In my opinion, for the most part supplements are well and truly over-rated. You’ve heard all the hype before: “buy this and buy that because it will help you get XYZ and give you super human powers”. In reality they rarely match up to the marketing hype and, thankfully, the regulators are starting to clamp down on such naughty advertising. However, there are occasions when certain supplements can be very helpful in stabilising hormones, targeting stubborn fat and improving your overall wellbeing. You just need to know which ones will do the job and so, to help you out with this, I have included the supplements I use myself and with my own personal training clients, below.
You do have to remember that supplements are not a magic wand, although many people seem to treat them this way. Not even the best supplements will work overnight and, in all honesty, it will take at least a week or two for you to notice any difference in how you feel and perhaps longer to see changes in your body shape. So, if you decide that supplements are for you then you have to be consistent. It’s no good having them one day and then not again, until a few days later. You need to get into what I call ‘OCD mode’: be religious about taking them every day. If you can’t do this, then I DO NOT want you to buy my recommended supplements or any other supplements for that matter. You will waste your money and the containers will sit in your cupboards for the next 12 months until you throw them out. As well as this, I DO NOT want you to buy any supplement if you haven’t cleaned up your diet first. Once again, not even the best supplements will work if you have a shoddy diet.
If you can switch on your ‘OCD mode’ and commit to taking the necessary supplements for 4-6 weeks you should start to notice positive changes in your health, wellbeing and body shape. Some people wonder whether they have to take these supplements for the rest of their life and the answer to that is no. I, personally, use a couple of the more general recommended supplements on a daily basis, but for the specific supplements the plan is to correct hormone imbalances and as soon as this has been achieved by way of impact on your health and body shape you should no longer need them.
There isn’t a one size fits all approach to using supplements and so I have given you an outline of the supplements I use with my own clients when certain criteria are met.
Here comes the health and safety bit! Before using any of these supplements I have to say that I don’t know your medical background or your current state of health and if you have any issues or suspected issues you should seek medical advice before using them.
Let’s look at my recommended supplements and why you should consider taking them.
Goal: reduce acidity.
As I have mentioned before, my immune system used to take a knock whenever I didn’t get a decent night’s sleep, had a few beers or even when I missed a meal. It was Alkalising Salts that got me back on the straight and narrow and this is why I recommend these so highly. If you’re a bit of a ‘sick note’ then I have every confidence that these will help improve your overall health. Personally, I noticed changes in just a couple of weeks (in OCD mode). My energy level went through the roof and I no longer felt run down after a poor night’s sleep. They have, honestly, made a big difference to my health. Why? Because they help to restore your body’s pH balance which has a remarkable effect on your wellbeing.
If you are stressed, not sleeping well and eating poorly then your body will undoubtedly become too acidic. There are certain areas of your body that need to be acidic (your stomach for one), but for the most part your body is happiest in around a pH neutral state (pH7.4). The easiest way to test if you are acidic is with pH paper (you might also know it as ‘litmus’ paper from your school chemistry lessons). Just pee on the paper (watch your hands!) or place one on your tongue (not the one you pee’d on) and wait for the colour to change. Have a look on the pH scale you get with it to establish which pH colour matches yours. If you find that you are drastically below pH7.4, then I’d recommend adding these alkalising salts to your diet because, unfortunately, disease thrives in an acidic environment. Bacteria start to multiply, yeast infections occur and if this continues, fungus starts to grow. Nobody wants fungus growing in their body, especially when it has been linked to cancer.
So, how do you battle an overly acidic body? First of all, you can start eating foods that have a alkalising effect (green veg are particularly good). Next, you can start getting to bed early, as this too has an acidifying effect on your body. Finally, you can try removing as much stress as possible from your life (also acidifying). If you happen to be particularly acidic, like I was, then this is when alkalising salts come into play as an extra boost. Alkalising salts are able to improve the pH level of even the most acidic environments resulting in more energy, better health and increased capability to burn fat.
Goal: Switch on fat loss enzymes.
