The Psychology of Supplement Use

I hope you all had a great 4th of July.  I had a lot of fun out in Denver, but am glad to be back on the east coast.

One of the primary issues I get questioned about is supplement use.

Should I take supplements?

What supplement should I take: protein, creatine, etc?

What brand should I take?

When should I take them?

My position on supplements is pretty straight forward.  I think everyone should have a protein supplement, creatine supplement, and some sort of multi-vitamin or greens supplement.  As for brands, all the products from Biotest ( are of the highest quality.  I’ve tried some others, but always come back to Biotest, with the following exceptions: the green supplement Greens+ (Get the berry flavor; the regular tastes like dog food…no, not the stuff that tastes like chicken or beef); Carlson Lab’s fish oil.

There is a large crowd that largely discounts the need for supplements, claiming that people can gain all the macro- and micro-nutrients they need from food alone.  In general, I agree with them.  However, there is research coming out now stating that even people that eat a wide variety of foods in adequate amounts still have some form of nutrient deficiency.  The quality of food simply isn’t as it used to be.

Probably more importantly, I think I can count the number of people I know that eat a balanced, versatile diet on two hands.  Regardless of whether people can get adequate nutrients from a proper diet, they aren’t.  Supplements can fill a void in the diets of both athletes and non-athletes alike.

However, over the years I’ve noticed an interesting trend amongst people trying to put on weight.  The primary problem in most of these individuals is that they simply don’t consume enough food, let alone the right types of foods.  After listening to what they eat on a daily basis, and reminding them that they need to eat much, much more, I invariably hear “I know. I know.”  But they never do it.  For whatever reason, eating isn’t a desirable behavior for this strange population, but taking a supplement is always seen as the solution.

Is a supplement the only solution?  Absolutely not.

In fact, research has shown that consuming chocolate milk after training brings about the same desired results as a protein shake, probably because milk has a whey/casein mix (just like a good protein supplement) and the chocolate usually means the drink will have simple sugars in it (just like a good post-training shake).

But people don’t want to drink chocolate milk either.  Supplements just flat out work for these people, not because it’s the only solution, but because it’s a solution they’re willing to work with and that THEY think will work.

The addition of a protein supplement during/after training will increase the total amount of protein and the total number of calories that the individual consumes.  Also, I’ve read that the placebo effect can account for up to 40% of realized results (in general, not specific to protein supplements).  This is huge!  If one person takes one supplement that they don’t think will work and one that they do think will work, they are likely to have better results with the one they do think will work.

Science has invariably supported the benefits of consuming a protein supplement during and after training.  If you aren’t taking one yourself, and/or aren’t recommending that your clients take one, ask yourself “why?”.  Whether people “need” it or not is irrelevant if it is an effective solution to their “weight gain problem.”  More times than not, people simply will not eat more food, but they will take a supplement.  If you have some moral dilemma with supplement use, I’ll caution that your illogic is fighting an uphill battle against years of research and in-the trenches efficacy.

Keep training hard.  Starting drinking your protein shake during and after your training.  Start achieving your goals.

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