Keto or not, if you’ve even dipped your toe into the health and wellness sphere, you’ve probably been pitched supplements. These are things that you supplement your awful western diet with in order to deal with your awful western diet, in most cases. There are plenty of other supplements that are made to help people who have good diets that want better results, in the gym or otherwise

There definitely are micronutrients that most people simply do not get enough of. These are things like selenium, magnesium, potassium, and vitamin D. The fact is that you can get these all through diet if you’re eating right, but not everyone does all the time, so supplement companies come to our rescue, and in a lot of cases that’s fine.

The problem comes in when supplement companies make a lot of money off of making you feel insecure about your nutrition or exercise protocol. They use terms like “low T” and make you think everyone but you is bursting with so much excess testosterone that they turn into a werewolf at night. Better take these 6 pills a day at $5 a pill brah.

Stupid.

But with all the supplements out there – multivitamins, fish oil, creatine, the list goes on – are any worth the money? Do any have actual researched benefits? Actually, yes, yes they do, and I’ve picked some that I’ve taken for years which also have scientific backing. Hopefully this will help you stop spending money on bad products and maybe start getting benefits from useful ones.

 

Creatine monohydrate

Creatine helps your body reuse ATP (adenosine triphosphate), essentially giving you more energy. It’s in animal products like eggs and fish, but you can naturally take it as a concentrated supplement.

What does it do?

Creatine supplies the process of recycling ATP, transforming it from adenosine diphosphate back to ATP. If you lift weights, that kind of wall you hit on your reps? That’s probably due to both exhaustion and not enough accessible ATP.  Creatine simply makes more ATP available, letting you hit those extra reps and add more weight, giving you better muscle development.

Basically it allows you better performance with more weight and longer training, which in turn drives muscle growth. Since it’s not a bunch of spooky pseudoscience nonsense, you can take comfort knowing that it actually does what it says it does.

Is it worth using?

If you lift weights and your goal is to increase your strength and muscle mass, it’s absolutely worth taking. Next to directly ingesting protein for muscle synthesis, this is probably the most important supplement for weight lifters. The only reason for a lifter to not use creatine would be because they prefer eating 40 eggs like an out-of-control Gaston.

Is it expensive?

Not particularly. You can pick up brands with all the crazy crap all over them and tons of words like “XPLOSIVE” and “XTREME” but I find Optimum Nutrition’s lowkey branding and quality works just fine. Make sure you get monohydrate – there are other forms of creatine but the majority of research is on creatine monohydrate.

How do I use creatine?

You can get it in powder form, to mix into smoothies or protein shakes, or you can get pills. The average serving size is 5 grams, and the recommended daily value to really get your needed amount is about 20g/day, or 4 servings in most cases. The one thing to look out for is stomach upset if you take too much at once, so try taking it with food and spaced out throughout the day.

Are there side effects with creatine?

Potential side effects can include stomach discomfort, weight gain and water retention (because creatine is stored in water within your muscles). There are some suggestions that it might be bad for the kidneys if you already have kidney problems or diabetes, but this study in the Journal of Sports Nutrition seems to suggest otherwise.

 

Fish oil

This is the big boi of the “this fixes everything!” group of supplements. With that said, fish oil does have a lot of potential promise so it’s worth looking at.

What does it do?

Fish oil is less about the fish and more about the omega-3 fatty acids. These are useful to reduce inflammation and improve brain function (among a million other uses), but it’s also important to get more omega-3s because a western diet is typically rife with omega-6, and too much of that causes systemic inflammation. This leads to a whole bundle of bad stuff, so we want those ratios tipped in the favor of omega-3, and it appears that a ratio of 2-3:1 omega-6 to omega-3 is the most beneficial.

In addition to lowering blood pressure, the anti-inflammatory nature of omega-3 seems to be useful for cancer risk reduction and heart disease risk reduction.

Is it worth using?

