Basic Gym Supplements to help start your fitness Journey!

Basic Gym Supplements to help start your fitness Journey!

LIVE Instagram Session with Juanita Khumalo

Knowing which gym supplements to take and buy can be really confusing and a daunting experience considering the number of options there are in the market. The main question is, are gym supplements really necessary and do they really work? I’ve used gym supplements pretty much since I started my fitness journey and I personally swear by them because of how I have seen them boost my fitness performance and how they have helped me reach my fitness goals and transform my body. However, what works for me may be different for you and we won’t all respond to supplements the same way. Can pregnant women take supplements? Do your hormones impact how supplements work? There are a number of other factors to consider before investing in supplements and all these are answered below. I sat down with Stephan DT, a clinical performance nutritionist, international weight loss, athlete and bodybuilding coach to unpack what gym supplements are, what to use and what they do. I hope you find the below insightful and that it helps you in your decision making if you are contemplating incorporating supplements in your fitness journey.

  1. What are the basic supplements which you recommend for a newbie?

Firstly, I would always make sure that your diet itself is nutrient-rich and well balanced, to get all your macronutrients which consist of your healthy protein, carbohydrates and fats. Your micronutrients are your vitamins and minerals. Supplements are not there to replace natural food; they are there to supplement your diet and come in handy when you don’t get around to eating enough of the specific macro or micronutrient.

Anyone starting out can all benefit from the following gym supplements:

  • Omega 3 fatty acids – specifically Salmon/fish oil- flax seed don’t contain enough EPA and DHA which is what we are actually after.
  • Vitamin D3 – is responsible for increased cognition, optimizing immunity, bone health as well as mental wellbeing. These two are the ones I would say most of us are likely lacking in.
  • Creatine – which we will discuss is a good addition for almost everyone
  • Whey Protein in case your diet structure doesn’t have sufficient protein
  • BCAA – helps build muscle, reduces gym fatigue, decreases muscle soreness, and prevents muscle wasting.
  • Pre-workout or a cup of black coffee – Caffeine is one of the ergogenic aids with the most benefits. It then affects the body’s central nervous system. While doing this, there will be less fatigue or pain in the muscles. It can also improve the body’s physical performance when engaging in sports and cut down a person’s mental fatigue.


  1. What are the differences between whey protein, whey protein concentrate, whey protein isolate and whey protein hydrolysate?

Let’s quickly chat about whey itself first, because when I started in fitness many moons back, people had some kind of perception that it is steroids or something sinister, where in fact, if you look at a tub of ice cream or even a tin of baby formula, one of the first listed ingredients is whey. In the process of making cheese, the solid parts of milk and the liquid parts are separated, this liquid part is in fact whey and is a very high-quality protein, and relatively low fat and low carbohydrate fluid. The more we process it and remove what is not just pure protein the more it moves up in your ladder that you mentioned from whey concentrate to whey hydrolysate. Concentration although relatively low in lactose might be a problem to those who have sensitivities, but, if not, it’s the one to choose due to its immunoglobulin content. Isolate is the one to choose if you usually have problems digesting milk, its lower in fat, virtually lactose-free, it digests really fast and absorption is higher, but its more expensive, and due to the triple filtration process, it will have some of the other benefits like the immunoglobulins we mentioned, removed. Hydrolysate is processed once more to be even faster absorbed, its essentially predigested – its quite bitter, but is close to pure amino acids as they come- most people will not need more than a concentrate

  1. When is the right time to take a protein shake?

Interesting question, I don’t think there’s a wrong time, but if you phrased the question like this: “if you had to choose one timeslot a day to have whey, when would that be, I would say in the hour after your workout. Depending on my specific client’s situation, they may find whey in their breakfast, pre and post-workout recommendations. It’s pretty much just a really good source of protein, in a convenient form, with high amounts of leucine and all the other essential aminos necessary to support lean muscle

  1. What is the difference between whey protein vs casein?

As mentioned earlier, whey is the liquid portion of milk, and the curds or solids, is mostly casein, whey is fast and fully digested and is absorbed in under 90min for concentrate, while casein can take up to 5 hours to be fully absorbed. It is a slow release of protein into the system. So, casein would be a better choice at stages where you have more than 6-7 hours gap between meals, for example, a good pre-bedtime protein or if you were observing Ramadan fasting Casein can benefit you with its slower trickle release of amino acids.

  1. Is a pre-workout necessary?

Caffeine is rich in antioxidants and it’s ergogenic (performance-enhancing in most people) that and other benefits like helping you focus and be “all in” can enhance your workout, it’s not necessary though, it’s a relatively new thing and people will spend a fortune on them because of the perceived “feel” it gives you- if you were on a budget, this is the one I would skip especially if you suffer from anxiety or have sleeping issues. Rather drink your pre-workout before midday.

