“What supplements help with body composition? What can I take that will turn fat into muscle?”
If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard these questions over the last 15 years as a dietitian and trainer, I’d be set up for a cushy and early retirement. Nearly everyone I’ve worked with, regardless of their health goal, has shared that they would love to increase their tone and lean muscle and drop any excess fat. And those who share that their goal is weight loss often don’t realize that they’re actually looking to get leaner — which involves a loss of body fat and a gain in muscle.
It’s human nature to look for the easy button and hope for results in a pill.
Deep down, most people know though that the true key to seeing results and changing how your body looks and feels lies in prioritizing the most important daily habits, done consistently over time. This includes things such as high protein intake, limited snacking, adequate sleep, daily movement and steps, and strength training. Supplements are an important part of any fat-loss and muscle-gain plan, but they’re not the only part.
We have a common phrase at Life Time that sums up our approach to supplementation pretty succinctly:
There’s no supplement that can cancel out the effects of a poor diet, and there’s no diet that’s so good that it can’t benefit from supplementation.
That being said, when we are looking at the supplement component of someone’s larger health plan who is trying to change their body composition through fat loss, muscle gain, and, most commonly, a combination of the two, below are our top, go-to options.
First Place: Life Time All-in-One Protein Powders
This includes our Whey+ All-In-One and Vegan+ All-in-One shake mixes.
Increasing protein intake used to be a best-kept secret to transforming your body. Thankfully, more and more people are becoming aware of the transformative power protein has on health and metabolism.
You want to include high quality, real-food protein sources such as wild-caught fish, eggs, grass-fed beef, and pastured poultry throughout the day, but a high-quality protein powder adds a layer of convenience, portability, time savings, calorie control, and variety to the mix. They key is to find one that is sourced from the best raw materials, has a stringent manufacturing process, and is tested for quality before ever landing on a shelf.
These ones meet the mark and have several other ingredient add-ins that make them our No. 1 go-to in supporting a fat-loss and muscle-gain program. We love them so much that the Vegan+ All-in-One is the signature supplement that comes with Life Time’s 1-2-12 Complete Nutrition System.
This option is great for body composition because it:
Features 30 grams of protein per serving. This happens to be the minimum recommended number of grams of protein per meal for those looking to change their body composition.
Is available in both grass-fed whey and dairy-free vegan options. For those who tolerate whey, it’s hand down one of the best protein sources on the planet. It’s highly bioavailable and includes functional serum proteins that support immunity and liver health when it comes from a pastured, grass-fed source. Research shows whey can support improvements in lean body mass, lower hunger hormones, and reduce waist circumference.
However, for the estimated 70 percent of people who have a sensitivity to dairy, using whey may cause problems and discomfort — and slow down results. Our vegan option, made from pea, chia, and chlorella proteins, provides an amino acid profile similar to whey which has been shown to provide comparable benefits.
Contains a multivitamin and multimineral blend. Anyone with a fundamental understanding of biology knows that a consistent supply of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) is crucial for supporting metabolism, energy levels, and overall functioning. Those looking to lose body fat and gain lean muscle can often benefit from extra support due to a combination of unhealthy food choices, calorie restriction when trying to change body composition, and reduced availability of nutrients in produce due to soil depletion.
Studies have shown that a multivitamin supplement using bioavailable forms of nutrients at the right doses are tied to weight loss, increased fat oxidation, and calorie burn.
The Vegan+ All-in-One option provides over 50 percent of 17 essential vitamins and minerals in each serving, while the Whey+ All-in-One does the same for over 19 of them.
Includes a probiotic blend. Digestive health is a brimming area of research — and much has been found tying the balance of good to bad bacteria in the gut to weight. Certain strains of bacteria tend to be more prevalent in those who are of a healthy weight versus those with excess body fat. Probiotics (or “good” bacteria) can also influence vitamin status, appetite, and weight directly.
Both options of the Life Time All-in-One Protein contain Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium lactis, and Bifidiobacterium bifidum.
