Do sports supplements actually work? Do you really need supplements in order to build muscle? Are they worth the money? So many questions with even fewer answers...
Let me help clear it up a bit.
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Selecting and using the right supplements can be a very confusing subject, with so many products on the market.
Supplement advertisers will make you believe that their product will turn you into a Mr. Olympia contender overnight.
As active weight trainers we are bombarded with advertisements about the latest break through or wonder supplement that will literally change our bodies overnight.
However, we really need to think about what it is we are expecting from supplements. Its also important to put supplements into perspective. You can make great gains without supplementation.
However, you cannot make great gains without proper training and nutrition.
Sports supplements enhance and promotes the muscle gains made from hard training and nutrition. Supplements should not replace the food in your diet. It is very important that you understand this perspective.
Supplements should only be used once you've built your nutritional foundation and have your diet down to a science. Once you have your diet plan down, and are seeing quality results with your training program, you can add sports supplements to enhance your muscle building program.
I suggest you do your homework when it comes to using weight lifting supplements and make an informed decision before consuming any powder, pill, or brew. Read as much literature as possible on your chosen supplement.
If there is any doubt, save you money. You will also want to ensure that the health supplement manufacturer is well established in the industry and not a fly by night company.
With that being said, supplements can play an important roll in building muscle. Allow me to say this, supplements are meant to enhance an already great program.
If you have the right combination of nutrients and weight training, a proper supplement schedule may serve to enhance your performance by helping you overcome certain stumbling blocks or achieve certain objectives.
Weight lifting supplements can also play an important role as convenience tools in our very busy lives. For example:
- Perhaps there are some foods that you can't eat or don't like. Health supplements can fill in the nutritional gap left by excluding such foods
- Maybe your schedule is so busy that you don't have time to prepare food
- Maybe you want to gain that competitive edge
In order for Supplements to function properly, they must be taken at the proper times and in the proper amounts. Remember to have a consistent diet down to a science before you start taking any supplements.
You want to make sure you've been following a steady and progressive weight training routine before taking any supplements. Beginners often make the mistake of trying to take too many supplements at the expense of consistently following a routine. Follow a solid routine for at least 6 to 8 weeks before thinking of taking supplements. Once you've assessed your progress, add some basic supplements such as protein powder and maybe some creatine. However, it you're not making any improvements, supplements won't help. Review and assess your routine and nutritional habits.
Alright, lets go over some of the more popular supplements that may be useful in your weight lifting program. On to the basics...
To build muscle, you need protein. You need to supply your body with the necessary amino acids found in protein. Protein is the nutrient most responsible for the creation of new muscle tissue.
Without an adequate supply of protein, new muscular growth is not possible. If you lack protein, you radically reduce your chances of building new muscle.
In the worst case scenario, you risk the chance of losing hard earned muscle. Training hard while in a protein deficiency state can be very hazardous to your training regime.
Do protein supplements work? Yes, without a doubt. Quality protein supplements have been shown in clinical studies to work. Protein supplements have been staple in the fitness industry for over 30 years. Add these supplements to your program to enhance protein uptake.
Supplementing with protein in the form of premixed drinks or shakes made from powders can help supply your daily protein needs.
Here are some examples of protein supplements:
Whey protein is by far the most popular protein health supplement today. It has been given a lot of attention these last few years due to its high biological value. Prior to whey, the best in protein supplements came from whole milk and eggs.
Egg was thought to be the standard because of its high protein efficiency ratio, which is a scale that measures how well a protein source is utilized by the body.
Whey protein is now used as the standard because of its high biological value. Biological value (BV) is a term used to determine the quality of food protein and the bodies ability to utilize that protein source in protein synthesis.
Food high in biological value are used for growth and repair of body tissues. Since whey protein has the highest biological value of all protein sources, health supplement manufacturers have been quick to jump on the whey protein bandwagon.
Whey represents the highest quality of protein available in weight lifting supplements. Whey protein is digested rapidly, allowing for fast uptake of amino acids, specifically branched chain amino acids.
After weight lifting, you want fast protein absorption into the body which is a prime time to feed your muscles. After a hard weight lifting session, your body is in a state of havoc. Your muscles are depleted of glycogen (muscle fuel) and are thirsty for fuel.
By feeding your muscles quality protein, you can speed up the recovery process in order to start building new muscle tissue.
Personally, I use a quality protein supplement for convenience. I just dont have time to make 6 meals a day. Whipping up a power packed protein drink for my mid morning meal and post workout meals are a cinch with protein powders. I simply add all of the ingredients up in a blender and presto, there ready to go.
Overall, whey is an excellent protein choice that can provide many benefits to the user. You may want to consider adding whey protein supplements to your building muscle diet.
Uses: Increasing daily protein requirements for overall fitness and muscle building.
