Worthwhile Supplements – The Brawn for Brains Recommended List

Last Updated: 4/12/17

In the past few months I’ve repeatedly been asked to list some of the supplements I’d recommend on this blog.  I’ve put this off because I want to do thorough research for each type of supplement, present my findings and then make a recommendation based on those (like I did here). However these articles take a lot of research and time to create so I’m going to use this article as a half way point.

In this article I’m going to list the supplements I recommend and my reasoning.  I will only recommend supplements that I personally have taken, if there’s something you think would be better than what’s on the list tweet it to me (@brawnforbrains) and if it is I’ll be sure to update my listings.

Full disclosure: Buying any of the products listed through the links I provide will put a small percentage of that money in my pocket; Help a grad student out!


Whey Protein

To start, if you are lifting weights and trying to gain an athletic body composition then you likely should be on a high protein diet.  Eating this much protein in a day can be exhausting, especially if you are a vegetarian.  For this we have whey protein supplements.

MyProtein Isolate – Best Value, High accuracy to label.  The taste is alright, you aren’t really going to be craving it but it does go down easily.


Dear god this is a ridiculously overcrowded market.  Essentially the main ingredient in all preworkouts is caffeine but some add creatine, bcaa’s, nitic oxide boosters, etc… I’ve found that the more crap they seem to try to cram in there the less effective it is overall. For this section I’m putting two recommendations; the first is my “Minimalist Homemade Pre Workout” and the second is a premade option if you don’t want to deal with buying individual ingredients. You can read more about preworkout here.

Matt’s Minimalist Preworkout

Legion’s Pulse – Average price for a preworkout product, high accuracy to label and tastes amazing.  The guys over at Legion Athletics did an amazing job with this product.  It’s the only preworkout I’ve seen that pairs caffeine with Theanine, something known to occur in green tea and believed to promote euphoria from caffeine instead of the jitters. While you can definitely find preworkouts on the market with more than the 350 mg of caffeine that pulse provides you really shouldn’t require such high levels of caffeine unless there is some deeper issue.


For this I recommend creatine monohydrate, it’s the form of creatine that has had the most research done on it and shown to be effective time and time again.  For those who do not know: creatine monohydrate is a great supplement for weight lifters because it can be taken up by your cells to form phosphocreatine which helps your muscle cells rapidly renew ATP resources. Each of the recommendations I make below is simply pure creatine monohydrate.

Bulk Supplements Micronized Creatine Monohydrate

MyProtein Creatine Monohydrate


You can read a full explanation of my choice here.  Multivitamins are certainly not necessary but they are great insurance policies should your nutrition have multiple gaps.

Legion’s Triumph

Branched Chain Amino Acids

There are way too many supposed benefits from drinking BCAA cocktails and that’s made the price skyrocket.  BCAAs have their use but it’s very specific: Branched Chain Amino Acids have been shown to effectively prevent muscle catabolism, so I only drink it when I am in a phase of reduced calories and/or in a fasted state, especially if I am exercising in a fasted state.  Outside of that very specific window I do not usually ingest BCAA’s.

Bulk Supplement’s Pure BCAA’s (Unflavored) – This is one of the better deals however it is up to you to find an acceptable way to ingest it.

Fish Oil

Let’s be frank, only a very select few of us are actually going to get an optimal amount of Omega-3 fatty acids through our diet.  Much like a multivitamin I find fish oil to be a good insurance policy.

Nordic Natural’s Fish Oil


And that’s it.  At least currently, those are the only supplements I am taking and would recommend.  Remember with supplements that they’re not some magical serum that’s going to unlock your true potential.  You need to have a solid diet as your basis and only supplement to fill in the gaps.

Again if you think this list could be improved upon from any addition and/or replacement please tweet it to me (@brawnforbrains) and I’ll be sure to test it out!



Growing out of your Newbie Phase; The Essential Guide

How the hell do you become one of those people that regularly goes to the gym? How do those people always know what to do? Should I hire a trainer to teach me all of these things? These are some of the questions many of us asked ourselves when we first started some sort of strength training. No matter what approach you take to getting started, it seems that everyone always has to go through the awkward “beginner” phases.

This article is written for those of you who have less than 4 months of strength training experience and are wondering the same questions I listed above.

Consistency and Experimentation

Programs for true beginners are tricky; when you’re new you’re going to progress at everything rapidly due to neuromotor learning and adaptation, you need to figure out what kind of exercises you genuinely enjoy doing, and you need to establish the habit of exercising regularly. With regards to these factors you should prioritize going to the gym consistently, and experimenting with different types of exercises.

