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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.

PreWorkout

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.

Creatine

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

Multivitamins

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!

 

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The Essential Guide to Whey Protein Supplements

“Enough” Protein

Protein supplements are the most commonly used supplement among athletes. The reasoning is that additional protein helps aid is muscle recovery and can lead to faster gains. Many researchers have made the distinction that a protein supplement is not needed if enough protein is consumed daily. The tricky part is figuring out how people define “enough.” The American College of Sports Medicine and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics hold the stance that 1.2 to 1.7 grams per kilogram of body weight for strength athletes is adequate. However, if you browse around the internet you’ll find an old bodybuilding recommendation of 1 gram per pound of bodyweight, which is about 2.2 grams per kilogram of bodyweight.

Protein requirements are highly individualized and should be tailored to the person. Deciding what constitutes “enough” protein is a loaded subject that rightfully deserves it’s own article, but I’ll give a few statements that illustrate my opinion:

  1. If you are a competitor then your focus is not on long term health, it’s on performance. That isn’t to say there isn’t overlap between the two. If you are performance focused you should follow the recommendations of the ACSM or an experienced coach with a good track record.
  2. If you are not a competitor and you train to generally fit in life, then sustainability should be your focus. Find a range of protein intake within the recommendation made by the ACSM that works with how you enjoy eating in general. In the past two years I have gone from eating 2.0-2.4 grams per kilogram to eating around 1.3 to 1.6 grams per kilogram and have had no trouble maintaining performance and muscle mass.

So, if you’re a competitor of any sort you should check in with your coach about protein supplements and note that this article isn’t for you. This is for people like me; the people that train to be stronger and healthier for life in general.

Protein Timing

Protein timing is the act of consuming small batches of protein at certain points in the day. The most common form of this is to drink a protein shake immediately post-workout.

Brad Schoenfeld and Alan Aragon have repeatedly (2013, 2017) shown that the myth that you need to consume protein during the “anabolic window” post workout in order to maximize hypertrophy is not as important as consuming adequate protein. Again this can lead into the discussion of how “adequate” is defined, but that is for another time. The review and study linked above are very well done and show that when hypertrophy is the primary focus the total amount of protein is more important than when you eat that protein.

However, things may be somewhat different for populations that do not want to consume a high protein diet. There are many people that believe that a high protein diet may not be good for long term health. This is also a loaded debate; studies have shown that consuming up to 4.4 g/kg per day had no adverse health effects (at least in the short term), while many books that look at the strong correlation between longevity, lack of western diseases, and general healthfulness and a lower protein diet (Examples: The China Study and Proteinaholics). If you fall into the groups that prefer a low-moderate protein intake but still wish to optimize the results you get out of your gym efforts then you may want to consider protein timing.

Personally, I do have a protein shake following my workout. Mostly because I do not eat the amount of protein deemed adequate for hypertrophy. I tend to feel better at this moderate level of protein intake and, since I’m not a competitor, I’m going to stick with what makes me feel better.

A couple of good protein supplements

A key component in protein supplements is the amino acid leucine. Leucine stimulates muscle protein synthesis in humans, especially resistance trained people. However, not all protein supplements contain adequate amounts of leucine. There are many brands that create their whey protein with added leucine for just this reason but they tend to be very expensive. If you have the money to spend I suggest you check out Whey+ by Legion Athletics.

If you’re like me and have to maintain a tight supplement budget then you can do what I do: Mix 1 scoop  MyProtein Impact Whey (Mocha is the best flavor) with 0.5 – 1.0 teaspoon of L-Leucine. Just like that you have your own leucine spiked whey protein! I add 5g of creatine to mine and take it about 20 minutes after I work out. This is a simple step that many of my clients have reported seeing consistent benefits from without having to dominate their diet with protein.