Walking into a sports nutrition store can most certainly be intimidating, especially as a newbie to the vitamin and supplement game.
With so many options, it can be hard to figure out exactly what you need, what you should be taking for your goals, what you shouldn't be taking for your goals, etc...
Thankfully, I got sports nutrition expert and owner of Philly Gainz in Philadelphia, PA, John Bennett, to sit down and give us a little "supplements 101" in an effort to help you take the guess-work out of supplement shopping.
First and foremost, I wanted John to touch on the necessities because, as I said, sometimes it can be overwhelming walking into a store like his. With so many different products that do so many different things, knowing where to start and what you absolutely need* is crucial.
**and yes, I understand fully that no one “absolutely needs” supplements, but if you’re going in looking with the intention of buying, then you should be sure to walk out with only what is necessary for the goals you walked in there with...
One of the best ways to ensure that you’re setting yourself up for success --and not spending your hard-earned money on the wrong things-- is to talk with a sales associate in the store. As well, having some background on key-supplements perfect for anybody and any goal is always beneficial.
To provide a little of that background to you all, I asked John to share with me the top 4 supplements that every athlete (regardless of the goal) should have in his/her cabinets…
1. Fish Oil
Why it is important: Fish oil is one of the most commonly used supplements on the market. It is rich in heart-friendly Omega-3 fatty acids which help reduce inflammation, lower blood pressure, and reduce joint pains.
Why it is important: Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid (organic compounds necessary for all metabolic processes) in the body. It is mainly found in your muscles, but also is in your lungs, and is the principal carrier of nitrogen throughout the body.
Glutamine prevents the buildup of lactic acid which aids in the recovery process (in other words, it helps your muscles not get so sore). Taking this prior exercise to prevents muscle breakdown (soreness) and assists in protein recovery (helping your muscles get/stay big and strong).
Why they are important: Branched Chain Amino Acids are Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine. These amino acids (in a ratio of 2:1:1 with Leucine always being the first number in the ratio) are ideal for aiding in protein synthesis, prolonging your endurance during a workout, and avoiding catabolism for those in a dieting/cutting phase-- helping ensure you burn fat not muscle while dieting and exercising.
4. Protein Powder
Why it is important: As previously talked about here, protein is very important to our daily diets. While there are plenty of great, high-protein foods out there to help you get your protein fixes throughout the day, sometimes there are gaps in our nutrition that need to be filled. Protein powder is perfect for filling those gaps and ideal for ensuring you’re getting your ideal amount per day, no matter how busy the day is (...because let’s face it, sometimes we can’t all sit down and enjoy a 6 oz. steak meal at 2pm...protein shake to the rescue).
One misconception John always hears is that protein powder will make you “bulky”. This is far from true! As John often has to remind clients, protein helps you build lean muscle mass which, in turn, burns fat! As well, for those in a cutting/diet phase, protein helps preserve your hard-earned muscle during the fat burning stages.
Now, aside from those 4 important supplements for any person, any age, with any goal, I wanted to dive a little deeper into specific supplements that may (or may not) interest you all. Starting with a popular one: pre-workout
Pre-workout is consumed (as the name suggests) before your workout and aids in giving you more power, energy, and focus for your workouts by utilizing ingredients like creatine, amino acids, stimulants, vitamin B, citrulline, and then some.
While they can be great helpers for giving you an extra push in the gym, sometimes we could do without the extra caffeine/stimulant hit (for example, if you’ve already consumed a decent amount of coffee that day, if you’re working out late and have to try and fall asleep soon after, or if you just don’t like caffeine!).
Because a big “draw” towards most pre-workouts is their stimulants, finding a good one that is low-stimulant to stim-free can be difficult to say the least.
Thankfully, John knows just what to prescribe for the stimulant-free patients out there!
In regards to no-stim products that aid in workout performance, he notes that most stimulant-free pump products contain L-Citrulline, Agmatine, and other amino acids. These ingredients boost Nitric Oxide levels and improve muscle pumps. Products utilize them because the ingredients mentioned dilate blood vessels which permits better blood flow to the muscles, providing better pumps and endurance.
