Using supplements is a great way to accelerate your progress in the gym. Find out all you need to know about supplements and make the most of what they have to offer.
How to Supplement Your Diet
If you are looking to build maximum muscle, then what you put into your body is just as important as the workouts you put in at the gym. Of course, a good, muscle-building diet is the foundation of good bodybuilding nutrition, but supplements have an important role to play, too. Bodybuilders push their bodies to the limits, and you need exactly the right mix of nutrients to fuel optimal muscle growth. After all, you don’t want to spend hours pumping iron, only to find that your body is building muscle slowly because it lacks vital fuel.
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The problem is, the choice of supplements available to bodybuilders is bewildering. If you tried to take doses of every supplement offered in your local bodybuilding store, you would be both broke and drugged up to the eyeballs. So what’s the solution? Which supplements do you really need to optimize your results in the gym? Let’s look at the most important options available to you.
Whey Protein: The King of Supplements
You know you are in a bodybuilding store when you see rows of big whey protein containers staring back at you. There is no doubt that this is the most popular supplement for bodybuilding, and for very good reasons.
Whey protein is extracted from cows’ milk, and has a number of important benefits. First of all, it has a very high bioavailability, which means that most of the whey protein you consume can be converted into new muscle by your body. Secondly, it is absorbed into your system very quickly. This makes it perfect for topping up your protein levels before and after workouts, when your body needs protein in a hurry.
Another big benefit of using whey protein is that it is packed with branched-chain amino acids, which play a hugely-important role in fueling muscle growth. And that’s not all. This amazing protein also helps to relax the blood vessels in a way that allows more blood and amino acids to get the muscles – both important factors in muscle growth.
Whey protein comes in two forms: isolate and concentrate. Isolate is the purest of the two, containing around 90% protein. Whey protein concentrate contains anywhere from 29% to 89% protein, and generally has a higher fat and lactose content than isolate.
So does taking whey protein really make that much difference? Well, the evidence certainly suggests that it does – but timing is critical. Researchers from Victoria University in Australia discovered that bodybuilders who took whey protein – together with glucose and creatine – both before after working out got amazing results. Compared to others who took the same supplements in the morning and at night, they increased muscle growth by 30%, and muscle mass by an extraordinary 80%. As an extra bonus, they lost body fat, too.
Creatine: A Great Way to Build Muscle Mass
Want an easy way to add an extra ten pounds to your muscle mass? Try creatine…it has a great track record of delivering results. Creatine is a nitrogenous organic acid that occurs naturally in our bodies. Bodybuilders love it because it increases the formation of ATP, which supplies energy to our muscle cells.
Creatine also pulls more water into muscle cells, which makes them bigger and increases your overall muscle mass. This additional fluid stretches your membrane muscle cells, which in turn sends signals to your body which result in greater muscle growth.
You already have creatine working for you inside your muscle cells. The point of taking creatine supplements is to increase the availability of creatine in your body, to promote faster muscle growth and avoid creatine deficiency during intense workouts. Creatine gives you the energy to get more reps done in a single set – pushing your body just a little harder to get optimal results from every workout.
Take 1-5 grams of creatine along with your whey protein both before and after workouts. Research clearly shows that this combination can produce killer results.
Casein: The Slow-Burning Protein Source
Like whey protein, casein is a by-product of milk production. However, it differs significantly in the way it is absorbed by the body. The human digestive system has a much tougher time breaking down casein molecules, and it make take 7-8 hours for casein to be fully processed. This makes it perfect for times when you need to pace protein delivery.
Many bodybuilders take casein supplements before going to bed. Because you fast while you are sleeping, the body has usually run out of protein to process when you wake up eight or so hours after retiring. This may result in your body switching from building muscle to breaking down muscle – not a result that bodybuilders want at all! Taking casein is one way to provide protein that digests slowly and provides a food source throughout the night.
Research also suggests that taking casein along with whey protein after a workout can result in greater muscle growth. This is because casein inhibits the protein breakdown which happens after a workout, as your body tries to restore glycogen levels in a hurry.
You can either buy casein as a commercial supplement – or you can simply mix cow’s milk into your whey protein shake. Because 82% of the protein in milk is casein, this is a quick and easy way to get results.
BCAAs – Branched-Chain Amino Acids
Muscles are built from protein, and proteins are built from amino acids, so it makes sense to supplement these essential factors in your diet. As human beings, we use no less than 20 different amino acids in building our bodies. However, the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are the most critical ones when it comes to building muscle.
BCAAs are so named because of the unusual branching-shape of their molecular structure. They include leucine, isoleucine, and valine. All of these have a key role to play in muscle growth, but leucine is particularly important. As well as turning on muscle-protein synthesis, it causes a spike in insulin levels that brings glucose, amino acids and creatine into the cells. In addition, it shifts the balance from muscle breakdown to muscle synthesis, which obviously increases muscle mass.
