There’s no doubt about it...
Supplements can be a very gray and confusing area.
Getting big like the bodybuilders you see in the magazines or online isn't just taking the supplements that they endorse.
The truth is there’s a number of reasons that define why a certain bodybuilder looks a certain way, not the least of which is genetics, their dedication to eating correctly and their training program and possibly gear (steroids).
With the right supplements however you can make decent gains.
Today I have something that will help you choose the right supplements:
6 science backed supplements to help you make gains.
We will list the Top 6 most effective supplements in terms of clinical research.
If you want to get the most out of your supplements, you should base your choices on ingredients that have clinical support and you should use products that provide these ingredients at the clinical dosages - plus the labels of these products should be fully transparent.
Whey protein is considered the highest quality protein source you can use.
What is whey?
It’s a cheese by-product, which comes from cow’s milk.
It is the liquid part that is separated from the curd.
In its raw form, other than protein, whey contains fat, cholesterol, lactose.
Before it reaches the public in the form of a protein powder, the fat and lactose (milk sugar) have to be filtered out.
Whey comes in three main versions: concentrate, which can be anywhere from 34% to 80% protein by weight with some fat and sugar, hydrolysate, which can be either whey concentrate or whey isolate, is broken down into very small molecules for superior absorption, and isolate, which is 90% protein with little to no fat or sugar.
Whey is also fast digesting which makes it an ideal choice for use first thing in the morning and post workout.
Casein is another type of protein from cow’s milk, making up about 80% of the total protein available (whey makes up the other 20%).
Casein has the advantage of slow digestion, making it ideal for those times of the day when you may have to go long periods of time without a meal or shake, as well as before bed.
Research also suggests that post workout, a combination of whey and casein may be best. (1-3)
Why is protein important?
After water, your body is made of protein and it is used by the body every day to perform hundreds of daily functions (4,5) – so muscle growth is not at the top of the list, in fact muscle catabolism occurs when the body does not have enough protein, it then will take what it needs from muscle tissue.
This is why protein timing is important and also why a intake that’s higher than the Daily Value is important – we’re asking more of our body than the typical person, higher demands means a higher intake.
With that in mind, how much should you take as a bodybuilder or athlete?
Stuart Phillips, Protein Expert, of McMaster University suggests 0.73-0.81 g/lb, to as high as 0.91-1.14 g/lb, if you are in a calorie restricted phase.(6)
To make it easy, we round this out to a general daily protein intake of 1g/lb per day, divided up over 4-6 meals.
Without a doubt, caffeine is the most popular stimulant on the planet.
Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant that comes from the coffea plant, found primarily in Africa and Asia.
Caffeine increases energy, improves focus, improves performance and helps alleviate fatigue. (7,8)
Based on the two referenced studies, we see that caffeine will help reduce perceived fatigue in the gym and enhance strength as well as performance.
Caffeine also increases calories burned, which is great news for anyone on a fat loss program. (9)
Typically speaking, consuming as much 300 mg of caffeine per day is considered safe.
For athletes, general guidelines range from 3-9 mg per kg of body weight. (10)
We suggest a dose of 4-5 mg/kg per day.
Tolerance to caffeine can build up fairly quickly, to the point where a “more is better” approach is not going to make a difference.
For this reason, we suggest cycling caffeine as follows: 1 week off every 8-12 weeks.
This amino acid may help smooth out the effects of caffeine, such as caffeine induced insomnia, and many pre-workouts contain theanine for this reason. (11, 12)
Theanine promotes relaxation without the associated drowsiness and helps relieve stress, so the reasons for combining this with caffeine should seem clear.
According to Examine.com, theanine should be dosed equal to your caffeine intake for best results, but is typically dosed in the 100-200mg range.
When it comes to pump products, L-Citrulline is considered to be one of the most effective ingredients available.
Once in the body, citrulline works by converting into arginine, which in turn stimulates nitric oxide production.
This increases blood flow to the muscles, resulting in greater pumps and increased delivery of nutrients.
Citrulline absorbs better than arginine itself does, making it a better choice for a great pump, but the combination of citrulline and malic acid extends in-set endurance and performance, making it the better choice over pure l-citrulline. (13)
This may be because malic acid is a component of the Citric Acid Cycle, one of the energy systems of the body.
We suggest 6-10g of citrulline malate taken 45-60 minutes before your workout.
The age-old idea of being able to get adequate amounts of every nutrient you need every day is optimistic at best.
Think about it – how many of us really eat 3-6 meals a day with each meal containing a good balance of foods?
