Kirkland Signature Multi Vitamin

Fitness Supplements I’m Currently Using 11


We’ve all been told “you are what you eat.” And while I don’t quite agree with exactly how that’s worded (I’ll explain later), I do agree that what we put into our bodies has a massive impact on how all the systems in our body perform and interact.

The purpose of this post is to act as a “flexible” list of the supplements I’ve tried and/or am currently using in my training (apart from the food I’m eating). If I stop using something, I’ll cross it off the list and explain why I no longer use it. When possible, I’ll provide links to independent, reputable sources of information about the chemistry involved.

Supplements

Part of my personal methodology for selecting supplements I used is based on publicly-available research combined with data collected from my own medical tests (mainly monthly blood draws and analysis) to see if I’m vitamin deficient, or if a supplement is producing any measurable chemical result. But I also measure a supplement’s effectiveness based on how they make me feel — pre-workout, during workouts, post-workout, and throughout the day.

It’s probably no surprise to you that the fitness supplement industry is a multi-billion dollar worldwide muscle-bound monster. With so much money at stake, “experts” are plentiful, and opinions abound as to what works and what doesn’t. It’s vitally important to keep in mind the source of any opinion, as well as evaluating what someone may have to gain from that opinion. As for me, I have absolutely nothing to gain from praising or bashing any supplement. I don’t sell them, I’m not paid by any of their manufacturers, and I don’t participate in any multi-level marketing companies that distribute any. I can’t imagine that ever changing, but if it does, I’ll disclose it here in bold print. As always, I welcome anyone’s feedback and personal experiences in the comments below, but I also request that if you have any financial connection to any segment of the supplement industry — even if you’re merely a personal trainer that buys them for your clients — please disclose your connection(s) fully in your comments. All submitted comments are moderated, and I’ll delete any comments that smell spammy, well before they ever see the light of day. I buy the majority of my supplements on Amazon (I love free 2-day Prime shipping), and so the Amazon links included in some of the descriptions below will kick back a very small percentage of any purchases made by a visitor. That’s not why I’m writing the post, but since I’m asking full disclosure from anyone commenting, I figured I’d set the example by making full disclosure of the $0.25-$0.50 Amazon sends me every month. 🙂

And finally, because everyone is different, I can’t promise that any of these products will work for you, nor can I 100% verify that they work for me — as opposed to maybe fooling me with some placebo effect (which, some have argued, can still be a positive effect). The mind is powerful, and mine can fool me as well as yours can fool you. That said, I don’t waste money on stuff that I don’t believe is actually working, so rest assured that if I’m using a supplement, I’ve tested it on myself, I haven’t found anything better (yet), and I have a good reason to continue using it.

Loading, Cycling, and Stacking

Before I address which supplements I take, I want to share my opinion about what you’ll hear referred to in supplementing circles as “loading,” “cycling,” and “stacking.” This is also be the perfect place for me to clarify what I meant when I said I don’t truly believe “you are what you eat.” I believe, more precisely, that “you are what you absorb.” If you were to eat a penny (and I don’t recommend that you do), you’d poop  it out in a relatively short amount of time, and no part of that penny will be broken down or absorbed by your body. But on the flip side of that coin, if you drink a 20 oz soda, the 65 grams of sugar in that drink (roughly equivalent to 16.5 sugar cubes), will be quickly absorbed and made available in your blood stream as 240 calories of energy, and any that you don’t burn off immediately will be quickly converted to fat. Again, your body can only use what it can absorb.

Which brings us to loading. Loading refers to initially taking in a higher volume of a supplement than you normally would, with the intent of quickly “loading up” the substance in your body, and then eventually tapering down to a “normal” level of intake. Guess who are the biggest fans of loading? Yep – the supplement manufacturers. They’re trying to trick you into a marketing tactic called “increased frequency of use,” which means convincing existing customers to consume a product more quickly, so it needs to be replaced sooner (Arm and Hammer pioneered this tactic in the 1970s with baking soda). In general, I find the concept of supplement loading to be complete bunk. The recommended amount of a supplement is usually all your body can absorb anyway, meaning any un-absorbed amounts get discarded from your body, just like the penny. Take the recommended amount on a consistent schedule, and your body will quickly build up a sufficient level of the supplement to induce the intended effect.

