A long time ago, in a gym far, far away, someone made the statement, “Man, you don’t need supplements, just eat a good diet and you get everything you need to be jacked”.
Saying you don’t “need” supplements to get jacked is kind of like saying you don’t “need” to deadlift to get strong.
Sure, you might be able to do it. But if you ignore a tool that can help your training, then you are leaving a lot of gains on the table.
Now, the world of supplements can be a bit of a quagmire. It is hard to know exactly what supplements work, how they work, when to take them, etc.
When it comes to building muscle and getting more out of your training, there are 5 supplements that most people would benefit from.
Creatine supplementation appears to be the most effective legal nutritional supplement currently available for getting you jacked (i.e. enhancing your training and lean body mass). Long story short, creatine works by improving your body’s capacity to produce ATP during short, intense training.1
Related: The Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Bodybuilding Supplements
The research surrounding the ergogenic effect of creatine supplementation is pretty mind-blowing. There are easily over 500 peer-reviewed papers on the topic and approximately 70% of the research has reported an increase in exercise capacity.2,3,4
In both the short term and long-term, creatine supplementation appears to enhance the overall quality of training. This often leads to a 5 to 15% greater gains in strength and performance.
If you are trying to get bigger, faster, and stronger, but you’re not taking creatine, you are missing out on some serious gains.
Muscle fatigue kills your training.
Remember the last time you were doing weighted dips and you hit the wall and just couldn’t hammer out another rep even if your life depended on it? Beta-Alanine may help you get that extra rep in as it has been shown to reduce muscular fatigue and increase work capacity.
Serious lifters need massive amounts of energy and focus to fuel their intensive workouts.
Pre-workout nutrition and supplementation achieve these objectives in the most efficient manner possible.
However, the pre-workout period is also a time to promote muscle growth.
To experience the kind of muscle growth commensurate with intensive gym efforts, muscle protein synthesis must occur frequently, especially before, during, and after workouts.
Muscle functions in an anabolic or catabolic state. To experience ongoing muscle gains, the rate of muscle protein synthesis (the anabolic state) must continue to exceed the rate of muscle protein degradation (the catabolic state).
Every effort must be made to ensure the right nutrients are taken at the right times to keep growth on an upward trajectory. Pre-workout is the ideal time to prime the body for high performance, fat burning, and post-workout recovery. This article will show how.
Confusion reigns when it comes to pre-workout nutrition. Whole-food meals consisting of proteins and carbs are thought to be sufficient. Though important, whole foods pre-workout are only part of the equation. Which begs the questions: What about supplementation? What are the best options and specific ingredients?
As a committed gymgoer you may find yourself seeking answers on how to get the most from each workout through cutting-edge supplementation. Look no further. What follows is a detailed overview of the best pre-workout essentials needed to fuel workout intensity and engage the growth process.
People often forget that the supplement industry is just like any other, where product quality and consumer value can vary drastically from company to company.
While some companies actively strive to create the best possible product for the consumer, there will always be some that try to make a quick profit.
This article is going to help you separate the good from the bad and teach you the tricks of the trade that some companies may take to fool you into purchasing their less than reputable products.
Now, this isn’t to say all supplements are a waste of time. The key is to stay with the research backed products or ingredients.
It’s not all doom and gloom either.
Some supplements can help to improve acquisition of lean mass, boost sports performance, and help you drop considerable amounts of body fat, all while drastically reducing markers of disease such as cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar.
Again, the key takeaway is to purchase the right ones, supported by well-designed research!
One common strategy companies may use is listing numerous ingredients in one product, such as a pre-workout. While these are often great at saving you money and time from having to make your own, it’s important to understand that most ingredients have a “minimum threshold”.
In other words, unless you ingest a specific or minimum amount, you will receive little or no benefit. For this reason, making sure your product is adequately dosed should be a top priority.
Furthermore, a half dose does not always mean you still get some benefit like you might logically think. When it comes to a lot of ingredients “it’s all or nothing”. For example, studies show if you consume 15g of whey protein you fail to muscle protein synthesis (key biological process behind building muscle).
You’ve seen the headlines. One day no one needs to take vitamins, the next day, it turns out everyone needs them.
