supplements 101

Supplements 101: What They Do and Who Should Take Them

Why would you need supplements anyways?

It’s healthier to just eat foods that contain all our body’s essentials, right?

True, but for most people, that’s just plain ridiculous and not realistic.

People have other obligations. Other things to attend to. Other worries… Not everyone has every second to devote to making sure they get every single mineral and vitamin strictly from food sources


If you’re willing to eat 5+ oz. of fish every single day to get the recommended amount of omega-3’s, then by all means!

But sometimes that option isn’t always available to us.

Some people actually have trouble getting in all their daily recommended protein intake. Not everyone can reach 160 grams of protein by eating large amounts of chicken or meats without feeling sick to their stomach.

And that’s ok because that’s why supplements exist: to supplement our diet.

Look, I’m not gonna sit on my high horse here and tell you that you should buy supplements and that my view on supplements is the correct one.

But what I am going to give you is a broad overview of a lot of the supplements out there and let you decide if you’d like to try them since we’re all big boys and girls after all.

For every supplement listed in this blog post, I’ll be explaining its benefits and what its used for, who might benefit from taking this, and I’ll be listing my personal favorite brand that I trust and buy for myself.

Now, there are way too many supplements for me to go over in one single post without boring your brains off so I’ll be listing only the ones that most would say are even worthy of being mentioned.

Whether you know nothing about supplements or you just need to know about a few of them, you’ve come to the right place.

Welcome to Supplements 101 and as always…let’s dive right in!

Protein Powders

Protein Powders. Do you need them? No. Are they amazing? Yes.

I would go as far to say that protein powder is the REAL MVP when it comes to supplements.

It’s the mother of all supplements. The head honcho. El Jefe. The Boss…ok ok I think you get it.

I praise protein powder because it just has so many uses! I mean, have you tried putting some in your oatmeal?!

And I could write a whole article on using protein powder to make shakes.

You see, the great thing about protein powder is that even if you don’t believe in its benefits, a lot of them taste unbelievable (shout out to cookies n cream!).

With that being said…the truth is that you don’t really NEED protein powder when it comes to bodybuilding or fitness. Your body will do just fine by getting protein from whole foods (and you’ll probably stay fuller longer too), but sometimes it can be hard to reach our daily protein goal via whole foods.

And that’s where our good ol’ buddy ol’ pal protein powder comes in.

There are many types of protein powders but in this post, I’ll only be focusing on the top 4 with the highest quality of protein: Whey Concentrate, Whey Isolate, Casein Protein, and Hydrolysate Protein.

These 4 protein types will differ in:

  1. How quickly your body digests and absorbs the protein
  2. The amount of carbs and fats in each serving
  3. Their Price

Whey Concentrate

Whey Concentrate is one of the more popular types of protein and you’ll find that the majority of the protein tubs you see in stores will have Whey Concentrate.

This one is as basic as it gets. But basic isn’t always bad. In this case, I say it’s basic because this type of protein doesn’t digest too slow or too fast.

In a way, it is the “standard” of protein powders and you just can’t go wrong with a good tub of whey concentrate.

Whey concentrate is also one of the more affordable types of protein so if you’re on a budget, this’ll be the best bang for your buck.


Whey Isolate

Whey Isolates tend to digest faster than Whey Concentrate so don’t expect to take a serving and feel full for long.

Whey isolates are generally more expensive too.

So then why the heck would anyone want such a thing? Because Whey Isolate tends to be lower in calories and the companies that produce it manage to lower the calorie amount by lowering the amount of carbs and fats in eat serving.

That’s amazing if you ask me!

The only reason to really take protein powder (as mentioned earlier) is if you need help reaching your daily protein goal or if you just like the taste.

But in general, food tastes better than protein power AND keep you fuller. So if I can save calories and put those towards actual foods just by taking Whey Isolate then sign me up!


Casein Protein

Casein Protein is a slow digesting type of protein. When casein protein mixes with your stomach acid, it forms a gel which slows down digestion and absorption of amino acids into the blood.

It’ll usually take 5 -7 hours to digest Casein so if you’re having trouble reaching your daily protein goal and you’re looking for something that can keep you feeling full as well, Casein is the way to go.