Naturally it’s very worth increasing your intake of omega-3s, particularly if you eat a lot of processed foods or meats raised on grains. Grain-fed animals have a much higher density of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) and this corresponds to a higher omega-6 content in their meat. This is a reason why we should avoid eating farmed tilapia, because they’re fed such a horrible diet that their omega-6 profile is off the charts. While the study I reference here points out that you can mitigate the omega-6 profile of farmed tilapia, that’s like suggesting you move your house to a sunny climate to avoid rain damage because you have holes in the roof. Stupid.

If you’re not into eating a lot of fish, then fish oil supplements are a great way to get more omega-3s. There are even “burpless” kinds which suggest they don’t cause fishy-tasting burps if you’re not into fish burps.

Is it expensive?

Not at all. My local Aldi has fish oil capsules for like $3.99 for a supply that will last about a month if you take 2 a day, but research seems to support that you need roughly 3.5 grams per day for the effects to be apparent. Since most capsules are around 1,000mg, that means 3-4 pills per day. Still, it’s not expensive at all, even at that dosage.

How do I use fish oil supplements?

Swallow it, boom that’s it. You also have the option of supplementing with real fish and you don’t have to squeeze any oil out. Sardines, mackerels, bristling, and salmon are all oily, cold water fish that provide a ton of omega-3s and if you like the taste of fish, that’s an added bonus.

Are there side effects with fish oil supplements?

Aside from the aforementioned fishy burps, not really. If you were to take a bunch of fish oil at the same time, you might experience stomach discomfort, but that’s true with any oil taken in significant amounts in a short time.

 

Protein powder

Protein supplements are pretty old, but modern research has proved that they’re even more useful than originally thought. What’s more you don’t have to deal with just whey protein anymore. There are tons of proteins from many different sources now, and they’re all widely available. From egg to pea and back to whey, you can find a protein powder that fits your diet and will benefit your body.

What does it do?

Protein powder is an extremely convenient way to get a necessary nutrient into your body in a short time. Don’t have time to cook and eat a steak after the gym or before an important meeting? Grab your shaker bottle, boss, cause we’re mixing up a slurry! A good protein recommendation for the average person is roughly .5 grams per pound of lean body mass or 20-25% of your daily intake of calories.

But protein powders – in particular whey protein – do more than just help muscle synthesis and repair damage. In addition, there is evidence that whey protein relaxes the blood vessels and lowers blood pressure.

Whey has also been studied and shown to help improve blood sugar stability, reduce systemic inflammation (probably by the same factors that improve blood sugar), and improve your immune system.

Is it worth using?

It’s definitely worth supplementing protein powder. It’s easily accessible, and the popularity of the product has lead to great strides in mixed-in additives for both nutrition and flavor. It supplements a meal and plugs holes in your nutritional profile.

Is it expensive?

Well this is an interesting question because it can be reasonably cheap or pretty expensive, depending on how you slice it. Certain wholesalers like True Nutrition offer blends and bulk buys that are cheap and you can customize them. I’ve been buying from them since college, so they’re great. Isopure makes some great low carb powders which are perfect for keto, and Quest has jumped on that bandwagon as well. But there are plenty of great brands like Optimum Nutrition that offer just fine protein powders at good prices.

I also want to point out that the True Nutrition link isn’t an affiliate link; I just actually dig them a lot.

How do I use protein powder?

For the most part, it’s very mixable in milk or water. Milk obviously gives you more of a shake consistency, where water is more like a “this is fine” consistency. You can also mix it in with Greek yogurt for a high protein dessert or breakfast. There are also a million keto recipes out there that use low carb isolate for breading but that’s a little extra.

Are there side effects with protein powder?

Not really any side effects. There’s still a lot of scaremongering about too much protein being bad for your kidneys but if you don’t have a chronic kidney problem, it’s won’t cause you issues. Of course if you’re allergic to whey, you can use pea protein or something, though again the effects of pea protein (besides being full of protein) haven’t been studied the way that whey has been.

 

Turmeric curcumin

Do you love Indian food as much as me, which is to say a whole lot? Then you probably get a good share of turmeric in your food. This yellow spice gives a lot of food an earthy flavor and beautiful color, but it’s also a powerful anti-inflammatory agent and has been studied for a host of other possible benefits, including:

What does it do?

