The Ultimate Beginner's Guide to Supplements
So you’ve finally decided to take the plunge to get fit, build some lean muscle, lose some fat and generally become healthier. You’ve probably already started at the gym, making your way through the machines, trying to figure out what they do without seeming too obvious. Or perhaps you’re a little bit further along, have experienced some decent results and have decided that you want more. And this guy at the gym keeps talking about “protein” and “creatine”. No matter what your experience, if you’re curious about what the best supplements are for beginners, then this is the guide for you. We tell you what supplements you should get, what you shouldn’t be fooled into buying and how to weed out the best supplements from each category.
What is the Best Supplement for Beginners?
Simply put, there is no single supplement that is the best for beginners. The best supplement for you will depend on a variety of factors such as your diet, your training, your general lifestyle and ultimately your goals. Do you have an idea of what your key goals are? For most beginner trainers, these fall into three major categories:
- Build Mass or Put on Weight/Size
- Lose Fat or Lose Weight
- Build Muscle
Although these are three separate goals, they often occur together. When you start training, most people find that they get fitter and start to build lean muscle and size whilst also losing fat. However, for beginners, it’s best to stick with one goal at a time to help simplify your training and supplementation routine. No matter what your goals are; you should start with the foundation supplements of which there are two: protein and creatine.
Protein Supplements & Powders for Beginners
If there was ever one universally helpful supplement, it would probably be protein. Technically, it is a food or macronutrient more than a supplement since you can get all the protein your body needs from your diet. However, having the right protein supplement or powder can help make it much easier to build muscle, gain size and lose fat. Protein is the building block of muscle and unless you have enough, you’re not going to make any significant headway with your muscle building dreams, regardless of what other supplements you’re using. With so many different types of protein powders on the market, which one is right for you? Again, it all depends on your goals:
- Protein for Mass Building – If your goal is to put on size and bulk up, you’re going to need calories and the best way to get them is through eating more. You can also use a mass gainer protein to accelerate your progress. Mass gainer proteins are protein powders with added carbohydrates and fats to bulk up the calorie count and help you achieve your goal weight faster.
- Protein for Fat Loss – If your main aim is for fat and weight loss, you’re going to need a calorie deficit. A specially designed fat loss or weight loss protein which contains fat loss ingredients can help you reach your goal weight faster.
- Protein for Muscle Building – If your goal is to solely build lean muscle with or without weight loss, a blended protein powder is really all you need. These provide plenty of protein in a variety of forms to help supply the all essential amino acids your muscles need to grow.
Creatine Supplements for Beginners
Another supplement you definitely want in your beginner’s stack is creatine. A few people will counter that it’s not a supplement for beginners, but if you want something that works well to improve training and performance as well as lean muscle mass, you really can’t go past creatine. No matter what your gender, age or training experience is, almost everybody can benefit from a bit of creatine. As it is also one of the least expensive supplements on the market, you really can’t go wrong. These days, there are plenty of different types of creatine available, so which one should you choose? Below are three of the most popular choices:
- Creatine Blends – Creatine blends are simply creatine supplements that combine one or more types of creatine with other ingredients, most commonly carbohydrates. These tend to be good because it takes the guess work of how best to take creatine to maximise absorption.
- Creatine Monohydrate – The staple creatine and the one most used by studies examining its benefit. To get a purified and more soluble version, make sure to get yourself a Creapure branded creatine.
- Creatine HCL – A popular choice for those who experience negative gastrointestinal symptoms from creatine monohydrate; it’s suggested to be more soluble than creatine monohydrate and so you don’t need such a large dose.
Other Top Supplements for Beginner Trainers
If you’re a beginner trainer, you’ll most likely be recommended protein and creatine. Three other common supplements you’ll often be recommended include a multivitamin, an omega 3/essential fatty acid supplement and L-glutamine. Let’s take a closer look at these 3 supplements and if they’re worth getting:
- Multivitamin and Multimineral Supplements – One of the most common supplements being consumed, they provide a range of essential vitamins and minerals to help boost your intake and support optimal health. They’re a handy supplement, but if your diet is well balanced, it’s most likely an unnecessary expense. If you’re having particular tough and intense training sessions though, a multi might be something to add to your stack.
