How to Pick Supplements for Fitness: Everything You Need to Know

Want to get more out of your next workout? You’re certainly not alone!

If you’re like most people, your fitness goals may have you reaching for a handy pill or powder. In fact, research suggests that over three-quarters of Americans use some type of dietary supplement.

Whether you’re hoping to shed a few pounds or pack on some muscle, the booming supplement market has you covered. Vitamins, minerals, herbs, and countless proprietary blends are easier to find than ever.

Of course, this easy access makes it tough to pick supplements for fitness. How do you find the right product when everyone’s trying to sell their own so-called magic pill?

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to get your hands on the right supplement for your needs. We’ve put together a helpful guide to boost your health and improve your workout with your choice of pills, powders, or gummies. Here’s what you need to know.

Consider Your Fitness Goals

First things first: it’s time to define your fitness goals. Every fitness journey is different, and narrowing down the countless supplements on the market will get easier once you know what you’re looking for. 

Are you hoping to lose weight? Depending on your needs, you may want to try probiotics for gut health or caffeine to boost your metabolism.

Want to build muscle? Some bodybuilders swear by creatine, while others opt for tried-and-tested protein supplements.

For more endurance, beta-alanine or sodium phosphate are great performance boosters.

No matter what you’re looking for, from better mental alertness to increased flexibility, take some time to decide what you’ll want from your upcoming workouts.

What’s more, anyone training for a specific goal may want to look into designated supplements for those training regimens. The endurance swimming community, for example, may need different supplements than someone who’s into bodybuilding.

Analyze Your Current Nutrition

No matter which supplements you settle on, nothing can replace good nutrition and exercise. In many cases, a healthy adult with an adequate nutrient intake won’t need supplements at all.

Instead, a well-rounded diet should provide all the nutrition you need, even if you’re trying to lose weight or training to improve your sports performance. If you feel that your current diet doesn’t meet your health needs, try adjusting it before jumping to using supplements.

On the other hand, if you’re struggling to reach your weight loss goals with a healthy diet alone, supplements may help. This is especially true if you have extreme or time-bound fitness goals. Examples might include extreme bodybuilding or an upcoming deadline for a biathlon.

One excellent resource at this stage is your doctor. Talk to them about your current diet and your health needs before you start taking supplements. They may be able to direct you to appropriate resources, or they may even be able to order blood tests to see if you’re short on any vital nutrients.

In addition, your doctor can help you understand whether certain supplements may have negative interactions with your current meds. The FDA warns that even “natural” supplements like vitamins and botanicals can have negative consequences with certain medications. One common example is vitamin E, which can thin the blood and increase the risk of bleeding when taken with other blood-thinning prescriptions.

In addition, now is a good time to consider any dietary restrictions or sensitivities. Certain supplements may include allergens like soy or dairy, though this should be stated on the label. 

Know the Types of Supplements

Not all fitness supplements are created equal. Knowing the different types of health supplements, as well as their advantages, can help you decide which ones are right for you. When we talk about fitness supplements in particular, there are four main kinds to consider:

Amino Acids

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. As a result, you’ll find these organic compounds in protein-rich foods like eggs, fish, and meat.

Fitness enthusiasts take amino acids to boost their protein intake and to repair muscle damage from their workouts. One common example of amino acid is BCAA, or branched-chain amino acids. These supplements help with muscle growth and exercise performance.

Minerals

Mineral supplements help replace essential nutrients and minerals. This can supplement a dietary deficit, but it can also help replace minerals like salt, which we sweat out during exercise. 

Common types of mineral supplements include electrolyte supplements. These help replace sodium, potassium, calcium, and other minerals for better hydration during a workout.

Vitamins

As you’d expect, vitamin supplements help us consume crucial nutrients like vitamins A, C, and D. These can do everything from strengthening our bones to raising our energy.

When taking a vitamin supplement, it’s important to keep in mind that there are two types. The body digests water-soluble vitamins with water, and it digests fat-soluble vitamins with fat. This means you’ll need to pay attention to how and when you take your vitamins, as some are best paired with a full meal.

Botanicals

Botanical supplements, or herbal supplements, are plant-based. While they don’t replace essential nutrients, they can still help the body’s overall performance. Common botanical supplements for fitness include turmeric, caffeine, and ginseng.

Decide How You Prefer Taking Them

In addition to the breakdown above, you’ll also want to consider the different methods of consuming your supplement. While powders are popular for certain supplements, especially protein, you can find a huge range of supplement forms. It’s a good idea to be sure you’re comfortable with the consumption method before you buy!

Capsules

Capsules, or pills, include a vegetable- or gelatin-based container around the supplement. Often, it takes only a few minutes to absorb the contents, and they have little to no aftertaste.

However, some capsules can be large and hard to swallow. On the other hand, smaller capsules may limit the supplement’s dosage.

Tablets

These hard pills are compact and easy to chew or swallow. They’re also easy to crush into a powder if you sometimes want to add them to a drink. They often last longer than capsules, but they may also take longer for the body to absorb.

