With dozens of supplements to choose from, how do you know which ones you actually need? Take our test and figure out the perfect formula.
By Joel Snape
Whatever your goal in life or the gym, there’s a pill, powder or odd-smelling drink that promises to get you there faster, with less effort. But which ones actually work? What do you really need? And, with the vast choice available, what’s the most efficient option for your gym bag… and your wallet? With the help of an array of impartial experts, MF has constructed a couldn’t-be-simpler questionnaire that cuts out the chaff and makes the supplement-selection process a breeze. Just pick the answers that apply to you, discover what that means for your diet, load up your gym bag and be blown away by the results.
Question 1: How much sunshine do you get in a typical day?
a. Less than 1 hour
b. 1-4 hours
c. 4+ hours
Question 2: How do you sleep?
a. Like a log
c. Fine, but my dreams get a bit crazy
Question 3: How would you describe your mood at work?
a. Constant low-level fury, occasional outbursts
b. Fine when I’m online shopping, otherwise mildly depressed
c. I love my job
Question 4: How often do you get colds?
b. About once a year
c. All the time
If you answered A, B or C take… vitamin D
Sorry, this was a trick question. With our climate, most Aussies get their recommended daily allowance (RDA) through sunshine alone. But if you head overseas to work in the UK, for example, be more mindful, especially during winter. “Statistics show at least 16 percent of people in Britain are deficient in it,” says trainer Sean McPhillips (supremetraining.co.uk). “Low levels have been associated with diabetes and depression. It’s also linked to immune function and bone health. It’s cheap and easy to take either in a tablet or spray, and well worth doing.” The UK government recommendation is 600 IU a day, but many pros recommend 2000, easily inside the “safe” limit of 4000.
If you answered B or C, take… magnesium
Curtains shut, phone off, comfortable doona — and still no snoozing? It’s time for this wonder chemical. “Magnesium is a mineral most people are lacking in, whether through poor nutrition or environmental pollution,” says strength and conditioning coach Chris Kemp of Ultimate Strength in the UK. “It’s responsible for more than 300 chemical processes in the body, but one of its main benefits is improved sleep — it induces relaxation, helping calm the nervous system and promote more restful sleep.” Especially vivid dreams can also indicate a deficiency. Experts recommend up to 2000mg a day.
If you answered A or B, take… glutamine
“You should already be getting glutamine from your diet — it’s in meat and dairy,” says trainer and nutritionist Dan Forbes (forbeshealthandperformance.co.uk). “It’s a vital source of fuel for the intestines and immune system, but it can be worth supplementing at times of high stress, such as an intense training period or dieting for fat loss, or if you’re ill or stressed at work.” It can also increase energy levels in your brain, increasing your chances of getting through that 3pm meeting without nodding off, especially if you’ve been for a lunchtime run. “Try consuming 5-10g when you wake up and before you go to bed,” says Forbes. And if that doesn’t work, start sending out your CV.
If you answered C, take… zinc
Constantly struck down with colds? Divert your funds to zinc instead of Lemsip. “If you’re the type who becomes ill quite frequently then it’s more than likely you’re zinc-deficient,” says Kemp. Zinc is used throughout the body for growth, repair and immune function. Slow recovery from training and low testosterone production are other signs of a zinc deficiency.” Aim to take 11mg a day and avoid taking it with a cup of coffee, which blocks absorption. And monitor the rest of your diet and training schedule — if you’re topping up on zinc but are still getting ill regularly, it’s possible that you’re burning the candle at both ends and need to take a step back.
Question 1: How much protein do you eat?
a. 2g per kilo of bodyweight every day, obviously
b. Less than that
c. I have absolutely no idea
Question 2: How much fruit and veg do you eat?
a. My government-mandated five-a-day
b. Veg with every meal
c. Do potatoes count?
Question 3: How often do you eat fish?
a. Almost daily
c. Every Friday, battered and with chips
Question 4: How do you feel after all this food?
a. Ready for anything
c. Bloated and gassy, if I’m honest
If you answered B or C, take… whey protein
The debate about how much protein is ideal has raged for years, but one thing that virtually everyone agrees on is that 2g per kilo of bodyweight per day is a good idea for the average gym-goer. If that’s more chicken than you can face, it’s time for a shake. “Whey is the fastest-digested form of protein and shuts down the production of the stress hormone cortisol, making it the perfect choice for your post-workout recovery shake,” says McPhillips. “You can also consider taking it regularly on non-workout days to top up your intake. Just make sure it’s a low-carb, no-sugar version.” After a really tough session, consider mixing it with milk for a slow-digesting hit of casein.
