Supplemental Learning

supplements(Editor’s Note: Steve Edwards is the Director of Results and Fitness Advisor for Beachbody. The article below first appeared in his blog, The Straight Dope, on January 31, 2012 and is reprinted here with his permission.)

I was answering these the other day for staff training and thought they’d make a helpful post for everyone. Basically they are questions we get from most of our customers in some alliteration about taking supplements of any kind. I have no idea who actually compiled these questions but I’ve heard them all many times.

1. what should I consume before a workout?
Nothing, hopefully, but there are times when eating something makes sense. Basically, if your diet is good then you have an empty stomach and fully tapped glycogen stores that will last for 1-1.5 or so hours of hard training. However, there are many scenarios (dieting, too busy to eat, etc…) that mean you should eat prior to training. When this is the case, nutrition follows the post-nutrition protocol in that glycogen-store replenishment supersedes all other factors, meaning mainly carbs, a little protein, very little fat, and a solid electrolyte profile.

2. Can I take my supplements after 6pm?supplement timeTime is irrelevant because we all have different schedules and each supplement has different parameters for its usage. In general, supplements are either meant to be 1) taken with food 2) taken in the morning on an empty stomach 3) taken before bed on an empty stomach 4) taken pre-workout 5) during workouts, especially long ones 6) taken post workout. Of course this is all dependent on what it is, but those are pretty much the only nutritional windows we have to consider.

3. Will creatine make me fat?
Creatine has nothing at all to do with getting fat. It works in your Kreb’s cycle, improving anaerobic endurance by allowing your cells to store more phosphocreatine. When you take creatine, you store more water to add volume to your cells and that adds a little bit of weight, but this disappears when you stop taking it. It’s never stored as adipose tissue (body fat), only as water to allow your body to perform better. However, even a slight bit of extra weight can matter, so those in, say, gravity-dependent sports will want to monitor their creatine usage.

4. I heard chocolate milk is good to consume after a workout, is this true?chocolate milk
In ONE study, chocolate milk outperformed Gatorade (or something similar that was a carb-only electrolyte supplement) and the dairy industry has made a big play out of it. It does come close to a 4-to-1 carb-to-protein ratio so it’s more appropriate than many options, but won’t perform nearly as well as specialty formulated post-workout recovery supps.

5. Can I drink too much water and is it possible to dilute my supplements, thereby minimizing their effectiveness?
You could theoretically do this but it’s not particularly likely, unless you’re exercising all day long where water can dilute your electrolyte balance and create a potentially lethal condition called hyponatremia.

6. Can i eat and take my supplements at the same time?
Depends on what you are taking. This is almost always addressed on the label. As a general rule, vitamins are best taken with a meal and everything else is situational.

7. Is there anything I can take to reduce my soreness after exercise?
The best thing, by far, is a post-exercise recovery supplement because quick glycogen replenishment is the most vital factor for minimizing muscle soreness.

8. My joints hurt after lifting heavy weights. Is there any supplement I can take to make this go away?
Not really. Fish oil and other omega-3 supplements can help with inflammation but post-exercise pain in a joint, unless you have a chronic condition, is due to something more akin to an injury. Regular omega-3 supplementation can minimize the risk of such conditions to some degree and is almost always encouraged, especially for people on acidic, high-protein diets.

9. How much protein do I need each day?
Daily protein intake is not nearly so important as how much you get each meal. Studies continually support the fact that large amounts of protein cannot be digested at one time, meaning that it’s important to have some protein each time you eat for best results. No consensus has been reached to upper limits as there are many factors that affect digestion, but somewhere around 30 grams seems to be the range almost anyone can use. Therefore, we like to recommend that all meals and snacks contain somewhere in the 30 gram range as a maximum for efficient protein utilization.

10. Is it bad to eat fat in my diet?water stock
No. In fact you’ll die without it. There are only three macronutrients and they are all equally important for proper function and performance. Fat is every bit as vital to your diet as protein and carbohydrates, which is probably why most foods found in nature have some of each.

11. If I miss my window of consumption post exercise, should i still drink my recovery drink?
Basically yes, but it depends by how much you’ve missed the one-hour window and what else you’ve eaten. When you are low on glycogen you need to replenish it if you’ve recently exercised. When you don’t exercise, the template changes, but after hard exercise you need to replenish your glycogen stores. Your body will do this with any food it gets but it’s much slower if you use the wrong macronutrient ratio. So if you’ve eaten after your workout, a recovery formulation won’t help much, but if you haven’t it will, even if it’s been more than an hour or two or three.

 Photos above from

Steve EdwardsBio from

A nationally recognized fitness expert, Steve Edwards has overseen fitness and diet program development for Beachbody, as well as its educational outlets, since 2001. Prior to this he was a fitness trainer, fitness columnist, magazine editor, and athletics coach for 14 years. He’s coached and trained thousands of individuals, from the ill and obese to professional athletes. He did his undergraduate work at UCLA and holds advanced certifications in sports conditioning, performance nutrition, fitness therapy, and fitness training. He’s written hundreds of articles about fitness and nutrition that have appeared in more than 30 national publications. He’s also written and directed two films and written two books on rock climbing.

Visit Steve’s blog, The Straight Dope.

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