- When choosing the best bodybuilding supplements, consider your age, fitness levels, and workout goals.
- Consume fast-digesting protein before and after training and slow-digesting protein before bedtime to maximize your gains and reduce muscle breakdown.
- For faster recovery, take glutamine or BCAAs. Both supplements promote muscle repair and help preserve lean mass while on a diet or during periods of intense training.
- Sports supplements are designed to complement your diet, not replace it. If you binge on junk food, don’t expect results.
- Choose quality over quantity. You’ll benefit more from using a premium protein powder than dozens of cheap supplements loaded with sugar and fillers.
Wondering whether you should take creatine, glutamine or BCAAs? Is protein powder enough to build muscle and strength? What about fat burners — do they really work?
The truth is that choosing the best sports supplements can be confusing. From whey protein and mass gainers to pre-workout formulas, there are hundreds of products available. Each has distinctive properties and may or may not work for you. On top of that, their quality varies from one brand to the next.
Now you can finally stop asking around “What supplements should I take?” Our team at OLS has compiled a guide to the best supplements for exercise and athletic performance. We’ll show you what works, what doesn’t work, and how to choose a formula that aligns with your goals.
So, are you ready to take your workouts to the next level? Here’s what you should know about bodybuilding supplements and how they can help!
Sports Supplements: Real Help or Marketing Hype?
The sports supplement market is booming. New products are popping up every day, and each claims to be the next big thing. In fact, financial experts predict that this industry will reach $44 billion by 2022.
Whey protein, mass gainers, glutamine, and other supplements are no longer just for bodybuilders. From weekend warriors to dieters, anyone can reap their benefits.
A growing number of supplements are marketed to recreational and lifestyle users. The thing is, these products won’t transform your body overnight or offset the effects of bad eating. Their role is to supplement your diet, not to replace nutritious foods.
Sports supplements appeal to physically active individuals.
What about fat burners?
Fat burners, for instance, are designed to boost your energy expenditure during exercise. These formulas increase your metabolism and help preserve lean mass while on a diet. Their mechanism of action depends on the ingredients used, but you still need to hit the gym and eat clean to get results.
Let’s take Vintage Burn™, for example. Our formula will suppress your appetite, enhance mental focus, and increase fat burning. It also helps spare muscle and strength when you’re in a calorie deficit. When used as part of a balanced diet and intense training, it can speed up fat loss and maximize your workouts.
Importance of Calories
However, no diet pill or fat burner will counteract the damage caused by poor nutrition. Creating a calorie deficit is a must if you want to lose fat.
Calories are not everything, though. Food quality matters most, as the experts at Harvard School of Public Health point out. Sugary drinks, potatoes, red meat, breakfast cereals, and other processed foods have been linked to weight gain. Whole grains, fruits, veggies, and other whole foods promote weight loss and support physical performance.
If you take fat burners and binge on ice cream or chips, you’re just wasting money. Sure, you might lose a pound or two, but the results won’t last. At the end of the day, it’s your diet and workout routine that make the difference.
Without a doubt, sports supplements work and have their place in a balanced diet. Their benefits are backed up by science. However, you won’t get results unless you put in the work. Eat clean, stick to your workouts, and the results will follow.
What Supplements Should I Take for Mass and Strength Gains?
The same product will produce different results for different people, depending on their age, diet, training routine and overall fitness.
Your favorite pre-workout formula, for instance, can skyrocket your heart rate and give you insane energy — but have little or no effect on your gym buddy. The same goes for fat burners, nitric oxide boosters, recovery formulas, and other supplements.
Consider your goals and fitness level. Your budget matters too. At the very least, you should get a quality protein powder, creatine, fish oil, and multivitamins. As you progress, add new supplements to the mix.
Depending on your budget, you can opt for pre- and post-workout formulas, joint and bone strength formulas, testosterone boosters, casein, mass gainers and everything in between.
Assess your diet and training routine, research the supplements you’re interested in, and prioritize those that align with your goals, whether it’s fat loss, enhanced performance, or hypertrophy.
