Affordable Supplements: The Definitive Buyer’s Guide10/09/2016
With the health and fitness industry booming, and our ego-centric need to attain physical perfection at a peak level (the vanity of instagram’s self-proclaimed “fitness models” springs to mind), the plethora of companies vying for your hard-earned cash is vast.
The best part?
All of this adds to the ongoing confusion of what are the most effective and affordable supplements to take.
In a bid to cut through the noise, I’ve strung together a complete no-frills guide that will surely answer your most pressing questions.
What You Will Learn
You will discover almost all aspects of training which can be better maximised from supplements all the while keeping costs to a minimum.
Pre, intra, post-workouts, general recovery and optimisation – You’re covered!
I’ll be taking you through the basics and avoiding all of the fluff with full-proof scientific (apparently) backed claims.
Do you want to know where to begin? What the options are? Or simply what’s worth spending your money on?
Just click the following links to read the section you want more information about: otherwise – sit back, relax and enjoy this supplement bonanza:
Getting ahead of the game: This section will demystify the different types of protein available and what might be the best option for you.
Getting the best out of your workout: Here I’ll take a look into what supplements you can use to maximise your gym session without breaking the bank.
Dropping those pounds: Struggling with weight loss or stubborn belly fat? This section has you covered.
Greater returns on your investment: Discover how you can optimise your health and fitness endeavours in this section
Whey protein is hands down the best go-to affordable supplement due to its relatively inexpensive filtering process (which is passed on to you, the consumer) and its high protein content.
Simply put, whey protein is the liquid part of milk (whey) that is extracted from curd when cheese is made.
As a result, you have a product that is broken down and easily absorbed for rapid repair through the stimulation of muscle-building protein synthesis. Perfect for post-workout.
Commercially, whey comes in three different forms.
Each one will be covered in greater detail to get a better understanding of what the differences are between each.
This is the most basic form of whey to emerge from the filtration process.
Whey concentrate is commonly found in many protein supplement pouches and tubs stacked on the shelves of sports nutrition companies.
Want to know the best part?
It is also the least processed and includes naturally occurring compounds such as lactose and fat (the good kind).
This means that whey concentrate can contain anywhere between 30% – 80% of pure (yes, pure) protein.
For the noobs who may be reading, more protein means more gains!
But here’s the kicker:
Digestibility is a prime disadvantage.
Most of us do not have, or produce enough of, the enzyme lactase to break down the lactose found in whey concentrate which is reduced from the time we were slurping down the boob juice from our mother.
This can lead to feeling bloated and farting like crazy which may prompt you to throw your money at a different form of whey protein.
When whey concentrate is further processed and filtered (known as cross-flow micro-filtration), it is converted into what is known as ‘whey isolate’.
The bottom line?
Fat, cholesterol and lactose from the protein is removed which leaves a much ‘purer’ form compared to concentrate, constituting to roughly 90% of protein by weight.
That’s not all…
Whey isolate is also one of the most fast-absorbing forms of whey protein and is primarily a better option for those who may be lactose intolerant.
The downside is that it is generally more expensive than whey concentrate due to the additional manufacturing process.
Unlike whey concentrate and isolate which are proteins that are intact, whey hydrolysate has been partially broken down (hydrolysed) through exposure to heat.
Why does this matter?
The broken amino acid bonds from the protein can now be enzymatically pre-digested which means an even faster absorption rate (compared to isolate).
Because whey hyrdolysate has been, well, hydrolysed it has a slightly bitter taste but is a small price to pay for rapid muscular repair.
So why not just have whey hydrolysate compared to others?
The answer: cost
The intense manufacturing of whey hydrolysate mean it is the most expensive form of whey protein.
It is void of any nutrients found in concentrate which means there are far less additional health benefits to reap.
Casein is essentially whey protein’s polar opposite.
Unlike whey which is generally considered a ‘fast-digesting’ protein, casein is a slow digesting protein.
You might be wondering:
Why would I purchase a slow digesting protein compared to a faster one?
Well, it comes down to timing.
You see, casein stimulates the release of muscle-friendly amino acids in the body over a longer period of time. This helps to keep you in an anabolic (muscle growing) state compared to being catabolic.
