- Fitness supplements can give you an edge in the gym, but only when used correctly, experts say.
- Certain supplements may be more helpful for your goals, while others might waste your money.
- Get the most from supplements by optimizing your routine first, according to a sports dietitian.
Fitness supplements like creatine are extensively researched, generally safe, and have evidence-based benefits for boosting performance and gains in the gym.
However, supplements can be costly, and may not be right for everyone, Brett Singer, a sports dietitian at Memorial Hermann IRONMAN Sports Medicine Institute who works with the Houston Dynamo, told Insider.
To maximize your gains, consider your goals and the rest of your routine before adding supplements to avoid wasting time, effort, and money, he and other experts told Insider.
“There are many different avenues of success. What may work for me may not be effective or feasible for you. It’s about looking at your options and understanding the evidence and limitations,” Singer said.
Understand your goals to prioritize the most useful supplements
The first step in getting the most out of a supplement routine is to consider your goals, according to Singer.
Knowing what you hope to achieve helps identify how supplements might help, or if they’re worth using, he said.
For instance, if your goal is primarily
, there’s little evidence that supplements can burn fat directly, Singer said. However, performance-boosting supplements may help you start or maintain a gym routine to support a healthy weight loss plan.
“Supplements that allow you to work out better and harder can have positive effects in terms of confidence and weight loss,” he said.
Others may be more appropriate for specific sports. Nitrate, for instance, may be more useful for endurance athletes, while sodium bicarbonate might be more beneficial for high-intensity workouts, research suggests.
“Not all supplements are beneficial for all athletes,” Singer said.
Supplements won’t make up for bad habits, so fix your routine first
While supplements may have small benefits regardless of your overall routine, the best way to make the most of them is by dialing in habits like nutrition and sleep first, Scott Forbes, told Insider.
“Things that are really important and have a big impact on performance, I call those ‘sledgehammers’. Eating enough, exercising, good nutrition, and sleep,” Forbes said. “There are benefits to supplementing without them, but it’s not what people should be focused on. Concentrate on getting those in order first.”
Sleeping less than seven hours per night, working out too much, and eating too little are common mistakes that prevent muscle gains. Comparatively, the improvements from adding supplements will be much less noticeable than fixing problems with your routine.
“The gains and benefits are going to be small, so I don’t know that it will provide benefits to make up for a poor diet,” Singer said.
Make sure you’re getting the right dose
Once you’ve found the right supplement, follow dosing recommendations carefully, according to experts.
“A lot of brands use recognizable supplements, but not enough or not in the best form,” Singer said.
Check labels, since many products will include the same supplements like creatine, beta alanine, or caffeine, Singer said, compounding the effect.
Taking more than the recommended dose, through one or multiple products, can backfire, research suggests, increasing your risk of side effects like digestive upset with no additional benefits. Also be mindful about possible interactions if you’re taking other medications.
Time your supplements appropriately
When you take supplements also matters. Caffeine, for instance, only improves performance if taken before a workout, according to evidence.
For other supplements such as creatine, the specific day-to-day timing may not matter, but you need to be consistent with taking them regularly to maximize the benefits, Forbes said.