Omega 3 does all sorts of wonderful things and is another supplement I take on a daily basis. It is known as an ‘essential fatty acid’ and it’s essential because our body does not produce it so we have to obtain it from our diet. Omega 3 helps us to create hormone-like substances, which go on to control many functions in the body. These functions include reducing blood viscosity, inflammatory processes, blood cholesterol and body fat.
In terms of improving the way you look naked, it seems that omega 3 is able to ‘switch on’ the enzymes that are responsible for releasing fat as fuel and ‘switching off’ the other enzymes that are responsible for fat storage. The problem is that unless you eat lots of oily fish, nuts, seeds, eggs and avocado it’s likely you’ll be falling short of the optimal intake of omega 3 and that these functions aren’t being carried out as well as they could be. Did I mention omega 3 aids fat loss? Oh, I did…
Goal: Increase growth hormone.
If you’re struggling to get a decent night’s sleep then the amount of human growth hormone your body produces will crash and, if you remember, we want to keep human growth hormone production running on high to aid fat loss and prevent fat storage. I recommend a minimum of 8 hours’ sleep in a pitch black room to all my clients but, let’s face it, most people struggle to get even 7 hours’ kip most nights. This is where glutamine can help you.
Glutamine helps to stimulate production of human growth hormone and is also used by athletes to prevent muscle breakdown. I actually took this supplement for several months after my daughter was born. I wasn’t getting much sleep and so I used a little glutamine an hour before training to help ramp up the level of human growth hormone produced by my body (along with a little MetCon of course).
Glutamine is also used by athletes to prevent muscle breakdown.
Goal: Increase muscle tone and speed up post-exercise recovery.
To be honest, I don’t use protein powders unless I’m going through a ‘bulking’ phase and even then I steer clear of the over-hyped powders that promise the world. I prefer to use a natural protein powder such as hemp, pea or a combination of the two as these powders, unlike bigger brand names, don’t contain fillers, allergens or sugar.
If you’re trying to lose weight then I wouldn’t recommend you use any protein supplements as there is simply no need. You can get all of your protein requirements from your diet. I’ve come across far too many guys who want to lose weight but have fallen for all the marketing hype and are filling up with protein shakes and bars thinking they’ll end up looking like Rocky. The result is more often that these men increase muscle size, but their waist band remains the same due to the extra calories and sugars found in many of the bigger brand names.
Goal: Increase muscle tone and speed up post-exercise recovery.
I recommend Branched Chained Amino Acids (BCAA) to help maintain muscle mass and speed up post-exercise recovery. Although protein powders will also help with this, if your goal is to reduce body fat or to ‘cut’ then BCAA’s are a better shout as they don’t contain sugar like many commercial protein powders.
If you are using intermittent fasting as one of your fat loss techniques, BCAA’s will help reduce hunger and boost energy at the same time and could therefore be very useful. Many people, including me, have also noticed muscle soreness is reduced and recovery is much faster after a heavy workout whilst using BCAA’s. Consequently, you will be fresher for your next session.
Growth hormone has also been shown to increase as a result of BCAA supplementation, which as you now know (because I keep harping on about it), helps improve body composition. Just in case you were wondering, BCAA’s are part of the essential amino acid family and cannot be produced by the body, therefore they must be provided by the diet or supplements.
Goal: Improve overall health.
There are several ‘green’ drinks on the market that contain wheat grass, barley grass and alfalfa, all with varying results. The one I recommend is Green Life. It helps to boost oxygen levels within the blood, enhance immune system function and aid digestion. Although, rather than supplementing with both alkalising salts and Green Life I would use only one of them as they offer many of the same benefits. If you are particularly acidic, choose alkalising salts over Green Life.
Goal: Reduce belly fat through cortisol reduction.
Belly fat is a major problem for many and even after training hard and eating clean this area can still cause some people problems. If we are stressed out physically or emotionally our body will produce a hormone called cortisol. This is completely normal but too much cortisol is linked to increased abdominal fat, which is associated with a greater number of health problems than fat deposited in other areas of the body.
If you’re unable to reduce the amount of stress in your life (to reduce the trigger for cortisol production) and are having a tough time removing belly fat it might be worthwhile supplementing with phosphatidylserine. Phosphatidylserine reduces the release of cortisol and you give you a better chance at burning that stubborn spare tyre, once and for all.