Thus, casein is very beneficial before bed or even as a meal replacement for a constant supply of protein throughout the day.
Be warned: this stuff is thick, gooey and messy but is still one of the most affordable supplements around.
An old-school classic for any serious lifter.
Chugging back raw eggs will make you grow more chest hair and have you sparring with dead animal parts in a butcher shop freezer.
Kidding aside, while egg albumin won’t turn you into Rocky Balboa, it is a real lean source of protein which is a staple for all muscle-building diets.
Once again, for those noobs who are reading, egg albumin is the protein sourced from the white bit of eggs (where the yolk is avoided due to the cholesterol and fat).
How can you actually use this?
Egg whites can be found in either liquid or powder form from any decent sports nutrition retailer.
It can be consumed by whipping up an omlette, scrambling eggs or added to your normal protein shake.
Accessible, convenient and certainly one of the best affordable supplements.
One for the vegetarians, soy protein has good mixability and digestability.
The best part?
Soy protein does not cause any bloating or gas which is commonly experienced in whey consumption.
With anything in nutrition, soy protein is a controversial topic with strong arguments on both sides for it being a beneficial source of protein or a cause for concern.
The biggest observation is that it supposedly lowers testosterone levels due to its isoflavones producing endocrine disruptors that hinder hormone pathways.
Whilst this a big “no no” in bodybuilding, there are a lack of studies confirming this with soy purporting to show the opposite.
Classic science or what?
Aside from the conflicting sides of soy, there is no disputing its affordability and effectiveness with as much as 36 – 40% of pure protein to glean from a soy bean alone!
Another one for grass lovers.
Hemp protein isn’t one of the most affordable supplements you’ll come across (don’t rule it out just yet) but it is very effective.
Hemp protein comes from the hemp plant which is part of the cannabis family.
This means you can get both jacked and high at the same time.
What’s the real story?
While you would need to smoke a blunt the size of a lamp post to get high off hemp, hemp contains essential proteins and fats that offer great health benefits.
Hemp protein contains all 9 essential amino acids the body cannot produce which means your muscles will have the right fuel for optimal growth.
We’re not through yet:
Hemp is also a rich source of vital vitamins and minerals including magnesium, iron and zinc and is also known to require less pesticides for growth which means a more organic source of protein.
1 scoop of this bad boy will provide roughly 15g of protein.
Although this is not as much as other affordable supplements you can find on the market, the added health benefits definitely make hemp protein a great fitness aid.
There are few foods that are as mundane as brown rice.
It can be difficult to summon up the enthusiasm to eat brown rice day in day out without either: going insane and going even more insane.
Having said that, any serious lifter eats for gains rather than taste right?
Lo and behold the next affordable supplement: brown rice protein.
Here’s the deal:
Like whey protein, brown rice goes through a filtration and enzymatic process which isolates both the protein and fibre from the whole rice grain.
This leaves the whole grain rice sprouted which is then used to be further broken down into an easy-to-digest powder.
What’s the bottom line?
A premium grade source of protein which boasts over 80% of protein by weight with a complete amino-acid profile (similar to that of hemp).
It gets better:
Brown rice protein is hypoallergenic and is a great protein supplement for anyone with allergies to dairy, wheat, eggs, gluten and soy. Luvvly jubbly!
With the basics covered off, it’s time to take a closer look at those affordable supplements which will help you perform better:
You’ve probably heard all about this supplement from gym-bros heaping praise that creatine ‘makes you wedger than a potato’ or ‘shredded like shredded wheat’.
What’s even more laughable is that taking this stuff is deemed as ‘unnatural’, often compared to taking steroids or snorting coke. Complete bull.
Whilst creatine is nothing revolutionary, it does, however, work.
Let me explain:
Creatine acts as an energy reserve for your muscles.
The more you have of it stored in your muscles, the more ‘energy’ your muscles will have to work through fatigue to better optimise your workouts and increase intensity.
It is produced in small doses in the body and can be found naturally in red meat and fish.
What’s more, creatine is the most researched supplement in the sports nutrition industry and has been shown to increase your one rep max, bolster strength endurance and improve your recovery rate.
