Supplements: An EliteFTS Roundtable Discussion

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Jim Wendler: We get asked a ton of questions about supplements both on the EFS Q&A and in our daily lives. People want to know what to take, what works, what doesn’t, what brands are best, and everything else under the sun.

So what do you use or recommend, and what have you found that doesn’t work?

Tom Deebel: I take my supplements for health reasons. I take one gram a day of vitamin C and ten grams a day of pure fish oil as well as vitamin E and extra fiber. I drink a post-workout shake. My preference is Aftershock by Myogenix. In the morning, I drink a protein shake for breakfast with added fiber, and sometimes I’ll take another during the day when I can’t get real food.

I don’t use shakes as a replacement for real food. People can make better nutrition choices in what they eat, but I’ll take steak or seafood over a shake any day. Everyone should eat more vegetables. They give you many necessary vitamins and minerals while adding bulk to help you poop better. I think people waste too much money on the latest whiz-bang supplement of the day when they should just eat more broccoli.

As for what sucks, I’m going old school here—gamma oryzanol, dibencozide, raw glandulars, predigested liquid protein with the special flavors like butt, and old protein powder that doesn’t mix.

One supplement from about 20 years ago called Metabolol by Champion actually did what it said it would do. I believe it was the first pre- and post-workout drink available, and I think they marketed it for both. However, it was great for a pre-workout shake. It was a light on the stomach meal when you couldn’t get the food in you and was perfect for a school kid or guy running to the gym at the end of the day.

The current post-workout drinks like Surge, Aftershock, and Mass Maker all seem pretty good. I’d recommend them for the average guy. There’s enough evidence to promote post-workout drinks for recovery.

C.J. Murphy: I use protein shakes pre-made in cans because I’m too lazy to make them myself. I love using Power peanut butter, which is made from peanuts, flax seed, and egg whites. It actually tastes like peanut butter and is all natural. I also use glutamine and some kind of crack-in-a-bottle for energy. I don’t even know what brand it is. All I know is that it’s the number two button on my vending machine.


I should be using glutamine and creatine, but again, I’m too lazy to mix it. I think guys my weight (285–295 lbs) can safely take 20 grams of glutamine daily. I don’t believe all the hype about other supplements. I like to see what has been tested and what stands the test of time. The newest thing is usually pseudoscience and lots of marketing hype geared to steal your money. I think creatine, glutamine, protein, multivitamins/minerals, and fish and flax oils work.


I think any of the major retail brands are good but stay away from the fly by night companies. I personally use Pro Power from Fred Hatfield, ABB, and a few others. Protein powders can’t take the place of real food. I think we all know this and we all know why too. I ran into some trouble a while back. I was pretty much living on protein shakes, Skoal, bagels, and apples due to sheer laziness and a ridiculous schedule. I got pretty fat from wasting muscle. I wasn’t getting in nearly the calories that I needed. Without making any changes to my schedule or training and simply adding in real food, my body fat dropped to an almost non-disgusting level.

Jason Ferruggia: I recommend that everyone take 6–10 grams of pharmaceutical grade fish oil a day. The benefits have been discussed 847,397,587 times so I won’t rehash them here. Get a good brand like Nordic Naturals. Don’t try to skimp and get the 50-pound bottle at Price Club for ten bucks. If you aren’t willing to spend the money on quality fish oils, don’t bother taking them.

I think most people could probably benefit from a good multivitamin and/or adding a few teaspoons a day of Greens Plus to your shakes. Next on my list are protein powders and post-workout shakes. These, like the other two, aren’t really supplements per se as much as they are food substitutes. Sometimes it’s impossible to eat as much protein in a day as we should. Therefore, a good protein shake can come in handy. Some good brands are Prolab Lean Mass Matrix Protein Complex and the Dorian Yates-approved line. Beverley International is also very good quality but not if you want to get lean.

As far as post-workout shakes go, I agree with Dr. Tom about the old Metabolol. That was a good product, as are many of Champion’s products. I still use Metabolol II on occasion post-workout. Endurox with added protein is a good post-workout drink as well. My favorite tasting post-workout mix is vanilla Ultramet by Champion mixed with Gatorade and possibly some added maltodextrin.

The question is will a post-workout shake give you better results than just eating food? There’s endless research that says yes. But as anyone with any real experience knows, the answer is probably not. If you eat a whole pizza and some Gatorade, that’s probably going to put more size on you. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out. One of the main benefits of post-workout shakes is convenience. You can rapidly slug down many calories immediately after training. This is a big plus for those trying to get bigger. If you have to wait until you go change in the locker room, drive home, and start cooking real food or waiting for it in a restaurant, you just missed out on another meal that you could have had in that day. So if you chug the shake and then go get the real food, you’re able to get in an extra 500–1000 or however many calories for that day. Also, some people don’t feel like eating or can’t eat solid food immediately after training. Again, that’s where they can benefit from a shake.