John’s recommendations for top-notch pump products: Centurion Labz Blood Rush and VMI Sports Agmapure
In regards to low-stim pre-workout supplements (which he clarifies are pre-workouts that possess the qualities of both a pre-workout and BCAA), he suggests a supplement which contains just enough caffeine to give you that kick, but not over-saturate you with stimulants.
John’s recommendation for low-stim supplements: Optimum Nutrition Amino Energy and Rule1 Pre-Amino
Lastly, while on the topic of low-stimulant/no-stimulant pre-workouts, John made sure to note a more underrated supplement: L-Carnitine.
He explains that L-Carnitine is a great way to get energy without the overwhelming feeling of stimulants. L-Carnitine mobilizes fat stores (especially around the belly) and converts it into energy. This product can also be a great addition to stack with a traditional fat burner for “further weight loss gainz” as John put it ;)
While everyone may be somewhat familiar with the pre-workout supplements to wake you up, a lesser-known supplement making the rounds these days is one that does just the opposite-- helps you rest!
Knowing that more and more sports nutrition shops are carrying a fair amount of these, I wanted John to give me his take and shed some light on the “sleep-aid” supplements.
Turns out, he is a big fan of these supplements which promote a restful, deep sleep! With the busy lives that many of us lead, sleep sometimes gets sacrificed in order for us to do what we need to do. John described how taking supplements like Phenibut, ZMA, and/or GABA allow you to essentially get the best out of the time you have to sleep.
These types of supplements help you relax so you fall into a deep sleep, faster. Deep sleep is both important and necessary because, as he pointed out, while you are in a deep sleep, your adrenal receptors recharge. Quality sleep also allows your muscles to recover and grow (also discussed here), and men see an increase in free testosterone.
If “un-plugging” and getting rest is something you find yourself struggling with, consider looking into this!
While on the topic of supplements that people may not have seen/be as familiar with, I asked John to speak to a newer product Philly Gainz recently brought in.
Solitary Confinement by Condemned Labz is a new, hybrid BCAA and carb supplement. John finds this product to be a perfect intra-workout supp that every athlete from any background should be taking.
Previously explained here, and again explained by John…”while undertaking any type of intense training, your body’s energy source (glycogen) is depleted”. Solitary Confinement rapidly replenishes your glycogen stores, thus sustaining your energy and allowing you to train longer.
As well, John showed me that this product added electrolytes to prevent cramping and maintain hydration. The take-away thought he left me with:
“Imagine how someone such as a long distance runner, cross-fitter, or anyone who trains hard could benefit from this supplement...”
I definitely can see the hype behind a BCAA/carb hybrid!
And as if the supplement overviews and tips from John/Philly Gainz weren’t enough of a help, he’s hooking everyone up even more on Saturday, 10/14 by discounting supplements throughout the entire store! As well as giving out even more product knowledge and free samples.
John on the 2-year anniversary blow-out:
“The upcoming event is a great way for people who are new to supplement use, or have misconceptions of them, to come and obtain product knowledge, free samples, and great discounts in an effort to get off to a great start. We fully understand that food needs to be your primary source of nutrition, but supplements still need to be utilized in some capacity in order to fill the gaps that your nutrition doesn’t cover.”
Check out the flyer for more details:
Hopefully you got some supplement-knowledge-gainz by this point, and feel more informed and prepared for your next trip into a sports nutrition store (like into Philly Gainz on 10/14…).
A very special thanks to John Bennett for taking the time to chat with me and help spread some important supplement knowledge!
If any of the products mentioned sparked any interest, check out PhillyGainz.com to order and try them out for yourself-- code “MARIA10” saves you $ on any (non-sale) items!
As always, feel free to reach out if you have any questions or would like more supplement suggestions/recommendations!
Know what you are putting into your bodies, people-- your muscles will thank you!!
Happy gaining ;)