Hands down, creatine is a must if you are looking to make more gains.
You’d be hard-pressed not to purchase high quality creatine monohydrate with prices starting at around five quid.
Commonly known as Branched Chain Amino Acids, BCAAs are made up of three essential amino acids – leucine, isoleucine and valine.
Amino acids prevent the breakdown of muscle tissue and stimulate protein synthesis so taking them during and after a workout is an absolute no-brainer!
But there’s a catch.
Contrary to popular belief, you do not need to be taking BCAAs as a single supplement when starting out.
The idea of taking every protein-based supplement under the sun can be attributed to sports companies who’d love nothing more to part you from your hard-earned cash!
Simply getting sufficient protein in your diet will result in enough amino acids to be used for muscular repair and growth.
One thing to note is that the amino acid dosage tends to vary between pills and powders.
So, although it is an affordable supplement, be sure you know what you are getting per serving.
Otherwise, you can kiss your money goodbye!
Much like BCAAs, Glutamine minimises the breakdown of muscle tissue and enhances protein metabolism.
But wait – there’s more:
Glutamine is an anti-catabolism supplement and is the richest amino acid found in the body.
It has also been shown to naturally fuel the immune system and elevate levels of HGH (Human Growth Hormone).
High levels of this stuff helps to improve fat composition and aid new muscle growth.
It is little wonder why this supplement alone can be found in all pro-bodybuilders cupboards.
As if that wasn’t enough…
Glutamine is one of the top affordable supplements for post-recovery and optimal performance.
Can’t live with it, can’t live without it.
With pre-workout stimulants flooding the market like cocaine from a Columbian drug lord – few, if any, pale in comparison to caffeine.
Why is this so?
Unlike all of the designer stimulants available, caffeine is a well-researched compound.
And if you ask me, I prefer things that will give me a kick to be generally known.
Caffeine works by stimulating neurotransmitters in the brain which blocks a chemical called adenosine.
Adenosine is responsible for making you feel lethargic or tired and by blocking it, helps to enhance your mental and physical alertness.
By stimulating the central nervous system (CNS) in this way, caffeine increases your pain threshold allowing you to pump out those additional few repetitions and go the extra mile in the gym.
It is also extremely cheap and can easily be consumed from a warm brew of coffee or bought as an affordable supplement in either powder form or capsules.
Either way, caffeine really works and has been clinically trialed in athletes for donkeys years so you’d be missing a big opportunity to get the most out of your workout without it.
The biggest drawback with caffeine (as with all stimulants) is intolerance.
Be sure to avoid a high dosage and taking it at night, otherwise you may want to consider selling your bed on eBay.
Affordable supplements for weight loss
So you’ve got your protein sorted and your pre-workout formula at hand, but what about burning off that stubborn belly fat?
Keep reading and you’ll find out…
Used for centuries in Far East Asia, green tea has stood the test of time as a cure against most modern day diseases.
If you are looking to shed a few pounds, one or two cups of green tea a day is definitely a step in the right direction.
Green tea is packed full of potent antioxidants and substances (more specifically, catechins) that boosts the metabolism.
This means that the body can use more compounds as fuel where green tea has been shown to promote more of the favourable “fat burning” hormones.
Green tea extract is also one of the most affordable supplements you can buy for weight loss and should form an integral part of any fitness programme.
But be warned:
Green tea is a mild stimulate and diuretic with caffeine present.
Although it does not contain as much as a cup of coffee, it is best to avoid drinking green tea in the evenings if you do not want to stay up pissing all night.
CLA is an essential omega-6 fatty acid found in foods such as meat and dairy.
OK, I know what you’re probably thinking:
Why is this important for weight loss?
Well, numerous animal studies have shown that CLA consumption from these food sources has a beneficial effect on fat oxidation (the breakdown of fat in fat cells).
Over time, a high intake of CLA is believed to improve lean muscle composition and aid the fat burning process.
However while CLA may be one of the most comprehensively studied weight loss supplements around, the science surrounding it is slightly hazy.
Needless to say, CLA is a good addition to your diet if you are on a cut and looking to maintain muscle mass.
