The right supplements can go a long way in helping you reach your fitness goals—if you use them properly. In my experience researching all-things muscle and fitness, I’ve seen every mistake in the book. Here are the three biggest ones to avoid.
1. More Is Always Better, Right?
The first mistake that people make with sports supplements is thinking that more is always more. And, hey, I totally get the mentality: Many people who train to build muscle or maximize their performance take an all-out approach to making progress, and that can easily blind them to some of the intricacies of supplement dosing.
Take creatine, for example. A lot of bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts think they need to load up on creatine, especially at first. While they’re not completely wrong, research shows that, after a month, you build up about as much creatine just taking three grams a day as you do if you up the dose to 20 grams a day for that first week. Since most people use creatine long-term, aggressively loading up at first isn’t really necessary.
According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition, three to five grams of creatine per day does the job for 99.9 percent of the population. However, we often see bodybuilders who take twice that amount thinking they’ll reap twice the benefits.
I also see this tendency to go overboard with protein supplements. Some people take up to three scoops at a time thinking they need 75 grams of protein after workouts for maximum gains. The research shows, however, that about 20 to 25 grams of whey protein maximizes protein synthesis in most people. While larger, more experienced trainees may benefit from closer to 40 grams of protein post-workout, taking anything beyond that won’t benefit muscle growth.
Generally, research has clearly defined proper intakes for most supplements out there, so taking more than these amounts won’t accomplish much beyond wrecking your wallet.
And remember: Your overall diet and training are still the most important components of progressing towards your goals!
2. Relying Too Much On High-Carb Gainers For Building Muscle
The purpose of mass-gainer supplements is to pack a ton of calories in a single shake to help you gain weight.
If your goal is to gain weight, period, high-carb mass gainers can help. (It’s a struggle many a naturally-skinny dude faces, I get it!) However, if you want to build muscle without gaining a shred of fat, I recommend a different approach.
First off, you need to understand that carbohydrates don’t help build muscle. To build muscle, you need to increase your rate of muscle protein synthesis, your body’s process of creating new muscle proteins. There are two ways to do that—and neither is carbs: resistance training and consuming protein (especially BCAAs, branched-chain amino acids).
Using Your Post-Workout Shake For Max Gains
Studies show that consuming carbohydrates after training doesn’t really do much for increasing muscle protein synthesis. (And eating carbs in addition to protein also doesn’t increase muscle protein synthesis beyond just consuming protein alone.)
Like I mentioned earlier, you need somewhere between 20 to 40 grams of protein after a workout to max out muscle protein synthesis. Getting that protein in should be your number-one priority.
Some experts recommend loading up on carbs after training to spike insulin, the hormone that shuttles nutrients into your muscle cells and supports recovery and muscle-building. While, yes, insulin is important for making gains, studies show that whey protein actually stimulates insulin production to the same degree as white bread (often the gold standard for insulin stimulation).
Though you do want to consume some carbs to replace those you used to power your workout, 50 grams generally does the trick. You don’t need hundreds of grams of carbs after every gym session!
3. Disregarding Protein Timing
The last major sports supplement mistake people often make is overlooking timing—especially when it comes to protein.
Although a recent review deemed protein timing unimportant for gains, many of the studies it analyzed didn’t even assess protein timing.
We really only have one good study on protein timing in people with decent training experience who followed a full-body program. The study revealed clear results: Consuming your protein supplement before and after training is more effective for gains than consuming it at other times of day.
Why? A little thing called the anabolic window. This term refers to the period of time after your workout during which muscle protein synthesis rates increase. We used to think this window was ridiculously tiny—just about 30 minutes long. Though more recent research suggests timing isn’t quite so tight, we’ve also learned that more trained people have a shorter anabolic window than novices. The takeaway: The more experienced you are in the gym, the quicker after working out you need that protein.
Plus, consuming protein ASAP also maximizes your recovery time before your next session.
Ultimately, you can still make gains without staying on-top of your protein timing. It really can make a difference over time, though—especially for gym vets.
The Bottom Line
Your overall diet and training have the most influence over your progress in bodybuilding or resistance training. However, fixing these common supplement mistakes can help you get the most bang for your buck—and efforts!
Known as ‘The Muscle Ph.D.,’ Dr. Jacob Wilson has a knack for transforming challenging, complex concepts into understandable lessons that can support your body composition and health goals. A skeletal muscle physiologist and sports nutrition expert, Wilson is a leader in muscle sports nutrition. As the CEO of The Applied Science & Performance Institute and researches supplementation, nutrition, and their impact on muscle size, strength, and power.