A primer in nutritional supplements.
Words by James Tonin

If getting fit and losing weight are on your New Year’s resolution list and you are finding this daunting, the good news is that there’s a wide range of nutritional supplements to enhance your performance and help you reach your ideal weight and physical fitness. Here’s what those without biochemistry degrees need to know about supplements.

The Pros of Protein

Protein builds lean muscle and promotes the efficient burning of fat. You can drink a protein shake two to three hours before your workout if you want extra energy, but many nutritionists believe that the benefits of protein are maximized when consumed shortly after your workout ends. Remember, experts recommend that you get the lion’s share of your protein from natural sources: lean meat, eggs, fish, nuts and legumes.

Cycling Amino Acids

There are two types of amino acids: branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) and essential amino acids (EAAs). Most people take EAA supplements, as BCAAs are produced naturally by your body, though both forms boost the repair and building of muscle when taken before or after a workout. Experts recommend taking about 5 grams per day, spread over three even doses: one in the morning, one before your workout and one after your workout. “Cycling” or taking regular doses for fixed periods of time and then eliminating them for about a week each month before starting up again helps the body maximize the nutritional benefits of amino acids.

Get to Know Glutamine

Adherents of glutamine claim that it supports optimal respiratory health during and after endurance activities, and it is usually taken within an hour of beginning a workout. The correct amount to take depends on your diet; it is found in spinach and raw parsley, so if you eat a lot of these foods, you won’t need as much. Start out with a dose of about 5 grams per day, then ramp up in increments of 5 grams up to about 25 grams per day if necessary.

Creatine Considerations

Creatine has been scientifically proven to increase strength, but some studies suggest that this benefit is only tangible during maximum effort activities. Some users “load up” on creatine, taking about 20 grams per day, split into four doses of 5 grams each, before tapering down to about 5 to 10 grams per day. However, the jury is out on whether or not this is actually effective, so you might want to save some money by taking less.

The Skinny on Fat Burners

There are two main types of fat burners: those which enhance the body’s natural metabolizing of fat cells, and those which suppress your appetite. Popular, trusted brands include Twinlab’s Metabolift, EAS Betalean and Thermogenics. However, make sure to use them according to package directions: some stimulant-based appetite suppressants may have addictive qualities, and their longterm effects on metabolism are still not fully understood.

Above all, remember that these products are designed to be supplementary to natural, sustained efforts to lose weight, build mass or improve endurance. Overreliance on them can lead to unsatisfactory results. Talk to your doctor before taking them.