Supplement Requirements

Supplement Requirements

Nutritional Supplements

Dedicating regular blocks of your time to the weight room is only one component of any successful strength training routine. Maintaining a healthy diet that includes the appropriate ratios of carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins and minerals is just as important as the performance of the exercises themselves.

Stated differently, performing the exercises properly, and subsequently realizing the desired gains in muscular mass, strength and density, will be impossible or at least severely impeded in the absence of a sound dietary plan.

At the same time, it can be difficult for strength trainers to design a dietary plan – at least one that utilizes only food – that will support their desired strength training goals.

In fact, most strength trainers want to realize gains in muscle strength, mass and density faster and to a larger extent than would be possible with a food-only diet.

As such, many strength trainers turn to nutritional supplements as a means of receiving the additional nutrients that would be difficult or impossible to consume just through food. For example, many strength trainers use whey protein to fulfill the extensive protein requirements called for in an advanced weight training program.

Nutritional supplements should always be taken with caution. Some nutritional supplement manufacturers are more reputable than others, and two supplements from different manufacturers could include totally different ingredients, even if they’re designed for the same purpose. Further, two supplements that are considered safe by themselves could pose a danger if taken together. For this reason, it’s crucial that you understand the various types of nutritional supplements, as well as their intended purposes, before you begin any strength training supplement regimen.

The Various Types of Nutritional Supplements

Nutritional supplements for strength training come in many forms, including:

  • Powders that are mixed with water or milk
  • Pre-mixed beverages
  • Bars (such as Clif Bar, PowerBar, Luna Bar etc.)
  • Pills (such as multivitamins, mineral supplements, fish oil, etc.)

However, these classifications do not indicate what types of ingredients are in the supplement, what type of effect it will have on your strength training routine, how safe it is, whether it can be combined with other supplements, etc. Instead, you’ll need to understand the various types of nutritional supplements and how they facilitate various goals within a strength training program. Some of these supplement types are described below (and discussed in further detail in the Nutritional Supplements section):

Whey Protein

Whey protein is an extremely high quality protein source that’s derived from milk. Whey protein is a complete protein, meaning it contains all of the essential amino acids. Time and time again, studies have indicated that whey protein expedites gains in muscular strength and size, and minimizes the recovery time needed between workouts. Whey protein also supports the immune system thanks to its antioxidant properties.

Whey protein is an ideal nutritional supplement for individuals whose protein requirements exceed what they receive naturally through their diets. Strength trainers are advised to consume between 0.8 and 1.2 grams of protein for each pound of body weight, meaning that an intermediate strength trainer weighing 200 pounds would need to consume approximately 200 grams of protein daily. Given that a 3.5-ounce chicken breast contains around 30 grams of protein, it’s easy to see why weight trainers supplement their diets with whey protein powder.

Benefits of whey protein supplements include:

  • Increased metabolism
  • Reduced muscle breakdown after exercise
  • Faster recovery times
  • Faster muscle repair
  • Increased gains in lean muscle mass and strength


Creatine is naturally produced by the human body, and used to transport energy to muscle tissue. Creatine is transformed into a powerful metabolite known as creatine phosphate once it reaches the muscle tissue, where it is subsequently used to regenerate ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate), the best possible energy source for the muscles.

Creatine monohydrate is the best possible source of creatine, though it’s also available from tuna, salmon, herring, beef and other protein sources. Creatine monohydrate and other forms of creatine (such as creatine phosphate and creatine citrate) are available as powders, liquids and capsules. Ideally, creatine is consumed approximately 30 minutes before a weight training session. Many experts also recommend a “loading” approach in which the individual gradually loads his or her muscles with creatine prior to beginning a strength training routine.

Benefits of creatine supplements include:

  • Delayed and reduced lactic acid accumulation
  • Increased muscle mass
  • Increased protein synthesis
  • Minimized protein breakdown
  • Increased energy levels
  • Faster recovery times
  • Increased strength of muscle fibers


Glutamine is an amino acid produced naturally by the body, making it a non-essential amino acid. Glutamine is primarily responsible for transporting nitrogen to cells in the muscle tissue. Glutamine helps your body retain nitrogen, which is essential for muscle growth.

During strength training (or any other intense physical activity), the body requires more glutamine than it can possibly produce. If you fail to provide your body with sufficient amounts of glutamine from external sources (such as a glutamine supplement), your body will draw glutamine from your muscles, break it down and transport it to the bloodstream. This is unfortunate because glutamine is necessary for bringing protein to the muscles. The best time to take a glutamine supplement is immediately after your strength training session, when your glutamine levels will be lowest.