So how do you supplement with CLA?
CLA is typically found in a soft gel form which can be taken as part of a meal up to 3 times daily.
The convenience of it means you don’t have to find the right time of day to take it. Just chug it back with a glass of water around your meal.
Or even better, it comes without all of the additional calories if you were to consume it from whole foods and is also dirt cheap!
How can you resist?
What if you could get maximum returns on your health and fitness pursuits by taking one supplement?
Or if you could compensate (within reason) what you may be lacking from your usual routine diet?
Now you can with a high-quality multivitamin supplement.
Let me guess:
Maybe you think multivitamins are for those over 60 somethings whose joints are on the verge of rupturing before they even step out for a spot of intense gardening.
The fact is, even if you are the cleanest eater on earth, you still may not be getting in the right amount of nutrients to hit your goals.
Why do I say this?
Farming, agricultural and food processing methods have changed so dramatically over the years that it is almost impossible to reach an optimal intake of micronutrients – even from organic sources.
Fortunately, multivitamins are some of the most affordable supplements on the market which you can find in most drug stores on the high street and from online supplement providers.
Want to know a secret?
Those very basic multivitamins you may find, however, are not always true to their labels.
In fact, their doses of vitamins and minerals are usually so skewed (often lower) you may have to be popping them at least 5 – 6 times a day to get anywhere near a decent intake.
But even then, you could be over doing it.
So if you’re happy with your significant other checking you into rehab – keep on trucking.
The starting point of any multivitamin supplement programme is to ensure it contains the bare necessities of making some high-quality gains.
Zinc is a key compound that can be found in many enzymes in the body which is used for hormone production (testosterone for men), growth and repair and for improved immunity.
But that’s not all:
Zinc also has great anabolic benefits as it is used widely in protein synthesis and many other metabolic processes that benefits getting bigger, trimming down and improving stamina.
To reap these rewards, be on the lookout for a multivitamin that contains anywhere between 10mg – 30mg.
Vitamin C has long been endorsed as a cure for the common cold and for boosting the immune system.
Whilst it may have some beneficial effect on these, the evidence is not conclusive as a synergy of antioxidants is needed due to the complex biochemical mechanisms of the body.
But stay with me:
Vitamin C has been shown to reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol in our bodies.
As you may or may not know, stress is counterproductive for gains since it is catabolic and causes muscle breakdown.
So what does this mean?
Get as much Vitamin C as possible.
B-complex vitamins play a key role in converting food to fuel to support healthy energy production and to the maintenance of the nervous system.
They are water soluble meaning they cannot be stored by the body and must be consumed daily if you are to make the most of your time spent in the gym.
Here’s the thing:
Provided you are getting sufficient nutrients from a well-balanced diet, you do not need a high dosage of B-complex vitamins as it can be found in most foods such as fruit and vegetables, wholegrains and poultry.
Selenium is a common trace mineral that is usually missing from standard multivitamins.
It shouldn’t be consumed in large quantities as it may result in toxic build-up but reasonable levels of selenium can help prevent cellular damage, reduce the risk of arthritis and contribute to overall well-being.
Picking weights up and putting them back down again, hill sprints, mountain climbers and combat sports… it all takes a toll.
Be sure you are getting enough of selenium particularly in conjunction with Vitamin E for maximum rewards.
Putting it all together
So there you have it.
You now have a better idea about the different sources of affordable supplements available to you.
Either way, if you’re able to see past the hype – this stuff is not rocket science at all.
You can’t out-supplement a poor lifestyle.
Your diet and training should always be a prime focus with supplementation remaining just that:
Supplementing what you are already doing.
Always keep it simple and supplement what you feel might better optimise your performance.
Shopping around and reading the nutritional label is key to know where you can get the best value in price and content.
Know of any other affordable supplements worth making this list?
Have you seen any noticeable results?
Have any further questions?
Hit up the comments section below!
Joseph is the Founder and Editor in Chief of CheckMeowt. When he is not sat at the computer guzzling down the nearest thing with protein in it, he can be found pulling up the world in the gym. Occasionally, he is best described as socially unreliable and easily distracte.