The 3 Most Popular Nutritional Supplements and How They Work

February 27 2015

There are dozens of different types of supplements on the market. In the very broadest terms, they can be divided into those that are primarily for building muscle and those that are primarily for losing fat, but there’s a great deal of overlap.

Here’s a primer on three of the most popular nutritional supplements, what they do and how they do it.


BCAAs have become increasingly popular, particularly among bodybuilders. Although they’re usually considered a muscle-building supplement, they’re equally effective as a fat loss aid, making them one of the most important supplements to include in your diet.

BCAAs are branch-chain amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein. Eight of these amino acids are essential amino acids. In other words, our bodies don’t produce them; we have to get them through our diets.

BCAA’s work in a number of different ways. First, they provide plenty of amino acids during your workouts, which prevents muscle catabolism, the process by which your body starts breaking down existing muscle to get at the amino acids it needs to fuel your workout.

Second, BCAAs improve protein synthesis by the muscles by acting as a nitrogen carrier. Third, they prompt the release of insulin, which carries glycogen through the cell walls in muscle tissue.

For all of the above reasons, BCAAs are obviously important for building muscle, so they’re extremely popular with bodybuilders who are trying to add mass. But they’re also an important aid during fat loss. Because they prevent muscle catabolism, they keep you from losing lean muscle mass due to a caloric deficit. This means that you’ll lose the fat without losing muscle. This is extremely important if you want to look lean, cut and strong, rather than thinner but shapeless.

Whey Protein Powder

Whey protein is by the far the most popular choice in protein powders. There are several good reasons for this.

A high-quality whey protein is one of the most bioavailable and easily metabolized proteins, making it an excellent pre-or post-workout supplement. With some other forms of protein, the uptake is so slow that much of the protein content actually goes to waste, as it’s not fully metabolized during the optimum period.

Whey protein is also low in fat and usually available without added sugar or other carbs, which is excellent for those who are trying to build muscle while still losing fat or maintaining their current body fat percentage.


CLA, or conjugated linoleic acid, is another very popular supplement among those trying to lose body fat. Linoleic acid is a fatty acid found in meat, poultry and dairy products, but it’s almost impossible to get enough CLA through diet alone, or at least to get it without taking in too much saturated fat.

This is because CLA is found in such small amounts in meat and dairy, but these products also contain a great deal of other saturated fats. Trying to get enough CLA (a minimum of 3g per day) would mean eating an awful lot of meat and taking in an excessive number of calories.

There have been numerous studies done on the effect of CLA on fat loss. The amount of CLA used in these studies varies between 3-7g of CLA daily, depending on the desired results and the length of the study.

CLA works by inhibiting the absorption of saturated fats and at the same time preserving and even increasing the amount of muscle mass.

In several studies that ranged from twelve weeks to twelve months, supplementing with between 3.4g and 6g of CLA resulted in significant body fat loss (averages ranged from 5-9% total body fat loss) but also an increase in lean muscle tissue (averaging about 2-3%). While the muscle gain may not seem substantial on the surface, it is when you consider that this muscle gain occurred during a fat loss regimen.

All three of these nutritional supplements should be an important part of your fat loss and muscle-building program, but it’s essential to remember that simply taking them won’t change your body composition. You’ll still need to do the work of following a consistent workout program and eating a nutrient-dense, balanced diet.

However, with these supplements on board, chances are you’ll reach your goals much faster and much more easily.



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