Cycling is kind of the opposite of loading. It means consuming a supplement in some sort of chronological cycle, such as three weeks on, one week off. I challenge anyone to find a supplement label that recommends cycling (you won’t, since supplement companies don’t make money when you don’t consume their products). Cycling is popular with substances that are considered potentially harmful, such as anabolic steroids. I like to avoid substances that are generally cycled, because if something really is healthy for you, it should be healthy to use all the time. If a supplement isn’t safe and/or effective in small, consistent doses, then I’m not interested in using it.

Stacking refers to combining two or more supplements together in an effort to magnify their effects. Some people stack caffeine pills with certain supplements in an effort to increase the speed of absorption. Others combine substances in various percentages because they’ve read on some discussion forum (or blog!) that doing so will yield some magical result that is greater than the sum of its parts. Again, most stacking talk is voodoo. Technically, one could argue that stacking “works,” although there’s nothing magic about it. If two different substances could create a positive effect for you, then taking them both will likely produce better results than taking either one individually — but probably not as a result of what else you took it with.

Of course, I’m sure the comments section of this post will, over time, eventually be filled by people swearing up and down that “stacking X with Y totally works, bro!” and “I always get a crazy pump when I load A and get killer results when I cycle B!” But unless something is backed by independent scientific analysis, I’m a skeptic when it comes to all this fitness and nutrition, including loading, cycling, and stacking.

Morning Vitamins and Kick-Off Drink

I like to take my vitamins on an empty stomach, first thing in the morning. Here’s what I currently take:

Kirkland Signature Premium Performance Multi

A general multivitamin is an essential first step in any supplement plan, and it’s hard to find a better deal than Costco. This has 100% of the daily recommended doses for a number of important vitamins and minerals, plus 2-5 times the recommended doses of some “biggies” such as Vitamin C, E, B1, B2, B6, and B12 (and with many vitamins, getting more than the “recommended” dose is important, particularly if you’re deficient).

Nature Made TripleFlex

I suffer from a mild case of osteo-arthritis in one of my hips, so I do everything I can do to promote healthy joints. This three-in-one supplement (of which I take two every morning) includes 1500mg of Glucosamine Hydrochloride, 800mg of Chondroitin Sulfate, and 750 mg of Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) — considered by many to be the Holy Trinity of joint comfort, mobility, and flexibility. If run out of these and go for a week or two without taking it, I really notice.

More info: Chondroitin, Glucosamine, and MSM on WebMD.

Kirkland B-100 Hi-Energy Complex

I tried taking Vitamin B complex shots a while back, and really liked the energy boost I felt. However, I also had an allergic reaction to the shots, and decided to try taking additional B vitamins orally instead. This pill contains massive doses of combination a number of vitamins, including 6667% of daily Thiamin (B-1), 5882% of daily Riboflavin (-B2), 5000% of daily B-6, and 1667% of daily B-12.

More Info: B-Complex Vitamins on WebMD

Kirkland Sublingual B-12

Even though my other B-complex pill provides 1667% of the daily B-12, this one (which dissolves under the tongue for 30 seconds) packs 83333% (yes, you read that right!) of the daily recommended dose at 5000mcg. For me, it’s not overkill. Energy from this B-12 pill is noticeable to me, but not at all “rushy” (like sugar) or “jittery” (like caffeine).

More info: Vitamin B-12 on WebMD

Nature Made SAM-e Complete

A good friend of mine, who is a clinical psychologist in a ritzy suburb  of Seattle, turned me on to SAM-e. I was skeptical at first, but after reading a few independent studies, and learning that it’s been sold for decades as a prescription drug in Europe, I decided to give it a go. He recommends it to his patients who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder here in the Pacific NorthWet, but studies show it also reduces pain and inflammation in joints (which I need), promotes cartilage repair, as well as improves liver function. It’s surpising that one supplement seems to affect emotions, liver, and joints — but the studies back it up, and so does my own use.

More info: SAM-e on WebMD

Kirkland Sublingual B-12

Even though my other B-complex pill provides 1667% of the daily B-12, this one (which dissolves under the tongue for 30 seconds) packs 83333% (yes, you read that right!) of the daily recommended dose at 5000mcg. For me, it’s not overkill. Energy from this B-12 pill is noticeable to me, but not at all “rushy” (like sugar) or “jittery” (like caffeine).

More info: Vitamin B-12 on WebMD

Schiff MegaRed Extra Strength Omega-3 Krill Oil

I used to take the Costco brand Fish Oil, but I’d taste nasty fish burps all day long. A buddy suggested I put them in the freezer to avoid this, but it still didn’t work. So I switched to the Schiff MegaRed. They smell fishy when I open the lid, but they don’t taste fishy when I take them — and more importantly, they never taste fishy later.