If you answered C, take… multivitamins and greens
“Even with a well-rounded diet, it can be difficult to get everything you need just through food,” says Forbes. “Commercial farming and pesticide use have stripped many of the nutrients from soils. A multivitamin is an easy way to cover all the bases that your diet might be missing.” If your diet is short on vegies — and Forbes recommends 10 servings a day — there’s another solution. “Regular training can increase acid production in the body. You can improve your recovery by eating alkaline foods, but a diet high in protein can compound acid production. A greens drink is therefore a must if your fruit and vegetable intake comes up short.” Try mixing it into your morning protein.
If you answered B or C, take… fish oil
There are dozens of reasons to take fish oil, from ensuring good bone health to reduced risk of a host of diseases, but it will definitely help you get leaner. “Unless you already eat a lot of oily fish, you can benefit from supplementing with fish oil to reduce body fat and inflammation,” says strength and conditioning coach Joseph Lightfoot (jplightfoot.com). “It will also keep your levels of the feelgood hormone serotonin even.” This in turn reduces the risk of you hitting the office biscuit jar for a quick fix. Caveat: take it during a meal or risk cod-flavoured emissions in the afternoon meeting. Incidentally, if you are eating fish, wild-caught is better because it contains a better ratio of healthy fats.
If you answered C, take… HCL
Feeling bloated and gassy is a good indicator that your natural levels of hydrochloric acid (HCL) aren’t doing the job digestively. “The quality of your supplements and foods that you eat is irrelevant if you can’t absorb them,” says Forbes. “Experts believe that up to 50 percent of the population suffer from hypochlorydia [low stomach acid levels], symptoms of which include gas and bloating. Low stomach acid could mean you aren’t breaking down foods properly and this can lead to deficiencies. Take one to two capsules with each solid, high-protein meal you eat. This will help you digest and break down nutrients, ensuring that all the good food you’re eating isn’t going to waste.”
Question 1: How is your attitude when hitting the gym?
a. I’m like a rabid bull
b. Fine, I suppose
c. I have to be dragged, kicking and screaming
Question 2: How do you feel during workouts?
b. Energised at first, then increasingly lethargic
c. Focused like a laser
Question 3: What’s your current goal?
a. Stay fairly strong
b. Get huge
c. Get lean
Question 4: How is your progress?
a. I’m looking like The Commando
b. Can’t complain, considering all the beer and pies
c. Frustrating: my training and diet are on point, but I’m not seeing changes
If you answered B, take… beta-alanine
If you need a pre-workout boost, this should do the trick– it’ll certainly get your blood pumping (and some brands will even make your face tingle). “If you’re looking for improved gym performance and work capacity, then beta-alanine is worth taking,” says McPhillips. “The research suggests that beta-alanine can improve endurance levels during weight-training sessions by increasing available ATP and carnosine in the body. Couple it with creatine [see answer 2, right] and your results can be even better.” If you answered C, throw in an espresso 30 minutes before gym time to kick things up another notch — or stick Eye Of The Tiger on Spotify and man up.
If you answered B, take… creatine
Think of creatine as the back-up generator for your muscles. As McPhillips explains, “Creatine is produced in the body in minuscule quantities and is also found naturally in foods such as meat and fish. It’s stored in muscle cells, then used to power high-intensity muscle contraction — think short efforts like a max-effort bench or 100m sprint. Your body can’t produce enough of it, so supplements will provide additional energy to muscles during workouts, which means you can train harder.” If you answered A, try going to the gym with a friend who’s stronger than you. Studies have shown that you’ll push yourself harder in the presence of a superior partner.
If you answered C, take… L-carnitine
Before burning fat, you need to mobilise it, which is where this compound comes in. “L-carnitine is the amino acid responsible for transporting fatty acids into the mitochondria, your energy powerhouses, meaning you’ll use fat for energy instead of glycogen,” says nutritionist Ben Coomber (bodytypenutrition.co.uk). “It’s especially useful if you’re training on a low-carb diet, where fat oxidation is otherwise already optimised.” Now all you have to do is throw in some high-intensity interval sessions and watch the fat melt away. If your gym goals involve putting on muscle, simply make sure you’re eating enough protein and food overall — the gains will come.
If you answered C, take… BCAAs
If you’ve taken stock of your training but the results still aren’t coming, it might be that you’re training too hard. The solution? Branched-chain amino acids. “BCAAs keep a steady flow of protein to your muscles,” explains Forbes. “That reduces muscle loss during exercise and promotes protein synthesis. Leucine is the most important BCAA and has the power to stimulate muscle rebuilding on its own.
Aim for 10-15g if you’re doing interval training sessions, or 20-25g if you’re doing resistance-training sessions. You can also take 3-5g of leucine two hours after eating to maximise the anabolic response.” Incidentally, if you answered B, sort out your diet and watch your progress rocket.