Supplements help fill nutritional gaps in your diet. From macronutrients like protein to micronutrients like a vitamins and minerals, they literally "supplement" the foods you eat. When you're a busy college student with class, work, tuition, and books all competing for your time and resources, the best strategy is to keep it simple and stick with the essentials.
While they'll never replace a great diet and hard training, supplements can help make those efforts more effective. This extra nutritional boost can help you meet your macro targets more easily or maximize recovery between workouts. Those two benefits can mean greater muscle gains and fat loss over time.
Here are a few essentials worth adding to your dorm room or pantry.
If there's one supplementation tip that can support almost any fitness goal, it's this: Consume more protein. It's the only major nutrient that stimulates muscle protein synthesis, the process by which your body repairs and grows muscle. It also helps support healthy fat loss.
Yes, you can simply eat more whole-food protein, such as chicken, eggs, fish, or cottage cheese. But for many reasons—expense, convenience, schedule, you name it—getting enough whole-food protein is hard for most college students. The solution is to eat as much whole-food protein as you can, then add a whey protein shake or two on top of it. One or two scoops per day delivers an extra 25-50 grams of protein, which is especially important on training days.
Protein is a foundational supplement and supports a huge range of goals for both men and women.
A multivitamin supports your overall health and wellness, may boost your energy levels, and can help your muscles recover from your workouts.* Hard-training athletes need more nutrients in their diets, regardless of whether your goal is to lose weight or build muscle! If anything, getting adequate nutrients is even more important when you're burning more calories than you're taking in.
The best time to take a multivitamin is in the morning, but some products will suggest a serving in the morning and at lunch. Always follow the label for maximum results.
Multivitamins fill in micronutrient nutritional gaps to keep your performance at peak levels.
Fish oil and other essential fatty acid supplements are extremely beneficial for overall health and wellness. Essential fats are called "essential" because your body can't produce them on its own, which means they must be obtained from diet or supplements.
Essential omega-3 fats, like those found in fish oil, provide a wide array of health benefits. They may support your fat-loss efforts; support normal, healthy immune function; and support heart, brain, vision, and joint health.*
Omega-3 fatty acids have been studied extensively for their multiple health benefits.
Pre-workouts can help boost energy and performance in the gym. They are available with or without stimulants and typically contain science-backed performance-boosting ingredients like creatine, beta-alanine, caffeine, and nitric oxide boosters to help you feel the "pump" in high-rep workouts. These ingredients can help you train harder and get the most out of every workout.*
Increase endurance, get long-lasting pumps, and fuel your performance with a pre-workout.*
Despite what lifters and athletes told one another once upon a time, you don't have to follow an intensive 1-2 week "loading protocol" to see these benefits. Just 5 grams a day will get you the same benefits over time. But here's the kicker: For creatine to work, you have to take it daily for weeks—or even better, months—at a time.
This natural organic compound improves strength, promotes lean muscle mass, and helps the muscles recover after every workout.*
Made up of three essential amino acids—leucine, isoleucine, and valine—branched-chain amino acids or "BCAAs," promote growth and recovery.* A 2:1:1 ratio delivers more muscle-building leucine.
The best amino acid blends also include electrolytes and other performance and recovery-enhancing ingredients, making them a favorite for lifters to sip during a workout, or any other time of day.
Enhance athletic performance and promote muscle health for optimal recovery.
Having trouble hitting your protein totals, even with a post-workout shake? That's totally normal.
Casein is a slow-digesting protein, meaning it will help your muscles repair and rebuild while you sleep, which is why many lifters like to take it as a shake or pudding before bed.
Casein is also very useful if you are in a calorie deficit trying to drop fat and need to control your late-night hunger. Consider it your muscle-building secret weapon.
Slow-digesting casein protein is the top choice for muscle recovery around the clock.*
Supplement Shopping Guide for Students
1. Look for Sales
Promotions and sales are a great way to stockpile essential supplements. Most supplements are easy to store and won't expire for two years or more.
2. Buy in Bulk
Ten pounds of whey protein will be cheaper per serving than five pounds. If you can afford the initial cost, always buy bulk.
3. Split Servings
If you absolutely have to, you can stretch your supplements by taking half-servings. This isn't typically recommended, since you won't get the intended benefits of a full dose, but it can be a good way to make certain supplements last longer on a tight budget.
4. Do the Work
Never depend on a supplement to go work out. Supplements are important for recovery, growth, and more, but they'll never replace hard work, motivation, and good nutrition.
The Ultimate College Fitness Plan
Designed specifically for students, bodybuilder Steve Cook's 12-week muscle-building plan teaches you how to lift, eat, supplement, and grow, building strong habits for life.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.