Benefits of glutamine supplements include:

  • Enhanced protein synthesis
  • Reduced recovery time
  • Increased production of growth hormones
  • Decreased muscle breakdown
  • Increased muscular endurance
  • Strengthened immune system

Multivitamins and Minerals


Vitamins and minerals are necessary for virtually every bodily function and process you can imagine, ranging from temperature maintenance to breathing, circulation and muscle growth. By taking a high quality multivitamin, you’ll compensate for many of the nutrient deficiencies that may exist in your diet.

Although all vitamins and minerals contribute to overall health and well-being, some of the most important nutrients for strength training include antioxidants such as vitamin C, vitamin E and beta-carotene. Minerals such as iron and calcium are also crucially important for strength training because they support the bones and joints.

Vitamin supplements are typically formulated with a specific demographic or purpose in mind (e.g. pregnant women, children, men, the elderly, those with specific nutrient deficiencies, etc.). It’s very important that you choose a vitamin and/or mineral supplement that closely matches your needs.

For example, men should not take female-specific vitamin and mineral supplements because they’re formulated for women, and may contain ingredients or ratios of ingredients that men should avoid.

Multivitamins and mineral supplements usually come in forms such as pills and liquids, though other forms such as soft-chews are available as well. Studies have suggested that liquid nutrients are most easily absorbed by the body.

Natural Testosterone Boosters

Testosterone is used to expedite muscle growth, improve the mood and maintain a healthy libido, among other benefits. Testosterone supplements are primarily intended for men. The two types of natural testosterone boosters include Zinc Monomethionine Aspartate and Tribulus, or Tribulus Terrestris.

Tribulus is found in nature and increases testosterone levels by stimulating the anterior pituitary gland. In addition to enhancing a strength training routine, Tribulus may help regulate both blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Although it has no known side effects, long-term trials in humans have yet to see completion.

Zinc Monomethionine Aspartate, or ZMA, contains its namesake ingredient in addition to vitamin B6 and magnesium aspartate. Although ZMA is created in a lab, it’s widely considered safe and has been proven to facilitate gains in muscle strength and anabolic hormone levels. In fact, taking ZMA could increase testosterone levels by 30%, and allow for 2.5 times faster strength gains.

Natural testosterone supplements are available in capsule form, and are typically taken either once or twice per day. Follow the dosage instructions on the supplement’s label for safe and effective results.

Benefits of natural testosterone booster supplements include:

  • Improved mood
  • Improved libido
  • Increased energy
  • Increased strength
  • Increased muscle mass


HMB, or Beta-hydroxy Beta-methylbutyrate, is created when the amino acid leucine breaks down. While HMB is produced by the body naturally, it also comes directly from food sources such as alfalfa and catfish.

The primary purpose of HMB is to reduce the amount of muscle tissue that breaks down following a strength training session. This keeps the body in what’s known as an extended anabolic state, resulting in additional muscle growth. In an Iowa State University study, it was shown that men who consumed just three grams of HMB daily lost more fat and built more muscle than men who consumed a placebo. Nine separate studies have indicated that HMB has no negative side effects.

HMB is often taken with other supplements such as creatine and whey protein, and is intended to be taken one gram at a time. Individuals weighing over 130 pounds should take 4 grams of HMB daily, while individuals weighing less than this should take only 2 grams daily.

Benefits of HMB supplements include:

  • Increased endurance
  • Shorter recovery times
  • Prevents muscular breakdown
  • Increased muscle mass
  • Decreased LDL (bad) cholesterol levels
  • Decreased body fat percentage

Nitric Oxide

Nitric oxide (NO) is a signaling molecule that plays a role in processes such as blood vessel dilation, immune defense, cell motility and neurotransmission. By consuming a nitric oxide supplement, you’ll increase the flow of blood (and subsequently oxygen and crucial nutrients) to the muscles. You’ll feel an increased “pump” when working out after taking an NO supplement.

Nitric oxide supplements primarily consist of the amino acid L-Arginine. When this amino acid is consumed in excess, it can produce side effects such as nausea, diarrhea, weakness and tiredness. For this reason, it’s important to take a very small dosage initially to test your tolerance. Nitric oxide is available as both a pill and a powder, and is commonly taken approximately 30 to 60 minutes before a strength training session. Many strength trainers also take a nitric oxide supplement the day after their workout.

Benefits of nitric oxide supplements include:

  • Increased blood flow
  • Speeds up delivery of nutrients to muscles
  • Increased endurance
  • Faster recovery times
  • Reduced fatigue
  • Increased muscle pump

Using Nutritional Supplements to Expedite Gains in Muscle Mass, Strength and Density

Gaining Muscle Density

Nutritional supplements should not be thought of as a replacement for regularly consuming whole foods that are nutrtious and well-balanced. In other words, you should not skip meals or avoid a certain type of nutrient (i.e. protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals) with the intention of supplementing for it later. Rather, supplements should be used to support the extraordinary nutritional demands that regularly performing a strength training routine places on the body.