More info: Fish Oil on WebMD

Celsius Orange Vitamin Energy Drink

On cardio days (which is Mon-Sat), I wash down my morning vitamins with a 12oz can of Sparking Orange Celsius, my favorite pre-cardio drink. I buy it by the case from Amazon, and it comes in lots of flavors. It has no sugar, no aspartame, low sodium, no artificial preservatives, no corn syrup, no artificial colors or flavors, and I actually love the taste. It clocks in at only 10 calories, and contains a 100% daily dose of Vitamin C, Vitamin B-6, Vitamin B-12, Riboflavin, Niacin, Biotin, and Pantothenic Acid. It also includes an 1,800mg “MetaPlus” blend of herbs and stuff, including Taurine, Guarana Extract, and Ginger Root. My research shows that 200mg of that blend is caffeine anhydrous, which provides a decent jump-start before my morning cardio workout, without making me too jittery. I use the first few swigs to take all my vitamins, sip some while I make my high-protein breakfast, and then drink the rest while I eat.

Cardio Workout Drink

Throughout my morning cardio workout (which generally consists of some combination of elliptical trainer, spin class, and/or kickboxing class) I drink a 32oz Nalgene bottle that contains a scoop of ice, water, and the following supplements. The ice helps mix everything up when I shake the closed bottle, and keeps the drink cold for a while, which is nice because I don’t drink it for at least 20 minutes after I’ve made it. Read the ingredients below to see why. 🙂

Dymatize Nutrition Elite Recoup

I usually use one scoop of this powder, but sometimes use two. Of course, the label says it’s “ideal” to have 4 heaping scoops before your workout, and 2 heaping scoops immediately after. It’s marketed as a “recovery” drink, but I like drinking it throughout my workout, and I find it I tend to be less sore the following day as a result. I’m not really sure whether the timing of when I drink this makes all that much difference. Some people swear that you have to drink your “recovery” drink immediately after a workout, but with most supplements that affect blood chemistry (with the exception of the ones that pump you up before a workout and burn off quickly), I don’t see the science behind trying to time it. As long as these amino acids are bio-available when my body decides it needs them, they’re being effective. The orange flavor of this powder is pretty good, but stay away from the blue raspberry. Yuck.

Navitas Naturals Chia Seeds

I’m crazy about my chia seeds. Yes, these are the exact same seeds that grow into sprouts on “Cha-Cha-cha-CHIA!” Pets. I put ONE tablespoon in my cardio workout drink (trust me, you don’t want more than that at any one sitting, or you’ll feel the power of the fiber), shake well, and then let it sit for at least 20 minutes. In that time, the seeds soften a bit, and a transparent gelatinous goo starts to appear around the seeds. At that point, they look kind of like frog eggs, but don’t be grossed out. The taste and texture is great (kind of like a smaller version of those bubble drinks from Asia). If you’ve read the book Born to Run, these are the seeds that the Tahumara runners chew on as they run. They’re high in Omega 3 fatty acids, fiber, and pack 4.4g of protein per ounce. They’re marketed as “Aztec Superfood,” since they were originally cultivated by the Aztecs and used  as a medicinal herb. There are lots of anecdotal accounts of magic stuff it can do, but I mainly drink it for the fiber and Omega 3s. Plus, drinking goo is fun.  You have to shake the drink often to keep the seeds mixed in, but that’s just extra cardio! 🙂 I’ve also experimented with putting chia seeds in my Vitamix to thicken protein smoothies into a pudding-like consistency. Give them a try them – you’ll probably like them.

More info: Chia on WebMD

Strength Training Drinks

I usually strength train in the early afternoon (1:00-2:00 PM-ish), with a workout buddy who works mainly from home (like me). He usually texts me about 10 minutes before he arrives at my home gym, and that’s my trigger to mix and chug down my strength-training workout drink, as well as mix a separate drink I use during our workout.