  1. What would you consider a good pre-workout?

When I coach a high-level athlete person the whole period pre and post-workout is very carefully considered to enhance the workout, and replenish nutrients used during the workout, and prime the person for recovery, this period is called “pre-workout nutrition” so a good pre-workout would be case dependent on the person, what sport are they participating in, what is their needs state and so on…. But in very simple terms, I would usually say, 3-5mg/kg of caffeine so for ladies that’s around a double espresso, and for men who are a bit heavier than 75kg around 3, and I’d look to do that around an hour before working out, other than that perhaps a neurotransmitter like L-Tyrosine to help you focus- largely the rest would be quite a case dependent, but check out the well-known sports brands, USN, MuscleTech, Biogen, Optimum Nutrition etc – I currently use one made by a smaller company called Novel Nutrition, it really gets me in the zone to train hard and not get distracted.

  1. What is the function of an intra workout? What are BCAAs?

Alright, so in most cases, going to lift weights as someone with less than 5 years training history, I can’t really see much of a need for this, IF you were a long-distance cyclist then this becomes more important, and I would opt for a newer generation product called an EAA, which contains your BCAA’s leucine valine and isoleucine as well as the rest of the essential 9 aminos combined with an appropriate fuel source, we have different energy systems, so in a long 5-hour bike race, you would likely supplement with glucose first, then a combination of fructose and glucose and lastly with a fat source that can be converted into energy fast like MCT. For the average gym-goer, it’s not essential, for an advanced bodybuilder who would need to train longer and do more sets, something like maltodextrin or cyclic dextrin with some EAAs could help mentally and maybe in a small way physiologically to optimize a workout. One could make the case that it could be viewed as recovery nutrition being supplied at the earliest possible stage.

  1. The role of L-Glutamine? Which foods contain Glutamine

Largely overstated, it is indeed one of the most abundant aminos naturally produced in our bodies, but it only becomes an essential amino in cases of severe skin burns or actual injury, most of the time your body can make its own glutamine out of other amino acids. It’s not a miracle recovery supplement as its touted – the only case dependent applications I can think of offhand quickly is, if you have bad IBS or dysbiosis in your intestines, glutamine could feed your epithelial cells lining your gut- and in a Harvard study, it appeared that glutamine supplementation could help reduce sweet cravings somewhat It’s something I would only really useful as an insurance policy if a budget was of no concern to me, or if I’ve tried almost all remedies and my digestive systems give me issues.

  1. What is creatine?

Creatine has a bit of steroid stigma, mostly because it became known to the public due to rugby players and bodybuilders raving about it in the late 90s, it was discovered in the 1832 and became very popular after the 92 Olympic games when many athletes confessed supplementing with it. If I can try describing it as simply as possible… inside cells, it uses a very specific fuel source called ATP, once this fuel source is used, it becomes a less potent fuel called ADP, creatine simply donates a molecule back to this fuel to recycle it to be used again. A simple analogy would be like a turbocharger in a car, where it helps to enhance energy efficiency usage.

  1. What are the benefits of taking creatine?

What does this do? It helps all cells to perform better and with easier access to energy, so enhanced cognition and memory, better lifts in the gym, faster energy recovery, better endurance, enhanced peak power for strength athletes, if you don’t have kidney disease, it is likely a benefit to you in some form. Buy the cheapest version called Creatine monohydrate

  1. What are the cons of taking creatine?

If you were a fighter or competed in a sport with a weight class, it could add a little bit of water weight to your frame (good weight- so for the rest of us, this is not a problem)

  1. What supplements do you recommend for muscle building?

Vit D, Omegas, Creatine, Calorie surplus, possibly L Carnitine to help you maintain better body composition while eating more than you need

  1. What supplements do you best recommend for cutting/shredding?

Vit D, Omegas, Creatine, Calorie deficit, possibly Caffeine or periodic stimulant when you get lethargic

  1. Do supplements affect a woman’s hormones?

Affect in a negative way, perhaps but not likely, it is also case dependent, Sex hormones like Estrogen/ Progesterone and the tiny bit of testosterone a woman produces is much more likely to be negatively impacted by poor sleep and poor diet and alcohol use and smoking as well as underlying conditions like insulin resistance or polycystic ovaries

  1. Can pregnant women take gym supplements?

The correct answer would be that you should follow label instructions which in most cases will say “don’t use while pregnant or lactating” this is not necessarily because it could be harmful but simply because it in most cases can’t be tested on pregnant ladies due to ethics, I would say stick to the label claims, nutrition professional like myself cannot override a gynie or obstetricians advice, listen to them first, and rather listen to labels. In my personal capacity, I can’t think of any reason why whey itself would be negative if you have absolute certainty the ingredients are just pure whey and not any other sinister things, there have been scattered cases during the past 30 years where there were harmful anabolic present in some protein powders, so better safe than sorry. Caffeine for example would also be a very bad idea as it will likely affect birth weight and size


Interview conducted by Juanita Khumalo and Stephan du Toit – Clinical Performance Specialist, International Weight Loss, Athlete and Bodybuilding Coach

IG – @stephandt


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