These nutritional demands become even greater for strength trainers seeking to not only make gains in muscular strength, mass and density, but to make these gains rapidly. For example, an advanced strength trainer, weighing 200 pounds, with an intense training routine and a medium-to-high metabolic rate would need to consume approximately 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight in order to have a sufficient amount of amino acids for rapid muscle growth.

However, eating 200 grams of protein per day through food alone, especially on an ongoing basis, would be very difficult. Even if the strength trainer ate enough meat, cheese, beans and milk to yield 200 grams of protein, they would probably also consume an excessive level of saturated fat. The answer in this case is to supplement with whey protein powder, which consists almost entirely of pure protein to the exclusion of other nutrients.

Remember, it would be difficult to argue that nutritional supplements such as whey protein and creatine are absolutely necessary for strength training. Occasionally, you’ll find extremely built strength trainers who at least claim to be “supplement-free.” If you decide to perform your strength training routine in this manner, that’s perfectly acceptable. However, keep the following in mind:

  • Using nutritional supplements to support a strength training routine is not cheating.

  • Nutritional supplements for weight training will allow you to make faster gains in muscle strength, mass and density.

  • High-quality supplements from reputable manufacturers are safe, effective and free of side effects.

  • Nutritional supplements are certainly not to be confused with steroids and other artificial, dangerous forms of strength training enhancement.

  • If two identical individuals perform the exact same strength training routine for a given period of time – one with a supplement regimen, and one without – the strength trainer using nutritional supplements will end up with larger, denser, stronger muscles despite putting in the exact same effort.

Typical Nutritional Supplement Routines

As a unique strength trainer, you must devise a nutritional supplement routine that facilitates your specific goals. The supplement combination you create should serve as a natural component of your strength training progress, in concert with a sound nutritional diet and the time you actually spend in the weight room performing the exercises.

At the same time, many strength trainers’ supplement routines will look similar to one another. This is due to the fact that common nutritional supplements are usually intended to be taken at certain times relative to a weight training program, in order to facilitate certain objectives. The following is a typical nutritional supplement routine for a strength trainer seeking rapid gains in muscular mass, strength and density:

Before the Workout

  • Consume creatine approximately 30 minutes before a workout to preload the muscles and prepare them for major growth.

  • Consume nitric oxide at the same time as the creatine to increase blood flow and deliver more nutrients and oxygen to muscle cells.

  • Consume a supplement, snack or meal of complex carbohydrates (such as whole grain bread, potatoes or quinoa) along with the creatine and nitric oxide to give your body long-lasting energy, necessary for completing your workout with intensity.

After the Workout

  • Consume whey protein immediately after your workout to provide your muscles with plenty of protein, crucial for muscle development.

  • Consume glutamine immediately after your workout to allow for the transit of nitrogen and protein to muscle cells.

  • Consume a supplement, snack or meal of simple carbohydrates (such as white pasta, white bread, fruit or fruit juice) along with the whey protein and glutamine to quickly restore your energy levels, which should be mostly depleted as a result of your workout.

On All Days

  • Consume a multivitamin and mineral supplement on all days. The vitamin and mineral supplement should be specific to your age, sex or strength training goals, and should include nutrients such as vitamins B, C, D, E and K, as well as iron, magnesium, calcium, potassium and phosphorous.

  • Consume a healthy diet rich in protein, complex carbs and healthy fats. Avoid processed and artificial foods in favor of natural, whole foods that are “of the Earth.”

For Men Over 30

Testosterone levels begin to decline in males once they reach the age of 30. Strength trainers can compensate for this by taking a natural testosterone booster such as ZMA or Tribulus. These types of supplements should be taken once or twice daily, as directed.

Note that the above nutritional supplement routine is only an example. Some strength trainers make modifications to this routine, such as consuming whey protein both before and after a workout, or using a nitric oxide supplement immediately after a strength training session rather than before. It’s important to listen to your body after beginning a nutritional supplement regimen to ensure that it’s ideal for facilitating your goals and free of negative side effects.

Exercising Caution When Taking and Combining Nutritional Supplements

The nutritional supplement industry is literally massive, and manufacturers from all corners of the globe produce supplements that they advertise as “safe,” “natural,” “effective” and “superior to the competition.” As a dedicated strength trainer, your job is to learn how to tell the difference between supplements that are actually safe and effective, and supplements that fall far short of their makers’ claims.

