Fill the Gaps, Get the Gains
One of the most common questions we get here at T Nation is, "What supplements should I take?"
That of course depends on your goals. Are you mainly after muscle gains, fat loss, or performance improvement?
Well, whatever the goal, here's a radical idea. Before you buy any muscle gain or fat loss supplement, first spend part of your supplement budget on what I call "gap supplements." These are supps that fill any nutritional gaps or basic deficiencies you may have.
This is important. Why? Because your body is going to fight against your physique and performance goals if something foundational is missing. Also, health should come first. Dying early or getting an easily preventable disease really kills gains.
And finally, many of these deficiencies just flat-out make you feel awful in one way or another. And who wants to feel like a lukewarm turd all day?
Here are a few gap-filling supplements most people need:
Just about everyone is deficient, and we probably need even more than what most guidelines recommend. Besides all of that silly health stuff, a deficiency can make you weaker and less powerful in the gym. Take 1000 to 5000 IU per day, maybe more in the winter and then less in the summer.
Cost: About 4 cents a day.
Magnesium plays a role in insulin sensitivity, muscle function, and protein synthesis. And recently, researchers have found that magnesium deficiency is linked to depression, anxiety, inflammation, and even difficulty losing fat. Yep, it's called the "master mineral" for a reason.
The trouble is, today's heavily-farmed soils are stripping out a lot of the magnesium in foods. Sweating at the gym can also deplete your supply of magnesium (as well as zinc). So, most human beings should be supplementing with something like ZMA®. Just take three capsules before bed and you're good to go.
Cost: About 50 cents a day.
Iron for Women
It's incredibly easy for a female to become iron deficient, even if she eats red meat. Low iron can lead to depression, fatigue, irritability, and all kinds of things that make women feel terrible and men feel like playing golf instead of hanging out with their wives.
Cost: Just a few bucks a month once you get your levels up.
Here's another supplement that everyone benefits from: DHA and EPA omega-3 fatty acids (re-esterified triglycerides). I recommend Flameout®. Most fish oil supps are formulated for a woman's physiology. Flameout® is tweaked to work especially well for men. (Males need more DHA than females for heart health, among other things.)
Cost: $1.59 per day, which sure beats the average cost of having a mild heart attack: $760,000.
You need quality protein for muscle gains and fat loss. And a good protein powder blend (hormone-free whey isolate and micellar casein) without any junk fillers can provide you with benefits you can't really get from food alone. Metabolic Drive® Protein is the top choice.
Cost: About $1.26 a serving, or about the same price as a cup of coffee at McDonalds. A two-scoop meal replacement shake would be $2.52. For comparison, the average combo meal at Taco Bell runs $6.50. And it makes you ugly.
This one doesn't really fill a nutritional gap, but it does take care of the sleep gap. Remember, no sleep, no gains. Poor sleep, poor fat loss. Taking 2-3 capsules of Z-12™ helps you to relax and get to sleep faster, then sleep deeper. (You'll have awesomely vivid dreams too.)
Cost: Less than a dollar per night.
Every day we hear about a new "super food." And most of them really are nutritional powerhouses. But many are also expensive and almost impossible to source, like coffee berry and real wasabi. And even with moderately-priced super foods, you'd have to choke back a pound or two of each of them every day to actually get the super nutritional benefits. That's why I consider Biotest Superfood a staple. Just click that link and have a look at the ingredient list. Wow.
Cost: About a dollar a day. Cost of eating all these things in whole-food form in amounts that actually provide results? I have no idea, but it's a lot. And you'd be consuming a lot of calories, too. That is, if your stomach didn't pop from eating several pounds of fruits, veggies, and berries.
The Worst Choice
Standard multivitamins. Read TC's Stop Taking Multivitamins for info and make some room in your budget by ditching the One-a-Days.
Filling these crucial gaps will make a world of difference in how you feel and how you respond to your hard training. And as you can see, they're all pretty budget-friendly.