By Samuel McCue
With my days of serving on active duty in the Marine Corps as an Infantry Unit Leader behind me, the need to be prepared for the rigors of combat and extended training evolutions are long gone. These days my competitive fire is fueled by competing in regional CrossFit competitions and preparing for future Olympic weightlifting meets. As a coach, I also test many of the workouts and programs before my athletes suffer through them under my supervision. However, my supplements of choice are few despite high volumes of training during certain times of the year.
Like most individuals, I got my start by hitting the weight room looking to gain muscle and throw around as much weight as possible. With that said, I definitely tried my fair share of protein powders. The one that I continually went back to and currently use is BSN Syntha-6. My reasoning for selecting this protein is that it contains a blend of proteins (Whey Protein Concentrate, Whey Protein Isolate, Calcium Caseinate, Micellar Casein, Milk Protein Isolate, Egg Albumin, And Glutamine Peptides). Additionally, it contains 200 calories per servings, which come from additional fat and carbohydrates, that helps to fuel longer sessions and higher volumes of training. I also limit my intake to one serving post workout, which amounts to 22 grams of protein. Any more than that is unnecessary given how much I typically eat throughout the day.
For the longest time I struggled to put on muscle and weight. I stayed extremely lean never really pushed past 170 or 175 pounds on my 5 foot 8 inch frame. By most standards I was a hard gainer in this sense. After discussing this issue with a trusted training partner we came to the realization that I needed to consume more carbohydrates rather than eating copious amounts of protein to put on weight. While my goals have since shifted, the added carbohydrates I consume now allow me to refuel glycogen stores, which I deplete during multiple work capacity sessions throughout the day that dig into the glycolytic energy system. For this I use NOW Carbo Gain I mix one serving with a scoop of protein that amounts to an added 63 grams of carbohydrates derived from maltodextrin. This not only allows me to fuel my workouts, but maintain my body weight at approximately 185 pounds despite intense training cycles.
Amino acids are nothing more than the building blocks for proteins. However, given my daily eating habits and the aforementioned supplements I take, I typically only include this supplement occasionally. While the recommendations from companies for this supplement can range anywhere from pre-, intra-, or post- workout depending on the company, I typically consume one serving of this prior to extended training sessions (90-120 minute sessions). This assists in the muscle repair during the workout instead of waiting until the end of a session to consume a shake that would likely upset my stomach during the rigors of training. For this I use BSN AminoX and simply mix it with water.
Easily the most controversial legal supplement on the market. Many of my past college courses have involved research on ergogenic aids, and creatine is no exception. I typically consume 5 grams of Optimum Nutrition Creatine Monohydrate post workout during one workout a day, however, during high volume cycles where I train in excess of three times a day, I will often consume an additional 5 grams during a second session. While most individuals following our programming won’t experience the type of training volume I suffer through, I would personally recommend the supplement for those that endure longer work-related training evolutions. Additionally, I don’t cycle creatine despite the gym myths that you should.
On that note, creatine is a naturally occurring compound produced by your body and found in red meats. It is also a catalyst that assists in fueling the ATP/Phoshogen energy system. Much research has been done that shows no negative impact on markers of kidney and liver function, and multiple studies show that it does not increase the risk of muscle cramps or injuries. (1) Despite popular brand recommendations, there is no need to consume excess amounts (15-25 grams per day) for a loading phase when initially taking it. Like most supplements, your body uses what it needs and ditches the rest. Given these factors, there is no need to cycle creatine, as the idea initially circulated since many thought it was equivalent to taking anabolic steroids, where the off cycles allowed the body to return to normal hormonal levels. Given that there is also no effect on the endocrine system, cycling is unnecessary if you keep your daily dosage to 3 to 5 grams.
I also typically take 3-6mg of Optimum Nutrition Melatonin to help ensure I take advantage of a full night’s sleep and improve sleep quality. Anymore than this dosage will make it difficult to wake up, even on a full eight hours of sleep. For those that have unusual sleep cycles due to deployments or demanding work cycles that consist of responding to calls at any time of the day, such as Fire/Rescue or LE athletes on call, I would not readily recommend taking this product for fear of it affecting focus during operations on limited notice.
