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Nutrition | Training Tips

Are Workout Supplements Right for You? Factors to Consider

ISSA, International Sports Sciences Association, Certified Personal Trainer, ISSAonline, Nutrition, Supplements, Are Workout Supplements Right for You? Factors to Consider

Reading Time: 6 minutes 32 seconds

Walk into almost any gym and you’ll see a wall of supplements available for purchase. But how do you know whether you or your client would benefit from taking one of these products before or after your training sessions? Answering this question first requires understanding what a workout supplement is.

The ISSA Nutritionist Certification course can help you learn more about diet, nutrition, and how food and supplements impact health and wellness. Sign up today to help more clients and increase your earnings!

Dietary Supplements vs Fitness Supplements

Overall, dietary supplements are known to help improve total health and wellness. They provide the vitamins and minerals lacking or deficient in a person’s diet. This enables the body to function at a more optimal level.

One survey found that 77 percent of Americans take some type of dietary supplement. A multivitamin is taken most often (58 percent). This is followed by vitamin D (31 percent) and vitamin C (28 percent). Other top dietary supplements include calcium, vitamin B, magnesium, and iron.

Fitness supplements can also help boost health. However, these nutrients are more appealing to active individuals for the way they can enhance a workout regimen. They’re also fairly common. Approximately 28 percent of those surveyed reportedly take a sports nutrition supplement. 

Common Reasons for Taking a Workout Supplement

What makes workout supplements so appealing to people who engage in regular exercise? Here are four reasons to consider.

Increased Muscle Mass 

Certain supplements help promote the growth of lean muscle. Protein is perhaps the most well-known for this purpose. Many bodybuilders end a grueling resistance routine with a muscle-building protein shake. 

Protein is a basic building block for muscle. It also has other positive effects for active individuals. This includes reducing food cravings, strengthening bones, and boosting metabolism.

Whey is a common protein supplement. This protein powder is often preferred because it is a ‘complete protein.’ This means that it contains all nine essential amino acids. It also has a lower amount of lactose than some other protein supplements.

In addition to muscle growth, whey protein offers other workout benefits as well. One study involved consuming 25 grams of whey protein following resistance training. Participants noticed improvements in post-workout performance.

Research reveals that additional workout supplements promote muscle growth by impacting protein synthesis. Muscle protein synthesis refers to the process in which protein is made in the cells. Supplements that fall into this category are:

  • Glutamine. An amino acid, glutamine is a protein building block that also supports healthy immune system function. 
  • Creatine. Some athletes take a creatine supplement to help improve muscle gain. This amino acid is also found in seafood and red meat.
  • Leucine. Leucine is one of the branched chain amino acids (typically shortened to BCAA). In addition to helping the body create protein, a BCAA supplement increases muscle endurance by providing energy.
  • Calcium HMB. HMB stands for beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate. Research reveals that this supplement promotes muscle strength. It also reduces breakdown within the muscle cell. 

ISSA, International Sports Sciences Association, Certified Personal Trainer, ISSAonline, Nutrition, Supplements, Are Workout Supplements Right for You? Factors to Consider, Athlete

Better Athletic Performance 

The Office of Dietary Supplements reports that elite athletes often use supplements to boost athletic performance. Additionally, their usage rates are higher than those at lower levels of sport. This may be, in part, due to the duration and intensity of their training sessions.

Supplements found to potentially help improve performance include:

  • HMB. HMB helps by aiding in muscle recovery. Especially when workout sessions are intense enough to damage the muscle tissue.
  • Betaine. This sugar beet processing byproduct boosts both strength and power. It is thought to work by increasing the production of creatine. That makes it a good bodybuilding supplement. It is also beneficial to those who cycle.
  • Creatine. Creatine supplementation supplies muscle with short-term energy. This helps athletes complete workouts designed to increase muscle power and strength.
  • Iron. This nutrient can improve performance in individuals with iron deficiency anemia. It works by decreasing lactic acid during workout sessions.
  • Sodium bicarbonate. Often used to help relieve heartburn, sodium bicarbonate may also enhance performance. This is particularly true for trained athletes because it reduces acid in the muscle. This reduces muscle fatigue.

Improved Muscle Recovery

Taking a supplement after your workout can also help your muscles recover. This recovery may be by reducing muscle soreness. It can also take the form of muscle repair, giving the damaged tissue the protein it needs to build and grow.