Some of the more popular whey protein supplements include Optimum Nutritions 100% Whey, SportsPharmas Just Whey, and EASs Complete Whey.
Weve all seen the ads in magazines for the mass monster, weight gainer 3000", lean builder or muscle builder. These products belong to a group of supplements known as weight gain powders.
Most weight gain powders contain a mixture of carbohydrates, protein, vitamins and minerals, amino acids and other ingredients that are thought to improve body performance.
These supplements contain huge amounts of the basic food nutrients. Protein in particular, comprises the bulk of these supplements.
If you have the classic ectomorpoh body type (very skinny), and are having trouble gaining muscular weight, these high calorie supplements may be whats needed to pack on those extra pounds. A word of caution, these supplements are loaded with calories, over a thousand per serving in some cases so dont over do it.
Weight gain powders are useful for those people out there who are hardgainers. A serving of one of these weight lifting supplements may boost you caloric intake by 1000 calories and may be what's needed to kick start your metabolism into new growth.
Its very important to monitor your diet and caloric intake in order to make sure you dont add too much body fat as opposed to muscle. Remember that each meal must be balanced according to your desired nutritional goals and weight gain powders are no exception.
Uses: Helps to Increase daily caloric intake in order to add additional body weight
Some of the more popular weight gaining supplements on the market include Prolabs N2 Large, Optimum Nutritions Power Mass, and Twinlabs Gainers Fuel.
Another option to weight gain powders are meal replacement powders. Meal replacement powders (MRP) are great alternatives. These powders can be used as a balanced snack after exercise which contains a balanced carbohydrate-protein-fat combinations for potential muscle building enhancements.
These supplements provide less calories than weight gain powders and are much better tasting. However, they are a little more expensive.
Uses: Alternatives to weight gain powders for adding quality calories, protein, carbohydrates, and fat to a diet.
Some of the more popular MRPs include MuscleTechs Meso-Tech, MET-RX, Labradas Lean Body, and EASs Myoplex.
This one is a very interesting supplement which has gained a lot of popularity these recent years. Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in the body. Most glutamine is stored in your muscles, but there are rather significant amounts found in your blood, lungs, brain, and liver.
Among other things, glutamine serves as a building block for proteins and other amino acids. Glutamine has been shown in recent studies to optimize recovery. It does this in the following ways:
1) Spares protein
2) Stimulates the formation of glycogen
3) Protects immunity
4) Enhances protein synthesis
During very intense exercise, your muscles release glutamine into the blood stream. This can severely deplete the amount of glutamine reserves you have in your muscles. Such a short supply of glutamine in your muscles can pose a problem.
A glutamine deficiency can possibly lead to the breakdown of muscle tissue. But if there is sufficient glutamine available, muscle loss can be prevented.
Glutamine also promotes the formation of glycogen. As you know, glycogen is the number one fuel source of muscle. The more glycogen you have available for energy, the better.
Glutamine is the number one fuel source for cells that make up your immune system. Very intense exercise can severely deplete the amount of glutamine you have in your muscles.
Researchers now believe that this may be the cause for a weakened immune system for hard core trainers and athletes. Supplementing with glutamine may ward off some of those nasty bugs and keep you training hard. Glutamine also enhances protein synthesis by assisting with controlling hydration levels of cells (cell volumization).
By assisting in maintaining cell volume, protein synthesis is stimulated and protein breakdown is decreased. If you are interested in maximum performance, muscle repair, and immunity, glutamine may be the health supplement you're looking for.
The amount of Glutamine needed depends on the amount time that you work out and your diet. I recommend that you take between 15 - 25 grams per day.
I find the best time to ingest glutamine is upon rising, ½ hour before a workout or before bed in divided doses.
Of course, you will have to experiment a little to find out what works best for you.
Uses: To aid in protein synthesis for repairing lean body tissue.
Some of the more popular glutamine weight lifting supplements include EAS's L-Glutamine and Twinlab's Glutamine fuel. Both companies are well established in the sports supplement industry.
I believe carbohydrate supplements may be useful in your diet for two applications. Firstly, if your weight training sessions last any longer than one hour, you may want to use a supplement containg carbohydrates.
The reason? After 60 to 90 minutes of intense training, your body has just about used up all its glycogen levels.
Energy levels drastically drop after 60 to 90 minutes of intense weight lifting. Once stores of glycogen are used up, general body fatigue sets in. The fatigue is fast acting and leaves you is a state of lethargy.
Im sure you all know the feeling, one minute you're full of energy and strength, the next you're dragging you're heels to the next exercise.
What you want to do is ensure that your fuel tank is filled up with quality carbohydrates. If your body is low on fuel (carbohydrates) going into a heavy weight lifting session, your performance is going to be poor and sometimes it may lead to injuries. Having your muscles filled with quality carbohydrates will ensure maximum performance.
