You may have an idea of what supplements are, but let us be sure of using the same description of the term. Supplements are used to supply a certain nutrient that would otherwise not be taken in, in adequate amounts. An example would be a vitamin B12 supplement for vegans. Since they do not eat animal products and given the fact that B12 is only found in those products, vegans would be vitamin B12 deficient.
A bodybuilding supplement does not (only) complement nutrition shortages, but is also used for the achievement of other goals. They are used to increase performance, enhance weight loss or muscle gain or to act as meal replacements.
The risk of taking supplements is partly caused due to the fact that a lot of people think they can replace whole foods with them. Instead of fruit and vegetables they take a vitamin pill. Fruits and vegetables deliver a lot more important nutrients aside from vitamins. Therefore most supplements should never be seen as a replacement, but rather as complement of whole foods. Regardless, supplements are not a necessity and a lot of them are not proven to be safe.
That is just for supplements in general as there definitely are some of them worth to take. It is impossible for me to get into detail and it is best for you to decide yourself if you take them or not.. Read (scientific) articles, use government websites and read reviews about the supplements you are thinking of buying. Do not rely on a supplement manufacturer or salesman if it comes to advice on this subject as they only (or at least mostly) care about your money rather than your health!
Even though there are probably a couple more supplements that have been proven to be beneficial and safe, there are only 3 supplements that I would put my money on. These are: weight gainers, whey protein and creatine.
Weight gainers are used to help increase mass. Not necessarily muscle mass, just mass in general. How this works is that the supplement contains a lot of high quality protein, carbohydrates and calories, among other nutrients. When trying to gain muscle mass there are three things crucial. The first one is working out to stimulate muscle growth. It is the sleeping and resting part that will help you to actually build the muscle mass. So rest is the second and most important ingredient to muscle gaining. Finally there is nutrition. You need plenty of protein, carbohydrates and most importantly calories to gain muscle mass. To gain muscle you need 500 kilocalories extra on top of what you would eat to maintain weight. An easy way to get these nutrients is by taking weight gainers. The high quality of the protein and complex carbohydrates in the form of a drink makes it easier to get in enough 'fuel'.
When you were already sold by the weight gainers then you will not need whey protein. Weight gainers often contain high quality protein as well. That is what whey protein is: high quality protein. Even though most athletes get more than enough protein and do not need protein supplementation, it still is a good and probably relatively safe product. Vegetarians who are worried about getting enough high quality protein can use Whey Protein, as it is a sort of dairy product. Do not expect wonders of this supplement. It is simply protein and you could also get all the protein you need from a diet. It just has a convenience and quality factor that makes it a good supplement in my book.
The safest, most effective and one of the cheapest supplements out there. The tasteless creatine is used to recreate the energy replier ATP (adenosine triphosphate). This is the only fuel source that our body can directly use for energy. Creatine therefore indirectly increases the ability to perform activities that require energy. There has been done a lot of research on this supplement and it is one of the safer supplements out there. Using this product gives you that 'extra edge'. 3 to 5 mg of creatine is about enough for most people. Creatine monohydrate is most used and probably your best bet.
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