So Supplemental: A Buyer's Guide To Supplements | Gym-Talk

So Supplemental: A Buyer’s Guide To Sports Supplements

With the health and fitness supplement industry booming at the moment, there seems to be a swathe of companies releasing supps that do the same thing.

However, they are all packaged differently and vary massively in price.

Do you go for the cheapest one and double up the dosage?

Or are you opting for whichever one has the most yoked up monster on the front?

Well, this guide is here to help you look at what’s really going on in your supplements, by helping you see if that cheap option is underdosed, and how much powder is being packed into your product of choice.

I won’t bore you with the science behind each ingredient, but I will provide some references so you can see for yourself.

All I’ll say is what they do and how much of it you need to get the job done!

Without any further ado, let’s get into it.


Creatine is the go-to supplement for anyone starting out, and probably the one I get the most questions about on a day-to-day basis.

So many people think it ‘makes you jacked’ or that it’s some kind of steroid-like substance.


But in actual fact, creatine is really just your muscles’ ‘energy currency’.

The more of it stored in your muscle cells and floating free in you blood plasma, the more ‘energy’ your muscles will have.

Studies have shown that creatine supplementation can increase your 1-2 rep max, boost testosterone levels, and even increase muscular Insulin-like Growth Factor (IGF-1) [1,2,3,4].

It really is a must for most bodybuilders.

Recommended dose

5 grams is the effective dose – so check your supps.

Any pre-workout with less the 5 grams may be one to avoid for the best gains.


The most abundant amino acid in the body, L-Glutamine is stored in muscle and can even cross the blood-brain barrier.

This is another standard on the shelves of bodybuilder’s worldwide – and with good reason.

Glutamine supplementation has been proven to aid digestion, improve the immune system, and, most importantly, even increase the level of plasma (blood fluid) Human Growth Hormone [5].


Who needs gear now?

Oh, still a lot of people?

I’ll move on.

Recommended dose

5-10 grams per day has been shown to be the most effective dosage.


Otherwise known as Branched Chain Amino Acids, BCAAs consist of three essential amino acids which are used by the body to support the synthesis of a protein.

BCAA supplements have been shown to increase metabolic rate as well as increase the rate of muscle repair. [6]

The cheaper pills are notoriously underdosed, meaning that even though 200 capsules for a good price is enticing, to get a decent hit you will end up having to take double the number anyway.

So whether you take your BCAAs in pill or power form, make sure you know how much you are getting per serving.

Shop smart people – otherwise you’ll be pissing money away.


Recommended dose

5 grams before and 5 grams after working out is the standard recommended dosage.


A fairly well-researched supplement this, so I won’t flood the references section for Beta-Alanine.

It has been shown to increase muscle strength and power output, increase muscle mass, and delay the onset of muscle fatigue.

Sounds like the supplement equivalent of the Power of Greyskull (or Crystal Meth).

Beta-Alanine does this by stabilising the pH of the muscle cells, which allows them to continue to perform at peak pH levels for longer.

However it is not responsible for this itself – it does it by boosting the levels of carnosine in your body, and this is responsible for the buffering effect.

“So why not take carnosine?” you might ask.

Well, carnosine would be completely ineffective as a supplement as it will not survive through your stomach acids and GI tract to have any effect.

Any supplement stating carnosine as an ingredient and charging you extra for the pleasure should be looked at with skepticism.

In this case, a cheaper option with just plain old, science-backed Beta-Alanine will do the job.

Recommended dose

3-6 grams pre-workout will give you plenty of go-go juice as well as giving you the tingles.

Green Tea Extract

green-teaGreen tea extract is another one with a whole lot of references I won’t worry you about.

Used for centuries by the Chinese and in the Far East, green tea is certainly a modern day ‘cure all’.

Anyone looking to drop a few pounds should at least be drinking a few cups a day.

So why supplement with it?

Green tea extract can increase metabolism, is a potent antioxidant, and has even been shown to have cancer-preventing effects.

Recommended dose

Some brands pack their capsules with the equivalent of a whopping 5 cups of green tea, but if you’re looking down the ingredients list, aim for 300-400mg.

CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid)

The science is a little fuzzier on this one compared to other sports supplements.

But needless to say some studies have hinted that CLA supplementation can reduce body fat while maintaining your lean body mass.

CLA is perfect for anyone cutting up while trying to preserve that hard-gained muscle.

However, this is another one where you need to shop smart.

Recommended dose

3 grams per day is the consensus at the moment as to how much to take.

So, again, if buying in pill or capsule form, it is worthwhile checking to see how potent your’s are.

