I was inspired to write this after a friend of mine bragged to me about how he just dropped $200 on supplements for working out. Seeing his stack, I quickly realized that one of the most commonly known and discussed facts about workout supplements is simply not discussed enough.

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For most people this is going to be a restatement of what they already knew. Supplements will not cause you to build muscle. Supplements are just what they are named, supplements. Well technically they’re dietary supplements.

A supplement is defined as:

something that completes or makes an addition

A dietary supplement is basically just a revised definition. It is defined as:

a product taken orally that contains one or more ingredients (as vitamins or amino acids) that are intended to supplement one’s diet and are not considered food

In plain English, supplements are available to help you boost the percentage of certain nutrients for your diet, without having to go through the complexities that normal food intake would include. A protein shake, for example, will allow you to ingest 25-30 grams of protein in a single serving.

If they don’t build muscle, then why is everyone taking them?

There are approximately 4-7 grams of protein in one ounce of medium-fat (average) meat.  According to the Mayo-Clinic, the average serving of meat yields an approximate caloric intake of 130. Your average protein shake has four to five times the amount of protein with calories remaining the same as what a normal serving of meat would be. That means you get way more protein, at a way lower cost, way faster. In short, it’s like NOS for your body. You get a supercharged boost of nutrients for a short period of time.

What about the different kinds of supplements?

The key thing that tipped me towards writing this, was the fact that my friend has three types of protein powders he uses. Casein, Whey, and Whey Isolate. These are basically redundant of each other. Your normal whey is defined by as:

the watery part of milk that is separated from the coagulable part or curd especially in the process of making cheese and that is rich in lactose, minerals, and vitamins and contains lactalbumin and traces of fat

Whey isolate is just a higher refined version of whey. And casein is a slower digesting version suggested before bed, however still rather un-necessary. For those wanting a dentition:

a phosphoprotein of milk: as one that is precipitated from milk by heating with an acid or by the action of lactic acid in souring and is used in making paints and adhesives

In short, my friend ordered three of the same thing. Now for professional bodybuilders, the differences are enough to justify ordering all three. For the average person, even extended gym enthusiast, you will never need all three. If you don’t believe me then watch the first minute and eight seconds of the video below. Although the video talks about alcohol, his point on where you will be with your fitness level remains the same as what I would say.

What’s Your Stack?

I do take supplements but my stack is simple. Whey protein for post workout shake, multi-vitamin (standard off the shelf brand), BCAA tablets, and a pre-workout. That’s it. I used to debate having more until I did research and found out that there’s really no need.  And it all comes back to the fact that supplements don’t build muscle.

The only one who can build muscle is yourself. Muscle is built based on necessity. The better the workout and diet combination you have, the quicker it happens, this is why people use supplements. But chugging protein shakes every morning and walking three miles will probably just make you fatter than you were before. You’ll have to do some serious lifting to actually get results.

My friend could easily have bought either whey, or whey isolate, and even decided to drink one shake in the morning, and one shake post workout, have saved a boat load of money, and gotten the same results. Instead, he made the same rookie mistakes most people make, and that’s invest a ton of money on supplements, and not enough time on their exercise program. The results is always that in the end they get mad over a lack of results.

So Why Take Them At All?

Like I said, they help supercharge your system. However they aren’t necessary. I take them because I’m lazy. It’s easier to chug a protein shake post workout than it is to down three chicken breasts. Plus I take in less calories with my shake. I take a pre-workout because it’s nice to get that extra boost of energy prior to lifting, especially since I lift after working. You could chug a cup of coffee however, and probably get a similar result. My multi-vitamin is because my diet isn’t as good as it should be. And my BCAA tablets, well I got them cheap as hell, and I don’t feel like throwing them out.

In short, working out and muscle gains are solely based on yourself. If you workout hard and eat right, you’ll have big gains. If you monitor it all closely, you can get away without ever taking supplements. Most people don’t monitor their diet to the extreme, so supplements help add that extra boost to their system. But supplements will not give you muscle.

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