make sense.

If you are constantly taking fat burners, you need to revise your nutrition program because something is wrong. Bodybuilders normally take fat burners around the time when they are  preparing for a competition and they need to reduce body fat. Supplements like fish oil are good for various reasons so taking that long term is OK.

When you are just starting your bodybuilding journey, you will be tempted to want results right away and might end up trying all sorts of supplement to get fast results. Take my advice and don’t fall for it. Everything takes time. You might try excessive amount of supplements only to find out that they don’t work. Once you have a great nutrition program and your exercising consistently, you will eventually see results and sometimes faster than you expect.

Some of the best supplements to consider for beginners are:

  • Protein supplements
  • Multivitamins
  • Fish Oil
  • Greens
  • Carbs/Pre-Post Workout
  • BCAA
  • Creatine

Protein Supplements

Additional protein may lead to greater muscle development and strength as long as you’re exercising and not taking too much protein. A very important nutrition principle we talk allot about here on NutritionPrinciples.com is “Moderation in All Things“. There is definitely such thing as too much of anything, including protein. So you’ll need to check with your coach and/or doctor to determine your protein for your needs based upon your body type and how often you’re working out.

Drinking a protein source that is easily digested before, during or after workout can help stimulate protein synthesis and facilitate muscle recovery. A higher protein diet may help you shed some fat, assuming that you have a healthy liver and kidneys. Again, before switching immediately over to consuming a high protein diet I would suggest consulting your physician/dietitian first as excess protein can be harmful depending on your currently health and body state.

The most poplar and easily digested protein on the market today which I use as well is whey protein powder. Whey protein has been proven to enter the bloodstream fast and starts working very quickly. Protein powders are normally taken when you can’t get the number of meals you should in a day so you can use it to fill the gap. The other type of protein is casein. You can read more about casein protein here.

Multivitamin Supplements

I think this supplement is the most important as if you become deficient in any mineral or vitamin your body performance will deteriorate. When you are going through the muscle recovery process the body will need numerous vitamins and minerals to help it recover. Therefore, taking a multivitamin can help to cover your bases. As mentioned above, it is very easy to create imbalances in your body by taking too much vitamins and minerals, so again check with your coach/dietician/doctor for your particular circumstances so you avoid costly health issues in the long-term.

Fish Oil  Supplement

I don’t have a great history with Fish oils as the first that I was introduced to it I was about 6 years old. I remember chewing the capsule instead of swallowing and it was a horrible experience. The taste is awful but it is good for you.

When choosing fish oils, ensure that it is high quality and has EPA(eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA(docosahexaenoic acid) as the poor quality fish oils can be high in mercury. Fish oils are a great source of Omega-3 fatty acids as well as EFA’s(essential fatty acids).

Greens Supplements

A greens supplement can minimize the negative effects of a diet lacking in fruits and vegetables. I struggle with this sometimes which is why I take a greens supplement myself. There are days when I go completely without fruits and vegetables. Yes, I know what you are thinking. Don’t judge 😉  As we know none of us are perfect in all things and that includes our diet. There will be days when we lack discipline, or get off the right track. The key is to simply get back on track and keep moving forward! Greens supplements contain powerful immune boosting substances to help your body cleanse and process and protect itself. If you aren’t eating enough fresh greens in your diet each day, a greens supplement can help.

To clarify, nothing beats real food though. It’s always best to get your vitamins and minerals from regular food but not everyone does or can each day. Therefore, on the days when you missed the opportunity to eat fruits and vegetables, it’s good to have green supplements on standby. Green supplements can also help to neutralize your PH especially when you are on a high protein diet, which can cause the blood to be acidic.

Simple Carbs/Pre-Post Workout Supplements

Depending on the intensity of your workout this might not be necessary. For athletes with high intensity workouts, drinking a simple carbohydrate drink is important if you are looking to have that extra boost throughout your workouts. This can either be taken before, during or immediately after workout.

Here’s the thing about Pre-workouts, they spike insulin levels. If you are already high on sugar it might not be wise to add more.  The Pre-Workouts that Bodybuilders normally referred to is a little different from the regular simple and complex carbs. They are what you would consider energy drinks. Here is a list of some of the common Pre-Workouts. They are usually high in caffeine; very high. Consider this, one cup of coffee contains approximately 80mg of caffeine. One scoop of the Jym brand Pre-workout is 300mg of caffeine. That is around 3.75 cups of coffee in one serving. Which means, if you have been drinking coffee all day, you don’t need any pre-workout.

The other concern about Pre-workouts, is that it can be harmful if overused. When you take Pre-Workouts, it indicates to the brain that it should release adrenaline, hence the reason why you will feel very energized and pumped to kill your workout session.  It’s almost like a drug. Every time you take it, you expect to have the same high as the first. If you take it consistently, your body will get use to it and it won’t have the same effect. This is when it gets seriously. People normally increase the dosage, and as said before, it’s like a drug; you will always want the first high.  The more you take, the more it forces the body to release adrenaline. The adrenaline glands can produce so much and no more in a given day. As a result, you will burn out.

If you decide to use Pre-workout, I would suggest cycling it. Take it for 4 to 6 weeks then break for two weeks or so then start again. When you are on the break, consume absolutely no caffeine. No energy drink, no coffee, no pre-workouts or party drugs. That way your body will have a break so when you start taking the Pre-Workout again it will have a similar effect to the first.

