Stacking Supplements – For Me, These 5 Are the Most Cost-Effective

Stacking supplements is a multi-billion dollar global industry that is often based on little more than hype and junk science, designed to make people use as much as possible different products that are also as expensive as possible. Most nutritionists universally agree that getting as many nutrients from food is the preferred option but that stacking supplements are useful to make up for any shortages that may exist, especially for strength athletes. Finding cost-effective products can be a challenge as many are over-priced, offer uncertain advantages, use undisclosed proprietary blends, and have little scientific backing. Based on my personal experience looking for a simple strategy and cost-effective products, these are my five go-to supplements.

#1 – Omega-3

Biogen Omega 3 Soft CapsFatty acids, of which omega-3 is one of the most important, have a very valuable role in nutrition. The two crucial omega-3 fatty acids are docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and are found naturally in fish, including salmon, tuna, anchovies, sardines, and trout. Not only does your body need these fatty acids to function, but also they deliver some big health benefits.

  • Lower triglyceride levels, a blood fat that increases the risk of heart disease.
  • Curb stiffness and joint pain and also seem to boost the effectiveness of anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Research studies found that higher levels omega-3 are associated with reduced symptoms of depression.
  • DHA appears to be important for visual and neurological development in infants.
  • A diet high in omega-3s lowers inflammation, a key component in asthma.
  • Some studies show that fish oil can reduce the symptoms of ADHD in some children and improve their mental skills, like thinking, remembering, and learning.
  • Research also suggests that omega-3s may help protect against Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, and have a positive effect on gradual memory loss linked to aging.

There is no set recommended standard dose of omega-3 fats, but some health organizations recommend a daily dose of 250-500mg of EPA and DHA for healthy adults. Unless you eat fish 3-4 times per week, it is likely that you will benefit from omega-3 supplementation, of which several brands are widely available at a very reasonable price.

#2 – BCAAs

USN Amino Lean BCAAA branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) is an amino acid having aliphatic side-chains with a branch (a central carbon atom bound to three or more carbon atoms). Among the protein-creating amino acids, there are three BCAAs: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. As BCAAs trigger the production of protein, supplementation just before, during, or right after strength training reduces fatigue, accelerate recovery, reduce muscle soreness, and improve the use of fat for energy.

Although branched-chain amino acids are essential nutrients that the body obtains from proteins found in food, especially meat, dairy products, and legumes, taking additional BCAA improves exercise performance and post-workout recovery. A study presented at the 2009 Annual Meeting of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that trained lifters taking a BCAA supplement around workouts for 8 weeks gained about twice as much muscle and strength as those taking a whey protein shake without additional BCAAs.

The recommended BCAA dosage is 5-10 grams at a time. The most critical time to take them is around workouts, so add 5-10 grams to your pre- and post-workout shakes.

#3 – Caffeine

Biogen Caffeine CapsVarious scientific studies have indicated that low-to-moderate dosages of caffeine supplementation are beneficial for sustained endurance efforts as well as high-intensity exercise. In one such an experiment, women consumed caffeine (6 mg/kg) and performed a one-repetition maximum (1RM) barbell bench press test and repetitions to failure at 60% of 1RM an hour later. Participants who consumed the caffeine achieved a markedly better 1RM than those who were given a placebo.

Another study also found that caffeine ingestion improves voluntary muscle contraction strength and muscular endurance. The doses of caffeine used in studies vary, but a good starting point is about 2-3 mg/kg taken 60-90 minutes before exercise, which is about 175 mg for a 150-pound person. This is on the lower end, but it is always wise to start slowly and assess your tolerance. Then, although caffeine, for most people, has a favorable risk to benefit ratio it is always safer to work with a qualified professional when using any supplement, starting with lower dosages, and being attentive to any signs of unwanted effects.

#4 – Creatine

USN Creatine MonohydrateThe ergogenic effects of creatine on strength performance have been well-documented. This study has shown that creatine is the most effective supplement for increasing muscle mass and strength by enhancing the production of adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, the most basic form of energy in the muscle cells. As ATP is depleted within seconds of high-intensity, the body has to produce more in situ, which is where creatine comes in. Creatine supplements increase your body’s stores of phosphocreatine, which is used to produce new ATP during high-intensity exercise.

Just a 6-day creatine load followed by a 2 gram/day maintenance dose can elevate your muscle stores by more than 20 percent. Furthermore, there is no scientific evidence that the short- or long-term use of creatine monohydrate has any detrimental effects on otherwise healthy individuals. The only possible detrimental effect that has attracted many discussions online, is a slight increase in water retention as creatine is an osmotically active component that attracts water to the muscle cells. Although the effect is thought to be relatively slight – one or two pounds in total – powerlifters and other weight-class athletes may need to cycle off creatine from time to time – especially 6 weeks before a weigh-in.

#5 – Protein

There are too many protein powders out there to count but, currently, the Nutritech from Chrome SA is my favorite for a few simple reasons. It is easy to mix and a thinner consistency than most other shakes. It – the granadilla flavor, at least – does not taste very sweet, which is definitely a personal preference for me. As for the nutritional value, the energy value per serving is also reasonably small, so a bargain when watching calorie intake.

Each serving, or 2 scoops, has 23 grams of protein and 3 grams of carbohydrates. Additionally, the powder contains 18 different amino acids, including 4 grams of glutamic acid, and 4.5 grams of BCAAs in the ratio isoleucine, leucine, and valine of about 1:3:1. Therefore, this is a convenient and cost-effective way to top up the typical protein requirement of a strength athlete of about 2 grams per kilogram of bodyweight per day.

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Joan Swart is a master's powerlifting enthusiast, sports nutrition student, and forensic psychologist from Paarl, Western Cape.

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