Imagine an empty jar. You need to fill this jar with rocks. You have big rocks and small rocks. To fill the jar as quickly as possible, you would focus on the BIG ROCKS first right?
Now think of this jar as your fitness journey.
BIG ROCKS: proper programming, sleep, nutrition. Focusing on these things is essential to reaching your goals.
PEBBLES: SUPPLEMENTS, meal timing, carefully regulated sodium intake, etc. Focusing on these things does very little to move you towards your goals.
Focusing on the big rocks gets you where you want to go much quicker than filling your jar one pebble at a time.
The supplement industry works EXTREMELY hard to position the newest pre-workout supplement as one of your BIG ROCKS. They’re so good at convincing you that the latest fat-burner is the thing that is finally going to get you shredded. Missing THIS SUPPLEMENT is why you haven’t been able to reach your goals all these years, NOT your inconsistent workouts and nutrition.
The truth is, many bodybuilding supplements such as: pre-workouts, post-workouts, fat burners, BCAAs, etc. are going to provide you NO NOTICEABLE BENEFIT, in exchange for LOTS of money. In order of importance, supplements are the very LAST thing you should focus on.
Along with being hard on the wallet, many supplements can actually be HARMFUL to your body. Supplement manufacturers and distributors do not need FDA approval before selling their products. (Don’t believe me?) This means that your personal safety is entirely in the hands of your supplement supplier.
The microbiome is an ecosystem of bacteria living primarily in our digestive system. Relatively unstudied until recent years, healthy gut bacteria is now being linked to nearly EVERY ASPECT OF HEALTH: ranging from susceptibility to autoimmune diseases, obesity, fertility, the list goes on and on. (1)(2)(3)
So obviously, gut health is very important, and should be a priority. The prescription for a healthy gut microbiome is basically: eat healthy, unprocessed foods and live a healthy, balanced life. (To learn more about how to eat to promote healthy gut bacteria, check out Mind PUMP’S LEAN, STRONG, & HEALTHY by clicking the link below.)
The issue is, many supplements are among the most highly processed things we can consume, and are filled with dyes, preservatives, and artificial sweeteners. Studies show that consumption of these can significantly alter your gut microbiome for the worse. Chronic use of highly processed supplements puts you at a much higher risk of health issues down the road. (4)(5)(6)(7)(8)
Pre-workouts and fat-burners are often loaded with stimulants. In moderation, stimulants are fine and often useful. However, overdoing stimulants, as is often the case with supplements can lead to elevated levels of cortisol and poor sleep. Both are counterproductive to making any positive changes in your body.
All that being said, there are some supplements with merit.
CREATINE is an extremely well studied and proven supplement. I highly recommend it. Although good nutrition should provide your body most of the nutrients it needs, for those with nutrient deficiencies, VITAMINS can be extremely helpful.
If you struggle to get enough protein in your diet through whole food, a PROTEIN SUPPLEMENT is helpful (organic protein powder if at all possible to avoid gut health issues). Just remember, if you’re consuming adequate protein through your diet (.6-.8 grams/lb of bodyweight for most), there is no additional benefit to supplementing in more protein.
GUT HEALTH SUPPLEMENTS obviously have their merit, and are quite the opposite of pre-workouts and fat-burners. However, it is once again all too easy to get fixated on your gut health regime, while forgetting to focus on your diet (which should already have your gut pretty healthy).
Are supplements really necessary? Absolutely not. Focus on your “big rocks”: programming, nutrition, consistency in the gym, and sleep. When trying to change your body, these are the things that are going to REALLY create noticeable changes. Only when you are absolutely perfect with these things should you start to focus on minor things like supplements.
If you’re currently spending money on pre-workouts, fat burners, etc. Take that money and invest in better programming (i.e. MAPS ANABOLIC, a personal trainer), or simply better food. Promise it’ll make much more of a difference.
Author: Jeremiah Bair
Jeremiah is an ACSM certified Personal Trainer from Nebraska. He also has a Business Management Degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Over the last few years of his career as a personal trainer, he has fallen in love with the way fitness allows him to connect with people.
Nothing is more rewarding for him than helping others transform into happier, more confident versions of themselves. His goal is to share knowledge to help as many as possible lead long, healthy, and fulfilling lives.