After it’s all said and done I typically consume three shakes a day consisting of the protein and carbohydrates I previously mentioned. With that I normally consume my first shake within thirty minutes of waking up, a second following my most intense training session during the day, and a third prior to heading to bed.
The first shake is simply due to the fact that I am not a huge breakfast person and life typically gets in the way (getting the kids ready for school, dropping them off, or sometimes coaching duties). Even during high volume training cycles I will typically only take one post workout shake during the day, and if my programming calls for multiple sessions, I try to time them so that I can eat a solid meal 30 to 45 minutes post-workout. My last shake is to ensure adequate recovery during sleep cycles.
The biggest complaint I have from athletes that train early in the morning is that they often lack the energy to sustain themselves throughout the workout, see quality results, and/or that they feel tired throughout the day. Looking closely at the issue, many of these athletes eat their last meal of the day around 6:00pm, head to bed at a reasonable time, and wake up before 5:00am to train without eating breakfast. At that point they are trying to survive off their last meal almost 12 hours prior. This can be detrimental to training, especially Military/LE/FR athletes that might endure similar scenarios due to job related demands.
In all this amounts to me spending approximately $90 each month on supplements, but as I said previously, this can be substantially less during less demanding training cycles. Here is an example of what my typical training and daily diet regimen resembles:
- 6:30am – Wake-Up
- 7:00am – Protein/Carbohydrate Shake
- 10:00am – Late Breakfast – 2 eggs, 3 strips of bacon, cheese, and toast.
- 12:00pm – Training Session #1
- 1:00pm – Post Workout Protein/Carbohydrate/Creatine Shake
- 3:00pm – Late Lunch – Peanut Butter/Jelly Sandwich and Fruit, or Leftovers.
- 6:00pm – Dinner – Whatever my Wife has on the Menu (typically a good balance of white or red meat, rice, potatoes, or pasta, and vegetables)
- 8:00pm – Training Session #2
- 9:00pm – Post Workout Protein/Carbohydrate Shake
- 10:00pm – Sleep
While I rarely, if ever, consume pre-workout supplements, I would be lying if I didn’t say that I drink my fair share of energy drinks and/or coffee. I don’t try to time these prior to workouts, but the effects are still there nonetheless. I also don’t readily abide by scheduled cheat days or follow restrictive diets that limit macronutrient intake. I simply don’t have the will power, and I enjoy baked goods entirely way to much to sacrifice them.
Developing Your Own Diet
As far as following a specific diet protocol, or counting blocks and calories, there is a time and place for it, and certain individuals may require it for extenuating health reasons. For those that live an active lifestyle or work in Military/LE/FR fields, it is typically unrealistic to meet the diet requirements, let alone track them throughout a days worth of activity or job demands. With that said, eat as healthy as possible, supplement when necessary, and get quality sleep. Easier said than done, but don’t become overly reliant on a diet when your schedule or training evolution might not allow for numerous food options or timed meals.
In closing, it is best to evaluate the necessity of supplements based on your own individual training program, job demands, and body type. Someone who might be considered overweight does not need additional carbohydrates, and someone who actively participates in endurance events likely doesn’t need creatine since they are relying on the aerobic/oxidative energy system to fuel their training. In many instances less is also more, despite label recommendations, and it will also save you money in the long run. It is also important to add or detract components of your diet or supplements incrementally. Suddenly throwing each of the supplements I mentioned into your diet will not likely sit well with your digestive system, and it will be difficult to gauge their respective effectiveness. Lastly, supplements should merely assist you in achieving your fitness/work related goals and not be a sole means of nutrition throughout the day.
- Sun, C (12 Oct 2014) Everything You Need To Know About Creatine. Retrieved from http://www.crossfitinvictus.com/blog/creatine/.