I normally skip this method and just work with protein powder as it also has some carbohydrates as well and because my workout is moderately intense. If you would like more information on this you can research more on simple vs complex carbohydrates.

BCAA (Branched Amino Chained Acid) Supplements

This is a great supplement for muscle recovery, muscle breakdown prevention, improve performance and muscle growth. There are a few quality protein powder that might have BCAA included in the ingredients but sometimes the dosage is not much.  Therefore it would be good to have this handy.

Some protein powder(Whey Protein) have about 10g of BCAA per every 100 grams of protein. The ideal dosage amount of BCAA her day is very debatable. I’ve seen cases where people take 10 -15 grams  of BCAA per day or even more. I normally take my BCAA supplements in capsule format. I use the Optimum Nutrition brand and each capsule is 1gram. I take two 1 gram capsules 30 minutes before workout and immediately after. What this does is, stimulate protein synthesis which helps you lose weight while sparing your muscles.

A study was done by scientists at Columbia University where they found that you can use as little as 2.5 grams of BCAA(leucine) to stimulate protein synthesis. My protein powder has 25 grams of protein. Using the example above about the grams of BCAA per protien, that would be 2.5 grams of  BCAA. I normally take the BCAA supplement along with the protein powder before my workout(2 grams from BCAA capsules + 2.5 grams from protein powder = 4.5 grams). I will then take two 1 gram capsules after workout. That is 6.5 grams total, not calculating the BCAA you get from other proteins sources and food.

Understanding what branch chain amino acids are and how they should be taken can be further explored by reading this resource here.

Creatine Supplements

Creatine has appeared to have benefits for fast and short exercises. I’m still doing my research on this as the body already naturally produces this so I’m not sure if I’m at the level yet where this is needed. This is something that I’m still working out with my trainer. However, many trainers and bodybuilding communities recommend using creatine as it can promote muscle size and strength.

There is an ongoing and long debate on this supplements on whether it really works. It also happens to be one of the cheapest supplements comparatively speaking. I would suggest speaking with your personal trainer to see if creatine is a great fit base on your fitness goal.

Third Must-Do: Take Supplements on Time

Have you ever wondered why when you get a prescription from the doctors the pills/medications normally have specific time when to take them? Timing is everything! When you take them is just as important as what you take.

Some supplements work best when taken at a certain time. Protein and Creatine are some of the top supplements to take for gaining lean muscle and strength. Based on recommendations from my trainer and other Bodybuilders, creatine works best for them when taken ½ an hour before workout and again immediately after.  It also helps to prevent muscle breakdown (catabolism).

There are numerous times that drinking a protein drink works best.

  • Right Before Workout – Having a protein drink ½ an hour before workout can help the muscle to have the right nutrition it needs to power through the workout and prevent muscle breakdown (catabolism).
  • Right After Workout – The body (muscle) will absorb anything to you eat right after workout. It will crave instant nutrition for muscle recovery and growth.
  • Before Bed – You are about to sleep for 6 – 8 hours without eating anything. That’s normally the time when the muscle recover best; when the body is in a resting state. Therefore, the body will use the protein it needs to assist with muscle recovery.
  • After Waking Up – You have been fasting for 6 – 8 hours without proper nutrition. Therefore the body will need food the minute you are awake.

Here is a general idea of when to take the different supplements:

Immediately After Waking Up

Whey Protein – 20g

BCAA – 5g

Breakfast 30 to 60 minutes After

Multivitamin – 1 dose

B Complex 100 – 1 dose

Vitamin C – 1,000mg

Vitamin D – 1,000 – 3,000IU

Vitamin E – 400 – 800IU

Calcium – 500 – 600mg

Fish Oil – 2-3g

Mid Morning 30 to 60 Minutes After Breakfast

Green Tea Extract – 500-1,000mg (standardized for at least 30% EGCG)

Lunch Time

Fish Oil – 2-3g

Pre-Workout No. 1 –  60 Minutes Before Exercise

Green Tea Extract – 500-1,000mg (standardized for at least 30% EGCG)

Pre-Workout No Booster – 1 dose

Pre-Workout No. 2 –  15 to 30 Minutes Before Exercise

Whey Protein – 20g

BCAA – 5g

Creatine 2-5g

Post-Workout Within 45 Minutes of Exercise

Whey Protein – 20g

Casein Protein – 10-20g

BCAA – 5g

Creatine 2-5g

Fast Carbs – 30-60g

Dinner Time

Vitamin C – 1,000mg

Vitamin D – 1,000 – 3,000IU

Calcium – 500 – 600mg

Bed Time – 30 Minutes Before Going to Bed

Casein Protein – 10-20g

Fish Oil – 2-3g

Please take a look at this article if you would like more information on supplements timing.

Fourth Must-Do: Research The Side Effects

No matter how healthy you are, I strongly recommend consulting your doctor first before taking any supplement as they might conflict with other supplements or medications.

You can start by reading the label on the supplement bottles to see what the side effects are. Checking if the supplements are FDA approved is also a good standard to consider following. If the supplement is not FDA approved, please note that it’s a risk you have to be willing to take.


Wow! That was really long. Hopefully you were very interested in Bodybuilding enough to have stayed throughout the entire article. I hope you now have a better understanding on how important supplements are to muscle growth, strength, body performance and your overall well being. The next article in the “How to Become a Bodybuilder” series will be focusing on “Eating Clean”. I’ll teach you what that means, the controversy surrounding eating clean and how you can structure your diet the very best to achieve best results in your life.