By consuming a supplement with questionable ingredients, or one that was produced with subpar manufacturing principles, you could be wasting money on a supplement that fails to provide the effects you’re seeking, whether it’s increased energy before and during your workout or enhanced gains in muscular strength, mass and density. Worse still, you could be putting your overall health and well-being at serious risk.

The following is a list of questions you should ask yourself with regards to a specific supplement. Answering these questions thoroughly and confidently is crucial to your personal safety.

    Nutritional Supplements

  1. Does the supplement work as intended? Advertising claims are often highly unreliable. Research the product thoroughly before purchasing it by using online review sites and forums. Are you easily able to find real people claiming that the supplement worked as described? If you come across several negative reviews, or if you have trouble finding any solid information about the supplement, it may be best to choose another.

  2. Is the supplement’s manufacturer GMP-certified? A GMP (or Good Manufacturing Practices) certification indicates that the manufacturer’s facilities meet standards imposed by safety auditing organizations.

    In order to receive GMP certification, manufacturers must use pure ingredients that result in high quality supplements, and each batch produced must closely match the previous in terms of composition, safety and effectiveness.

  3. Does the supplement produce any negative side effects? Virtually any consumable product can have negative side effects when consumed to excess, including foods as seemingly inert as water and carrots. Further, just because a supplement is advertised as “natural” does not necessarily mean it’s safe to consume. Side effects can be due to manufacturing processes or included ingredients. Start by checking the label for a list of possible side effects, but don’t assume that the product is safe just because the label lists none. Research the specific supplement online to determine whether the supplement has any possible side effects or drug interactions.

  4. Does the labeling recommend a reasonable dosage? Some supplement manufacturers try to make up for a weak product by recommending an enormous dose. They sometimes go as far as conducting a clinical study in which a large dose provides the desired results, and then packaging the supplement into dosages that are too small to be effective. Look at the product’s recommended serving size and ensure that it’s something to which you can reasonably adhere.

  5. Is the company reputable? As mentioned earlier, the supplement industry is extremely crowded. If you’ve never heard of a given supplement company before, it’s important to do some research to ensure that they have a solid reputation as a trustworthy manufacturer. At the same time, you should research any given supplement even if its manufacturer has a positive reputation overall.

  6. Is the supplement necessary? You should never think of a nutritional supplement as a viable replacement for food. In fact, you should strive to obtain as many of your nutrients through food as possible, only using supplementation when necessary. One possible exception to this is whey protein. As an intermediate or advanced strength trainer, you’ll probably need more protein than could be reasonably obtained through food sources if your goal is gain significant levels of muscular mass, strength and density. If you were to get this protein through meat, for example, you’d end up consuming excessive amounts of saturated fat as well. Whey protein powder provides the nutrients you need without the ones you’re attempting to avoid.

Combining Nutritional Supplements

If you plan on combining two nutritional supplements together, it’s important to research the combination to determine whether it’s safe. Some supplements are intended to be taken together, while others must remain exclusive from one another. Some supplement combinations may be beneficial even if the manufacturer doesn’t specifically recommend combining them. However, if the manufacturer specifically recommends against combining two supplements, this advice should be followed closely.

Caution should also be exercised by individuals considering combining nutritional supplements with pharmaceutical drugs, including both prescription and over-the-counter medications. This holds especially true for very young or old strength trainers, who may be more susceptible to the dangers of combining therapeutic substances.

In order to be completely safe, you should talk to your doctor if you’re taking any types of medication and you plan to begin a nutritional supplement regimen. Your doctor should be able to quickly tell you whether any negative interactions are likely to occur. Below is a list of possible side effects associated with many common nutritional supplements. If you take any medications that also produce these side effects, you should exercise extreme caution before taking a supplement that has the potential to produce the same effect. For example, if you take medication that can potentially increase blood pressure, you’d want to avoid green tea and hawthorn supplements.

Increased risk of bleeding

  • Saw palmetto
  • Ginger
  • Ginkgo
  • Garlic

Decreased blood sugar

  • Whey protein
  • Cinnamon
  • Chromium

Hormonal changes

  • Saw palmetto
  • Kudzu
  • Black cohosh
  • Dong quai

Increased blood pressure

  • Maté
  • Hawthorn
  • Green tea
  • Bloodroot

Consuming Nutritional Supplements to Improve Overall Health

If you’re reading this article as a strength trainer, or as an individual planning on beginning a strength training routine in the near future, you’re probably most concerned with how nutritional supplements can help you to make the fastest, largest possible gains in terms of muscular mass, strength and density. However, what you may not realize is that nutritional supplements should be used to support overall health and well-being, not just a strength training program.

