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!



Habits and Supplements to Master Your Sleep

Sleep, the often sacrificed aspect of our training regimen. Sleep is hugely important to athletes: it’s a time when we recover and recharge. Additionally shorter periods of sleep are typically associated with increased levels of obesity in and adults. Honestly, it doesn’t take a thesis level article to explain to you why you should be getting quality sleep, you already know a lot of the benefits.

I have always enjoyed my sleep a little too much. I was your typical teenager that’d sleep as long as possible, the only grade schooler I knew that could sleep 12 straight hours, and even as an adult I tried to maintain 8-9 hours of sleep a night. The point is I liked to sleep A LOT and if I didn’t get a lot of it I didn’t feel very rested.

As you can imagine needing a lot of sleep requires being able to go to bed at a regular time, being able to fall asleep efficiently, and waking up well rested. In this article I’m going to share the habits and supplements I’ve been using to ensure quality rest.


In my article in Habits I listed out the four major antecedents to forming any new habit:

  1. Reward
  2. Consistency
  3. Behavioral Cues
  4. Simplicity

To effectively battle insomnia and ensure quality sleep we need to make going to sleep a habit that adheres to these four aspects. We can do this through the process of ritualization.

Firstly, pick something you can regularly do before bed that you find enjoyable and rewarding. It is extremely important that what you pick is extremely simple as this will ensure regular consistency.

For example; at 9:00 pm every night I put a kettle on the stove and make a cup of herbal tea for my wife and I. Since we regularly try to go to sleep by 10:30 pm this acts as a simple cue that we need to begin winding down: turning off TV, brushing teeth, read a book, etc.

Personally, I really enjoy herbal tea and have a few that I keep around that are quite relaxing. The tea in and of itself is a reward and a behavioral cue. It’s simplicity lends itself to being repeated nightly.

Rituals like this don’t work right from the onset. Typically it’s going to take some time to establish it before you can yield its benefits. But once it is in place it becomes a strong physical tool to alter your mental state towards preparing for sleep, which ultimately will lead to better and more consistent sleep.


Zinc, Magnesium, and Melatonin

I’ve had my fair share of bouts with insomnia. During college I was a little too familiar with pulling all nighters and eventually my body developed this nasty resistance towards wanting to fall asleep.

A few years out of college and into weightlifting the majority of nights spent tossing and turning seemed to have subsided. This was a huge upgrade, showing that a change in lifestyle was what was needed most, but I was still have trouble falling asleep quickly and staying asleep.

On nights that I could feel that sleep would not come easily I would take 3-5 mg of melatonin and this would help me get to sleep quickly, however it did not help me feel like I was getting quality sleep. Shortly after I met my wife she introduced the idea of supplementing with zinc and magnesium prior to sleep to more restful sleep.

Research has shown that zinc, magnesium, and melatonin cocktails can successfully aid insomniacs with getting to sleep quickly and actually resting during sleep.

While I don’t have a study on hand to back this; I believe that melatonin stimulates that body’s desire to sleep, however encourages more levels of stage 4, deep, sleep which is good but not wholly restful. The inclusion of zinc and magnesium is able to shift this stimulation somewhat to promote greater levels of stage 5, REM, sleep. REM sleep is typically associated with dreaming and one of the primary subjective changes people experience with including zinc and magnesium is a sudden increase in vividness and frequency of their dreams.

Personally I try to take the melatonin sparingly so I don’t develop a tolerance/dependence on exogenous melatonin. Additionally, I will take a week or two off of zinc after a while as regular zinc supplementation has been known to drain trace mineral reserves such as copper.


Recently I’ve been experimenting with taking an amino acid supplement before bed: Glycine. Research has shown that taking 3 grams of glycine an hour before bed produces a positive subjective feeling upon waking.

In my own personal experience glycine appears to work almost as effectively as advertised (which is stellar in the supplement industry). I have noticed a clearer effect when I take closer to 5 grams but this could simply be due to my size. Also beaware that it took about 4 days before I noticed a regular effect.

The addition of glycine into my bedtime supplementation has dramatically increased my ability to wake up and get after it. It’s essentially taken that feeling of “oh, bed so comfy, just 5 more minutes” and has replaced it with a eagerness to start the day. Which is much more than I get out of the majority of supplements I have taken.

How do I take these?

The most effective method I’ve found for ingesting these supplements so far is to put all items in a shaker cup. Unfortunately I can only find zinc and magnesium in tablets that are somewhat resistant to dissolving in water so this takes a lot of forethought and planning.

Regularly I add 3-5 grams of glycine, 3 mg of melatonin (the tablets will dissolve in water), and propel for flavoring to a regular shaker cup. Drink this 30-60 minutes before sleep.

Additionally I will take 400 mg of Magnesiumand 30 mg of Zinc in tablet form when I drink the aforementioned cocktail. I have experimented with crushing the tablets and adding them to the shaker. Unfortunately these minerals take a very long time to dissolve in water and it’s much easier to leave them in tablet form.

In Summary

Sleep is important and sadly it seems to be the first thing high performing people are willing to sacrifice to get the job done. Sleep is not an inconvenient time waster, it is primary component of our daily recovery, both physical and mental, and deserves to be prioritized.

Regular oversleeping or insomnia are likely caused by people with irregular sleeping schedules (except for in cases diagnosed by a medical professional). Ritualization can help correct this and provide a structure for establishing a regular sleeping schedule.

Some supplements are worthwhile when trying to get the most out of sleep. Glycine, Zinc, and Magnesium are great supplements to take nightly before bed and sparingly including melatonin can help ensure falling asleep in a timely manner.