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Ive been there and spent the hard earned cash. Here ill tell you which worked for me and which didn’t

Let me first state up front that I am in no way affiliated with any supplement suppliers and am not being paid for the following information. It is entirely my own opinion.

There’s a lot of propaganda surrounding the fitness industry. The supplement companies would have you believe that you need buy and use a little bit of everything. It’s one of the most daunting and confusing things to have to deal with. Can’t we all just train, eat, sleep and grow?

You need maybe 3 essentials, and the rest is all up to you and your bank account. I’d avoid most of the others not listed here unless you hate money and would prefer a supplement company takes it from you rather than burning it yourself.
The following supplements are what I have used and in some cases, are still using to this day. These are bang-for-your-buck and by no means mandatory, just my preference.

Whey Protein

A supplement which is highly convenient if anything else. Sure you could ingest half a chicken before walking out the door, but 30grams of protein powder stirred into milk or water is a heck of a lot easier. For the time-poor amongst us, the choice is obvious.

Optimum’s Gold Whey is my current protein of choice

“easy to stomach doesn’t mean ‘taste’s fantastic and Id consider giving up beer just to drink a protein shake!”

Which to buy
Without being too brand specific, I prefer ones that are not only easy to stomach, but are easy to mix. Lumpy protein mixtures are a no-no in my book. If I wanted to eat chalky mud, id have gone out and bought cement mix.

Remember though, easy to stomach doesn’t mean ‘taste’s fantastic and Id consider giving up beer just to drink a protein shake!’. Save your sugary drinks for the weekend when you can afford to indulge (a little bit).

When to take
After training is a must. There are many pros and cons in regards to how long you need to wait after training, but I find in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t make that big a difference. Consume anywhere from immediately to 1 hour afterwards. It’s all about repairing damaged muscles post workout, and a protein hit will aid that.

Whenever you’re hungry throughout the day is a good way to keep yourself ‘full’ and avoid fatty, sugary snacks. I mix a shake in cold water every afternoon at around 3pm to avoid reaching for the nearest potato chip bag. No more cravings.

Before bed is in the ‘optional’ category. I tend to use a BCAA mix instead of a whey protein, just because it flushes through your system more effectively before bed so you don’t go to bed feeling full like you’ve just eaten a cow.

Ones that contain a lot of carbs/sugars. There are plenty out there on the market, but the general rule of thumb is, if it tastes a little too much like Nesquik, it’s probably bad for you.

Fish Oil

High quality fish oil (aim for Salmon if you can). The benefits of fish oil out-weigh any reason to NOT be taking it daily.

Some of the benefits include…
1. Less Pain and Inflammation prevents and relieves painful conditions like arthritis, prostatitis etc.
2. Cardiovascular Health. Omega 3 fatty acids have also been proven to work wonders for your heart, lower cholesterol and blood pressure.
3. Protection from Heart Attack & Stroke. Omega 3 fatty acids break up clots before they can cause any damage.
4. Enhance Brain Function. Pregnant and nursing mothers can have a great impact on the intelligence and happiness of their babies by supplementing with fish oil. Omega 3 improves memory, recall and focus.
5. Shown to help prevent three of the most common forms of cancer – breast, colon and prostate.
6. Reduce craving for fatty foods. Fish oil may help in weight regulation.

“The benefits of fish oil out-weigh any reason to NOT be taking it daily”

Which to buy
There are many, many brands out there which offer a similar product. It’s best to try different ones to see which cause (if any) side effects such as bad breath or acid reflux.

When to take
Try splitting up your dosage twice or three times a day. I tend to take 4 in the morning after training, then pop another 4 at night before I go to bed.

Trial and error will be your key to success, but straight off the bat, go for a more premium brand to avoid unwanted ‘bad breath’. Oils aint oils afterall.

Branch Chain Amino Acids

Essential to recovery, great for training endurance, promote fat-loss, boost immune function and are muscle sparing which is great if you’re a HIT sprinter like me.

There are plenty of brands out there. Try a liquid or powder for quickest absorption

Which to Buy
There are 3 kinds. Liquid, tablet and powder. I only entertain powder and the liquid variants (also a personal preference). I tend to think tablets don’t absorb quite aswell. However, it’s pretty much neither here nor there.

When to take
During training, after training or both. Especially if you’re a HIT sprinter and you like to ‘spare’ your hard earned muscle. The anti-catabolic effect BCAA’s have on your body make them essential at this time.

“Essential to recovery, great for training endurance, promote fat-loss, boost immune function and are muscle sparing”

Aim to buy the purest form of BCAA’s you can find. By that I mean, don’t buy a product which claims it does more for you than the norm. It probably has less of the actual BCAA’s you require, and more of the gimmicks you don’t need.