What supplements should I take? The Full List
If you’re wondering “What supplements should I take,” here’s a quick overview of the best products out there:
- Whey protein — fast-digesting, promotes muscle growth and repair, supports athletic performance, and aids in fat loss
- Casein — a type of slow-digesting protein that facilitates post-workout recovery and helps reduce catabolism
- Creatine — helps increase lean mass and strength, improves cell signaling, reduces protein breakdown, and stimulates the production of anabolic hormones
- Glutamine — increases protein synthesis and speeds up post-workout recovery
- BCAAs — regulate energy production, support muscle repair, and stimulate protein synthesis
- Pre-workout formulas — enhance mental focus, raise your energy levels, and increase physical endurance
- Post-workout formulas — facilitate recovery from training and help reduce muscle breakdown
- Fish oil/Omega-3 fatty acids — help prevent and reduce inflammation, support cardiovascular health, and improve blood lipids
- Nitric oxide boosters — increase nitric oxide levels in the bloodstream, leading to better pumps, faster recovery, and improved performance
- Fat burners — enhance your body’s ability to burn fat for fuel, suppress appetite, and help preserve lean mass while on a diet
- Mass gainers — high-carbohydrate formulas that help replenish your glycogen stores, promote hypertrophy, and improve recovery time
- CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid) — aids in fat loss and supports exercise performance
- Testosterone boosters — help increase testosterone levels, making it easier to build mass and strength while maintaining low body fat
- Estrogen blockers — suppress estrogen production, leading to increased muscle definition
- Glucosamine and chondroitin — support joint and bone health
- Multivitamins — help prevent nutrient deficiencies and promote overall health
Each type of product can be further divided into several categories based on its mechanism of action. You can also supplement your diet with single amino acids, such as arginine, leucine, isoleucine, and so on.
Sure, you don’t need to use everything on this list to perform at your best. First, make sure your diet is in check and then add supplements to the mix. Always choose quality over quantity.
Steer clear of any products containing added sugar, fillers, and ultra-processed ingredients with little or no nutritional value.
Take Protein for Explosive Growth
Let’s start with protein supplements. If you had to choose just one supplement, it should be protein powder. Depending on your preferences, you can opt for:
- Whey protein isolate
- Hydrolyzed whey protein powder
- Whey protein concentrate
- Whey protein blends
- Egg protein
- Beef protein
- Vegan protein powders, such as hemp, soy, rice, or pea protein
Protein Formula’s Compared
Whey protein concentrate is the most affordable option, but not necessarily the best. Compared to whey protein isolate and hydrolyzed whey, it’s higher in lactose and carbs. Its protein content can vary from 30 to 80 percent, depending on the brand.
Most supplements that fall into this category contain about 80% protein. The remaining 20% consists of fats and carbs. Whey protein isolate, by comparison, is over 90% protein by weight.
Both formulas are quickly digested, making them ideal pre- and post-workout. Whey protein isolate is nutritionally superior, though. Hydrolyzed whey, on the other hand, is easier and faster absorbed, has the lowest lactose content, and contains more protein per serving.
In a study, men who consumed a beverage containing carbs and hydrolyzed whey during and after training experienced a 48% increase in muscle protein synthesis and a 19% increase in whole-body protein synthesis.
Another study, which was featured in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, has found that hydrolyzed whey protein reduced fat mass by 6%.
Furthermore, this supplement causes a faster increase in the plasma concentration of insulin and BCAAs compared to intact milk protein, according to a review published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. Insulin promotes anabolism aka muscle growth and suppresses muscle protein breakdown.
Whether we’re talking about whey isolate, concentrate, or hydrolyzed formulas, whey protein can maximize your gains and fat burning potential.
These supplements support immune function, improve blood pressure, and reduce blood sugar levels while promoting hypertrophy. For best results, choose a formula containing both slow- and fast-digesting proteins, like Vintage Brawn — our muscle-building protein blend.
What’s the Deal with Casein?
Feeling confused about all the different types of protein powder? That’s perfectly normal, considering the wide range of varieties available.
What you need to know is that whey protein is quickly digested and absorbed into the body, while casein digests slowly.
Like whey and other animal proteins, casein provides all the essential amino acids.
The difference is that it takes longer to digest, making it ideal before bedtime. It’s designed to prevent and reduce catabolism, or muscle breakdown. This leads to faster post-workout recovery and increased muscle protein synthesis.
Due to its slow absorption rate, casein fuels your muscles over several hours, reducing the catabolic effects of exercise. In a 12-week study, subjects who took this supplement lost three times more fat and experienced double the muscle growth compared to those taking either whey or no protein at all.