The main focus of turmeric supplementation is in the volatile compound curcumin. This little phenol is responsible for the earthy, spicy smell of turmeric and has proven anti-inflammatory and anti-thrombolytic properties. That last bit refers to the way it helps prevent heart attacks by downregulating the way that platelets stick together, preventing clots.

There is also evidence of turmeric helping to calm symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, which is one of the reasons I take it.

Is it worth using?

Yes. There is a decent amount of research that shows its effects on arthritis, blood sugar, and other conditions. Worst case scenario, you’re eating healthier because turmeric is a spice that calls for some specific applications. Finally, getting capsules of turmeric curcumin is easy to do as most pharmacies carry them now with the vitamins. Just make sure you’re getting turmeric curcumin and don’t pay for a bunch of other added nonsense.

Is it expensive?

Not particularly, as a month’s supply (which varies between 90-120 capsules, depending on how many you take a day) is around $10-$20 depending on where you shop and what brand you choose. I personally take 2 capsules a day but then I’m not treating anything like blood pressure or arthritis, but with that said, I don’t have blood pressure problems so it could be due in part to the curcumin.

How do I use turmeric curcumin supplements?

You can cook with it, if you like Indian food or any other culinary application that involves turmeric. Otherwise, taking a few 1950 mg capsules per day is the most common method.

Are there side effects with turmeric curcumin supplements?

There does seem to be an additive effect when used with NSAIDS and aspirin, which could potentially lead to clotting problems. The research I found didn’t go into extreme detail about whether results indicated if this is reversible, and if it only shows up in people taking NSAIDS and aspirin therapeutically to help with platelet problems or if these potential clotting problems are in anyone taking both curcumin and the pain relievers. This is one bullet I’ve made it a point to revisit as/if any new information emerges.

 

Vitamin D3

What does it do?

Vitamin D is necessary for basic functioning, proper immune response and it plays a vital role in making helping us battle depression and anxiety. In fact, the psychological condition seasonal affective disorder is definitely linked to reduced sun exposure, which in turn means less vitamin D. Most people in the world are woefully short of their requirements, and lack of vitamin D can cause a host of problems.

While you can get vitamin D from exposure to sunlight and that is a preferred method, it’s harder to do when it’s winter. Some good sources of vitamin D besides supplements are cold water fish like salmon or tuna, beef liver, eggs (only if you’re eating the yolk) and dairy that’s been fortified.

Is it worth using?

Absolutely. It’s pretty difficult to get enough vitamin D through diet and unless it’s sunny and warm, you’re also not likely to synthesize enough from the sun. It’s anecdotal, but my anxiety is much more manageable when I’m taking my supplements.

Is it expensive?

Not at all – vitamin D is easy to synthesize and can be bought at basically any drug store. A month’s supply shouldn’t cost you much more than $10.

How do I use vitamin D supplements?

The current (and probably outdated) recommendation is for about 800iu of vitamin D for most adults, but new research suggests that number might be woefully low. New recommendations suggest about 2500iu a day is reasonable, and I’ve read some suggesting 10,000 is what’s necessary. I would probably err on the side of caution but a good dose of sunlight and tuna fish never hurt anyone. I personally take about 2500iu a day from pills and do my best to walk in the sun for 15 minutes or more per day.

Are there side effects with vitamin D supplements?

Unless you overdose, it’s unlikely you’ll experience any side effects. You might get some discomfort if taken on an empty stomach, but even that is unlikely. For the most part, excess vitamins are just peed out and you’d really have to take quite a bit of vitamin D (over 3000iu is probably time to err on the side of caution) to take too much. A fun fact though – if you were to eat a polar bear’s liver, the amount of vitamin D would kill you. And 52 of your friends (who would also have eaten the bear’s liver; it’s not cursed or something).

I will add to this list as I evaluate different supplements, but these are the ones I use on a daily basis. They’re also the supplements I have narrowed down from 12 years of trial and error.

Are there any supplements you swear by, even if the science is sketchy? I’d like to hear about them – I used to take pre-workouts all the time but I found that I get the same boost from coffee without the jitters or sugar in pre-workouts, so I stopped.

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