Here are a few of the supplements helpful to the body after intense workout sessions:

  • BCAAs. One study found that individuals drinking 5.6 grams of BCAA after a workout had 22 percent higher muscle protein synthesis rates. Another piece of research notes that taking a BCAA can reduce muscle soreness up to 72 hours post-exercise.
  • Glutamine. A 2014 study involved people who did unilateral knee extensions. Those taking L-glutamine showed faster recovery rates. They also had reduced muscle soreness. This effect was greater for the male participants.
  • Protein. Ending your workout sessions with a protein powder or shake can help your muscles recover. Whey protein is absorbed the fastest, so it is the best for this purpose.
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acid. Another supplement that aids in muscle repair is omega-3 fatty acids. Research reveals that they increase protein synthesis and regulate the breakdown of muscle protein. Fish oil is a common source of omega-3.

Aids in Weight Loss

Some athletes take workout supplements in an attempt to speed up fat loss. They want a substance that boosts their metabolism, reduces appetite, or otherwise hastens their ability to lose weight. 

One of the most common ingredients in weight loss supplements is caffeine. Not only does caffeine help supply enough energy to make it through a workout, but drinking coffee can aid in the fat metabolism process

Green tea extract is also found in a lot of weight loss aids. It works by speeding up your metabolism. As a catechin, it helps the body break down your excess fat, using it as energy to fuel your workout sessions.

All of these can be good reasons to add a supplement to your exercise regimen. But that doesn’t make them the right choice for everyone.

When a Workout Supplement May Not Be Recommended

There are some cases in which a workout supplement may not be the best decision for you. One is if you are sensitive to caffeine. Many products contain this ingredient. Avoiding a supplement with caffeine may also be necessary if you already get enough. Adding more caffeine may make you feel jittery and unable to focus.

It’s also important to pay attention to your weight if you are taking a pre-workout or post-workout supplement. For example, if you find that drinking a protein shake after every exercise session is making the number on the scale go up, you might want to cut back.

Supplemental users may also notice other effects. In a study of 1045 respondents, 54 percent reported experiencing skin reactions, heart abnormalities, or nausea after taking a multi-ingredient pre-workout supplement. These side effects were more common in females than males.

Do You Really Need Supplements When Working Out?

If your regular nutrition and exercise programs are subpar, supplements likely won’t make much of an impact. To gain muscle, you need to eat enough calories and protein, as well as implement a solid strength training program. Once your food and exercise routines are on point, then you may want to talk with your doctor about adding supplements.

Considering all these factors can help you decide whether you would benefit from taking a workout supplement. If not, you may have to focus more on getting all the nutrients you need via a healthy diet. 

In the end, it doesn’t matter how much scientific support there is for a certain nutrient. If your body doesn’t react well to it, you are better off leaving it alone.

You may also need to take a trial and error approach to learn which supplements support your workout regimen best. You may find greater improvements in muscle strength or recovery with one product over another. 

Tips for Adding a Workout Supplement to Your Training Regimen

If, after talking with your doctor, you decide to start a supplemental program, here are a few tips for adding them to your training regimen.

  • Choose the right supplement. Every workout supplement is different. Read labels so you know every ingredient in the product you want to use. For instance, some contain artificial sweeteners. If you don’t want to ingest this ingredient, you’ll want to choose another brand.
  • Take the supplement at the right time. Some supplements provide the greatest effects when taken 30 to 60 minutes before a workout. Others offer more benefits when consumed after you finish exercising. Read the label to learn the best time to take your particular supplement. In the case of protein, it has long been thought that you should consume it within 30 minutes of finishing your workout. However, one study found that consuming it before you exercise creates similar effects. See what works best for your body and do that.
  • Continue your supplemental regimen on off days. Just because you aren’t working out today doesn’t mean your body won’t benefit from taking your normal dose of supplements. Many of the substances that support muscle growth also aid in recovery. Giving your body access to them on your days off helps your body recover more effectively.
  • Take your supplement with food to help reduce side effects. If you notice that you feel nauseous after taking your supplement, eating something small can reduce this effect. Just stay away from foods high in fiber as research has found that some sources can reduce your body’s ability to digest protein. 


To learn more about this topic, the ISSA offers a Nutrition certification program. This course teaches how various nutrients can impact sports performance. It also covers what happens if these supplements are deficient or taken in excess. Upon completion of this course, you will be able to create customized nutrition plans based on their individual needs.

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