Gummies

Chewable gummy supplements have a pleasant taste, and they’re great for anyone who struggles to swallow a pill. However, they don’t have a shelf life as long as the options above, and they may include added colorings or unwanted ingredients to help them hold their shape.

Powder

Powdered supplements are popular because they’re easy to blend into recipes like smoothies or juices. They’re also affordable and easy to buy in bulk, and adjusting your dosage is a breeze.

However, you’ll always have to mix them into a liquid of some kind. In addition, some powdered supplements have an unwanted aftertaste, or they may contain sugars or artificial flavorings to cover this taste.

Liquid

Liquid drinks or shakes are easy to digest and perfect for anyone who struggles to swallow pills. Your body absorbs these supplements fast, often within minutes.

However, liquid supplements are often less shelf-stable than the options above, giving them a short shelf life. They may also have added sugars or artificial flavoring.

Ask for Recommendations

Given the options you’ll be wading through, no one can blame you for struggling to make a decision. However, that’s where it’s a good idea to reach out for help.

While everyone has a fitness-minded friend, avoid taking unqualified advice where you can. Their favorite product may not be right for your exercise journey.

Instead, seek recommendations from your physician, as mentioned above, or from other medical experts. Personal trainers and physical therapists are also great sources for help, or you may want to reach out to a nutrition specialist for a consultation. 

Getting medical insights may take time, but it can help you avoid the guesswork involved in figuring out which supplements will help you with your goals.

Consider Safety

If you’re navigating the ever-changing landscape of supplements for the first time, here’s a crucial bit of information: there’s very little federal regulation for supplements.

Unlike “conventional” food and drug products, the FDA doesn’t take strict control over supplements. As a result, a supplement may have more or less of an ingredient than it claims to. People can also peddle supplements using claims with little scientific proof.

However, the supplement industry doesn’t have to be the wild west, provided you know what to look for.

When browsing at an online supplement store, check the details for third-party testing by a certified company. As with any other health offering, brands may pay researchers to perform studies on certain solutions and compounds, such as RAD140. Looking to ensure that your chosen supplement has gone through third-party testing is a great way to make sure you get what you pay for.

Look for Reputable Products

Because there’s little regulation in the supplement industry, it can be hard to tell who to buy from. Here are some quick tips:

Look for Brands With Backing

As mentioned above, looking for brands that put safety first through third-party testing is a good idea. In addition, you can look for brands that have backing from pharmaceutical experts. Labels that include seals from NSF International, Consumer Lab, or US Pharmacopeia are great places to start.

In addition, online customer reviews can be a good indicator of public trust in a chosen brand. You might also want to check for websites that specialize in supplement research and rankings.

Don’t Trust Big Claims

You’ll also want to avoid brands that make sweeping claims. If a supplement seems too good to be true, it probably is. Vague stamps that a product is “approved” or “verified” without a source are also red flags.

Avoid MLM Supplement Brands

It’s also a safe bet to steer clear of MLM supplement companies. These include popular brands like Herbalife.

While some of their product claims may be accurate, they often invest in little to no third-party testing. Due to their MLM structure, these brands put more focus on recruiting additional sellers over creating a worthy product. Worse, untrained sellers are rarely knowledgeable about the product, and they may use high-pressure tactics to force a purchase.

Price Isn’t Everything

Don’t be fooled by a low price tag when comparing supplement prices. Affordable brands often make cheap products by using low-quality ingredients. They may also include unsafe compounds, as they may not spring for the cost of third-party testing.

Know Your Upper Limit

One thing to keep in mind as you consider the dosage to buy is the Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL). This is also called the Upper Limit. A UL is the highest dosage of a supplement you can take without adverse effects.  

Though we often think of minerals, herbs, and supplements as safe and “all-natural,” the truth is that the dosage is still crucial. Even a simple herb like oregano is dangerous in large quantities, with effects like vomiting, stomach pain, and even death.

Double-Check the Label

Last, but not least, be sure to check the label of a supplement before you buy. Any claims made on the supplement store website are nice, but they don’t measure up to proof of the ingredients.

It’s not unheard of for a “sugar-free” supplement to still have small amounts of glucose, for example. A product might also claim to build muscle without including the exact compounds you’re looking for.

Though we’ve said it above, don’t forget to check for allergens, which the label should list. Vegans and vegetarians may also want to look for the inclusion of animal products such as gelatin. This product is often used in capsules and gummies to help them hold their shape.

Pick Supplements for Fitness

Though it can feel difficult to pick supplements for fitness, especially in a market saturated with products of all kinds, it’s not as hard as you might think. Working to consider your goals and health needs can help narrow down your options, and reviewing product labels and brand reputations can keep you safe. Though this process can take time, your health and fitness will benefit in the long run!

Want more tips to help you make the most of your health? For fitness and beyond, be sure to take a look at the other posts on our website.