Good day, friends!
In the world of weight lifting, supplements are everywhere. It's impossible to simply go to the gym without being bombarded by advertisements. Many times, gyms are linked up with a local supplement/nutrition store, adding a sense of ulterior motive to the posters on the walls informing one of the correct amount of daily protein. Here's my view on some of the various forms of supplements promoted in the fitness community:
Protein Powder: Protein powder is the king of the supplement world. It's such a booming business that I suspect the 'recommended protein intake for maximum muscle gain' is greatly skewed by the powers that be. I've read several times (and usually from unscrupulous sources) that 1 gram per pound of bodyweight is ideal. For those not familiar, that is a MASSIVE amount of protein. For reference, a typical protein shake, complete with 2 cups of whole milk, will yield about 35 grams of protein. If you take a 180 pound man, he would need a whopping 180 grams of protein a day. If he were to take 2 shakes, giving him 70 grams protein, there would still be another 110 grams to acquire. Honestly, the most you can expect with this much protein is an impressive amount of trips to the bathroom. Conversely, the FDA currently recommends about 50 grams of protein a day, and a typical American diet will easily yield that and more. In my early days of lifting, I stuck to the 2 shakes a day routine. After a while, I stopped taking protein shakes to see the effects, and much to my surprise, nothing changed! My strength increased at the same rate, my energy levels were unaffected, and overall I felt a bit healthier.
Preworkout Supplements: Another hugely popular market, preworkout drinks are consumed 30-60 minutes prior to a workout and provide a jolt of energy. Most preworkout supplements are basically the same formula hiding under the guise of a 'proprietary blend', which contains some caffeine, beta alanine (which is responsible for the tingly feeling in the extrememities that some experience) L-Arginine, and some creatine. Admittedly, these drinks can be quite effective, especially if morale is low. You'll be so full of energy that you simply must exercise. They aren't required by any means, but make the work a bit easier. Don't expect your numbers to skyrocket after drinking one of these, but you can expect consistent energy throughout your workout. If you can though, I'd say go without them, as lifting in the completely raw form is always more satisfying and more healthy.
Post-Workout Supplements: These are taken directly after a workout and are meant to increase muscle repair and building. The pre-workout and post-workout supplements often come in pairs, and many times, the post-workout powder is the same or very similar to the pre-workout powder minus the stimulants. There's usually a chunk of creatine in there. I've taken these before, but never really noticed a difference.
Creatine: Considered one of the original muscle-building supplements, creatine was used even before the days of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Creatine comes from red meat, although in miniscule amounts compared to available powders. Creatine has been shown to increase water retention for muscles and allow longer workout sessions. Plenty of water must be consumed while on creatine, because the increased water retention can lead to dehydration and in some cases, kidney stones. However, it's far less dangerous than the media insisted back in the day. Used correctly and safely, creatine can give a small boost to lifts (we're not talking much though, maybe an additional 5 pounds or so)
Mass Gainers: I've seen a number of very interesting mass gainers out there. My favorite was called "Russian Bear" and it was to be mixed with a gallon of milk and (assumingly) all drank in one day. This alone provided about 5,000 calories. They're packed full of protein and other vitamins / minerals, but don't think you can get by on solely mass gainers. Overall I'd stay away from these and stick to actual food, a much better choice. You'll definitely gain mass on mass gainers, perhaps 5 pounds of fat, 3 pounds of water retention, and 1/2 a pound of muscle.
Well, there you have it. I know I sound quite critical, but you have to understand that these supplement companies are very good at providing 'scientific' facts that upon closer inspection, are very inaccurate. All to gain an extra buck... not my thing.