Are you new to the world of supplements? Or have you been taking them for years? Regardless, unless you have hours to spend researching or work in the industry, it can be a daunting or lengthy process trying to pick the right supplements from the thousands out on the market. This is why we’ve created this ultimate and complete guide. To help you choose the right supplements no matter what your supplement or training experience is. So if you’re thinking of buying supplements, read this first.
Are Supplements Necessary?
No they aren’t. Especially if you’re a complete beginner or diligent with your food intake and have time to plan out your meals. If you want better results though with less effort, supplements are invaluable. So the next time someone tells you that you don’t need supplements, they’re probably trying to sabotage your progress and it’s best to stay away from them or have them removed from the gym.
Picking Your Supplements - Where to Start
Before picking out your supplements, you need to ask yourself three important questions:
1. What are your training and fitness goals?
2. What is your training experience level?
3. What supplements are you currently already taking?
The answers to these questions will form the foundation of what supplements you will need and help you avoid any unnecessary purchases. If you’re someone who is just starting with training and supplements, make sure you read our Beginner’s Guide to Bodybuilding and Workout Supplements article. If you’re more of an advanced trainer, someone who’s been training for a couple of years or who knows more about supplements but need to know what’s the next step for your stack, you might want to give our Bodybuilding and Workout Supplements Guide for Advanced Trainers article. Regardless of your experience level and what your answers were to the above questions, the best way to pick your supplements and formulate your stack is to follow the Supplements Pyramid.
Building the Ultimate Stack - Follow the Supplements Pyramid
The Supplements Pyramid is just like the Food Pyramid. The bottom of the pyramid is your foundation and is what you should be getting first. As you become more advanced or have more money to burn, you go up the pyramid and pick the supplements in each layer until you reach the top of the pyramid. The supplements here represent the ones that you should buy last. While these supplements might still have some research and science backing its use, I wouldn’t be counting on them for helping you make the most gains.
The Supplements Pyramid shown above is a guide and many trainers and professionals may have issues with the order of the second to fourth levels. This is where you need to use the answers to the 3 big questions above along with consideration of your current situation to guide you.
5 Steps to Buying Supplements
Here is a step by step guide on how to pick your supplements and formulate your perfect supplement stack:
1. Foundation Supplements First
No matter what your goals, your age or training experience is, everyone should start off with the foundation supplements. These include protein and creatine. They are going to help you make the most out of your gains and recovery and are two of the supplements that are pretty much failsafe.
- Protein is the building block of muscle and unless you have enough in your diet, you’re going to have a hard time making any significant muscle gains. While there are plenty of protein powders on the market, you don’t need anything fancy, just any good blended protein will do the job. If you want to learn more, read our Complete Protein Supplements Guide article.
- Creatine is one of the most effective and well studied supplements on the market and helps to boost lean muscle mass and strength. It also has a variety of other beneficial effects for both young and old. Again, nothing fancy is required; a good creatine monohydrate is all you need. Want to learn more? Make sure you read our Complete Guide to Creatine article.
2. Add On Supplements
Once you have your foundation supplements, it’s time to figure out what your add on supplements should be. These are best chosen based on your goals as detailed below:
- Building Mass & Gaining Weight – If you want to be the next Hulk or gain some serious mass, you should look into mass gaining proteins, carbohydrates, pre workouts, growth hormone boosters, test boosters, fish oil and multivitamin supplements. For a more comprehensive guide, head over to our Supplements Guide to Help Build Mass article.
- Fat Loss – Want to get ripped or shredded? Then you should look into fat loss proteins, fat burners and other fat loss supplements, pre workouts, amino acids supplements, intra workouts, growth hormone boosters, test boosters, fish oil and multivitamin supplements. If you want to learn more, check out our Supplements Guide for Fat Loss article.
- Enhance Training & Performance – If you want to improve your training capacity, the supplements you need to look into include carbohydrates, pre workouts, intra workouts, amino acid supplements, growth hormone support supplements and test boosters. Want to learn more about what it takes to boost your performance? Check out our Supplements Guide for Optimal Performance
- Recovery – Is your recovery a little bit lacking? Then you should get your hands on some amino acid and BCAA supplements, intra workouts, carbohydrates, fish oil supplements as well as growth hormone and test boosters. If you’re keen to learn more, make sure to read our Supplements Guide for Optimal Recovery.
- General Health – Just looking to maintain optimal health? Then you don’t need to add that much. Perhaps a fish oil supplement and a multivitamin is all that’s really necessary.
3. Label Reading
Okay, so you’ve decided on what categories of supplements you’ll be buying. Now you need to learn to cut through the marketing in order to pick out the best products in each category. This is probably the hardest part of the selection process, only because there can be so much information to go through. For a more detailed explanation of what to look out for in each type of supplement category, make sure to read our How to Choose Better Supplements with Label Reading article. For now though, here is a quick guide:
4. Building Knowledge
After deciding on and buying all your supplements, it’s time to build knowledge on how best to use them. Here are three of the best tips when it comes to supplement use:
1. Avoid using too many supplements at the same time. One of the biggest mistakes is trying to use every supplement under the sun when you start out. You’re simply not going to know which one is effective and which one isn’t. Start with one or two before adding on supplements one at a time.
2. Get to know your supplements. Read the labels and the dosing instructions. They’re not just there for decoration. Know when to take them, when not to take them, how often to have it and whether or not you need to assess your tolerance first. It’s also good to know if or when you should cycle your supplements.
3. Supplement Timing. If you’re going to take more than one supplement, it’s a good idea to know a little bit about when to take different supplements. While some people doesn’t think it matters, it can definitely make a difference. Protein, carbohydrates, pre workouts and intra workout supplements should be taken close to workout times. Growth hormone support supplements are most commonly taken before bed, while test boosters can be taken first thing in the morning or before bed. Creatine should ideally be taken with food or a protein shake throughout the day or close to workouts. Fat burners can be taken throughout the day, but before a main meal is always a good option. Avoid taking anything containing caffeine or other stimulants too close to bedtime to avoid sleep disruption.
5. Adjust Your Expectations
Alright, you’ve bought all your supplements and you’ve learned all you need about them. The last step and arguably the most important one is to adjust your expectations. These are supplements, not magic pills. And no amount of supplements will take the place of hard work in the gym, diligence with your diet and your overall lifestyle. Do not expect miracle results, but do expect that with the right supplements, you can make better gains and results than without. They can also be excellent plateau busters.
Checklist for Buying Bodybuilding Supplements
- Have you got yourself a protein powder?
- What are your training and fitness goals?
- Start building your stack following the Supplements Pyramid and your goals
- Use the nutrition and ingredient labels to help you pick the best supplements in each category
- Learn about supplement timing, supplement cycling and supplement combinations
- Adjust your expectations and prioritize your diet, exercise and lifestyle