First, be realistic about how often you can train every week. Training 2x per week is perfectly fine and better than committing yourself to 4x per week and feeling like a failure because you only went 3 times. Plan out the day and time you are going to train, don’t just say “I’ll do it when I have time,” that almost always leads to failure. Try to make the times consistent, for example if you’re going to train on Tuesday and Thursday don’t do Tuesday at 9:00 am and Thursday at 9:00 pm.

Second, don’t limit yourself to a standardized protocol. Set a general theme to your workout days, Upper/Lower Body days for example, and do any workout you feel like trying within those themes. If you see someone else doing an exercise that looks interesting, do it! You can even ask them for advice! Look around on Instagram and if you see someone doing an exercise you think you can safely do, try it! Experimenting like this in your first few months of resistance training will help you discover what exercises you really like, and which ones you absolutely loathe.

Play around in a safe weight and rep range

When you’re within the few months of your strength training you don’t want to push your limits to find out how strong you are. Instead I recommend you expand your limits. The difference between these two phrases may seem trite but let me explain:

  1. “Push Your Limits” – Consistently performing at the edge of your capabilities in order to push your absolute maximum effort up.
  2. “Expand your limits” – Consistently performing near the mid-range of your capabilities in order improve the quality of your efforts.

There is absolutely a time to “push your limits” but it is not when you’re a complete newbie. Instead, aim for completing 1 – 4 sets of any exercise for 8 – 12 reps. This range of volume will work to stimulate growth and neuromotor adaptation quite well while simultaneously limiting the risk of injury.

Don’t be nervous: (Almost) Nobody else has any idea what they are doing either

Don’t worry about judgement from people in full matching tracksuits, they’re still figuring it out too.

It’s easy to go into a gym when you’re new and feel like everyone is judging you because you’re new. This insecurity is completely normal and honestly you have nothing to worry about.

You can prove this to yourself by paying attention to how much everyone is looking at themselves in the mirrors next time you’re in the gym. Also notice how hard it is for you to pay attention to other people and not just look at yourself in the mirror. That’s how everyone feels. Everyone is looking at themselves, they are there for themselves, and they don’t care what you’re doing. Step into the gym knowing that most people there won’t even notice you at all.

There are the occasional assholes in the gym. These are the folks that record someone overweight on the elliptical and post it to their Instagram with some snarky comments. These are the 1% that make people feel like everyone in the gym will make fun of them and, while some of them are in decent shape, these idiots aren’t the people to emulate or care about what they think. Disregard these people, pretend they don’t exist, and do your own thing.

Lastly, when you’re insecure about your form or choice of exercises remember:

2/3 of the people in any regular gym have little to no idea what they are doing!

The more comfortable you become in your gym, the more you’ll realize this to be true. There are guys doing curls in the squat rack, calisthenics wannabes doing back levers while hanging on the connective tissue of their shoulders, deadlifts being done with crescent shaped spines, etc… It’s normal. Everyone has to start at this level. You can get better by recording yourself, asking friends for feedback, reading/watching exercise tutorials online, or hiring a trainer/coach to teach you how to do it.

Should you hire a trainer to show you the ropes?


If you’re going to want to explore more explosive and technical exercises, like the box jump, it’s smart to hire an experienced professional to provide critical feedback.

I do quite a few consultations with people that have either zero training experience or have not consistently trained in years. I usually tell these people it’s a waste of their money to hire me on so early; not because they’re inexperienced and I don’t want to work with them but because hiring a trainer that early on won’t make as big of a difference as they think. For the biggest bang for your buck simply follow the pointers we listed out in this article:

  • Make a realistic training schedule and stick to it.
  • Do something simple like a upper/lower body split.
  • Continually try different exercises to discover what kind of training is best for you.
  • Don’t push the weights super heavy and stay in the 8 – 12 rep range for most exercises.
  • Try not to stress yourself out about what other people are thinking, they’re usually focused on themselves.

There are a few exceptions in which hiring a trainer or a coach early on isn’t a bad idea:

  • The only way you’re going to establish a consistent schedule is to pay someone to hold you accountable.
  • You have enough disposable income to spend on a trainer/coach when they are likely to not be as effective.
  • You have special training needs and need a professional to tailor your training approach.

Overall, if you can make yourself get to a gym at least twice a week consistently follow the tips outlined in this article before hiring a trainer. Once you start to feel comfortable in the gym and with your style of training you can start shopping around for a trainer. Trainers and coaches are amazing resources that can help you reach a higher level of performance than you might have reached on your own. Much of this success is due to the fact that you will get to benefit from the past mistakes your coach made, you get to skip a lot of the trial and error phases. However, coaches can’t help you skip every sub-optimal phase of your training; primarily the beginning awkward phases.