There are few supplements that have enough of a research-backed effect that they are really worth taking. Pre-workouts, fat burners, and all the rest often don’t have enough of the active ingredients to be worthwhile or simply don’t give the effects suggested.
However, here are supplements that have a ton of research behind them, are cheap, and definitely worth taking.
But, and there is always a but, if your diet is less than adequate taking supplements may shore up a few glaring weaknesses a little, but you should address the big rocks of your diet first, then any supplements you take will provide far more benefit than they would otherwise.
As a rule we under eat protein, getting in far less than is optimal, and often barely achieving the already low standard set by the reference nutrient intake (RNI, formerly RDA) of around 0.75g per kg of bodyweight per day. Most research shows that to maintain or build lean mass, which you really want to do particularly as you get older, you need somewhere in the range of 1.6-2.2g per kg/day.
One of the biggest nutrition impacts I see with clients is to start increasing their protein intake. Ideally, this comes from whole food sources such as lean meat, poultry and fish, but if you find that difficult then a good protein supplement can be useful. 1-2 scoops will give you 20-50g of muscle saving protein.
Omega 3 fish oil has been shown to benefit you in a bunch of ways, from improving cardiovascular health, reducing inflammation, improving mood and mental health, reducing the risk of dementia and cognitive decline.
If you can get fatty fish 2-3 times per week you are going to be just fine, but if that is a struggle, whatever the reason, then a good fish oil supplement is worth taking. When choosing a supplement, look for as high a combination of EPA and DHA as you can. Aim for 3-4g of combined EPA and DHA per day.
Not an obvious choice I’ll grant you, but given creatine is one of the most researched, proven supplements available, it’s an easy choice to include in this list. Its primary function is in improving muscle power and allowing you to do more reps at higher loads. But the other benefits include neuroprotective effects. A reduction in mental fatigue, improvements in cognitive effects in bipolar and depression related illness.
Due to its cheapness (theres no benefit to going for more expensive alternatives to creatine monohydrate), there is no need to pre load it as often recommended. Simply supplementing with 5g per day will get the job done.
Bonus – Vitamin D
If you aren’t lucky enough to live in a part of the world that has year-round sunshine, then you are going to need to supplement with vitamin D for at least part of the year. I live in Scotland so I pretty much have to supplement for about 9 months of the year.
Supplementation of vitamin D is associated with a wide range of benefits, including increased cognitive benefits, immune health, bone health and well-being. Supplementation can also reduce the risks of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and multiple sclerosis.
While most people aren’t deficient in vitamin D, but they aren’t at optimal levels. Supplementing with 1-2000IUs per day will give you most of the benefits you want.