“What workout supplements should I take?” Hit the search engines with this phrase, and you’ll end up with a list that can rival the number of unread emails in your inbox after two weeks of PTO (Paid Time Off).
Yeah, it’s a lot. And that’s made worse by two things:
- Workout supplements aren’t cheap, plus
- Given their steep price tags, you’d think they work (i.e., gives you results you can see and feel) … but many don’t
So, to prevent you from wasting precious gulping energy — which you could use for more worthwhile pursuits, like cranking out that final rep (what were you thinking, by the way? 🤨) — and money, here are three useless workout supplements you should stop buying.
#1: Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs)
You probably already know this, but amino acids are the building blocks of protein.
Your body needs 20 different amino acids to make all the protein you need (yes, including those that make up your muscles!) and function properly. There are two “types” of amino acids:
- Essential amino acids: These are the amino acids your body cannot make, which means you must get them from the food you eat. There are nine essential amino acids — histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine.
- Nonessential amino acids: These are the amino acids your body can make. There are 11 of them — alanine, arginine, asparagine, aspartic acid, cysteine, glutamic acid, glutamine, glycine, proline, serine, and tyrosine.
So, what are branched-chain amino acids?
They refer to three essential amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. As implied by the phrase, "branched-chain", the chemical structures of these amino acids are distinct from others in the sense that they possess a branched side chain.
But why are all the gym bros so obsessed with BCAAs? Just look at what each of them does in the body:
2️⃣ Isoleucine: Involved with the body’s muscle metabolism.
3️⃣ Valine: Involved in muscle growth and tissue regeneration.
Muscle. And growth. Mmm, just the thing we’re looking for. And so, the argument goes like this: consume more of these “muscle-beneficial amino acids”, and your muscles will grow, grow, grow.
Research suggests it’s all wishful thinking.
Yes, branched-chain amino acids are beneficial in muscle hypertrophy. But they cannot work in isolation — your body requires all essential amino acids for muscle protein synthesis.
According to this 2021 review published in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, BCAA supplementation does not appear to enhance muscle strength or growth when adequate protein requirements are met.
Takeaway? Hit your daily protein requirements through a good mix of sources, and your muscles are good.
#2: Any fancy type of creatine 💅
Wait, is that a typo? Isn’t this article about workout supplements that don’t work? Yes, yes, it is.
But see, there are many different types of creatine. So beyond the boring, plain old creatine monohydrate, you'll also find many new contenders on the market, screaming, "Pick me! Pick me! I'm newer and better!"
- Magnesium-creatine chelate (this means magnesium is attached to the creatine molecule)
- Buffered creatine (this is where manufacturers add an alkaline powder to creatine in hopes of increasing its potency and reducing side effects)
- Creatine hydrochloride (made by combining creatine with hydrochloric acid, which might sound suuuuper scary, but is just the acid found in your stomach)
- … and more
They're newer, for sure — but are they better?
A 2021 systematic review published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research tells all. After analyzing eight different types of creatine, the researchers found that despite the chasm in price points*, all were equally effective in boosting muscle creatine levels.
*Creatine monohydrate costs $0.19, while buffered creatine costs $1.51 per five-gram serving. That’s a ~eight-time difference!
Takeaway? They all work the same, so why not just pick the one easiest on your wallet?
3: D-aspartic acid
D-aspartic acid — does this look familiar to you? (Hint: you just encountered it a few minutes back.)
Yep. It’s one of the 11 nonessential amino acids your body makes.
And we can trace the gym bros' fascination with this amino acid back to a handful of animal studies (this and this) showing that D-aspartic acid supplementation could upregulate testosterone production, fueling speculations that it may, in turn, boost muscle growth.
But, as we all know, results in animal studies aren’t always transferable to human studies, which is precisely what we've seen with studies on D-aspartic acid thus far.
Take this 2019 study published in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, for example. The researchers failed to observe any differences in the:
- Testosterone levels and
- Handgrip strength
… between the treatment group (i.e., those who supplemented with D-aspartic acid) and the control group (i.e., those who were given a placebo).
Plus, guess what?
This isn’t the first study showing D-aspartic acid’s ineffectiveness; it’s the fifth — and might very well be the final nail in the coffin 🔨
Takeaway? D-aspartic acid will neither increase your testosterone levels nor make your muscles grow faster/bigger.
Looking to kick your testosterone production levels into high gear? Check out what works and what doesn’t below:
🤬 What workout supplements work, then?
Branched-chained amino acids — ❌
Fancy types of creatine — ❌
D-aspartic acid — ❌
What works, then? Which workout supplements are worth your money based on current scientific findings? Answer: protein, creatine (pick monohydrate, of course), caffeine, (potentially) beta-alanine, and L-citrulline.
Don’t just rely on exercise supplements to get the body you want, too. Always get your basics right first:
- Train consistently (a well-designed workout program will help with this!)
- Eat according to your goals (e.g., bulk or cut?)
- Take care of your recovery
Need help with your workout plan? Check out GymStreak, the AI-powered app that'll tailor your training program to your unique fitness goals and lifestyle preferences.
We'll guide you through it all — step-by-step. Just download the app, and you'll achieve your dream body in no time.
Crewther, B., Witek, K., Draga, P., Zmijewski, P., & Obmiński, Z. (2019). Short-Term d-Aspartic Acid Supplementation Does Not Affect Serum Biomarkers Associated With the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Gonadal Axis in Male Climbers. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 29(3), 259–264. https://doi.org/10.1123/ijsnem.2018-0076
D’Aniello, A., Di Cosmo, A., Di Cristo, C., Annunziato, L., Petrucelli, L., & Fisher, G. (1996). Involvement of D-aspartic acid in the synthesis of testosterone in rat testes. Life Sciences, 59(2), 97–104. https://doi.org/10.1016/0024-3205(96)00266-4
D’Aniello, A., Di Fiore, M. M., Fisher, G. H., Milone, A., Seleni, A., D’Aniello, S., Perna, A. F., & Ingrosso, D. (2000). Occurrence of D-aspartic acid and N-methyl-D-aspartic acid in rat neuroendocrine tissues and their role in the modulation of luteinizing hormone and growth hormone release. FASEB Journal: Official Publication of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, 14(5), 699–714. https://doi.org/10.1096/fasebj.14.5.699
Fazio, C., Elder, C. L., & Harris, M. M. (2022). Efficacy of Alternative Forms of Creatine Supplementation on Improving Performance and Body Composition in Healthy Subjects: A Systematic Review. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0000000000003873
Lopez, M. J., & Mohiuddin, S. S. (2022). Biochemistry, Essential Amino Acids. In StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK557845/
Plotkin, D. L., Delcastillo, K., Van Every, D. W., Tipton, K. D., Aragon, A. A., & Schoenfeld, B. J. (2021). Isolated Leucine and Branched-Chain Amino Acid Supplementation for Enhancing Muscular Strength and Hypertrophy: A Narrative Review. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 31(3), 292–301. https://doi.org/10.1123/ijsnem.2020-0356