Goal: Reduce fat storage in the thighs and buttocks in women and reverse man boobs.
Diindolylmethane, or ‘DIM’, is a supplement that is found naturally in many green vegetables and most frequently used by women to help promote healthy estrogen metabolism. In simple terms, we have good and bad estrogen in our bodies. If we have a high level of the bad estrogen we are more likely to store fat around the thighs, hips and butt (sound familiar, ladies?). It is also believed that poor estrogen metabolism can lead to breast cancer in women.
Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage and hemp contain DIM so you can obtain it from your diet. Although for those who want to remove stubborn fat from the thighs and butt caused by poor estrogen metabolism it can be beneficial to introduce DIM as a supplement and to exercise regularly.
But it is not only women who suffer with poor estrogen metabolism. Estrogens are present in both men and women (though significantly higher in women who have reached reproductive age) and there are also many men who, try as they might, struggle to shift the excess fat from their chest (aka man boobs) even with the addition of a clean diet and exercise. This is because too much estrogen results in the male body storing fat in places that would usually affect a woman. Once again, DIM can help promote a healthy estrogen-testosterone balance and in doing so prevent more fat from being stored in these troublesome areas.
Goal: Improve recovery and quality of sleep.
If you’re having trouble sleeping then a nice, relaxing hot bath can help. But if, like me, you don’t have time for a lovely, long, bath-salt-infused soak every night it might be useful to supplement with magnesium and zinc. Both have been proven to improve sleep quality and recovery in athletes through psychological relaxing effects and nervous system calming.
Consistently training hard can lead to a decrease in testosterone, which can halt improvement in strength and lean muscle mass gains. It’s also important to have adequate rest in between tough training sessions to prevent our immune system from crashing. Studies have found that, while gentle to moderate exercise has beneficial effects on our immune system, overtraining and not allowing our bodies sufficient recovery time actually has a detrimental effect on the immune system. During intense physical activity the body produces the hormones cortisol and adrenaline (stress hormones) which suppress the immune system. As well as resting sufficiently between training sessions many athletes use zinc to provide an additional boost to the immune system.
Goal: Reduce fat storage in the love handle area.
Fenugreek is a traditional culinary herb which has been used throughout history for its health promoting properties. It has become more popular in the health and fitness world over recent years due to its testosterone-boosting properties. But did you know that it can also accelerate fat loss?
It’s not fully understood why fenugreek works so well. Some studies have noted that fenugreek is somehow able to reduce blood sugar and improve insulin sensitivity, which consequently results in less fat being stored. More recently, one study suggested that fenugreek could also stimulate the production of growth hormone, a potent fat burning hormone. Whatever the process, it is clear that fenugreek does indeed aid fat loss, especially for those who are carb intolerant and have a tendency to store fat around the waist (stomach and love handles).
Goal: Reduce belly fat.
Liquorice extract has been used as an alternative medicine for many years, but recent research suggests that it can help reduce belly fat by suppressing fat absorption and increasing fat usage in the abdominal region. I’m quite partial to a liquorice tea (rock and roll, I know) but in terms of getting the biggest bang for your buck it’s unlikely that you’ll be able drink enough of the stuff to see the benefits. This is why I recommend a liquorice extract while you’re trying to reduce your waistline. Although if you do fancy trying out the herbal version, a little tip, don’t leave the teabag in there too long unless you like the taste of Sambuca!
Green Tea Extract
Goal: Improve insulin sensitivity and overall fat loss
I stick to calorie free beverages most of the time and this happens to be my drink of choice. Green tea has been used for centuries in Chinese medicine and in recent years westerners have begun to understand the many health benefits that this herbal tea can provide. While green tea does contain a small amount of caffeine the level is minimal and the health benefits far outweigh any negatives in this instance. In terms of fat loss, green tea encourages our fat cells to release more fat as fuel during exercise. The consumption of green tea can also improve insulin sensitivity and increase carbohydrate tolerance, both of which are very beneficial if you are looking to lose fat.
Like liquorice tea, would you be able to drink enough green tea each day to see the full benefits? Perhaps not, especially as most people are not a fan of the taste and in which case a green tea extract might be a better option.