Knowing What Supp!

The following is a guest post by Chris Burgess a personal trainer and nutrition expert from the United Kingdom.  He is here to begin a series of posts that tackle one of the most common questions personal trainers get; What supplements should I be taking?  I am glad he is here to shed some light on this topic for us.

Whether it’s a body composition client, an athlete or someone looking to simply improve their health, in every consultation I do with a new trainee one of the first questions I am asked is, “Are there any supplements I should be taking?”

Knowing What Supp!

by Chris Burgess

The supplement industry is huge and shows no signs of slowing – but are they worth the hype or do they fail to live up to the investment in money & faith that people put in them?

The answer to this question isn’t simple. The reason why it is not simple is because I don’t know a thing about your lifestyle or diet, so making a general statement that you should be using a supplement is pretty useless.

Things to consider before spending your money on a supplement are:

1)  What is lacking in my diet, and why can’t it be fixed with food?

2)  What Vitamins and minerals am I deficient in, and can they be fixed with food?

3)  Do I get a great quality of sleep?

4)  Is my training performance at a plateau?

The answer to some of the questions above are easy, some of them not so much, for example: the only real way to know if you are deficient in a particular vitamin is to be tested by your physician or a certified nutritionist.

There are some vitamins that people are increasingly deficient in though – Vitamin D in particular is a hugely important vitamin and it can only really be obtained by sunlight exposure, so those of you in sunny locations who get exposure to at least an hour of sunlight per day are more than likely to have great vitamin D levels and therefore the need to supplement diminishes hugely. For people who live in colder, darker locations and work in offices 10 hours per day and see very little direct sunlight – your need to supplement with vitamin D is MUCH higher and therefore the potential benefits that you’ll get compared to someone who lives near a beach is also much higher.

Get Some Sun

Of course it’s impossible to mention the word supplement without people thinking of Whey Protein. Both of these supplements hold fantastic benefits for some, but not all athletes – again it all depends on a person’s start point. Let’s say for example that an athlete needs to grow muscle – the general recommendation for protein intake would be somewhere between 1-1.5g of protein per lb of bodyweight:

Person A weighs 200lb – Therefore would need 200-300g protein per day

Person B weighs 150lb – Therefore would need 150-200g protein per day

Let’s face it, Person A having to eat 300g protein per day takes A LOT of doing! Even guys with a huge appetite may struggle with that amount – added to that fact, food also gets expensive when you have to eat as much as that – approximately 10 chicken breasts per day! So adding a good quality whey protein can help person A hit their protein targets AND save them money as the cost per serving is much lower than food.

Person B has a much easier task to hit their protein targets, so the need to supplement goes down hugely from a physique perspective, but could potentially still be useful from a cost perspective.

whey protein

The problem with the supplement industry is that it isn’t policed anywhere near enough, so some suppliers make crazy claims – my advice is that if something seems too good to be true with a supplement, it likely is. The best way to know if a supplement has any research behind it, and if that research is robust and free from bias is to use Examine.

For those of you who are competitive athletes, remember that if you are using a supplement you must ensure that the brand you use has independent testing done on their products – more and more athletes are picking up bans because they are using supplements that don’t state their full ingredient list – and are later finding out that some of the “magic ingredients” are on banned substance lists.

In my next article I will go into whether Creatine is a safe product (For those of you who check out you’ll know what the answer will be!), why Fat isn’t the bad guy it’s made out to be, and whether carbs are unfairly getting bad PR.

In the mean time if you have any questions, please feel free to tweet me @chrisburgesspt


Chris Burgess is a Personal Trainer based at The University of Bath’s amazing Sports Training Village

His website Chris Burgess PT  is designed to help as many people as possible lead a fit and healthy lifestyle, so if you are looking for some ideas on exercise and nutrition then you’ll find plenty of content here to get you started.

Chris Burgess


Thursday, August 29th, 2013 Articles No Comments

Should You Supplement: Can You Build Muscle with Branched Chain Amino Acids?

It’s been a while since I have added another article to the Should You Supplement Series and I have not written on the topic because I initially thought I covered everything I wanted to.  Personally, I do not supplement much.  I always prefer that individuals establish a diet from a wide variety of healthy whole foods first before they consider needing to supplement.  After that is addressed it may be a good idea to add in some essential fats that are frequently missing in our diets and possibly doing some vitamin C supplementation as well as a nutrient dense, whole food based multi-vitamin.

With the above being my primarily regimen for an optimal lifestyle, I feel I should address another supplement source, because I do get quite a few questions about it; what protein supplement do you use?  This is a fair question because I have used several different protein supplements throughout my life and there are some really good products out there and some really bad ones as well.  I have taken a few different brands for a number of years and have weaned myself off of them almost entirely because I realized that with protein power supplements you don’t really know what you are getting.