However, all three of the BCAAs are used by muscle cells as sources of energy. This is particularly true during the course of a workout, so a good supply of BCAAs is essential if you want to train harder and for longer. It’s a good idea to supplement your body with BCAAs first thing in the morning, before workouts and immediately after leaving the gym.
Fast Carbs: Restore Your Energy Levels Fast
A good workout session severely depletes the glycogen stores in your muscles. As well as giving you the energy to workout, glycogen (which gets turned into glucose) also fuels the muscle-building process. So when you finish a workout, you need to rebuild those glycogen levels quickly while your body is in heavy-duty muscle building mode.
To do this, you need to consume carbohydrates with a high glycemic index. That is, ones that digest very quickly. You can buy supplements such as Vitargo (the fastest-acting option) or dextrose/sugar powder supplements. Alternatively, you can get dextrose in a hurry from candies such as Haribo’s gummy bears, or from white bread or potatoes. Whichever way you do it, around 50 grams of fast-digesting carbs taking shortly after working out will get you good results.
Fish Oil: Top Up With Essential Fatty Acids
Fish oil is a form of fatty acid that contains the essential Omega-3 compounds. These are important because they can help you achieve healthier ratios of healthy cholesterol versus unhealthy cholesterol, thus reducing the risk of heart attacks, strokes and other cardiovascular diseases.
The fatty acids in fish oil can also help to promote stronger and healthier bones, which is clearly beneficial to everyone, but to bodybuilders in particular. They can also alleviate mood disorders and depression – so they might just help you get motivated to go to the gym more often!
Green Tea Extract
Green tea is not only a great aid to digestion – helping you to get more nutrients from the food you eat – but can also help with fat burning. A cup of green tea is also full of antioxidants, which is just what you need after a heavy workout to curb the damage caused by free radicals. On or two cups of green tea can also elevate your mood and make you feel good – a great way to end a tough workout session.
Caffeine: Give Yourself a Kick in the Pants
We all know that a strong cup of coffee or two can get us kick-started in the morning. But caffeine does more than just wake you up. It also helps to sharpen focus, increase alertness, boost tolerance for pain, burn fat and improve endurance.
All of these are qualities that we need when undertaking a workout. One of the great benefits of caffeine is that we know it to be relatively safe when taken in sensible qualities. So taking a caffeine supplement before you start working out can help you get more done, as well as stepping up your calorie burn both during and after your gym session.
A Sensible Approach to Supplements
The bodybuilding supplements mentioned in this article are the most popular and most important ones to bodybuilders. However, they are just a few of many thousands of supplements available to bodybuilders. You can buy a whole host of products that promise to help you with building muscle, losing fat and just about everything else you need to achieve a toned and muscular physique.
Every individual is different, and the mix of supplements that is right for you may be very different to the ones that work for your best friend. But remember that although supplements can be very useful, they are not essential. If you eat a good, balanced diet that is high in protein and includes lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, you are probably getting all the nutrients you need. Supplements should be seen as just what the name suggests – a way to supplement an already nutritious diet.
With so many brands of supplement available on the market, it is hard to know which ones to choose. Is this brand of whey powder really better than the generic brand which is half the price? Remember that bodybuilding champions are often paid huge sums of money to promote a particular brand of supplement. However, that does not necessarily mean that they used that product themselves to build their award-winning body. Rather than going for the brand that is currently getting the heaviest promotion in the media, choose products that have been around for a while and proven their worth.
A Word on Steroids and Supplement Stacks
Anabolic steroids, human growth hormone and insulin. This is just one example of the way certain bodybuilders use stacks of supplements and drugs to accelerate their bodybuilding program. There’s no doubt that they work – that is why we now see such huge competitors in today’s bodybuilding contests. But those massive bodies certainly come at a price.
For one thing, products such as anabolic steroids, human growth hormone and prohormones are now illegal in many countries. So using them – or simply possessing them – can get you into big trouble. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Many bodybuilders have become seriously ill and some have died as a result of using these ‘stacks’ of products. Even if you manage to avoid the most serious consequences, you can expect unpleasant side effects such as acne and a distended belly.
You really need to ask yourself if the benefits such products deliver really justify the risks that accompany them. Then, of course, there is the cost. A competitive bodybuilder will typically spend over $10,000 on such drugs when preparing for a big competition. The fact is, you can get awesome results simply by eating well, working out hard in the gym, and taking a few of the regular supplements to help you get optimal results.
Putting it All Together
So a sensible approach to choosing supplements for bodybuilding is definitely recommended. After all, it’s amazing what you can achieve with a little whey protein and a little hard work!
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