Now, you might hear amongst your friends or on the internet that you should take some Casein at night right before you go to bed so your body will slowly trickle protein to your muscles throughout the night. Thus, your body will be in a state where it can efficiently create muscle (aka being anabolic).

It sounds good on paper and it even makes sense too.

But this is blown way out of proportion and there’s hardly any studies out there saying this is true.

Regardless, don’t worry about it too much because when it comes to having a successful fitness transformation, the type of protein you choose is the LAST thing you need to be worrying about.

Don’t worry about the little things and only get Casein if you want a handy protein source that keeps you fuller. However, if you do end up choosing Casein, just know that it will cost you a bit more and usually you’ll be getting less protein per serving.


Hydrolysate Protein

Hydrolysate protein is the fastest digesting protein of them all and also happens to be the most expensive type as well. It’s the highest quality of protein you can get and allows protein to get quickly absorbed.

Is it worth the price tag? Not necessarily. The absorption rate of protein isn’t correlated with the amount of muscle you’ll gain (or retain if you’re cutting).

In other words, just because you have fast-absorbing protein powder, doesn’t mean your gains will go through the roof. It doesn’t work that way. In fact, you’ll probably see little to no benefits in getting hydrolysate over the other protein types.


Who should take protein powders?

As mentioned above, the only reason you should take protein powder is if

  1. you like its taste or like to put it in your foods
  2. if you need help reaching your daily protein goal

Simple as that. Don’t make it more complicated for yourself.


Personal Protein Powder Favorite:

Combat Protein Powder by Muscle Pharm




Remember when everyone used to think that creatine was legal steroids? If you don’t, then consider yourself lucky Haha. Fortunately, a lot of the fitness community has progressed since then.

So what is creatine?

You hear that term thrown around often in the fitness world, yet there seems to be a lot of confusion surrounding it. So if you just don’t “get” creatine, I don’t blame you because the fitness industry tends to make some things more complicated than they need to be.

But don’t fret because if you’re familiar with how we do it at Pens and Red Cups, then you know we’re about to break this thing down until it’s easy to understand and you’re left there wondering how you were every confused about such a thing.

Creatine plays a large role in fueling your body with energy during your workouts or other high-intensity exercises.


Well, your body produces this thing called ATP which is just another way of saying energy. And your body uses ATP during exercise. It’s what allows you to keep going and, if you had no ATP, you basically wouldn’t be able to exercise for longer than a second.

And it just so happens that creatine serves as a precursor to ATP! In other words, your body absorbs creatine FIRST to then turn it into ATP so you’re fueled up with energy.

The interesting thing about creatine is that it’s an amino acid that’s naturally produced by the body and is also found in foods like meat and fish.

However, the foods you have in your diet may not always have sufficient enough creatine for you to see results in the gym or your body may not be producing as much as you would need. For this reason, people choose to supplement with creatine powder or creatine pills.


Benefits Of Creatine

1. It helps your muscles produce more energy

As we just learned, without creatine, producing any significant amount of energy (ATP) during a high-intensity workout would not be possible.

And as I mentioned earlier, not only do our bodies produce creatine, but you actually get some from eating meats as well.

But here’s how our bodies fall short…

Our bodies use up ATP faster than it can produce it. Kinda like how we can eat a meal faster than we can cook and prepare it.

This is why our muscles get fatigued after a short while of high-intensity training. You know, the feeling you get when you’re trying to go for those extra reps but you can’t because your muscles burn like hell? Yah, that happens from your body using up ATP faster than it can generate it.

By supplementing with creatine, your body’s able to increase its stores of ATP, allowing you to fuel your muscles with more energy so you can pump out more reps, perform at high-intensity levels longer, and even run at a faster rate.


2. It helps increase muscle volume

One of the ways it aids in muscle growth is a direct result of the previous benefit. Because creatine helps you produce more energy (ATP) during workouts, it can lead to a better performance during your workout whether that be pumping out more reps or lifting heavier weight.

And continual improvement and increase in weights plays a big factor in gaining muscle since one of the requirements to gain muscle mass is that you gradually increase the weight on your lifts over time.