If you know your exercises are going to last longer than 60 minutes, you may want to consume a carbohydrate weight lifting supplement 30 minutes prior to training and sip a light carbohydrate beverage during the workout.
This way you are ensuring that the body uses its number one fuel source (carbohydrates) as opposed to protein (muscle builder). Proteins number one job is to build muscle, not fuel it.
The second application is regarding post workout weight lifting supplementation. What you want to do is refuel your muscle after a heavy weight lifting session. Recovery is an essential part of building muscle.
The better you recover from exercise, the harder and heavier youll train during your next session.
Supplementation Tip - Carboydrates Immediately after weight lifting
This is an excellent opportunity to feed your muscles with the fuel it needs to recover. The best type of carbohydrate to feed your muscles after an intense weight lifting session are fast acting carbohydrates with a high glycemic index.
The glycemic index is a scale that describes how fast a food is converted to glucose in the blood. The higher the number assigned to a particular food, the faster it converts to glucose. Carbohydrates with a high glycemic index are the ideal post training refueling food.
Similar to protein powders, carbohydrate powders provide convenience.
Most carbohydrate powders today have fancy names like carbo 2000, max energizer, or carbo booster. Dont let the name fool you, they all contain the same ingredient, carbohydrates.
Some carbohydrate supplements contain simple, complex, or a combination of carbohydrates. Optimum Nutritions Glycoload is an example of a carbohydrate powder that provides both, simple and complex carbohydrates.
This supplement contains fructose for longer lasting energy, dextrose for quick energy, and maltodextrin for slow energy release. This combination of carbohydrates ensures energy levels are sustained over prolonged periods of time.
If you are experiencing low energy levels during exercise, you may want to take such a supplement 30 minutes before your workout and/or immediately after your workout.
Do carbohydrate supplements work? Yes, without a doubt. Numerous studies have shown that these supplements do indeed work.
Uses: To provide energy for longer lasting workouts and to kick start the recovery process after a workout.
Some carbohydrate powders may contain more that just carbohydrates. Some powders may contain glutamine or amino acids such as Pacific Healths Endurox. These supplements use a combination of carbohydrates and protein to maximize recovery.
Choose a carbohydrate supplement that best fits your training program.
Hard workouts increase your nutritional needs. There is no doubt about it. Having extra amounts of vitamins and minerals may be the one supplement you may really want to consider adding to your diet.
Taking vitamin supplements should not take the place of good nutrition. Your body can get almost all the nutrients it needs from a balanced diet. However, research has shown that most North Americans fall short of the requirements for many key nutrients, including vitamins C, E, B12, folic acid, zinc, and magnesium, which is why a growing number of people are turning to supplements.
It is important to remember that vitamins are not a source of energy. They do not directly affect muscle growth and they do not necessarily affect exercise. But, they do perform highly specific metabolic functions, especially in energy metabolism.
Vitamins and minerals are vital to all our biological functions including the synthesis of new muscle tissue. Vitamins help release the energy provided by the macro nutrients such as protein, carbohydrates, and fat.
Although you should be getting your daily requirements from your daily diet, I'm a proponent of taking a high quality vitamin/mineral supplement. I like to think of it as good insurance, especially a good antioxidant multiple containing 100% of the daily values for vitamins and minerals.
These formulations will help you cover your nutritional bases, ensuring your body is at maximum performance. There are generally three kinds of categories of vitamin supplements.
The most common vitamin supplement is the multivitamin tablets which contain all the known vitamins as well as trace elements and minerals. Prices can range anywhere from $5 to $35.
Some of the more popular multivitamin supplements are Twinlabs Mega Vitamin/Mineral, Atkins Basic #1, and Beverly Internationals Ultra 4 Vitamin/Mineral.
The second category of vitamins supplements containin two or three vitamins. Some of the more common ones are B-complex plus vitamin C or some combination of the fat based vitamins. I'm a big believer in the Animal Pak which I feel is best for weight trainers looking to build muscle. Read my review of the Animal Pak here.
Prices can range anywhere from $5 to $35. Some of the more common types specialty combination vitamins are Prolabs Super C, E, and Carotene, Natures Way B-50 complex, and Optimum Nutritions Stress B Complex.
The third category of vitamin supplements are single vitamin products. Im sure youve seen these types of vitamins and minerals lined up on the shelves in health food stores.
There are pros and cons to taking these types of vitamin supplements.
The primary advantage is the dosages involved. If you feel you are lacking a certain vitamin, it may be ideal to supplement with that particular vitamin. In most cases, one tablet or capsule may be more than enough to supply you for a day.
The main disadvantage of single vitamin supplements can be classified as potentially dangerous. Certain vitamins are toxic if taken in too high of quantities. For example, too much vitamin B12 can cause liver damage and allergic reactions.
