Health and Fitness

Ask a Physical Trainer: Do Workout Supplements Actually Work?

A PT talks about the effects of those tubs of powder.
IMAGE By Raysonho @ Open Grid Scheduler / Grid Engine [CC0], from Wikimedia Commons

Dear Luke,

What do fitness supplements actually do? Believe me, I'm willing to take anything – within reason – to reach my goals, but is a big tub of overpriced powder and a bout of protein burps really going to make a difference?



Hey Fin,

The clue to this one really is in the name. Supplements are exactly that: supplementary. They simply plug nutritional gaps that may exist within your daily diet.

The fitness industry has many wonderful aspects, but it also likes to occasionally sell the dream of quick fixes. The supplement industry is particularly guilty of this, with its promises that the perfect body can be found at the bottom of a shaker cup.

For the most part you should be able to hit your nutritional needs through your diet. Your liver and kidneys do a fine job of ‘detoxifying’ you without any need for cups of overpriced tea. However, there are 3 staples that I do recommend to clients taking on an exercise program:

Protein powder

I set my clients a protein target of 2g per kilo of bodyweight, and to try to spread this out over the day. For an average man weighing 83 kilos, this works out as 166g of protein per day. Attempting to limit this to just three meals would mean in excess of 50g per meal. It's always a preferable use whole food sources, but not everyone is ready and wiling to carry around a cool-bag full of Tupperware or have grilled chicken for breakfast. With that in mind, a supplement can be a very useful tool for bumping up the protein content of a meal.


Fish Oils

Unfortunately, we're still struggling to shake off the mentality that 'fat makes you fat’. It doesn’t! An excessive consumption of calories makes you fat! Fats are an essential part of any nutritional regime—whether the goal is to build muscle or drop body fat. Fats do, however, contain over double the amount of calories per gram than either proteins or carbohydrates, meaning that trying to consume an adequate amount of essential healthy fats whilst keeping total calories in check can be a mathematical minefield. Supplementing with fish oils is a quick and easy way of boosting your essential fatty acid levels without smashing your daily calorie allowance.

Vitamin D

As much as we love this green and pleasant land, it lacks in the consistent sunshine department. Now that autumn is upon us and the nights are starting to draw in, supplementing with Vitamin D is another staple for all of my clients. The sun in the UK is just not strong enough over autumn and the winter months to give us the vitamin D dose that we need, so supplementing is advised between October and April every year.

Aside from these big three must-haves, nutritional supplements are realistically the final piece in the very intricate puzzle of athletic performance and body composition. They only really need to be considered when every other aspect of health, training, recovery, rest and nutrition has been taken care of.

My advice? Save the strain on your wallet and invest in an experienced trainer to make sure your program is tailored to your needs. The tubs can wait.

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Luke Worthington is an Elite Master Trainer and Trainer Educator at Third Space Group. He's also a former professional rugby player and a former world endurance record holder.

This story originally appeared on edits have been made by the editors.

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Luke Worthington
Luke Worthington is an Elite Master Trainer and Trainer Educator at Third Space Group. He's also a former professional rugby player and a former world endurance record holder.
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