Are supplements worth it?: A comprehensive guide

Are supplements worth it?: A comprehensive guide

Warning: This article is going to be as dry as my favourite white wine.

And incase you are wondering, no, I did not run to the beach to get a photo with a bag of protein powder for this article. The photo was taken during a photoshoot for a supplement company, whose products I use. Just because I take supplements doesn’t necessarily mean you need to though. This article is going to help you figure out which supplements are worth it for you, and which ones are a waste of your money.

Before we get started I want to make one thing crystal clear: You gotta make the cake first before you can add the icing.  

If you do not have a good foundation, that is a proper training program and effective nutrition plan then no supplement in the world is going to get you lean or jacked or healthy. I’d go as far to say that you shouldn’t even think about supplements unless your sleep and stress levels are in check too. Good icing is not going to fix a burnt cupcake and it is the same with supplements.

Lets get into it! We will start with the “magical” fat burners, then move onto everyday supplements and then training ones.

Disclaimer: I don’t like cupcakes.

Also, I am not a Registered Dietician. The information that follows is for your educational purposes only. I might say a few science words here and there but I’ve tried to keep it as simple as possible for you.

Fat burner supplements

Generally these are supplements that contain herbs or chemicals to increase energy, stimulate metabolism or suppress appetite.

Hydroxy citric acid (Garcinia cambogia)

Good for: Not much, maybe enhancing fat loss a teeny tiny bit.

It is commonly included in weight loss aids as a fat burner.

Is it worth it?: Maybe for rats. Most studies finding any benefit have only been done using rats not humans.

CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid)

Good for: Proposed to increase fat burning.

CLA is a fatty acid found in full fat dairy products and meat (beef and lamb). It was thought that it may promote fat loss by turning on a signalling pathway related to fat burning. Evidence has been mixed and it seems it might have too weak of an effect to make any significant difference in humans.

Is it worth it?: Probably not! There might be some benefit if you are very obese but more research is required as studies have been unreliable.

Slimming Teas

Good for: Having a warm drink when its cold.

These herbal teas contain various ingredients such as natural diuretics or laxatives (dandelion and aloe vera) which help clear waste/ water from your body, not fat. They may also contain caffeine or green tea which have metabolism boosting properties but not enough to change your rate of fat burn.

Are they worth it?: NO.

Everyday supplements

These are supplements that may help with general health and wellbeing, especially if you have a deficiency.

Multi Vitamins

Good for: Getting those Vitamins and Minerals in that you might find hard to get from your food.

Multi vitamins are pretty self explanatory. They are pills that contain a variety of vitamins and minerals in different amounts to protect against deficiencies.

Don’t think you can just go and take a pill or two each day and forget about eating vegetables.

This is NOT the case at all!

You are far better off getting your vitamins and minerals from plant and animal products because they also contain other beneficial nutrients to health (phytonutrients and zoonutrients) which are not contained in a Multi -V pill.

Is it worth it?: If you can’t get enough from diet alone then yes. Get your blood work done to find out if this is you because you don’t want to take any vitamins in excess either!

Fish Oil

Good for: General Health!

Fish oil contains two of the essential fatty acids- the Omega 3s, EHA and DHA (eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexanoic acid respectively).

It has been shown to improve many markers of health in the human body and reduce symptoms of depression.

Is it worth it?: It can be if you’re deficient or don’t eat much fish.

Vitamin D3

Good for: Reducing your chance of getting sick.

I remember my final year pathology professor telling me if there was one thing he would be tested for it would be Vitamin D deficiency because he strongly believed it was crucial for preventing the onset of many diseases. Research so far shows that Vitamin D deficiency is a risk factor for cancer, autoimmune disease and osteoporosis.

Vitamin D mostly comes from exposure to sunlight- but not through windows! It is also found in some foods like fatty fish, beef and eggs as well as fortified foods like cereals and dairy products. 

Is it worth it?: If you don’t get enough sun in daily life then yes!

Training supplements

These are supplements which may help you squat like a boss…. in other words they may assist your training performance and recovery from your workouts. 