- Omega 3 / Essential Fatty Acid Supplements – Best taken as fish oil or krill oil supplements, algae based oils are also good if you’re looking for a plant based source. Again, if you’re having a diet rich in fish, these supplements aren’t necessary. If again you’re tackling a particular heavy workout period or suffer from joint issues, then a good fish or krill oil supplement should form part of your stack.
- L-Glutamine Supplements – Glutamine is a non-essential supplement that is often recommended due to an ability to support recovery and the immune system with intense and prolonged workouts. However, if you’re having enough protein in your diet, you should also be getting plenty of glutamine. If you’re a beginner, it’s not a supplement you really need unless you find recovery an issue or if you get sick easily after sessions.
Pre Workout Supplements for Beginners
What about pre workout supplements? If you’re a beginner to training and supplements, you really don’t need a pre workout. Pre workouts are great supplements and many of the ingredients contained in pre workouts can help boost strength, endurance, power, motivation, pump and delay fatigue. These are all excellent effects, but you can often start relying too much on pre workout supplements to help get you a better training session. As such, I wouldn’t recommend a pre workout until at least 3-6 months into starting training as a beginner. If you’ve been training for awhile and are just new to supplements, then a good pre workout can be helpful. Selecting one to use can be hard, and the easiest way is just to pick what’s popular; after all, hundreds and thousands of other trainers can’t be wrong.
Fat Burners & Weight Loss Supplements for Beginners
No matter how long you’ve been working out, most trainers will be want a quick fix. Fat burners and other weight loss supplements can often seem like the perfect solution for people who want the results without the effort. While they can be useful and help support fat and weight loss even without exercise, they aren’t a miracle fix. If there’s one fact you should take in, it’s that your nutrition and exercise plan is going to make the bulk of the difference, regardless of your goal. So if you’re new to training, focus on that first to help make the most difference with your fat or weight loss. As with other categories, if you’re new to supplements, but perhaps not to training, a fat loss or weight loss supplement can definitely support your goals. If this is you, go for a fat burner as they offer a range of ingredients and have a more comprehensive effect.
Test Boosters & Hormone Support Supplements for Beginners
One of the most asked about categories, test boosters and hormone support supplements offer the user a chance to support and optimise natural hormone levels; which can further support gains. Below is a handy summary on whether or not you should add them to your stack:
- If you’re younger than 25, there’s really no point as your testosterone and growth hormone levels should still be relatively high.
- If you’re new to training, test boosters and growth hormone support supplements don’t belong in your stack.
- If you’re new to supplements; it is also recommended to start with foundation supplements first for at least the first 3-6 months.
- If you’re an older trainer (40 and over), regardless of your training or supplement experience, they can be a handy addition depending on your main goals.
Amino Acid Supplements for Beginners
Another common supplement pushed onto beginners is amino acid supplements, usually in the form of BCAAs or intra workouts. While they are in and of themselves great supplements, as a beginner trainer or a supplement user, you probably won’t need to include it in your stack. Amino acid and BCAA supplements are best used to support recovery, minimise muscle breakdown and kick start muscle growth, but your protein powder and the protein in your food will most likely be more than enough to provide the necessary amino acids you will need. Here’s when you should start considering using amino acid supplements:
- If you’re having enough protein, but still find recovery and muscle soreness an issue.
- If you’re about to tackle a particular intense period of exercise, eg. increased volume, increased intensity, increased duration.
- If you’re training in a fasted state, ie. without food
Beginner's Supplement Stack
So if you’re just starting to work out, what supplements should you take? You should always start with:
Everyday supplements for good health can also be easily added to your stack such as:
- Fish Oil/Omega 3 Supplement
- Multivitamin & Multimineral Supplement
After about 6-12 months of training, you can start adding other supplements into your stack such as:
- Pre Workouts
- Intra Workouts
- Amino Acid & BCAA Supplements
- Fat Burners
- Test Boosters or HGH Support Supplements