It is very important that you follow the prescribed vitamin dosages. See Twinlabs Super E Complex, and Optimum Nutritions Vitamin C.
Creatine works best in activities such as weight lifting and strength training where short bursts of strength are required. This is very beneficial for our purposes since we want to build muscle and power. Creatine boosts the pace of energy production in your cells. You can work out more intensely, and this means more muscle gains.
Creatine usually comes in a powdered form as creatine monohydrate, a white powder which is tasteless and odourless. The best time to take creatine is immediately after training. It should be combined with 50 grams of a simple carbohydrate such as dextrose or glucose and 50 grams of whey protein.
The body can only absorb so much creatine at a given time and too much creatine can cause cramps, nausea and bloating. I suggest you take your creatine supplement before and after your workouts. This increases creatine levels before exercise and speeds up recovery afterwards.
Do creatine supplements work? Yes, without a doubt. Unless you've been living under a rock for the last two decades, numerous studies have shown this supplement to do what is supposed to do, and that's to help provide short term energy in the muscles.
Uses: Helps provide short term bursts of energy in the muscles.
Some of the more popular creatine sources on the market include EASs Simply Creatine and Phosphagen HP, Twinlabs Creatine Fuel, and MuscleTechs Cell Tech. All of the companies are well established in the market.
If you've been weight training for any length of time and are interested in adding little more strength, than I strongly suggest you add a creatine supplement to your diet. It is a very effective supplement and may add to your efforts. For a more detailed discussion on creatine that includes how it works, why it works, how to take it and the best sources, see this page here.
Branched chain amino acids have been used in hospitals for years to stimulate protein synthesis and nitrogen balance in burn, starvation, surgery and body trauma patients. BCAAs are now being used in sport related activities including weight lifting and body building.
BCAAs appear to have tissue sparring properties in muscle building as well as providing an energy source for endurance type activities. BCAAs are rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream and are transported to protein craving muscles.
BCAAs also act as nitrogen carriers which assists the muscles in synthesizing other amino acids which means more muscle growth and repair.
I suggest you take BCAAs with each meal and after training. For a more detailed look at the benefits of using branch chained amino acids, click here.
Some of the more popular BCAA supplements are Beverly Internationals Muscle Mass BCAAs and Prolabs BCAA plus.
Weight lifting supplements such Desiccated liver products contain all the nutrients and enzymes of the original source without the high levels of fat. Desiccated liver contains very high concentrations of protein and heme iron.
Of course, protein is very important to weight trainers and strength athletes but heme iron is something that is generally overlooked.
The primary function of iron is to help bind oxygen to red blood cells. Without adequate supplies of iron, oxygen transport systems would be severely impaired. Heme iron is important because it is the best absorbed of all iron sources.
Desiccated liver supplementation have been overshadowed in recent years by more modern high tech supplements but they remain one of the more potent yet least expensive weight lifting supplements out there.
You may be pleasantly surprised by the results of this effective weight lifting supplement.
I suggest you start with 5 to 6 desiccated liver tablets per day spread over three main meals such as breakfast, lunch, and dinner. See Beverly Internationals Ultra Desiccated Liver.
Glucosamine and chondroitin are components of connective tissue, mainly the cartilage inside joints. These weight lifting supplements can help prevent and repair connective-tissue damage.
Usually, these two are found in the same supplement. I suggest you take these weight lifting supplements with your meals. See Optimum Nutritions Glucosamine Plus CSA.
Selecting and using supplements is a lot like exercising, you have to experiment a little to find out what works best for you. Only you can decide what works best and for the most part, youll have to work things out on your own.
You now have to decide on an effective supplementation schedule. Here is a sample schedule.
Mid morning/Mid afternoon
With each meal
*MRP = Meal Replacement Powders
Remember to experiment a little when it comes to using sports supplements.
Generally, supplements can play a very important role in your program and it's very important that you understand what they are and how to take them. I hope the above noted information will help guide you to an informed choice of supplements.
If you're serious about using supplements, I highly recommend you check out Jeff Andersons book called "Home Made Supplement Secrets". This is an outstanding supplement resource that will tell you what actually goes on "behind the scenes" in the supplement industry. Jeff also provides exact recipes for top supplements such as:
- Pre workout supplements;
- Post workout supplements;
- Muscle building supplements;
- Meal replacements;
- Fat burners;
- Much more
What surprised me the most was the fact that you can make the exact same supplements you see on the shelves for 1/3 of the cost. Jeff tells you where to buy the ingredients and how to put them together.
I've reviewed Jeff's book at: Home Made Supplement Secrets Review
To go directly to Jeff's site, Click here
For those of you looking for reviews from actual users, Click here.
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All the best,
As the owner of Building Muscle 101, I am committed to providing you the best practical weight training advice. I've been training for over 24 years (and still train to this day!) and the advice and guidance I provide comes directly from my experience and knowledge.
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