Creatine Monohydrate

Good for: Muscular strength and power

Creatine is produced in the body naturally and is involved in the energy system responsible for powering the first 10 seconds of activity. Creatine Monohydrate (the most common type of Creatine) is one of the most researched supplements and has been shown to be effective for enhancing strength and power.

Is it worth it?: Yes. If you are doing a lot of strength or power work and want to aid your performance.


Good for: Muscular endurance

Beta-alanine is an amino acid which combines with another amino acid, Histidine, to make Carnosine.

There is lots of Carnosine in your skeletal muscle. It buffers acidity levels which can help to improve training performance that lasts for more than 60 seconds.

Is it worth it?: If you are doing a lots of high rep work (15-20 reps), or if you are performing continuous effort work for more than 60 seconds such as High Intensity Cardio (think sprinting or rowing) then it might help you.

BCAAs (Branched Chain Amino Acids)

Good for: Adding flavour to your water.

BCAAs are three of the amino acids that benefit muscle growth. They are found in normal food like meat and eggs as well as in protein powders.

Many people still believe that BCAAs help with improving resistance training performance and endurance during training. However there is little scientific evidence for this. Studies show that they may be effective in reducing markers of muscle damage more than just water, but you can get the same effect by making sure you have some food or a scoop of whey protein powder before training.

Is it worth it?: No. If you are eating enough protein and calories in general, you won’t get much benefit from BCAAs.

Protein Powder

Good for: Adding protein to your diet.

Whey protein powder is made from milk and is usually sold as either whey protein concentrate or whey protein isolate.

Whey protein isolate has a higher percentage of protein (usually 90% or more) and is more expensive than whey protein concentrate which has more fat and carbs (lactose). Many people use whey protein immediately after a workout to help promote muscle gain and minimise breakdown. Protein from food can do this too but sometimes it might not be possible to eat a meal after a workout.

Casein protein powder is also made from milk. It is digested much more slowly than whey protein and for this reason is often taken before bed.

There are a bunch of vegan protein powders on the market now too which are commonly made from pea protein, rice protein or soy. Whey protein contains all the essential amino acids needed by the body whereas some plant based proteins do not.

Is it worth it?: Yes. If you struggle to get enough protein in your diet from food or if you want a convenient source of protein post-workout, or at other times where it might be hard to get protein from food (for example if you’re travelling).

Citrulline Malate

Good for: Energy production and waste removal during training.

Citrulline malate is often used as a key ingredient in pre-workout supplements. It aids in muscular endurance and recovery between sets as well as assisting with waste removal during training. There are two components; Citrulline and Malic Acid (Malate).

Citrulline is an amino acid involved in the biochemical pathway for NO (nitric oxide) production. It leads to blood vessel dilation, which helps to increase blood flow to working muscles. This results in greater endurance, stamina and a greater muscle pump (temporary increase in size of muscle). 

Muscle pump isn’t just an ego booster. Increased blood flow helps to deliver nutrients to fuel muscle contraction and increases cell volume which stimulates protein synthesis so the muscle can grow.

Watermelon and other foods such as dark chocolate, pomegranate and beetroot contain citrulline naturally.

Malate reduces the rate at which lactic acid accumulates and may help reduce muscle fatigue. It also enhances energy production. It can be found naturally in fruits like apples.

Is it worth it?: Maybe. If you already have your diet and training on point and are doing prolonged training.


Good for: Reducing tiredness and enhancing physical strength/ endurance

Caffeine is the ingredient in most pre-workout supplements that gives them their effect.

It is a stimulant which causes alertness and wakefulness by preventing adenosine from attaching to its receptors in the brain. The effects vary from person to person due to genetics and also how frequently you drink coffee.

Is it worth it?: If you enjoy coffee then yes it definitely is! If not then caffeine in pre-workouts may be worth it especially on those days where you need a bit of a boost.


One last point on supplements: just because a research study showed that a particular supplement had an effect in THAT study, this DOES NOT mean it will have a significant effect to show any MEASURABLE change in YOU. Often the dosages used in these studies are very different to what is actually provided in real life!

Ps. For an even more comprehensive list of supplements see “Essentials of Sports Nutrition and Supplements” by Jose Antonio and co. I also recommend checking out to search for any particular supplements that have not been mentioned.