Some will be 500mgs, so you will need 6 capsules, whereas others pack in 1,000mg, so only 3 will be sufficient. [7,8]

Use this knowledge for good

So now you know what the effective dose is for some of these common ingredients in sports supplements.

Take note, and before you consider buying any supplements, give the nutritional information a skim read and just check that they are not trying to sell you less for more money.


Let’s use creatine as an example.

If a pre-workout sup says that it only has 3 grams/3000 milligrams, then it’s not going to be giving you an effective dose of creatine.

So you may end up having to double up on servings, making it look more costly than you first expected.

Hopefully you’ll find this information useful and it’ll saves you a few pennies in the long run.


1. USA (2013-03-25). “Effect of creatine and beta-ala… [Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2006] – PubMed – NCBI”. Retrieved 2013-05-08.

2. Burke, DG; Candow, DG; Chilibeck, PD; MacNeil, LG; Roy, BD; Tarnopolsky, MA; Ziegenfuss, T (2008). “Effect of creatine supplementation and resistance-exercise training on muscle insulin-like growth factor in young adults”. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism 18 (4): 389–98.

3. Kamber, Matthias; Koster, Markus; Kreis, Roland; Walker, Gianni; Boesch, Chris; Hoppeler, Hans (1999). “Creatine supplementation—Part I: Performance, clinical chemistry, and muscle volume”. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 31 (12): 1763–9.

4. Deldicque, Louise; Décombaz, Jacques; Zbinden Foncea, Hermann; Vuichoud, Jacques; Poortmans, Jacques R.; Francaux, Marc (2007). “Kinetics of creatine ingested as a food ingredient”. European Journal of Applied Physiology 102 (2): 133–43.

5. Welbourne, T. C. (1995). “Increased plasma bicarbonate and growth hormone after an oral glutamine load”. The American journal of clinical nutrition 61 (5): 1058–1061


7. Whingham LD, Watras CA, Scholler DA (2007). “Efficacy of conjugated linoleic acid for reducing fat mass: a meta-analysis in humans. Am”. J Clin Nutr 85 (5): 1203–1200

8. Heitmann BL, Erikson H, Ellsinger BM, Mikkelsen KL, Larrson B (2000). “Mortality associated with body fat, fat-free mass and body mass index among 60-year-old swedish men – a 22-year follow-up. The study of men born in 1913”. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord 24 (1): 33–37

Get in touch

If you know of any brands trying to pull a fast one, or you have any questions or advice, let me know in the comments below.

Until then, happy lifting!

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  1. Good article, you’ve covered the old-time staples here.

    Though a couple of things:

    Creatine comes in different salts so muscle saturation with 5g/day (I’m assuming you’re using monohydrate) might not be quite needed with some newer forms.

    On a side note, I remember doing the whole “loading phase” creatine thing eons ago.

    20g of creatine mono a day – not pleasant and not necessary.

    Also keep in mind that pre-workouts have a high amount of caffeine and other stims, which have actually (caffeine specifically) been shown to negate the effects of creatine.

    Hence I personally see creatine in pre-workouts as a very poor source.

    Glutamine is one of those things that seems to be considered a staple, without much solid backing.

    Like you’ve said it’s a very abundant amino acid, if you’re taking protein supplements you’re getting a high amount of it.

    It’s also directly synthesised by our bodies quite efficiently.

    It’s not worth the money to supplement it regularly for the sake of muscle building.

    I’ve experimented with mega-doses of 20g and up and the only benefit I see is the immune enhancement.

    (Nice to have around to bang down some when you feel less then stellar.)

    Beta Alanine and green tea are the tits.

    CLA – meh.

    And also don’t forget fish oil and vitamins, especially zinc before bed (whole concept behind ZMA).

    1. All great points.

      Didn’t know about caffeine interfering with creatine though, so that’s good to keep in mind.

      As for the other salts of creatine, I really feel they are another way for the supps industry to get more money off you.

      I personally haven’t seen any evidence that the different salts perform any differently, yet most brands will try to sell it as a better form.

      Totally agree about the ‘loading phase’, seems needless and, anecdotally at least, people have claimed to have had strokes because of overloading creatine.

      Ever seen any evidence of that mate?

      Beta Alanine is so well researched but the least supplemented by gym-goers I find.

      It blows my mind!

      I actually really like CLA and fish oil/omega 3,6,9 together.

      Seems to provide a little more of a boost to just fish oil alone.

      But each to their own and all that.

      1. All great suggestions, I concur.

        Also I would add in bovine colostrum – it is gaining more support given its excellent immune-enhancing properties.

        A good addition to taking multis.

        I agree with The Prof re Zinc before bed, timing of supplement taking is a critical factor – make sure you get the biggest bang for your buck!


        Chris P