Energy Enhancer / Fat Burner (not necessary)

This is a controversial topic. I actually believe that both energy enhancers and fat burners are very similar.
I have tried a multitude of these over the years and have found them to be good in terms of maintaining focus and giving you a ton of energy. Other than that, the kilos didn’t fall away like most of the advertising promises. You just have to realize that supplements such as these are assistants– You need to put in the hard work with your training and more importantly your diet until they will make a lick of difference.

Why aren’t they in the ‘avoid’ pile?
Some of us train in the mornings! The boost that an energy supplement gives you is far superior to having a cup of coffee. The effects last longer and you often don’t get the crash coffee gives you.

Which to buy
There is probably more competition in this market than any other in the fitness industry. Id recommend checking out review sites on the web to help you steer from the more expensive brands and to establish best bang for buck. Remember, they will all work to some degree and in different ways for different people.

Brands that charge you through the nose for products that have the same effect as a double-shot of coffee.

When to take
This is dependant on the product of course, but its generally 30-40mins before you train. Make sure if you train at night, you avoid taking them after 5pm. Your sleep will more than likely be affected.
I prefer to cycle them on and off for 4 weeks at a time. This allows the body to reset itself as you will find the effects diminish over time as the body gets used to each product.
IMPORTANT: Make sure you read the instructions on the back of EACH individual product. They are not all created equal as dosage can differ significantly. Stuff this up, and you could find yourself in the emergency ward. When in doubt, use less and work your way up to the full ‘recommended dosage’

Creatine (not necessary)

Many would argue that this should be on the ‘must have’ list. I disagree.
I’ve grown with creatine aswell as had many successful workouts without its use, but I agree that it does offer some strong benefits. In a nutshell, Creatine is a naturally occurring organic acid found in the skeletal muscle.
Usually consumed in red meats, fish and fowl. When the amount of Creatine in the human body increases, muscle hydration increases as well, causing a rise in lean body mass.

Creatine is a great weapon to have in your arsenal from time to time.

Which to buy
There are many variations– all having their own upsides and downsides. I prefer Creatine Methyl Ester products as the speed of absorption is a lot higher but its all of course personal preference. You get what you pay for however, as some of the cheaper Creatine Monohydrate variants are chalky in taste/texture and won’t mix easily.

When to take
The general rule of thumb is to take it after training and cycle it over a period of time. There are for and against cases for both scenarios. I’d do a bit of web surfing to see what suits your needs and make up your own mind.

With so many brands and variants, the competition is high. You can’t really go too wrong with any of them but be wary of ‘hype marketing’ on products which say ‘the next big thing in creatine’. This will probably lead you to an expensive downfall.

“I’ve grown with creatine aswell as had many successful workouts without its use, but I agree that it does offer some strong benefits”

Ignore list

There are many out there that I would add, but below are the main culprits that I have personally used and have found to be nothing more than a waste of time and money (for me).


Unless you are homeless, you are most likely getting enough vitamins from your diet. You’re reading this article, so I’m guessing you are at least eating properly right? I used a multivitamin for years and suddenly decided to stop taking them. I found ZERO difference to my training, recovery or immune defense.

Mass/Weight Gainers

Loaded with  a bunch of simple sugars, these bad-boys are a no-no for anyone  striving for a toned physique. Products like this belong in the bin or at least in the confectionary section of the supermarket. NEXT.

Protein Bars

Ok, I’ll admit that I’ve had my fair share of these over the years. I would say only consume them if you like the taste, would buy a candy bar if the protein bar wasn’t already in your hand and you aren’t currently trying to lose weight.

Best way to buy all this stuff

In bulk and online. Any of the major online supplement stores usually offer better prices for bulk quantities than their in store counterparts. It’s also better in the fact you won’t become ‘suddenly persuaded’ by an in store sales-person vying for commission off the ‘next big thing’.

Is there a cheaper way?

There sure is. You can make your own supplements using raw ingredients from retailers. These are also very easy to source.
You will find you can spend a third as much as you would buying these products pre-made. Checkout the great supplement conspiracy to find out more.

Clint Nielsen

Author Clint Nielsen

Clint is a dad and husband trying to stay in shape. He's also a highly opinionated fitness enthusiast and author of Reveal The Steel. Follow him on: Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Google+

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Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Charlie says:

    Hi Clint,
    just wondering what your balance is with BCAA’s and Whey? You take your BCAA’s before bed, but not through the day? Do you take both, or one in place of the other? I’ve asked people in-store but it always feels like they’re always spouting some “bro-ology” from Men’s Health.

    • Clint Nielsen says:

      This article was written a while ago. Since then, I now have BCAA’s pre-post training and then a few hours later (due to fasting).
      Whey I have maybe 1-2 times a day if I can’t get my hands on some whole foods.
      We actually overdo it a LOT with protein supplements.

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