Just how important is it to take vitamins anyway and which ones are we to choose for best results?
If you’re a high performance athlete then you know you can be more vulnerable to nutritional deficiencies than the average person.
Bodybuilders and other athletes place a heavy demand on their bodies and often restrict certain nutrients/foods to get lean. But doing this can actually create a barrier between you and that muscle growth you’re striving for.
So if you’re struggling with muscle growth, energy replenishment or even positive performance outcomes then you might just have a poor micronutrient intake.
WHAT ARE MICRONUTRIENTS?
Micronutrients, which include vitamins, minerals and additional co-factors such as co-enzymes, are essential to life. Micronutrients make myriad biochemical processes happen. Pound down all the protein and carbs you want but chances are if your micros are not in the correct balance, you can forget about building quality muscle.
Frequently neglected among athletes are vitamins. There are 13 in the human body: 4 fat-soluble (A, D, E and K – stored in the body for long periods) and 9 water-soluble (8 B-vitamins and C – rapidly flushed from the body and excreted in urine).
As of 2009 more than 2 billion people globally were affected by micronutrient deficiency.14With 50% of the general population at risk of vitamin D deficiency2 and 1 in 4 adults deficient in vitamin B12 it is clear that even in developed countries, the right nutrient balance can be very difficult to achieve.9
People with no vitamin deficiency symptoms, many believe they are getting their required vitamin intake through a well-balanced diet. But such diets are, in reality, less than optimal.
Related: Top 5 Supplements You Need to Be Taking
In fact, over time, the suboptimal intake of vitamins may result in a breakdown of the cellular metabolism required for the proper growth and functioning of bodily tissues and organs. Disease and illness may result. Physical capabilities will certainly decline.
Some people are at greater risk of vitamin deficiency. For example, aging populations are less capable of absorbing vital nutrients. In addition, athletes continue to suffer micronutrient depletion due to the rigors of intensive training.
Those vulnerable to vitamin deficiencies may simply choose to increase their intake of wholesome foods. While a well-balanced diet devoid of processed foods undoubtedly provides a solid foundation for continued good health, such an approach can still lead to subclinical vitamin deficiencies.
Today’s farming practices and pest control measures have been shown to significantly reduce the mineral content of soil and the vitamin content of produce.15, 16 Un-ripened fruits also lack certain nutrients. Processing and preservation can strip fruit and vegetables of valuable vitamins.
Until you have achieved “the pump” you haven’t fully lived.
If you have never walked out of the gym with your biceps feeling like they are going to explode, your whole life has been a lie.
I’m only half kidding here. Well, actually I am not kidding at all; the pump is the best.
In fact, there is a whole class of supplements that were originally designed to help you achieve the pump, known today as nitric oxide boosters.
More recently, nitric oxide boosters have been utilized in wider applications as they are meant to increase blood flow.
Increased blood flow can improve nutrient delivery to muscle tissue, allowing you to train longer, harder, recover better, and makes achieving the elusive pump easier.
While most nitric oxide boosting supplements contain a plethora of ingredients, there are really only a few things you need to know about to really understand NO boosters.
What IS NITRIC OXIDE?
So before we go any further we should probably fill you in on what the heck nitric oxide is and why the heck you would want to boost it.
Nitric oxide causes vasodilation. This effectively increases blood flow which can increase nutrient and oxygen delivery to the muscles. Essentially, vasodilation gives your muscles more go juice.
Related: Are BCAAs an Essential Part of Your Supplementation Plan?
The Quick and Dirty: Arginine is an amino acid that is turned into nitric oxide in the body. In theory arginine should improve blood flow and thus improve performance and enhance your training.
Currently, the results are mixed and we don’t have a slam dunk case for it. This supplement may be a case of “responders vs non-responders” and some self-experimentation may prove that it is an effective supplement for you.
The Deeper Dive: The real science from studies done on L-arginine studies indicate that it does get taken up into the body and that nitric oxide boosting supplements with L-arginine do effectively increase arginine levels.