Creatine also increases the size and volume of muscles due to it’s water retention properties.

It makes your muscles bigger via something called “intramuscular water retention” which basically means that creatine increases the amount of water retained inside your muscle cells, thus making your muscles fuller and bigger.

This is normal and you can expect to gain anywhere from 5-7 pounds of water weight within the first few weeks.

If you’re worried that it’ll make you look bloated or fat…don’t be. The water is retained inside your muscle cells, not your fatty tissues.

Creatine is cheap, safe, and one of the most popular and widely used supplements amongst athletes all over the world. It’s been researched for more than 100 years and has been proven to be safe for long-term use.

Now before you run off and buy some creatine, just know that there are different types of creatine:

  • Creatine Monohydrate
  • Creatine Ethyl Ester
  • Kre-Alkalyn
  • Micronized Creatine
  • Creatine Liquid

Which type of creatine should you get?

Well, each type of creatine makes its own promise. Among the many promises, one creatine might say it gets absorbed by the body faster than the other types, one might claim that it’s more potent, or you might see one claiming to have more creatine per serving.

The problem here is that there’s no real evidence that all these different creatine do what they say.

However, there is a substantial amount of evidence backing creatine monohydrate and its claims. That’s because when studies are done on creatine, they’re almost always done with the most popular and trusted creatine: Creatine Monohydrate.

For that reason, I recommend going with creatine monohydrate. You can’t go wrong with it.

People typically dose creatine at 5mg per day. There are some few cases where you might need more, but 99% of the time you’ll be fine with just 5mg per day.

Personal Creatine Favorite:

Creatine Monohydrate Capsules by Optimum Nutrition (ON)


Fat Burners

What are fat burners?

Most fat burners are just a type of thermogenic. And that’s just a fancy way of saying that it’s a type of drug which increases the production of heat in the body so that it’ll increase your metabolism (the rate at which you burn calories).

Thermogenic supplements (fat burners) are basically just stimulants such as caffeine, green tea, chromium Picolinate, carnitine, etc.

Honestly…you don’t need em.

No supplement on earth will ever beat a good diet plan and workout regimen. So if you don’t have that in check, you’ll be wasting your money right off the bat.

Losing weight is 80% dieting anyways.

On top of that, there just haven’t been enough studies done on fat burners—certainly not enough to make any conclusions on its effectiveness.

Fat burners are basically elevated heart rate and blood pressure in a bottle. Don’t bother.


Nitric Oxide Boosters

You know how when you lift weights at the gym, the muscle that’s currently being worked on starts to swell up with blood, your skin begins to tighten and stretch, your muscles start to bulge and look bigger, and you get this overall euphoric feeling?

Yah, that’s called “the pump” and you’ll often get it during your workouts.

What’s happening here and why do your muscles tend to look bigger and fuller while they’re being worked out?

The reason you get the muscle pump during your workout is because of Nitric Oxide.

Nitric Oxide (NO) is a molecule that’s naturally produced by the body. When Nitric Oxide is released into your blood stream, it induces vasodilation (meaning it relaxes the blood vessels and expands them) which increases blood flow and allows more oxygen and nutrients to be delivered to muscles.

To see just how vital Nitric Oxide’s is, let’s take a look at a handful of its key roles:

  • It regulates the vasodilation process
  • Increases blood flow to the muscles
  • Plays a key role in regulating blood pressure and the circulation of blood
  • Enhances erectile function and is sometimes used to treat erectile dysfunction (ED)
  • It regulates the activities of the brain, liver, stomach, lungs, and other organs
  • Helps speed up growth and recovery
  • Helps deliver more nutrients to muscles
  • It increases the time you have until your muscles become fatigued due to exercise (your anaerobic capacity)

Due to aging, inactivity, lack of healthy foods in your diet, high cholesterol, fatty diets, and many other factors, our body becomes less efficient at producing nitric oxide. So increasing your NO levels can help increase your energy and overall wellness.

You could go the natural route and eat fruit, garlic, soy, and vitamin c in order to improve your body’s ability to produce nitric oxide.

However, another more popular option would be to also supplement with nitric oxide boosters on top of eating nitric oxide boosting foods.