Strength Training Pre-Workout Drink

I mix my strength training pre-workout drink in a 12oz Nalgene bottle, filled with water, no ice, and two additional ingredients:

Cellucor C4 Extreme Pre-Workout Formula

Ok, I’ll admit it. The packaging on this stuff looks crazy, like it came off a space ship. But don’t let the silly packaging fool you. This stuff does exactly what it’s designed to do, which is PUMP ME UP to do an intense strength training workout. I put two scoops in my strength training pre-workout drink, and chug it down as fast as I can. This stuff kicks in pretty quickly — I start to feel it in about 10-15 minutes. The ingredients include some vitamins (C, B-12, Niacin, Folic Acid), but what you’ll really feel is the 1500mg (per scoop) of Beta Alanine and the 741mg of “Explosive Energy Blend” which is primarily made up of natural stimulants (including 135mg of caffeine). This is probably the supplement that (at least lately) has made the biggest difference in my lifting intensity. I feel like I could lift a car when this kicks in, and it makes me kind of hyper, but still focused. It makes my arms… tingle. And it makes me want to lift really heavy stuff more often than I otherwise would.

If it sounds like I’m drinking the Kool-Aid on this one, I totally am. Unless some study comes out showing this causes cancer, I won’t go back to strength training without it.

That said, I’m not convinced that the 1000mg of Arginine AKG and 1000mg of Creatine Nitrate in this product actually do anything. There’s no scientific support for AAKG, and Creatine Nitrate hasn’t had enough testing yet to prove whether or not it’s superior to Creatine Monohydrate. But the ingredients that do work in this product (mainly the Beta Alanine) make the purchase worth it for me, especially since I buy the two-packs to save money.

More info: Beta Alanine on WebMD

Dymatize Nutrition Micronized Creatine

I’ve had good results in the past with the Dymatize brand, so that’s the brand of creatine I’m currently using. Plus, it’s pretty cheap on Amazon.

There’s always a lot of disagreement in the training community about what actually works vs. what is marketing hype, but one of the products that experts have agreed upon since the 1990s is Creatine Monohydrate. Hear me now, believe me later: if you only take one supplement, this should be it. I won’t explain all the benefits here. If you’re unfamiliar with it, go ahead and click the links for more info and do your own research. But the short version is that if you want bigger, stronger muscles, faster recovery, and to feel less sore after intense workouts, Creatine will be your new best friend. I put one heaping tablespoon in my strength-training pre-workout drink, and shake it like a Polaroid picture. Creatine is notoriously difficult to mix with water (even if you get the micronized stuff, which this is), and I’m putting it in a 12oz drink that already has two scoops of powder it in, so I always need to swirl the liquid at the bottom before my last gulp. The last mouthful is kinda gritty, but it has no taste, so it’s not that bad.

This is another product that you’ll hear “experts” suggest that you should “load” and/or cycle. The science doesn’t back them up. You’ll also hear that the best time to take your creatine is before/after/during your workout. Also bogus. It’s about just getting it into your system. It doesn’t matter when you take it, as long as you get 5000mg (about a tablespoon) inside your tummy daily.

Creatine. Seriously. Go get some. Now. Seriously. Right now. Go. GO!

More info: Creatine on WebMD

Strength Training During-Workout Drink

During my strength training workout, I use a 32oz Nalgene bottle filled with a scoop of ice, water, another tablespoon of chia seeds, and a squirt of Mio flavor enhancer. I just pick up the little Mio bottles at the grocery store. The prices for them on Amazon (probably because of the shipping), are way too high. I drink all 32oz of liquid throughout my workout, and I often have to refill the bottom before the workout is over. Water is your friend!

Strength Training Post-Workout Drink

One place where experts tend to agree that timing is important is eating something immediately after an intense strength training workout. And they also agree about what should be on the menu: protein, protein, protein. And the most efficient way of getting protein into your system is with a protein shake. Here are my two favorite types:

CytoSport Muscle Milk Light Protein Powder (Chocolate)

I’m lactose intolerant, so whey-based protein powders are normally out of the question for me, with the exception of Muscle Milk Light, which is lactose free! I love the taste of the “light” powder version, so there’s no need to consume the extra calories in the original formula. Two scoops of this in the Vitamix with some ice, water, a banana, and a handful of cashews, and you’ve got yourself a delicious, frosty, post-workout protein punch.

Muscle Milk Light, 8.25-Ounce Chocolate Drink Boxes

I keep a case of these in the fridge at all times (you can get them on Amazon or at Costco), just in case I don’t have time to mix a powder-based shake in the Vitamix. Also, if I’m tempted to raid the fridge for a late night snack, I’ll see these, and one of them will generally hit the spot. They don’t need refrigeration (but they taste better cold), 20g of protein per box, 100 calories, and no sugar. Some people just tolerate the taste, but I actually like it.