Creatine is okay. Again the research is endlessly positive, but it’s no miracle pill and will help very little at best. In most cases, the claims of gaining ten pounds in a week and increasing lifts by 25 pounds are grossly exaggerated. I’ve worked with hundreds of clients and have consulted with tons of coaches and trainers in the same boat, and we’ve rarely seen huge gains from creatine. If you respond well, it can definitely have some great benefits. However, the results aren’t anything like what Bill Phillips promised me back in the mid 1990s.

Glutamine is useless. I’m shocked to hear that Murph uses it. This is a supplement where the research isn’t so clear. For years, the research was all positive. However, there was a rash of negative backlash against glutamine and the dangers associated with it. The arguments for why it’s dangerous make sense to me, and the arguments for why it’s good make no sense. The bottom line is that glutamine absolutely sucks!

For stimulant/pre-workout supplements, I like tyrosine and caffeine. Three grams of tyrosine and 200 milligrams of caffeine are awesome. I wouldn’t use the caffeine all the time, but the tyrosine can be taken regularly. I really like Joe’s new MoJoe bars. He uses this combo and the bars taste great and digest well. Now that he took his picture off of the label, I like them even more.

Finally, I think everyone should drink 2–6 cups of green tea per day. I know that it’s not a supplement, but it will do more for you than any other crap out there.

Julia Ladewski: I take and think most people should take a multivitamin, an extra vitamin C, calcium, and about 8–10 fish oils a day. I’ve taken creatine in the past. It makes me bloated and causes me to retain water. My strength levels have gone up while taking it but nothing astronomical. They probably only went up because I’m heavier. I still haven’t decided if it really works. This is mostly because I haven’t been consistent enough with it to decide. I may take it once a year while preparing for a meet. The brands of the above mentioned items just need to be quality. Sometimes you don’t always get the best if it’s on the one dollar shelf. (Solaray is a decent brand though.)

Protein powders are good for extra snacks and when you can’t eat whole foods. I can’t speak for anyone else, but there’s sometimes when I just can’t eat any more whole food so a shake is good. I have a shake (about 35 grams each) mid-morning and mid-afternoon. Depending on my work schedule and when I can eat breakfast, I may have a small 15 gram shake first thing in the morning (5 am). I also have a post-workout shake right after my last exercise at the gym (about 20 grams of carbs and eight grams of protein). Lately, the post-workout shake has been Countdown, which is pretty good. I don’t use shakes for extra mass/calories but simply for the extra protein. I know I won’t get enough otherwise. But it definitely can’t substitute for real food for anyone.

I agree with Jason about tyrosine. I don’t use it during training, but I use it in a competition before my lifts. I think it works well.

Harry Selkow: Natura brand stuff works very well. The founders, Donald Yance, PhD and Ben Tabachnik, PhD, specialize in the use of nutritional and herbal approaches to cancer, heart disease, and other chronic health conditions as complementary and/or primary therapies and in the prevention of these diseases. Dr. Tabachnik’s main responsibility was to implement scientific discoveries in physiology, biochemistry, pharmacology, and nutrition into the training programs of top-level athletes (members of the Soviet National Olympic team). They formed the Natura adaptogens program and protocol for people here in the US. It’s a little ‘crunchy” (I’m from Northern California so it’s cool) and expensive, but it’s very interesting stuff. You guys can read more about it at http://naturahealthproducts.com/cms/.

I also fire down a couple Ultra Size Protein drinks—one in the morning and one post-workout. Glucosomine sucks, and creatine makes me feel strong, but I think that might be a placebo effect. Hey, whatever works!

Alwyn Cosgrove: Of all the topics we’ve answered, this one might end up being the most popular but probably the least important. I’ve honestly never met anyone who had their training and diet so together that they just needed to work on their supplement program. A supplement program in my opinion is the icing on the cake. Paul Chek uses a great analogy about supplements. He refers to them as the “gold” nails that people use when building ships out of shitty wood. It’s a great analogy. You have to start with high quality food and high quality training first.

The basics for me are multivitamins, antioxidants, and fish oils. These are the staples (boring, I know). I think most everyone can benefit from adding these to their nutrition program. I think most of us know that food beats supplements hands down. It’s not even debatable. That said, I can’t think of anyone who couldn’t use a protein powder/MRP on occasion just for pure convenience, speed, and ease. However, I like to add fruits, fiber, cinnamon, and a tablespoon of oil to my shakes, which starts getting in the way of the convenience factor a wee bit. Honestly, as with most of us, if I had a personal chef, I’m not sure I’d ever drink a shake again.

The science behind workout nutrition is pretty sound. However, I’m not convinced of the need for a post-workout shake over a decent meal for anything other than ease of use, taste, and pure convenience. People often overlook the fact that all the nutrient timing studies were done on an empty stomach (an overnight fast was standard in the studies). This isn’t optimal or real world so you likely won’t see as large of a benefit under real world conditions (i.e. you ate breakfast).

