Saturday, March 16, 2013

Should personal trainers recommend supplements?

Since I've been doing supplement reviews all week this is an appropriate entry.

I like to use training supplements myself, and I've been reviewing the samples I've been trying out this week...  but they should only be recommended to clients under certain conditions.

Protein Supplements.

First up, remember what the word "supplement" means. If you want results, you need the right training plan and the right nutrition plan. A protein supplement is a tool you can use to help hit your calorie and macronutrition targets a little easier, but it is really only useful under those circumstances. I've known some seriously overweight dudes who thought adding a protein shake would give them a muscular physique, when in actual fact all it would be doing is putting them further into calorific surplus, aka making them more fat.

Similarly a lot of women are told that adding a protein supplement will make them lose weight or body fat. That's not exactly true either. You achieve these goals through appropriate macronutrition (as well as training, of course), and supplementing can be a great way to ensure that you arrive at the desired balance of macronutrients. Just taking it outside of an appropriate nutrition plan is pointless though, in my opinion.

So, there's your best example. Pushing a protein supplement in the same way as any other "magical solution" is misleading and unethical. Recommending it as an option that may assist in meeting a client's macronutritional requirements would be completely fine though.

There's a post on the No Bullshit blog about how they market Protein Supplements For Women's Weightloss that expands further on what I've said here.

Fat Burning Supplements

These ones... geez I don't know man. If they come from a company that I consider reputable, I'll give them the benefit of the doubt. But it is a lot like I would tell people when I was running the supplement store at the old gym; at best they're going to give you that extra 1 or 2% of results IF your training and nutrition plan is SPOT ON. If you're not even following a nutrition plan at all, how incredible would it have to be to make up for that? Unlike most people trying to sell these products as if taking them means you don't have to pay attention to your nutrition, I'd put the signs up in the gym to create the opportunity to talk to people about getting on to a decent IIFYM plan for better results.

Branch Chain Amino Acids, Creatine etc

I like to sip on some BCAAs in water to keep my energy levels up during the latter 2/3s of my workouts. BCAAs are something you need for good health, and you get them from food if you have a balanced diet. A lot like taking a multivitamin supplement, at best your body is going to be able to use the extra nutrients, at worst you're going to piss it out and you've spent a few bucks for nothing. BCAAs are relatively inexpensive though, and recently there have been studies showing that their use is beneficial in treating children with autism, ADHD and behavioural problems. It seems to me that these are a pretty safe and perhaps logical supplement to recommend.

Pre-workouts, stimulants etc.

Stimulants are where I draw the line as far as stuff that I think is ok to recommend to people. That is to say, I use pre-workout supplements with stimulants myself... and they get me fired up and ready to do a good hard training session. Telling other people they NEED or SHOULD be taking these things though... it's a bit of a stretch. Of course, some of the pre-workout supplements are stim free, which probably puts them more in line with my thoughts on BCAAs above... which come to think of it, that's probably what they consist of anyway.

It's a bit of a strange thing that even I don't feel that recommending pre training stimulants is appropriate, but we do have energy drinks for sale in every convenience store. Then again, these supplements would be like chugging several of those energy drinks at once.

These ones I put in a category of "make up your own mind, just because I use them doesn't necessarily mean that you should".


Glucosamine is often recommended to keep joints healthy and help in managing arthritis. My friend Cat Smiley has done her own Research On Glucosamine and written it up on her blog.