Supplements aren’t elixirs. So if you’re scarfing down more Bugels than BCAAs, no pill, powder, or capsule can magically make your body think otherwise. However, when used to complement a healthy lifestyle and strict training routine, supplements are well worth the price of admission.
Two of the most well-known supps are creatine and whey protein, which are (or should be) go-tos for serious gym dwellers no matter what your fitness goals are (the former provides power, strength, and overall muscle growth while the latter is a fast-digesting muscle builder). Thing is, we’re pretty obsessive relentless in promoting their benefits here at M&F, so we’ve decided to give them a paid night off to make room for five other essential supps.
For a hand on what those should be, we asked pharmacist Sherry Torkos, certified fitness instructor, and author of more than a dozen books, including The Canadian Encyclopedia for Natural Medicine.
#1. Multivitamin 
Even if your diet’s super clean, like the-last-time-you-ate-a-donut-was-during-the-Clinton-years kind of clean, you still might not be getting enough nutrients to sustain muscle growth. Torkos credits things like stress, exposure to pollutants, and consuming fruits or veggies that have been prematurely picked or doused with pesticides as potential causes for vitamin deficiencies. A quality multi can bridge that gap. “Some multivitamins are garbage; you don’t want one that contains lots of dyes, chemicals, and fillers, “ Torkos warns. “That can affect the way the supplement is absorbed and utilized by the body. For optimum absorption, go with a natural-sourced multivitamin.”
Other benefits to multis: They’ve been shown to cut cancer risk in men over 50 years old and are linked to improved brain function and fat loss. As for which multivitamin you should take, that depends on your age, gender, and how active you are. “If you’re a 50-year-old guy, your nutritional requirements will differ from … a pregnant woman, or a younger guy who’s a triathlete,” she tells us. To find the one that’s right for you and your needs, Torkos suggests consulting a trustworthy doctor or pharmacists.
#2. Fish Oil 
Fish oil has been shown to boost immune system and brain function, prevent muscle breakdown, enhance joint healing, and even encourage fat loss. But a flurry of recent news reports has called its ability to cut heart attack and stroke risk into question. “Whether or not fish oil can cut your risk of death, heart attack, or stroke doesn’t mean fish oil doesn’t have cardiac benefits,” Torkos says. “ [It] can reduce triglycerides and inflammation in the body, and … there’s a preponderance of evidence that says there are still heart benefits.”
#3. Probiotics 
Proper gut function is essential for digestion, absorbing nutrients, and building muscle. Probiotics, often referred to as “good” bacteria for its ability to promote digestive health and boost the body’s defense against colds and viruses, are supps that can minimize or counter the effects caused by the “bad” microorganisms that also reside in your intestines.
When choosing a probiotics supplement, Torkos prefers non-refrigerated varieties. “Stability can be impacted when it’s removed from the refrigerator,” she says. “When you take it out [of the fridge], open the bottle, remove a capsule, and then put the bottle back, the condensation and moisture it’s been exposed to can affect the activity and viability of the cultures.”
Another tip: Go with a human-strain. “Dairy strains aren’t part of our normal flora,” she notes.
#4. BioCell Collagen with Hyaluronic Acid
All the squats, hang cleans, and breakdancing you do can wreak havoc on your joints and connective tissue. Young bucks and fawns might not be feeling it now, but things change. “If you stay on top of it you can prevent significant cartilage damage,” Torkos advises.
Since it’s easier to play defense now than reverse the effects later, Torkos suggests a joint-support formula featuring BioCell Collagen with hyaluronic acid. “It’s a clinically-studied and patented formula that’s been shown to strengthen cartilage, lubricate joints, stimulate joint cells, and promote healthy connective tissue,“ she says. Glucosamine and chondroitin are two other viable supplement options for joint support, but according to Torkos,“they can take a long time to absorb.”
An added bonus of BioCell Collagen: It’s good for your skin. “The formula can minimize or reverse some of the aging effect from the sun, like wrinkles and depigmentation.”
#5. Tongkat Ali
Most of our jobs don’t involve exercise, which means we might require an energy boost to make our workouts count. Caffeine and green tea are acceptable options — the former being a natural nitric oxide (NO) booster and the latter containing epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) that can kick-start your metabolism—but ultra-sugary and caffeinated energy drinks like Monster and Red Bull should be used sparingly. “If you have an undiagnosed or underlying heart issue and you take something that cranks your heart [rate], it can be problematic. I’d recommend something safer on the system.”
She recommends Tenaga with Physta (a patented brand of the herb tongkat ali). “It’s a rainforest botanical that’s been used for centuries in Malaysia,” she says. “It was developed with MIT and the Malaysian government, with several studies showing that Physta, an ingredient in Tenaga, can support proper testosterone levels and cortisol levels.”
As guys age, testosterone levels dip. That can trigger a change in body composition (read: you might get fatter) and a loss in energy, muscle mass, and—perhaps worst of all—sexual virility. “Tenaga can help normalize hormone levels without affecting your heart rate or blood pressure,” she says. “It’ll provide energy without causing insomnia.” (Tenaga is specifically formulated for men, but there are products featuring tongkat ali for women.)