I’ve combined my discussion of both gear and supplementation because I don’t use a ton of either. First, here’s the gear I like to use for workouts:
Tank-top / athletic shorts – A classic combo. I find that wearing a t-shirt while working out both makes my pits overly sweaty and can actually irritate my armpits. I’m not sure why that is – but wearing a tank-top solves all those issues. In addition, classic athletic shorts work just fine for bottoms.
Compression shorts – I began wearing these back when I was overweight, as I was getting some chafe on my thighs. That stopped being a problem about 30 lbs ago, but apparently compression shorts can improve blood flow according to some studies – so I kept wearing them. I’m not sure if they actually achieve that goal or not, but they feel good – so I continue to wear them.
Workout gloves – Simple gloves which can be bought at a department store. I feel like various workouts find ways to pinch the skin on my fingers and hands without them – but when I wear them, I have no such issue and can push harder.
Bluetooth headphones – No wires! Nothing is more irritating than keeping a headphone wire under control when you’re exercising, or when the wire catches on something and gets the buds yanked out of your ear. Join the wireless age and get yourself some bluetooth headphones.
Wrestling shoes – My weightlifing shoe of choice is a classic wrestling shoe. I like these because the treads are typically very thin and allow me to more readily sense the floor while I work out. For exercises like deadlifts and squats, this is great – I honestly feel like I can sense the follow-through in my muscles, leading to improved form. Be aware, though, that these shoes have little support in general – so people with foot problems may not do so well in these. If you have a history of foot problems, you probably should look at something with more support.
For cardio – regular running shoes. I don’t run in wrestling shoes, as the lack of support puts a lot of impact on your feet.
I don’t take a lot of supplements. My personal feeling is that the workout supplement industry is a bit fraudulent – I think there’s a lot of pricey snake oil which make big promises with little delivery; and in truth, I think most workout supplements are not necessary provided you’re eating right. Excluded from this statement are – of course – supplements meant to medicate, and anything meant to address a specific deficiency which has been diagnosed by official medical personnel.
These are supplements which I take and have found to be helpful:
Protein – Good ol’ classic protein powder. It is VERY hard to ingest enough protein on a daily basis eating regular food (my general rule is “1g of protein per pound of body weight”) – protein powder makes this goal much easier to meet. I like Dymatize brand protein for having a low calorie-to-protein ratio, which helps keep off the excess weight. That’s definitely something to watch out for – a lot of cheap proteins will have high calorie counts per scoop, so look at those nutrition facts.
Pre-workout – This is a supplement meant to boost your performance, taken just before a workout. The magic ingredient in these mixes is caffeine, which is usually present in high amounts. Different manufacturers will have different proprietary blends which make bold claims about the efficacy of various ingredients. This is an area where a lot of snake oil is possible, but I’ve taken a few different highly-rated preworkout supplements which really did make a difference. My current pre-workout of choice is AML Preworkout – I took this on recommendation from another fitness blogger who I trust, and I haven’t been disappointed.
“But wait“, you might ask. “If the magic ingredient is caffeine, couldn’t I just drink coffee before a workout?”
You could – and that’s not a bad idea, especially if you have any medical conditions which might make typical pre-workout blends not healthy for you to take. I don’t know the details, but I’ve read from medical sources which I trust that people with – for example – kidney problems should not usually take pre-workout powders, as their kidney issues make it difficult to properly process the ingredients in preworkout and can basically poison you slowly.
If you have health issues which take preworkout off the table – or the ingredients in preworkout are simply off-putting to you for other reasons – then consider drinking a cup of joe 15 minutes before a workout. I’ve downed espresso just before workouts before, and felt like it gave me a sufficient kick.
Fiber – Ahhh, fiber powder. This won’t need much explanation. Because I follow a mostly low-carb diet, it can be hard to always get the fiber I need to “stay regular”. I supplement with some simple fiber powder just to make sure that’s never an issue. I mix it with sugar-free juice and gulp it down with no issues. The specific brand I buy is Benefiber unflavored powder, but I suspect theres not much variance among brands in regular fiber powder.
Creatine Monohydrate – This is a classic tried-and-true supplement with proven, well-documented benefits provided you understand how to use it effectively. Read this article for a better scientific explanation – but the short of it is this: creatine gives your muscles more *pump* in a workout and helps you hit higher numbers at more reps, which helps you tear up muscle tissue and create more muscle mass during recovery in-turn.
The key to understand is that creatine is NOT a magical muscle powder – as I used to believe, and I think many others believe at first. Taking creatine by itself without the proper exercise and protein intake is actually counter-productive, as it causes you to retain water – so if you’re not tearing up muscle tissue with a good workout and giving your body the protein you need to build more mass, then all creatine will do is make you look bloated due to water retention. Creatine ONLY helps when it accompanies a good workout and sufficient protein intake – if you haven’t mastered a workout routine with a solid diet, then don’t take creatine.
All that being said – it’s my personal experience that creatine really does help, and there are a lot of rigorous studies to back that up. If you can commit to the workout and proper protein intake, then I strongly recommend taking it. My preferred variety is Creatine Monohydrate from Optimum Nutrition – it’s a well-known brand and a well-reviewed product at a good price.