Strength athletes and bodybuilders are always on the lookout for the next best supplement that can drive their performance to the max. Supplement companies pump out dozens if not hundreds of new products a year. Unfortunately, most supplements have absolutely no effect. As Dr. Ron Maughan states: “If it works, it’s probably banned. If it’s not banned, it probably doesn’t work.”
Fortunately, there are a few supplements out there which have plenty of research backing their positive effects on health and performance. These aren’t going to be your overly marketed, useless testosterone boosters, but instead, these products help supplement an already healthy diet.
1) Protein Powder
Protein is the essential macro nutrient necessary for building muscle mass. Unfortunately, many individuals find it difficult to consume enough protein through whole food sources. In that case, a simple protein shake with water or milk is a perfect way to supplement their diet.
There are several types of protein supplements on the market, but the most popular choices are whey protein and casein protein. Whey protein is the number one choice when it comes to athletes and bodybuilders. Whey protein is quickly digested and is therefore often combined with simple carbs as a post-workout shake. This allows for quick resorption of lost nutrients and jumpstarts the healing process. Casein on the other hand digests a lot slower and is therefore often consumed right before going to bed. This allows for a constant stream of protein into the body to continue the healing process overnight.
Creatine is naturally produced by animals and humans. Its stored in the muscles and used to generate ATP during exercise. ATP is then used by the muscles as energy for muscle contraction. Creatine is found in lots of meats, but in such small amounts that a supplement is often needed. Supplementing with creatine allows more creatine to be stored in the muscles, allowing your muscles to fatigue slower, which results in more strength, reps and sets.
Creatine usually comes in a powder, either contained in a capsule or simply in a large tub, akin to that of a protein powder tub. There are several ways to supplement with creatine, but typically one would have a loading phase followed by a maintenance phase. To load up on creatine you use about 15-20g of creatine per day for 5-7 days. You then follow that up with a maintenance period wherein you use about 2-5g of creatine daily to maintain muscle creatine levels.
For more information, check out the article Bodybuilding.com has on creatine supplementation!
3) Fish Oil
Fish oil is as simple as it sounds, it’s oil derived from oily fish tissue such as mackerel, sardine, and salmon. Fish oil contains omega-3 fatty acids which aids to keep the body healthy but also helps with weight loss and muscle growth. Overtime, athletes and bodybuilders tend to develop inflammation in the joints or suffer overuse injuries. Omega-3 fats found in fish oil help reduce the inflammation, allowing for faster recovery and therefore more time in the gym.
In addition to the muscle growth benefits, fish oil also lowers Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL) levels, burns fat, and reduces the risk of cardiovascular and heart disease. Fish oil is a supplement everyone can benefit from, but especially if you are health-conscious.
Bodybuilders and athletes tend to plan their meals and prepare their meals in one large batch. This often results in eating the same foods day in and day out. This can sometimes lead to micro nutrient deficiencies which can range from slight fatigue to precursors of terrible diseases such as scurvy and osteoporosis. Fortunately, there is a way to keep on meal prepping while avoiding micro nutrient deficiencies all together: multi-vitamin supplementation.
A good, high-quality multi-vitamin contains all micro nutrients your body requires in the appropriate, recommended doses. This allows your body to keep functioning at its peak, allowing you to keep on building muscle. Make sure you follow the recommended servings, because over-consumption of micro nutrients could also lead to problems, such as nausea and liver damage.
Everyone has those days where they just aren’t feeling it, whether it was a bad night’s rest, bad day at work, or you’re simply exhausted. It’s finally time for the gym but you have the feeling its not going to go well. This is where caffeine comes into play. Taking 3-6mg of caffeine per kg of bodyweight about an hour before exercise has been proven to effectively raise energy levels, delay muscle fatigue, and increase motivation.
While caffeine will help aid you in the short term by giving you an energy boost when feeling down, caffeine alone will not magically increase muscle mass. Unfortunately, caffeine is not all positives. Caffeine dehydrates your body, requiring you to drink more water than normal. It is also important to note that prolonged use of caffeine can result in headaches, rapid heart rate, and if used in large doses, insomnia. It is recommended to only use caffeine when absolutely necessary, and to not become dependent on caffeine for a good workout.
Pre-workout is kind of a combination of a few of the supplements mentioned above. A pre-workout blend tends to contain caffeine to give you a large boost in energy, creatine to maximize muscle creatine levels, and BCAA’s (branch-chain amino acids) to help with protein synthesis and prevent muscle breakdown. Quick note, the reason BCAA’s themselves are not on the list is because all animal protein, as well as the majority of protein supplements, contain most, if not all, BCAA’s necessary for proper protein synthesis.
Consuming all these supplements together, about 30 minutes before a workout will prime your muscles for exercise. This gives you an extra boost to crank out a few more reps and sets, which over-time aids in more muscle growth.
Marketers use fancy language and misquoted studies to promote and sell hundreds of supplements, most of which are, at best, completely useless, and at worst, potentially harmful. The few supplements you should spend your money on do not focus on hormonal changes, magical muscle growth, or tremendous fat loss in a short time. Worthwhile supplements focus on improving your health altogether while filling in the gaps in an already healthy diet.
Before spending any of your money on supplements make sure you are not making any of these detrimental muscle building mistakes! And if you’ve made excellent muscle gains and are ready to get ripped, check out these easy tips to sticking with your diet!
What supplements do you use most often? Let me know in the comments!