Now, before you go looking for Nitric Oxide in the nutrition labels of supplements, I have to tell you that Nitric Oxide boosters don’t contain Nitric Oxide as funny as that sounds.

They contain nutritional ingredients that boost nitric oxide levels.

Some of the most popular ingredients used in Nitric Oxide Boosters are:

  • L-Arginine
  • L-Citrulline
  • L-Norvaline
  • Citrulline-Malate
  • Nitrosigine
  • Arganine Alpha-Ketoglutarate (AAAK)
  • Arginine KIC (AKIC)
  • NADH

Who should take Nitric Oxide Boosters?

Anyone who lifts weights at the gym or does any form of exercise could in some form or another benefit from taking Nitric Oxide Boosters. However…

Nitric Oxide Boosters are like having some expensive and dope rims on your car: it’s nice to have and can really enhance your workouts, BUT…ultimately, you don’t need them.

I’d say that NO boosters are like the luxury product of the fitness industry. And so If you’ve got some extra cash or Christmas money laying around, then I’d say why not.

But just know that you’d do just fine and make plenty of gains without it.


Personal Nitric Oxide Booster Favorite:

Hemanovol by ALLMAX



Ah the good ol’ Pre-workouts.

I left pre-workouts for last because everything you’ve learned up until this point has been preparing you for the pre-workout section.

First and foremost:

What is a pre-workout?

A pre-workout supplement is usually a concoction or blend or different ingredients meant to maximize your energy and performance during your workouts to give you the best results possible.

Every pre-workout supplement you encounter will have a different ingredient mix than the next, but there are a few common ingredients that you’ll see in 90% of all pre-workout supplements.

The common ingredients in most pre-workouts are:

  • Caffeine
  • Creatine
  • Beta-alanine
  • Citrulline-malate


You’ll almost always see caffeine on the labels of pre-workouts unless it’s a stimulant-free pre-workout.

Not only is caffeine a staple in work offices across the globe, but it’s also a staple in many supplements.

And remember the fat burners we learned about earlier? Yah, they contain caffeine as well. And that’s because caffeine is such a versatile drug that has many benefits.

In the context of pre-workouts, caffeine will give you that extra boost of energy and mental alertness during your workouts.

The common dose of caffeine in pre-workouts ranges from 150-200mg. To give you some perspective, one cup of coffee ranges from 80-100mg of caffeine.



Yup. The very same creatine we learned about earlier. And as we learned, creatine helps your muscles produce more energy and it also helps facilitate muscle growth, making it a nice ingredient to include in any pre-workout supplement.



You’ve seen citrulline-malate before too in the Nitric Oxide Boosters section above. It helps increase blood flow to the muscles, giving you the “pump” and also reduces the fatigue you get while you lift weights, making this also a killer ingredient to include in a pre-workout supplement.



Beta-alanine is more of an optional ingredient. Nonetheless, it’s still included in many of the pre-workouts out there.

It’s supposed to increase your stamina and endurance during high-intensity exercises. However, to really reap these benefits, you would need to physically exercise longer than a minute without stopping which you’ll almost never have to do at the gym.

For this reason, beta-alanine is mainly known for the strong tingling sensation people feel all over their body after taking beta-alanine.


Who Should Take Pre-Workout?

The truth is that you don’t need to take pre-workouts to see great results in the gym.

But there are some cases where taking a pre-workout could be beneficial.

If the time you go to the gym makes it difficult for you to gather the energy and stride to hit the gym—whether that be because you can only go to the gym after a long day of work or only early in the mornings—a pre-workout could definitely help give you that extra boost and ultimately get in you in the gym.

Another case where a pre-workout might be a good move is if you already planned on getting creatine and a Nitric Oxide booster on top of getting a pre-workout.


Because having all three in in one supplement can be convenient to some.


Personal Pre-Workout Favorite:

Mr. Hyde by Pro Supps


And BAM…

Just like that, you’ve reached the end of Supplements 101.

Congrats because I know that was a long one!

How did I do? Were any parts confusing or difficult to understand? Need me to clarify on something?

Let me know in the comments below!



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