I get a lot of questions about nutrition and supplementation, and I’m more than happy to share my opinions on the subject. However, I find myself typing out basically the same thing as a response nearly every time. If only I had some sort of platform where I could just write it all out once, so I could just send people the link later, right?
First, some basic nutrition advice, from a very high-level perspective. Like Mike, I’m not a doctor. I’m not going to argue with you, or try and sell you anything, or convince you to change your beliefs (everyone already has their own food beliefs). But if you’re my athlete, here’s what I expect you to do.
Food: Cook and eat real food, not pre-packaged crap. Get at least your pounds of bodyweight in grams of protein (IE, I am 250 pounds of twisted steel and sex appeal. I better damn well get 250g of protein every day if I want to stay that way). Eat grassfed beef and other free-range mammals if you can, and eat wild fish. I guess you can add reptiles to that if you go Velociraptor hunting, or kill a snake that looks at your puppy the wrong way. Add all the good fats you can (oils, butters, etc). Add at least 100g of good carbs (tons of veggies, some fruits and potatoes, even rice, but avoid sugar and gluten). Alter your carbs and fat intake based on your aesthetic goals and performance needs. Buy and read Justin’s e-book Paleo For Lifters for a much more in-depth explanation. I edited that book and agree with just about everything in it – and it even goes into depth on supplements, too. However, keep in mind this post is my advice, not Justin’s.
Note: Assuming a consistent training schedule that is not completely stupid, your muscular gains will be DIRECTLY tied to how many days a year you hit your protein goals. You NEED to understand this. If I hit 250g of protein 3 days a week and ~100g the other 4 days of the week, I’m going to get half the results as if I am religiously eating carcasses. Think about it. How hard do you work to never miss a training session? Treat your protein intake this way, starting right now. Go eat a chicken; the article will be here when you get back.
Water: If you’re not drinking a gallon of water a day, you’re fired.
Now let’s get to the actual supplements. You have to have all the things above in order first, OK? It’s important. You can’t supplement your way out of a shitty application of the basics.
Protein Powder: I use whey because it’s cheap and delicious and mixes easily. Use something else (beef, egg, etc.) if whey bothers your stomach or skin. Get an additional 25g/day (small folks) to 50g/day (normal size folks) every day to supplement your real food. If, every once in awhile, you don’t hit your daily allotment of real protein, drink another protein shake, then wake up early and make more real food in your crockpot so you don’t make the same mistake twice.
PWO (Post-Workout): Bro science wins here, folks. I have an average person get an additional 50g of protein IMMEDIATELY post workout, almost always via another protein shake, but lean meat works too if that’s your thing. Add 10-25g of carbs for people who feel they’re too fat. Increase that to 50-100g for people who want maximum jackage and recovery. Reduce the carbs if you’re cutting, and/or use lower-glycemic carbs (sweet potatoes, etc). Add carbs and/or use higher-glycemic carbs if you can get away with it and/or need mucho mas energy (CF, etc). I currently use shitty sugar (Country-Time Lemonade mix…seriously) because I’m cheap and bulking, brah. Look, I’m human. There are better options, obviously.
Caffeine: Drink lots of good black coffee, and you’ll be a better person. Just stop before, say, 3-4pm, so it doesn’t affect your sleep schedule. If you don’t like it black, buy better coffee or try cold-brewing it (which reduces the acidity). If you still don’t like it, add some coconut creamer and stop whining. Use this as your pre-workout supplement if you don’t train at night.
Fish Oil: Take a couple grams a day of Omega-3 (that’s DHA+EPA). If you want to dork out about it, use Robb Wolf’s calculator and spend all your money on the best stuff available. Liquids are the best way to get high doses, especially if you’re nursing an injury. Use more if you eat cheap fatty meat. Use less if you slaughter your own grassfed cows or force-feed your chickens flax seed. Also, since I’m thinking about it, use grassfed butter, like Kerrygold. It’s delicious. Oh, and keep your fish oil in the fridge, unless you claim to be “Paleo,” in which case I expect you to find a cool damp cave for your medical pills.
Creatine Monohydrate: Take all of it. I have small females start at 5g/day and work up to 15g/day and most of my dude-lifters are taking 30g/day. Use something cheap and buy it by the bucket. Use the “internet” to find good deals until I make an affiliate connection with an e-store. Make sure you take it daily – the exact timing isn’t nearly as important as the consistency. Don’t take it on an empty stomach. Deload a couple times a year (vacation, sickness, after a meet, etc). Don’t take this much if you’re an alcoholic. But if you’re an alcoholic, you probably won’t listen to me anyway. Jerk.
Multivitamin: Get a cheap one and take it daily. Can’t hurt.
Zinc/Magnesium: Either take a cheap ZMA pill (especially if you’re a male: low Zinc=low testosterone=bad), or Natural-Calm. Work slowly up to around 25-50mg of Zinc and 4-500mg/day of Magnesium, preferably right before bed for the best acid-like dreams possible (and subsequently, deeper sleep). You and your toilet will know if you take too much, or if you take it on an empty stomach.
Vitamin D: If you live in Seattle, I’m jealous. But you only get to see The Mountain a couple dozen amazing sunny days a year. Here in Austin, we get like 400 a year. Less sun? Take more Vit D. It takes blood work to figure out if you’re deficient, but use your common sense here. I just go outside and creep out the hipster chicks at the pool. If you never get sun, you might need up to 10,000iu/day. If you get some, 2k/day is probably fine. Spend more time outside topless or in tank tops, just to be sure.
Vitamin C: If you feel like you might be getting a cold, take ALL the vitamin C. You might get the shits, but you probably won’t get sick. Otherwise, try and eat lots of various vegetables to get stuff like this on the reg and you’ll be fine.
Iron: Most of you ladies have been told to supplement your iron intake by your lady-doc, haven’t you? First, eat more red meat and kale and other good food. Then, take the liquid iron supplements from your local hippy grocery store, especially…well…you know when. Wait, don’t get mad. Please stop yelling at me. I AM listening. BRB, going fishing. Guys, just eat lots of red meat, and you should be fine, as long as you don’t bring up delicate lady-times like a jackass.
Other stuff: There are literally hundreds of other supplements out there, and some of them are actually worth discussing. If you have joint issues, try taking a glucosamine/chondroitin supplement daily for a full month and see if you feel better. If you’re loaded, BCAAs can be beneficial, but they aren’t cheap and need to be taken in high doses. You shouldn’t really need them if you’re eating properly. If you have specific questions about other supplements, feel free to ask. But make sure you’re eating your damn meat, first.