Dietary Supplements That Actually Supplement

By Tia Norris, November 2018 Issue.

These days, there’s a magic pill, potion or lotion for just about any fitness goal you could dream up. Whether you want to perform longer, recover faster, burn more fat, build more muscle, have more energy, have less energy, or anything in between, you can find a dietary supplement that claims to make your goal a reality.

But, do supplements actually work? Which ones are most effective? And if they work, at what cost?

As a professional trainer, who has their client’s best interests – and results – at heart, I have tried and/or thoroughly researched every kind of supplement available. My conclusion: 95 percent of dietary supplements suck. Frankly, the world of supplements is a dangerously misleading place and my advice is to stay away from the quick-fix claims and seductive marketing.

Still, our bodies require supplementing. Because of this, I’ve put together a list of tips and considerations for anyone in search of an introduction to supplements that actually supplement.

First, the most-critical point I need to make about supplements is that they are unregulated. Because supplements are not drugs, they are not subjected to the heavily regulated criteria that drugs are. This means that anyone, at any time, can produce any combination of ingredients – for better or worse – and sell them on the market, as long as they have a disclaimer on their labels. Let that sink in.

Honestly, the thought of Joe Schmoe, who doesn’t know sh!t about sh!t, creating a “fat burner complex” and selling it to you, to put into your body every day for any length of time, with no checks and balances, is scary AF.


Keeping that in mind, remember that most of your nutrition should come from real food. Supplements are (go figure) intended to supplement an otherwise functional program, not to replace one. The majority of your meals should come from whole grains and minimally processed fruits, vegetables, meats and so on – not primarily from a powder or packet.

Now that we’ve got the groundwork laid, let’s get onto the supplements that do work.

Protein Powder

Yes, you probably need to supplement your protein intake. Almost none of my clients get enough protein to support their fat loss and physique goals. Adding a clean protein powder helps you get more of the best protein sources into your diet. This is an extensive topic to cover, but here are the basics:

  • Whey isolate (not concentrate, not hydrolysate) is best, but go for an egg white or vegan powder if you can’t stomach whey.
  • For increased digestive efficiency, get a protein powder with at least 5 grams of BCAA’s (branched chain amino acids) per serving.
  • For best results, take one scoop immediately after lifting. Add another scoop throughout the day, if needed.


While the first major pre-workout supplements market the 1980s, rise in popularity among more mainstream/average gymgoers has been relatively recent. Because they do help most people transition from work to working out, I have a quick rundown for you:

  • Try to avoid pre-workouts that are a caffeine blowout – more than 300 milligrams of caffeine per serving will produce a crash in most people. This is an individual threshold that could be lower based on your tolerance.
  • Try to cycle off of pre-workouts when you already feel energized. It’s easy for these to become a crutch, which produces a tolerance.
  • Instead of caffeine, some pre-workouts utilize B vitamins as the main stimulant. I have found that these work best for me, personally.

Carbs and Salt

What about if you’re more of a cardio-based athlete? Cardio, for the vast majority of people, is fueled by carbohydrates. If your cardio is less than 45 to 60 minutes, and is climate-controlled setting, you probably only need a salt supplement in small doses.

But if your cardio duration exceeds an hour, or you’re primarily outdoors in the heat, you’ll want more salts and need to also consider adding more calories. My minimum is 100 calories (25 grams) of quick, sugary carbohydrates per hour (perhaps more, depending on activity, duration and environment).

Fat Burners

There isn’t nearly enough space here to delve into the world of fat burners. So, the quickest and safest advice I have for you is this: skip these altogether and just drink more plain coffee! Caffeine is the most powerful fat burner on the (legal) market. Add in an extra cup or two, particularly on an empty stomach, to harness caffeine’s formidable fat burning power.

The supplement industry banks billions every year, a huge chunk of which is devoted to clever marketing to convince you to buy their smoke-and-mirrors products. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

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