However, the increase of arginine levels in the blood doesn’t always translate into efficacy for blood flow or improvement in work capacity. One study has shown that arginine supplementation increases levels of arginine in the blood but does not increase levels of nitric oxide or muscular blood flow, nor does it enhance muscle protein synthesis.1
Yet, another shows that it increases blood volume but not strength performance.2
Even longer term supplementation of arginine appears to be largely ineffective. 7 days of supplementing with 12d/day of an arginine-alpha-ketoglutarate supplement showed that it did indeed increase plasma levels of L-arginine but had zero effect on hemodynamics or blood flow.3 More studies have shown no meaningful or significant increase in training capacity.
Currently, the evidence suggests that L-arginine may increase circulatory blood flow, but does not consistently or meaningfully increase training performance. No it isn’t all doom and gloom as when you look deeper into the research it appears that there are definitely “responders” and “non-responders” (I looked at a lot of papers and made assumptions based on means and standard deviations).
Perhaps it is time to enter a brand new era of NO boosting and find something that is more effective.
The Quick and Dirty: L-arginine is only one way to increase nitric oxide in your blood and increase blood and oxygen deliver. There appears to be a different molecule that is more effective than L-arginine at boosting NO and at improving training.
Recent evidence has shown that inorganic nitrate (NO3-) from dietary sources can also increase NO production.4 Most supplemental nitrate comes from beet root juice or nitrate salts.
Of all the topics that spur epic online debates, post workout protein consumption might take the cake.
Carbohydrates and ketogenic diets are a close second but nothing enrages people like the “one scoop versus two scoop” argument.
OLD SCHOOL BELIEF
For a long time there was this idea that 30 grams was the perfect amount to consume after a workout because anything over that was wasted. But a few years ago some nerd in a lab coat told us 25 was the maximum effective amount (I can say this because I am a nerd with a lab coat. Seriously, I am wearing mine right now).
It was also believed that around 20 grams of whey was the amount needed to really get a “boost” in muscle protein synthesis post workout by protein ingestion. This is likely why you see most protein supplements that have servings in the 20-30 gram range with between 24-27 grams being the most popular.
The great part about science is that it learns and grows, always updating its “beliefs” about the world based upon new evidence. Fortunately for us, there has been a lot of research done on what is the optimal amount post-workout protein for muscle growth and recovery and we now have a much better answer!
A DAWNING OF A NEW ERA?
One of the most beautiful things about science is you can use experiments to answer hard questions; including what is the best amount of protein to consume after you get done slinging iron and getting your pump on.
Recently, a study from Dr. Tipton’s lab has brought forth new evidence to show that “two scooping it” may be more effective than “1 scooping it”.1 Before we get into the data I have to tell you that this pleases me because 2 scooping it makes shakes taste substantially better.
Ok, sorry for the digression, back to the science. Recently, a group of researchers (fellow white lab coat wearers) had a group of resistance trained individuals engage in a full body training protocol and then slam back one scoop (20 grams of whey protein) or 2 scoops (40 grams of whey protein).
When you break down the study in full it looks like there was a slightly higher level of muscle protein synthesis.
Related: 4 Post-Workout Nutrition Myths (That Are Actually Relevant)
The differences weren’t gigantic by any means and we don’t know whether or not this leads to bigger biceps 12-16 weeks down the line, but we can definitely say that it looks like from a “molecular biology” standpoint that 40 grams of protein results in higher protein creation immediately following a workout than 20 grams, so our old myth of 30 can die a nice, quiet, pseudoscientific death.
Now this study has caused a lot of “stirring” amongst the fitness media mob, but we really need to consider it in the context of decades worth of research and other data. Without getting too lost in the details we can look at the research as a whole and draw a few conclusions.
Many of the studies showing that 20 or 30 grams appears to be the “upper” limit were often done in non-trained individuals or in “split” training style exercises. Generally speaking, these studies, due to their design, recruited less overall muscle mass and engaged in less overall volume than the recent study showing that the 40 grams appears to have a slight advantage.
Now we also have to look at the marginal increase that the 40 grams gave us over the 20 grams. It may be that the slight advantage results in meaningful long-term gains, or it might be that it doesn’t.
For now, the jury is still out but I think we can safely conclude from the past studies, and the most recent one, that the data suggests that the more muscle mass we recruit and the more volume of training we engage in, the more protein we can successfully utilize toward growing new muscle. Think of it like this figure.