Read the labels; usually it’s some protein propriety blend consisting of protein in indistinguishable ratios and from sources unknown.  Add artificial sweeteners, colors and tons of sugar, fractionated oils and fillers and you have a crazy unknown cocktail with questionable nutritional value and muscle building benefits.

After I train I am not hungry but I know that my body needs nourishment before I can get some solid food into me so protein shakes were the choice at the time.  At the same time, I was trying to fill my body with the best food and supplement sources possible and slamming down these protein shakes seemed liked a contradiction to that.

What I found to be a better alternative for me is to use Branched Chain Amino Acid (BCAA) supplementation in powdered form.  I usually take a little before, during and after my workouts to keep my muscles full of these protein building blocks.

What Are BCAAs?

All amino acids are necessary for the body to function properly, and BCAAs only make up three (leucine, valine, isoleucine) of the 23 used during protein synthesis to build muscle tissue.  These three are also part of a group of nine amino acids considered essential.  Essential refers to the type that cannot be created by the body from other sources, so the BCAAs must be present in the protein source consumed to be used by the body for protein synthesis.

These three cannot be produced by the body and are very important because they account for the majority of amino acids directly taken up by the muscles where protein synthesis can occur.  The other amino acids are primarily metabolized by the liver for either energy or to be shuttled to the muscles.

The theory behind their effectiveness for building and maintaining muscle is the idea that the body spares the breakdown of muscle/ protein to be used for energy when the bloodstream is saturated with these BCAAs.  When BCAAs are present in the bloodstream the body will assume that there has been a breakdown of the muscle protein and will therefore spare the muscles from breaking down more and then find another source of fuel.


Benefits of BCAA Supplementation

There are several studies touting the positive effects that BCAA supplementation can have for athletes.  Gualano et al. found that BCAA supplementation for glycogen depleted endurance athletes allows the body to enhance the use of fat for energy which spares the breakdown of the muscles and their protein to be used for energy.

There are several studies, including Matsumoto et al. concluding that BCAA supplementation may reduce fatigue and muscle soreness.  Shimomura et al. found that muscle damage caused specifically by squatting may be suppressed by BCAA supplementation which, in turn, could decrease the symptoms of delayed onset muscle soreness.  BCAA supplementation can also alleviate soreness caused by eccentric exercises as concluded in the Jackman et al. study.

BCAA supplementation can also help the endurance athletes work at a higher capacity as shown in another study by Matsumoto et al.

What I Personally Use

After researching and reading numerous studies and benefits of BCAA supplementation I have since replaced my protein shakes for BCAA drinks. I have tried a few brands and the one I prefer is the UPS Labs Modern BCAA.  (PIC)  Just to note I do not make any money by endorsing this product, I have just found it to be the best because it comes in a powder form, which can be consumed before, during and after training and the product does not contain any artificial flavors nor colors like some other products do.

On heavy training days I mix up two scoops with water and begin to sip 30min before training, have whatever is left over during training and then two more scoop to consume when I am done.


The studies and support are out there and show that BCAAs can spare muscle breakdown by using other sources of energy without loading the body up with protein powder supplements.  For the athlete looking to add or maintain muscle, decrease soreness and enhance recovery from intense workouts or increase your endurance capacity, they may want to consider BCAA supplementation.



Gualano AB, Bozza T, Lopes De Campos P, Roschel H, Dos Santos Costa A, Luiz Marquezi M, Benatti F, Herbert Lancha Junior A. Branched-chain amino acids supplementation enhances exercise capacity and lipid oxidation during endurance exercise after muscle glycogen depletion. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2011 Mar;51(1):82-8.

Jackman SR, Witard OC, Jeukendrup AE, Tipton KD. Branched-chain amino acid ingestion can ameliorate soreness from eccentric exercise. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2010 May;42(5):962-70.

Matsumoto K, Koba T, Hamada K, Sakurai M, Higuchi T, Miyata H. Branched-chain amino acid supplementation attenuates muscle soreness, muscle damage and inflammation during an intensive training program. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2009 Dec;49(4):424-31.

Matsumoto K, Koba T, Hamada K, Tsujimoto H, Mitsuzono R. Branched-chain amino acid supplementation increases the lactate threshold during an incremental exercise test in trained individuals. J Nutr Sci Vitaminol (Tokyo). 2009 Feb;55(1):52-8.

Shimomura Y, Inaguma A, Watanabe S, Yamamoto Y, Muramatsu Y, Bajotto G, Sato J, Shimomura N, Kobayashi H, Mawatari K. Branched-chain amino acid supplementation before squat exercise and delayed-onset muscle soreness. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2010 Jun;20(3):236-44.