The polar opposite of this concept is a strength trainer who decides to supplement their routine with steroids. Although the steroids may allow for rapid and massive gains in terms of muscle mass, they’re highly detrimental to overall health because they have dangerous side effects such as liver toxicity, increased blood pressure, baldness, stroke and heart problems.

It stands to reason, then, that strength trainers should strive to design a nutritional supplement regimen and dietary plan that improves as many aspects of health as possible. This includes reducing your risk of illnesses and diseases, ensuring the integrity of your mental health, maintaining a physical appearance with which you’re happy, maximizing your sexual health, and much more.

Supplement Packages and Solid Nutritional Diets

Fortunately, many nutritional supplement manufacturers create supplement packages that include several different nutritional supplements, all designed to complement one another and work in tandem. This is especially beneficial if you find a manufacturer that you trust, and whose products have impressed you in the past. Alternatively, purchasing an entire range of products from an unknown manufacturer may be a waste of money if you’re not yet confident in that company’s ability to produce a safe, effective supplement.

Even if you decide to consume several different supplements that are proven to complement one another and significantly improve many areas of your health and well-being, it would be unwise to assume that doing so could replace a sound nutritional diet. In fact, consuming a diet that mostly consists of whole, natural, unprocessed foods that are “of the Earth” should be the foundation of any worthwhile strength training program. Ideally, your nutritional supplement regimen will serve as a natural extension of your food-based diet, filling in any vitamin or mineral gaps and providing you with the nutrients most crucial to your strength training program, such as complex carbohydrates and complete proteins.

Listening to Your Body After Taking a Supplement

You’ve done your research and chosen a supplement that everyone claims is safe, effective and free of any major side effects. Now it’s time to start taking the supplement and never look back, right?

Wrong. Your body is a complex and highly unique machine, influenced by factors such as your genetics, your environment, what you eat, how you work out, and much more. You may have an allergy to a specific ingredient found in a given nutritional supplement. Your body may have an adverse reaction a specific supplement during digestion. In short, just because a supplement works wonderfully for one person does not necessarily mean that it will work identically for you.

As such, it’s of crucial importance that you listen to your body in the hours, days, weeks and months after you begin consuming any nutritional supplement for the first time. Do you feel normal, aside from feeling the effects that the supplement is supposed to produce? If you experience any negative side effects, discontinue the supplement and see if the side effects dissipate. If they don’t, you may be able to determine that something aside from the supplement is causing the problem. If they do, it probably means that the supplement was to blame. Take caution before using this same supplement (or any supplements with similar ingredients) again.

It’s also important that you avoid taking more than one new nutritional supplement at a time. This is similar to how a computer builder rarely makes multiple simultaneous upgrades to a piece of hardware. If and when a problem occurs, it’s difficult or even impossible to determine which “upgrade” resulted in the undesirable effect. You could encounter the same problem if you decide to begin several different nutritional supplement regimens at the same time. The only exception to this rule is if you’re planning to take multiple supplements that are intended to be used together as a system. Many supplement manufacturers offer supplement packages in this exact way.

Monitoring Gains After Taking a Supplement

Listening to your body and ensuring that the supplement you’re taking is free of negative side effects isn’t a good enough reason on its own to continue taking the supplement. After all, if the supplement doesn’t enhance your strength training program in the way that it advertises, what’s the point of taking it? For this reason, it’s important to carefully monitor your gains to determine that the supplement is producing the desired effect, whether it’s an increase in muscular size, strength, density, or some combination of these things. This can be done using a variety of tracking tools and methods.

For example, if the goal is to realize an increase in…

    Body Builder Taking Nutritional Supplements

  • Muscular Size – Periodically measure your legs, arms, neck, etc. using a measuring tape to determine how quickly the gains in size are coming.

  • Muscular Strength – You should notice an accelerated rate in which you increase the amount of weight you are using when performing the various weight training exercises when compared to before you were taking the supplement.

    You can track this more accurately by writing down the actual amount of weight used along with the the number of sets and reps for the various exercises in a weight training log.

  • Lean Muscle Density – You can use a set of skinfold calipers to measure your body fat percentage. If your body weight remains constant or increases, and your body fat percentage decreases, you can safely assume that you are increasing your overall lean muscle mass and density.

Remember that the effects of nutritional supplements are not always felt immediately after you begin taking them. Rather, it may take up to a month or more to feel and realize the intended effects of the nutritional supplement. This is another area that’s important to research for a given supplement. For example, if other users report noticeable gains after taking a specific supplement for two weeks and you fail to notice any effects after two months, something is wrong.

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