I'm not a huge supporter of supplements, though I did go through a phase in the beginning of my powerlifting where I wanted to try everything out there. I've calmed down now and come to the same conclusion that most seasoned lifters reach: real food and plenty of it does the trick. But, with that being said, there are definitely some supplements that are worthwhile for me on a regular basis and others that come in handy when cutting weight.
Let's start with the supplements that I've been using that are unique to my cut:
Bodytech BCAA & Glutamine
First and foremost, this stuff is straight up BCAA's and glutamine. There is no flavoring or color in it. My main issue with most supplements is how painfully artificial they are, so the less in them, the better.
What IS it, though? BCAAs are the amino acids L-leucine, L-valine, and L-isoleucine, and glutamine is another amino acid. These aminos are regularly available via real-food sources, which is why you probably won't see me using the powder unless I'm cutting weight and, therefore, intentionally eating less. A sufficient and well balanced diet should provide plenty of protein and amino acids (including BCAAs, glutamine, and so so many more) rendering a supplement like this largely useless.
It's *hopefully* no secret that the nutrients in food are essential to muscle growth and recovery. Even if you're lifting like an animal in the gym you'll see minimal, if any, muscle growth/strength gain if you're under-eating. (It will also be hard to maintain maximal lifting without the proper amount of fuel in your system for such workouts.) This is where BCAA's and glutamine come in...
I'm taking in fewer nutrients from my food simply because I'm eating less of it. I use this supplement to make sure that my muscles are receiving what they need to grow and repair as I continue to workout at the same intensity while eating ~500 calories less than normal.
Solaray Dandelion Root
Alright, this one is new to me. Before I explain why I'm using it, I'm going to explain a bit about cutting water weight for a competition weigh in...
Firstly, when you chose your weight class, you want to be at the upper end of that class. For example, I'm in the 132.2 pound weight class, and it would be ideal for me to weigh in RIGHT at 132. This is for a couple reasons: (1) you want to cut as little weight as possible to make weight, because huge cuts generally result in weaker lifts, and (2) the less you weigh, generally, the less you can lift, so you want to be among the heaviest of the lifters you're competing against. Weighing 125 pounds and competing agains 132 pounders puts you at an automatic disadvantage. Of course, this is speaking very generally, but the idea is to never underestimate your competition.
So, to lose a quick few pounds to make it right to the cusp of that weight class, a lot of lifters will cut water weight. This involves a phase of water loading, a phase of dehydration, and a lot of misery. The idea is to overload your body with a surplus of water for a while to give it the impression that it doesn't need to retain any of it, because there's plenty coming in. After that, you then temporary restrict your water intake, so that you're only taking in a small amount, but your body is still retaining very little of it. This runs the risk, though, of putting you in a wonky and dehydrated condition during the competition, which does NOT lend itself to big PRs.
Dandelion root was suggested to me as an ideal alternative. Dandelion root is a diarrhetic, which, put simplistically, means it makes you pee pee and poo poo. When you take dandelion root, your body retains less water, because the herb influences the water to move right on through your system. The beauty of this method is that I can continue to drink as much as I want. In fact, when taking dandelion root, it's best to drink MORE than normal to be sure you avoid dehydration.
I'm three days out from the competition, and I just started taking the dandelion. I plan to take ~1000mg (one serving) 2-3 times a day up until the competition. I'll continue drinking water like normal (I already drink quite a lot), if not more, to make sure I'm well hydrated come meet day. I'll also continue weighing myself first thing in the morning to try and gauge whether or not there's a noticeable benefit. But, even if it doesn't work as intended, the dandelion root was only $7.99, and I won't wind up dehydrated.
So, now let's move onto some supplements that have their place in my diet on a more regular basis.
PlantFusion Protein Powder
Protein powder is something I've been using for years, though I am working towards using less and less of it for a couple of reasons: (1) shit is expensive, and (2) not only is real food a more nutrient dense choice, but it usually tastes better. However, there are plenty of times when protein powder is appropriate.
Firstly, powdered protein is a supplement, and should be used as such. It is not, and should not be used as, a meal. But, if you're anything like me, you may find that you have trouble getting enough protein in your diet no matter how much real food you're eating. When I find myself towards the end of a day and nowhere near my protein intake, I'll make myself a shake. I'll also use it if I have a surplus of calories left, and I'm not hungry, because drinking a shake is easier than stomaching a whole meal.
As a general rule, though, I try not to have too many of these in a week; maybe one every other day. And this isn't because protein powders bad for your health but just because consuming nutrient dense, real food sources is a better choice.
I drink PlantFusion specifically, because it is a vegan protein powder, and I have trouble stomaching whey. Because of this, I'm not a very strong authority on the best wheys on the market. For that, you can turn to Kraken Barbell!
Yes, I consider these snacks to be supplements. Why? Well, they're fortified to be especially high in protein, and they're certainly not real food. When categorizing them in my mind, Quest products definitely find themselves closer to other supplements than a home-cooked meal, but they serve their purpose in a pinch.
Specifically pictured are an apple pie Quest bar and sour cream and onion Quest protein chips. I think both taste great, but I tend to hear the opposite with regards to the chips. Popular opinion supports the tastiness of the bars but largely rejects the protein chips. Try 'em for yourself if you're interested.
I make use of these snacks when I have either no time to cook a meal or less than zero desire to do so. But, because they're not real food, and because they're quite pricey, I try not to make a habit of shoving them down my throat. (I also find that they bloat me, but that's a personal anecdote.) A good general rule of thumb is to eat real, home-cooked food whenever possible... but when it's just not possible, try to make good choices when it comes to snacks. If you're looking to gain muscle or build strength, a high protein bite is ideal.
I'm posting this blog cautiously. I get a lot of questions about supplements, so I figure I'll publicize the information I have to give, but I also don't want to give anyone the impression that supplements trump real food. That just is never the case.
If supplements have a place in your diet or routine then make use of them, sure. But try not to make a habit of eating less and less real food in favor of supplemental products.