Monday, August 29th, 2011 Nutrition 2 Comments

Should You Supplement? Omega 3s, Looking Mega Good

Hopefully after reading the first installment of Should You Supplement? you have gotten your diet on track, lost energy is now restored and your body is feeling healthier than ever.  It is human nature to look for something more than what we are currently doing to help us gain an edge and get us where we want to be a little faster.  In the case of health, physique and performance it comes in the form of supplements.

There are literally thousands of supplements out there touting quick results ranging from weight loss to muscle gain.  Some do work, some don’t work at all and some are downright harmful to your body because they have not been tested and deemed safe for consumption by the FDA.  My goal is to give you the facts from research and readings I have done over the years as well as my own personal practices.  As I mentioned in the first article Supplementation is not Substitution nor should it be about a quick fix for something.  Supplementation should aide in your overall health and well being and if your diet is balanced then adding some additional nutrients that are hard to obtain and maintain even through a healthy diet can be beneficial.

One of these beneficial supplements is omega-3 fatty acids.  I am sure many of you have heard some of the many benefits concluded through scientific research.  Some of these benefits include:

  • Cardiovascular Health
  • Protection from Stroke and Heart Attack
  • Better Brain Function
  • Reduction of Breast, Colon and Prostate Cancer
  • Decrease in Depression, Attention Deficit Disorder and Aggression
  • Anti-Inflammatory Properties

It is possible to consume foods that have a high concentration of omega-3 fatty acids; however studies have shown that Americans do not consume enough of these foods.  A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found Americans consume far too much of one kind of essential fatty-acids (EFA) (omega-6 EFAs found in most polyunsaturated vegetable oils such as corn oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, cottonseed oil, and soybean oil, etc) but not enough of another kind of EFA (omega-3 EFAs found in fish, fish oils, eggs from properly fed chickens, dark green vegetables and herbs, and oils from certain seeds such as flax and chia, nuts such as walnuts and in small amounts in all whole grains.) (Am J Clin Nutr 1991 54:438-63).

Mary Enig, of the Weston Price Foundation, emphasizes some of the negative health effects of high levels of omega-6 and inadequate omega-3 intake,  “Research has shown too much omega-6 in one’s diet creates an imbalance that can interfere with production of important prostaglandins (saturated fatty acids that are involved in the control of inflammation and body temperature).  This disruption can result in increased tendency to form blood clots, inflammation, high blood pressure, irritation of the digestive tract, depressed immune function, sterility, cell proliferation, cancer and weight gain.”

Inflammation is actually determined by the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats. Many of the wonderful benefits of omega-3 fatty acids are negated if you consume too much omega-6 and not enough omega-3; thus throwing off the ratios between the two.  That’s why it’s essential to make sure that you’re getting enough omega-3 and that the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 is optimal or it can lead to many health problems.

The exact ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 is up for debate; however there is an optimal range where the ratio is almost even.  The problem lies in where the consumption of the typical American diet severely shifts this ratio towards a higher omega-6 number.  According to health and nutrition expert Jonny Bowden (hlink)   “The ideal ratio is between 1:1 and 4:1. More typically, those consuming a Western diet get between 15:1 and 25:1.”

To balance your omega-6 to omega-3 ratio Enig suggests to, “Add 3-9g of fish oil each day while reducing omega 6 fats…” This strategy should take care of your omega 6:3 ratio.

I personally take her suggestion to heart and supplement with a high quality fish oil.  There are a few good brands and plenty of bad ones.  Depending on where the manufactures get their fish makes all the difference in the world.  Cheap fish make for low quality and possibly toxic fish oil.

David Should Balance Out His Omega 6:3 Ratio

The brand I use is Carlson Very Finest Fish Oil because it “Comes from deep, cold, ocean-water fish and the product is regularly tested (using AOAC international protocols) for freshness, potency and purity by an independent, FDA-registered laboratory and has been determined to be fresh, fully potent and free of detectable levels of mercury, cadmium, lead, PCB’s and 28 other contaminants.”

I prefer the liquid formula because it is much denser than the pill form.  In two teaspoons, I can get over 3 grams of high quality omega-3, where I would have to take 5-6 soft gels to equal that amount.  Many people don’t want to take fish oil because of the “fishy taste.”  Carlson is one of the better tasting fish oil I have tried.  One of my clients swears by the orange flavor because it tastes like Tang without any fishy reflux (which is a pleasant side effect of lower quality fish oils).  I have found it to be the most economical when getting it through vitacost.

So we have our healthy diet in check and now we have found ways of optimizing our omega 3:6 ratios for optimal health.  In the next post I will talk about another supplement that may also contribute greatly to your personal well being.

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Tuesday, March 30th, 2010 Nutrition No Comments


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