Even if you are lucky enough to say yes to the previous question, are you tracking the amount of every nutrient in every single thing you eat every day?
That’s the only way to be 100% sure of what you’re getting.
Let’s get real – many of us are unable to do that because of busy lifestyles that leave many of us scrambling to eat at all, let alone eat a well-planned, whole food meal.
College, work, and so on leave us little time and often no time to eat when a bodybuilder/athlete needs to, especially if you are in a calorie deficit. (14-16)
This can lead to deficiencies in one or more key nutrients - and it is important to understand that the micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) are essential for optimal good health.
This is a clear case for the use of a well-balanced multi vitamin/mineral formula.
To be clear, get as much nutrients as you can from whole food meals but realize that you may not be eating as well balanced of a diet as you may think, and more than likely you are lacking in at least some key nutrients, especially if you are in a cutting phase.
Therefore, we suggest taking a multivitamin daily with a meal, preferably one that’s been formulated for bodybuilders and athletes.
Produced naturally by the body, as well as found in such foods as meat, creatine is the most well researched supplement in history – with hundreds of studies supporting its use. (17)
What does creatine do?
It increases strength and power output by stimulating more ATP production (the energy currency of the cell) – in fact, in the body the main role of creatine is to enable recycling of ATP, primarily in muscle and brain tissue.
In addition, it also pulls water into the muscles, causing a cell volume effect, yet it does not cause overall excess water retention.
The most effective form of creatine is still the old standard, creatine monohydrate, and should be dosed at 5g per day, with or without a loading phase.
It does not need to be cycled.
Creatine is inexpensive, harmless, and effective.
While there are some non-responders, we consider it a cornerstone supplement.
If you’re a bodybuilder or athlete, it should be in your stack!
To recap, these are the best choices if you want to get real results from your supplements.
It’s important to remember that any new supplement that attracts your interest should be considered using the criteria we used here - clinical studies, clinical dosing, and fully disclosed labels.
Don’t be sucked in by hype - look past the hype to the product itself and judge it on its own.
If you do that, you’ll make consistently sound supplement choices that will ultimately help you reach your goals.
1.) Aragon, A. A., & Schoenfeld, B. J. (2013, January 29). Nutrient timing revisited: Is there a post-exercise anabolic window? Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23360586
2.) Wilborn, C. D., Taylor, L. W., Outlaw, J., Williams, L., Campbell, B., Foster, C. A., . . . Hayward, S. (2013, March). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3761774/
3.) Kanda, A., Nakayama, K., Sanbongi, C., Nagata, M., Ikegami, S., & Itoh, H. (2016, June 03). Effects of Whey, Caseinate, or Milk Protein Ingestion on Muscle Protein Synthesis after Exercise. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27271661
5.) P. 111-112, Nutrition & Diet Therapy, 10th Edition, Ruth A. Roth, MS, RD
7.) Cook, C., Beaven, C. M., Kilduff, L. P., & Drawer, S. (2012, June). Acute caffeine ingestion's increase of voluntarily chosen resistance-training load after limited sleep. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22349085
8.) Duncan, M. J., Stanley, M., Parkhouse, N., Cook, K., & Smith, M. (n.d.). Acute caffeine ingestion enhances strength performance and reduces perceived exertion and muscle pain perception during resistance exercise. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23834545
9.) Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=caffeine and calories burned
10.) Pickering, C., & Kiely, J. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5752738/
11.) Jang, H. S., Jung, J. Y., Jang, I. S., Jang, K. H., Kim, S. H., Ha, J. H., . . . Lee, M. G. (2012, April). L-theanine partially counteracts caffeine-induced sleep disturbances in rats. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22285321
12.) Owen, G.N., Parnell, H., De bruin, E.A. and Rycroft, J.A. (2008). The combined effects of L-theanine and caffeine on cognitive performance and mood. Nutritional Neuroscience, 11(4), 193-198.
13.) Wax, B., Kavazis, A. N., & Luckett, W. (n.d.). Effects of Supplemental Citrulline-Malate Ingestion on Blood Lactate, Cardiovascular Dynamics, and Resistance Exercise Performance in Trained Males. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25674699
14.) Kleiner, S. M., Bazzarre, T. L., & Litchford, M. D. (1990, July). Metabolic profiles, diet, and health practices of championship male and female bodybuilders. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2365938
15.) Kleiner, S. M., Bazzarre, T. L., & Ainsworth, B. E. (1994, March). Nutritional status of nationally ranked elite bodybuilders. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8167655
16.) Misner, B. (2006). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2129155