So a post-workout shake is unlikely to be any better than food when it comes down to it. However, after a heavy workout, an ice cold shake is much more appetizing than a plate of eggs. Sipping a shake during a workout and post-workout is an easy way to get more “food” in. Most of the well-known brands taste good. That’s the biggest factor right there.

Most of the well-known brands are good such as Beverly International, Prolab Lean Mass Matrix, Cytosport, and Biotest. I’m sure there are other good brands out there as well, but as with most things, you get what you pay for to an extent. I use Biotest, a company that I think has good quality. However, I use them primarily because they send my wife Rachel and I a bunch for free. For other supplements, we use Metagenics and Pure Encapsulations. The supplement line we carry at the gym consists of mainly protein powders and drinks, bars, and a few other supplements.

A supplement can only speed up the results that you’re already getting from diet and training. If you aren’t getting stronger or leaner, your diet and training needs work, not your supplement program.

As far as new supplements go, if you look back over the past ten years and include the entire EAS domination, the only supplements that you can still really buy from them are creatine and protein shakes. Products that work tend to get purchased again and again by consumers. The rest just fall by the wayside. This speaks volumes. I expect that you’ll see the same thing in the next ten years. Very little of what’s on the market now will still have enough consumer demand to be available.


Creatine has worked well in about 95 percent of all clients that I’ve ever given it to but not compared to the weight gain (and with fighters this was always a heavy trade off). The additional weight loss we needed to do to make weight tended to offset most of the advantages that we got from using it. I tend to only use it for kids who want to gain size now and only after we dial everything else in.

I took ZMA for a while. It really helped me sleep deeper. Sleep is the final frontier for most of my athletes. I get them training well and eating well, but improving sleep quality is huge. Now I’m sure that generic zinc, magnesium, and b6 would do just the same as the super ZMA. However, it’s cheap enough ($9.00 or so for a month’s supply) so we’re not really talking about anything insane financially. And it’s very cool to take a Balco supplement. Ok, not really.

For fat loss, I haven’t seen anything work really well. Jay and I were talking about this, and I don’t even think that in the real world ephedrine really added up to anything significant in terms of actual pounds of fat lost over dieting and exercise alone. If I dieted and trained for 12 weeks and lost 12 pounds of fat, how much extra fat lost would I get from ephedrine? A 25 percent improvement? This is unlikely, and even at that high of a rate, you’re only looking at another three pounds. I think supplements have the smallest role here, despite it being the largest commercial market.

I think a greens type supplement is something that most of us could benefit from using. I’ve never met anyone who was getting too many vegetables. If you throw it in a shake, you don’t really taste it so it’s a good way to “sneak” in some extra vegetables. If I listed in an ad all of the benefits of taking in more omega threes, more vegetables, and more water, it would look more impressive than any other supplement on the market.

James Smith: I’ve had great results with creatine, and I know for a fact that it works for me. I’ve also taken protein shakes for more than half my life simply because I’m rarely in a situation where I can eat 6–8 whole food meals a day.

I take a multivitamin because I know it’s a good idea, but I can’t say that I notice a difference in health or performance. I also take fish and/or flax oil, though not diligently so I can’t intelligently comment one way or the other. I’ve also recently started taking a greens powder that my wife gets at the local organic health food grocery store. However, I haven’t been consistent enough to offer any insight.

It’s difficult to reference my athletes’ experience with supplements because you never really know how consistent someone else is being with taking this or that. What I do know beyond a doubt is that when caloric intake rises considerably, every one of my athletes’ experiences increase in cross-sectional diameter and strength.

I recently had one of my football players go on a cycle of the BCAA’s sold on the EFS site (ICE I think?). I wrote him out a loading protocol that my friend Landon Evans at Illinois State gave me. Since this player started taking the BCAA’s, he has told me that his soreness has deceased or disappeared. So this is something to consider regarding recovery for those of us who don’t take the more powerful anabolic/androgenic pharmaceutical variety.

As Alwyn stated, at the end of the day, there’s no comparison to whole food. Whole food, 6–8 meals a day covers anyone’s particular caloric requirements and will always prove most beneficial.

I strongly believe in drinking a lot of water. With the exception of protein shakes and the occasional beer(s), I drink nothing but water. I have no idea how much I drink per day, but I recommend having a bottle on you at all times. Continue to sip on it from the time you get up in the morning until the time to go to sleep. If your urine is clear, you’re dialed in (with the exception of the colors that multivitamins or other supplements may produce).

Dosage and duration are the most significant factors regarding whether a particular supplement or any training-related stressor may be proved efficacious or not. Far too often I feel that this or that gets ruled in or out based upon insufficient “testing.” Before we make a judgment, we must first ensure that we exhaust various loading protocols, be it nutrition, training, or whatever. Question any practical or research-related studies/information that you ever come across because the particular circumstances surrounding any particular study (including what we’re all stating here) may not be consistent with your own.

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Submitted by DMorgan on Fri, 08/10/2007 - 12:52pm.

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