To reap the benefits, take one or two scoops of casein mixed with water before hitting the sack. This protein also occurs naturally in yogurt, milk, and cheese. If you’re on a budget, snack on cottage cheese or eat some yogurt later in the day.
Build Mass and Strength with Creatine
Along with whey protein, creatine is perhaps one of the most popular supplements in the bodybuilding world. It promotes muscle growth, increases strength and power, and improves recovery. On top of that, it makes your muscles appear fuller and more pumped.
Don’t get us wrong — we’re not talking about a magic pill that yields massive gains. However, creatine does have some unique benefits that you won’t get from other products. In fact, it’s among the most researched sports supplements on the market.
US National Library of Medicine View
As the U.S. National Library of Medicine, points out, this organic acid occurs naturally in the brain and muscles. It’s also available in supplement form. When used along with resistance training, it may improve muscle strength and function, reduce catabolism, and enhance athletic performance.
Sports Medicine Journal Study
A 2016 review published in the journal Sports Medicine assessed the effects of whey protein alone and in combination with creatine on body composition and muscular strength. Researchers have found that whey plus creatine is more effective at maximizing hypertrophy and fat loss as well as total body strength than whey protein alone.
Creatine boosts exercise performance and muscle growth in several ways.
First, it increases hydration in muscle cells, which in turn, stimulates hypertrophy. Second, it boosts the production of IGF-1 and other anabolic hormones, making it easier to build mass and strength.
This supplement also improves cell signaling, helping your body repair damaged tissues and build muscle. Furthermore, it makes you stronger overall and allows you to work out harder for longer periods of time.
Like whey protein, creatine comes in several forms, including creatine HCL and creatine monohydrate. Check out our guide to learn more about the differences between the two.
You may also use buffered creatine, liquid creatine, creatine AKG, creapure, and other varieties. However, these products are not necessarily superior to creatine monohydrate (which has been around for decades!).
Glutamine vs. BCAAs for Faster Post-Workout Recovery
Adequate rest is just as important as good nutrition and heavy training. But sometimes, our muscles need more than just a good night’s sleep or an off day to recover from exercise. That’s where glutamine and BCAAs come in handy.
Both supplements promote muscle growth and repair, help preserve lean mass, and reduce catabolism. The question is: which one works best?
According to a 2014 study featured in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science, glutamine seems to be more effective for post-workout recovery.
This amino acid delays and reduces fatigue, improving recovery time after maximal intensity exercise. On top of that, it fights inflammation and keeps your immune system strong.
BCAAs have their perks, though.
Leucine, isoleucine, and valine — the three branched-chain amino acids — help reduce muscle damage, decrease body fat, and stimulate protein synthesis. Furthermore, they balance glucose metabolism and suppress appetite, making it easier to lose fat.
What Studies Say
In a recent study, BCAAs produced a 22% greater increase in protein synthesis compared to a placebo.
Glutamine, on the other hand, is the most abundant amino acid in the human body. Exercise depletes your body’s glutamine stores, which in turn, can affect your ability to recover from training.
Supplementing your diet with this amino acid will speed up the recovery process, decrease muscle soreness, and ward off fatigue.
But you don’t have to choose between the two. Both glutamine and BCAAs aid in muscle repair and support athletic performance.
Our team recommends Classic BCAA 2:1:1, a proven formula for hard gainers, bodybuilding competitors, and gym-goers who are in a calorie-deficit and need a steady supply of amino acids to preserve lean mass.
Get the Most Out of Your Supplements
As you see, there’s no definite answer to the question “What supplements should I take?” There are lots of different options — and each has its perks. Choosing one comes down to your individual needs.
For example, if you’re in your early 20s, you don’t really need testosterone boosters because your T levels are at their peak. However, you do need quality protein, omega-3s, and micronutrients.
Most importantly, make sure your diet is in check. If your daily meals consist of junk food, supplements won’t make too much of a difference. What you eat has the biggest impact on your performance.
Summing It Up
When used as a part of a balanced diet, supplements can take your gains to a whole new level. Research your options, check the labels, and choose a formula with proven results. Keep your goals in mind and decide accordingly.
Old School Labs’ Hard Gainers Stack, for instance, is ideal for those who have difficulty putting on mass. It includes a quality pre-workout formula for insane energy, a muscle-building formula for massive gains and faster recovery, and a natural testosterone booster that works synergistically with the body, not against it.