And, there you have it. My current list of vitamins and supplements.

Final Thoughts

Even though this article was written in 2013, I’m updating this paragraph today (in 2016) to say that this has been a stable list for a few years now. I’m still happy with these choices.

I also invite you to read my post on Why I Don’t Participate in Fitness Fads.

As always, I welcome your comments, questions, and feedback below. See something on there that interests you? Give it a try, and come back tell me how it went. See something you also use, or used to? Tell me about your experiences. See something on there you think is bogus? Feel free to respectfully share your opinion in the comments. Want me to join your MLM to sell magic beans that cure cancer, make me lose 30 lbs overnight, and grow hair on bald men? You should probably resist the urge to hit that comment button.

  • Buffy

    Sorry- I’ll comment on the blog 🙂 Have you noticed any
    headaches from Sam-e? I’m thinking of trying it to reduce the
    inflammation in my neck and back- also doesn’t hurt for the 8
    months of gray…

    • Hey, Buffy! No, no headaches from SAM-e, but I’m only taking 1 pill per day in the morning. I’ve read that sometimes headaches are reported at higher doses, but not always. Lemme know if you decide to try it. Most studies show it takes 2-3 weeks to build up to therapeutic levels.

    • Oh – one more thing, B. I don’t know if you’re bottle-feeding that crazy-adorable baby of yours I keep seeing on your FB posts (we still want to meet her in person, btw), but SAM-e contains warnings that women who are pregnant or breastfeeding shouldn’t use it.

      • Buffy

        Liv weaned herself at 7 months when she realized the bottle was faster and more fun! I’m going to give it a try. Yes- you all need to meet baby Liv- we could come for a visit or let us know if you bring the kids to the city for something this summer!

  • Amy

    Have you read anything about spore minerals Steve? After I was ill last year with Guillan-barré syndrome, we did a lot of research on nutrition We still have a ways to go on bettering our diet, but we started taking some supplements which we feel have made a big change in our lives. It’s called Tangy Tangerine and contains these spore minerals I refer to. I’d be curious to hear what you thought of the product.

    • Hi, Amy. No, I haven’t heard of it! But a quick Google search brought me to its home page, where the first thing I noticed is that it’s a network marketed product that is comparing itself (on its front page) to Tahitian Noni Juice, Gogi Juice, Xango, and Mona-Vie. I’ve got buddies in Utah who are pretty “high up” in a few of those companies (in fact, I turned down the CEO spot at one of those companies 13 years ago), and all those friends know that simply by being a network marketed supplement automatically puts a grey cloud of skepticism over a product for me. Not because I don’t believe marketed products “work.” Some do, of course — particularly the vitamin-based ones where “working” means that they provide health benefits that have been independently proven by research. My general issue with MLM supplements is that (out of necessary to fund their marketing method) they have a massively inflated price markup, and my skepticism stems from whether or not they truly provide equal or better benefits when compared to conventionally marketed (i.e. less expensive) supplements that contain the same vitamins, minerals, and other chemicals. Do I believe this Tangy Tangerine product “works?” That depends on what the manufacturer states it does. I wasn’t able to find any detailed nutritional info (showing mg per serving of specific vitamins), so I don’t know exactly what’s in it, but I imagine that since it bills itself as a “Complete Multi-Vitamin Mineral Complex” that it must contain a variety of vitamins and minerals, and I have absolutely no problem believing that those ingredients provide the same benefits that researchers have shown come from those vitamins. But is it worth $70 per 420g canister? That’s the big question for me. To answer it, I’d need to know the specific amounts per serving of specific ingredients, and then compare those to other potential sources. If you have access to more specific data than I was able to find (I only spent 30 seconds searching), please send it my way! Thanks. 🙂

      • David

        Steve,

        Is his still the supplement routine you follow?

  • Pingback: No, Thank You (or Why I Don't Participate in Fitness Fads)()

  • Jim

    Hi, I just found your blog and appreciate the posting about supplements. My routine is similar to yours, but I add a during-workout supplement of BCAAs. What’s your opinion of them? Useful, or do you think all the BCAAs we get from the post-workout protein shake are sufficient? I lift weights 3x/week, but moderate intensity.

    • I’ve heard good things, but haven’t tried them because I don’t consider myself lean enough yet to need them. Their primary benefit appears to be preventing muscle loss when on a low calorie diet.