Open a magazine and just look at not only the amount of supplement ads but all the different types of supplements on the market. It is no wonder that bodybuilders are always researching the latest information on the newest supplements and how and when to use them. It can be difficult to sift through all of the info and find which ones really do work and which ones may be a waste of your time. How do you know which supplements are worth your hard-earned money? How do you determine which ones to try and which ones should be a staple in your quest for the ultimate physique? Well, set your chicken, rice and broccoli aside for a moment as I will tell you which supplements should be a part of your foundation program and which you should give an honest chance.
This list will be structured by level of importance and how much relevance it has to your bodybuilding goals for muscle mass growth. It is also considering that you have a sound bodybuilding-friendly diet consisting of plenty of whole proteins, complex carbs, and healthy fats eaten in small frequent meals (five to seven) spread throughout the day. Supplements are just that-they are for supplementing or adding to already good eating habits. If you are not practicing those habits then supplements will not come to your rescue. If so, then enjoy your forthcoming gains!
Whey protein is the granddaddy of supplements and is a must in your mass seeking arsenal. As a fast digesting protein, it is ideal for pre and post workout nutrition and extremely convenient. Rich in Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) leucine, isoleucine, and valine, whey is invaluable as a fast-acting muscle booster to help you stay ahead of the curve when it comes to muscle repair and growth.
Try taking 20 grams with complex carbs about 30 to 60 minutes before training and 40 grams with 60 to 80 grams of simple carbs immediately after training. Taking whey before training will set up an anabolic environment in the muscles and taking it after training will enable whey to be more readily absorbed by the muscle tissue. This will bookend your efforts in the gym so you will leave no stone unturned on your pursuit of the most effective recovery.
Also, when choosing a whey protein product make sure it is low in carbs and fat. Carbs and fat slow digestion down a bit. Post workout you want protein to rapidly enter the muscles, which can slow digestion down a bit when you need it most post workout. Some products include protein enzymes to help with digestion. If you have digestion problems with whey try a product with enzymes included, it may do just the trick and allow you to easily digest this “must have” supplement.
If you have never heard of creatine, then welcome to earth. Touted by athletes and researchers as one of the most effective supplements ever created, creatine has grown quite a powerful reputation. Heavily researched and widely used, athletes from all disciplines have sworn creatine’s effectiveness with readily apparent and fast-acting results. This supplement is another “must.”
As it gets converted to creatine phosphate in the muscles it creates a very anabolic environment in the tissue allowing more protein synthesis to occur. This “superhydration” of fluid in the muscle cells allows more nutrients to help repair and grow tissue. Try taking 3-5 grams pre and post workout with your whey shakes. Again, the pre workout dose will prime the muscles so they will be ready for the intense training to come and the post workout dose will enable the muscles to shuttle in creatine at a quick rate so the tissue will be topped off for the next session.
Some people claim creatine bloats their stomachs and/or intestinal area. If this is the case, it may not be digesting properly or completely. Creatine monohydrate may only be partially absorbing in the intestines but some may still be sitting outside of the intestinal walls. This causes that area to attract water and therefore a bloat in the lower G.I. tract. You are in luck. Creatine ethyl ester is a form of creatine that has been developed to be absorbed even more effectively. Creatine ethyl ester is broken down more readily for easier digestion. For you that means less bloat and more effective digestion of creatine to where it needs to go for growth and repair.
“What?” You’re saying. Yes, zinc, magnesium, vitamin C and vitamin E are essential to the body when you are undergoing intense training. Sure, they don’t sound like the latest supplement breakthroughs, but the body produces free radicals which can circulate and cause damage. Antioxidant vitamins C and E can help combat these free radicals and strengthen the immune system, which means a healthier recovery ability and better gains. ZMA helps with increasing Insulin Growth factor-1 (IGF-1) and testosterone-potent hormones to help you along your quest for a more massive physique.
These two categories are what I call foundation supplements. You won’t instantly feel them working like creatine or caffeine, but they are of utmost importance regarding the body’s general health and wellbeing. If the body is not in a healthy state to begin with, how can it possibly build any muscle tissue? ZMA and antioxidants help maintain a healthy foundation so you are able to build upon it.
Take 500 mg of vitamin C and 200 to 400 IU of vitamin E with your first whole food post workout meal. Before bed take a ZMA supplement providing around 30 mg of zinc, 450 mg of magnesium, and 10 mg of B6.
Another great protein product which, with the right timing, can be used to your advantage is casein. Casein is a slow digesting protein for those times when you need a longer lasting supply of amino acids in the bloodstream. It can be taken before bedtime with some healthy fats such as flax oil or natural peanut butter to have steady release of protein. Since it digests slower, casein is also ideal for when you need a convenient protein shake at any time during the day when you are unable to eat solid food. The steady flow of nutrients will allow your body to keep feeding, supplying those muscles with what they need. 20 grams of casein is great to add to your post workout shake of whey, creatine and simple carbs.
Another unglamorous supplement is glutamine which is a very abundant amino acid in the muscle tissue. Although not “sexy,” glutamine has a host of unbeatable benefits such as helping muscles take up glycogen after a workout, maintaining immune function, and increasing growth hormone levels. It can also delay fatigue so you can workout harder longer and keep you out of that dreaded catabolic state. If your system is in short supply of glutamine it will actually steal it from muscle tissue, so can you think of any reason not to supplement with it?
Try 10 grams pre and post workout to help combat the fatigue factor and give the recovery process a head start. Again, glutamine may not be a jolt of energy or enable you to instantly have strength gains, but in the long run you won’t be sorry. As another “foundation” supplement glutamine works behind the scenes to help other processes happen.
Here are a few more supplements that may or may not work for you so just remember to try them one at a time. If you were to take all of them at once how would you know which ones worked?
Maltodextrins are carbs that are easily digestible. They made from natural corn starch which is cooked, and then acid and/or enzymes are used to break down the starch. Maltodextrin is a great carb addition to a whey or casein shake. This “weight gainer shake” is a convenient way to get some serious calories into your diet without the added sugar.
Vitargo is a high molecular weight, sugar free carbohydrate which is perfect for your post workout shake. It can produce the same insulin spike after training as sugar without the unwanted effects. Combined with creatine and whey protein, vitargo is a great way to add carbs while staying on a low sugar diet.
Arginine readily converts to nitric oxide (NO) in the body. By dilating blood vessels, arginine allows more nutrients such as amino acids and glucose into the muscle cells. With more nutrients and fluid in the muscle more protein synthesis can occur. Try 3 grams upon waking, pre workout, and before bed.
Tribulus Terrestris: As a testosterone booster tribulus terrestris can also increase nerve activity in the muscle cells allowing for more powerful workouts. Take 300-500 mg before training.
Carnosine allows muscle to contract more forcefully and for longer periods of time. In addition it can delay fatigue so you can last longer with greater intensity in the gym. Try 1-2 grams before workouts.
So there you have it; five must have supplements with a few to take to the lab (gym) and try for yourself. Remember to always use caution when taking any supplement and always ask a medical professional if you feel you have any health concerns. With a sound bodybuilding diet, hard training, and a few strategically taken key supplements you can build one impressive physique without confusion.
By Brad Borland, M.A., CSCS workoutlab.net