Offers a fiber blend. Boosting fiber is critical for supporting gut bacterial health and removing excess estrogen — both of which are tied to the ability to change body composition. The Vegan+ All-in-One option has an added blend from the fibers of bamboo, pea, flaxseed, and apple. For those who need more of a boost (depending on baseline fiber intake), adding a prebiotic fiber blend, particularly one that has green tea extract, to their All-in-One shakes can be helpful.
How to use it:
Since it’s designed to be a “shake and go” option, you can simply mix a serving with 8 to 12 ounces of water in a shaker cup and have it be a really easy and nutritious meal or snack replacement. You can also make it more robust by blending it with ice, unsweetened nut milk, some berries, and a bit of healthy fat like nut butter.
Tied for Second Place: Creatine Monohydrate and Omega-3 Fatty Acids
In my experience, creatine may be one of the most misunderstood supplements out there.
It’s been thoroughly researched in more than 7,000 studies for both safety and efficacy. It helps hydrate the muscles, which supports lean mass, and can help get you more muscle-building benefit from workouts by supporting power output, acceleration time, and recovery. And the more muscle you gain (all other things equal), the lower your body-fat percentage and the leaner you are.
While creatine is found naturally in meat, fish, and poultry, supplementing with 5 grams of creatine monohydrate powder provides comparable creatine intake to 2 to 4 pounds of meat. The most common countries that source creatine are the United States, Germany, and China, with the German-sourced option often seen as superior. Life Time’s creatine option comes from the highest-quality German-made Creapure® creatine monohydrate.
How to use it:
Add one-half to one scoop in your post-workout shake daily. If you’re not exercising, add it to water or any cold beverage or shake at whatever time of day works best.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil also rank high on the list of recommended body-composition supplements since they’ve been shown to help decrease wait-to-hip ratio, reduce visceral fat (the fat that is deep within the abdomen), and increase lean body mass. The essential fatty acids that a good-quality supplement can provide also improve feelings of fullness and satiety, while helping the body store more calories as glycogen within the liver and muscles instead of storing them as body fat.
One study showed that 44 men and women who supplemented with fish oil without changing nutrition and exercise patterns decreased their body fat and body-fat percentage. When looking for a quality supplement, find one that can provide the recommended dose of 2,400 of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) in a reasonable number of capsules, as well as comes in a triglyceride form versus an ethyl ester, and comes from small fish instead of larger species (such as tuna, salmon, or cod).
Life Time’s omega-3 fish oil is highly concentrated and meets these standards, plus takes sustainability into account, while also testing every batch to make sure it’s free of contaminants.
How to take it:
Most people want to aim to consume two capsules, twice daily with food. While it’s not required, storing it in the fridge can help with stability and shelf life.
Runner Up: Strength Stack Bundle
The Life Time Strength Stack contains two different products: Amino Recovery and Pre-Workout powders.
While each of these separately offer a whole host of benefits, they both contain key ingredients that make them strong contenders together in any body-composition supplement regimen.
The Amino Recovery powder is a blend of quickly-absorbed essential and conditionally-essential amino acids — and includes all the branched-chain amino acids in a scientifically backed 2:1:1 ratio of leucine, isoleucine, and valine. These have been shown in studies to promote lean tissue and physique. When someone is working to lose weight, amino acids help the body hold onto muscle and use fat for fuel when calories are low, while stimulating our feel-full hormone, leptin.
The specific Pre-Workout found in this bundle can also be beneficial for those looking to change body composition due to the inclusion of Carnosyn® beta-alanine and L-citrulline. Beta-alanine is an amino acid, and studies have shown that after a month of supplementation it can improve muscle mass, likely due to its recognized, positive impact on endurance during intense exercise. (Note: For some people, beta-alanine can induce a tingling or prickling feeling that is harmless.)
L-citrulline can be supportive of body composition through it’s ability to improve nitric oxide, which stimulates blood flow, energy, and muscle growth. Research shows that 6,000mg taken a half hour before workouts is best.
How to use it:
Work up to two scoops of Life Time Pre-Workout, consuming 30 minutes before exercise. Most people start with one scoop for a few days, then move up to one-and-a-half scoops for another few days, then up to the full two scoops as tolerated.
The Amino Recovery powder is best taken during workouts or between meals. The ideal dose is one scoop per 100 pounds of body weight.