A while back I republished a new and updated version of the popular article “The Best Supplements for General Health” where I focussed on discussing which supplements were useful in building a foundation of good overall health. They were simple vitamins, minerals and fats that help with immunity, energy levels and general well being.
This time around I want to look at some supplements that will help you get the most out of your training without breaking any laws or taking any undue health risks – nothing here will land you in jail or the hospital if you use them as described.
As always – It is important to note that I am not a doctor, and I don’t pretend to be one on the internet. If you are pregnant, have a chronic condition or are taking medication, you should consult a physician before commencing any supplementation regime.
Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)
Branch Chain Amino Acids are made up Valine, Leucine and Iso-Leucine and can help promote muscle protein synthesis, increase muscle growth, regulate blood sugar levels and prevent muscle catabolism.
BCAAs are also an excellent way of managing appetite during weight cuts as your liver can convert 8g – 12g of BCAAs into just enough blood glucose to alleviate cravings without slowing fat loss.
Some people also experience a reduction in fatigue while supplementing with BCAAs but the jury is still out on whether this is a placebo or a genuine physiological effect. At the time of writing most journals and text books refer to this as a reduction in “perceived fatigue”.
While research does seem to indicate that Leucine is the most beneficial of the three, clinical trials have found no advantage to either isolating or increasing the ratio of the acid in the supplement so you are probably best off consuming a balanced ratio.
A dose of 10g to 30g depending on your size and activity levels is pretty standard. Branch Chain Amino Acids are best consumed before or during training and quantities larger than 10g should be split into two or three doses for maximum effect.
Creatine helps regenerate a molecule called Adenosine Tri-Phosphate (ATP) which is what your body uses for energy in practically every physical process from muscle contraction to cellular regeneration. Basically, whenever an ATP molecule is ‘used’ it loses a phosphate becoming Adenosine Di-Phosphate (ADP) which cannot be used as a fuel source unless it is converted back into ATP. This is where Creatine comes to the rescue – by donating its phosphate group to the ADP, Creatine reforms it back into ATP refilling your body’s energy stores. Supplementing your body’s own Creatine allows this process to go on for longer that it would otherwise enabling you to train longer and harder.
Also, as Creatine itself is also a fuel source for short duration, high intensity anaerobic activities (like weightlifting and sprinting) supplementation can result in performance increases.
If potential weight gain is not a concern for you I would recommend taking 5g in the morning before any training and 5g in the evening before you go to sleep. If you participate in a sport where weight has to be factored into the equation just take the 5g in the morning.
At this dose Creatine must be taken daily for two to four weeks before it is likely that you will see the full benefit. You can speed up this process by starting with a loading phase where you ingest 20g daily for five days before dialling back to the recommended daily dose of 10g but this can cause gastro intestinal distress in some people.
Finally, I would recommend cycling off Creatine for one week every six weeks or so and for one full month every year. Supplementing Creatine will increase your body’s natural stores for a short period but after a while your body will get used to receiving this extra Creatine and down regulate its own production as a result. Regularly cycling off Creatine for short periods of time will help mitigate this effect.
These days more and more people are over fed but under nourished and the thing missing from the majority of athletes’ diets is sufficient protein. While bodybuilding magazines tend to recommend a daily protein intake somewhere in the vicinity of 2.5g per kilo of bodyweight, studies and experience indicate somewhere between 1.2g and 1.7g is probably sufficient unless your goal is to put on substantial amounts of mass.
While it’s nearly always better to get your protein from whole foods like meat and eggs the sheer convenience of a protein shake makes it an easy way to ensure you are consuming sufficient protein.
There are a couple of important things to look out for when purchasing protein powder. First, when you are drinking a protein shake you want to be taking in protein and not a bunch of sugar so try to find a brand that has at least 22g of protein and less than 5g of carbohydrate per 30g serving.
Secondly there is the type of protein to consider. While there are a bunch of different types, blends and brands they generally fall into one of three categories.
Whey Protein Isolate or Whey Protein Concentrate: Whey protein is a fast acting protein whose rapid absorption causes the blood’s amino acid levels to rise extremely quickly making it an ideal post training supplement. While there are differences between Isolate and Concentrate if you follow the above recommendation regarding purity they are basically minimised to the point of non-existence.
Casein: Casein protein is slow acting and its effects long lasting making it better suited to being a meal replacement than for post training recovery. During periods of training where significant mass gain is the goal a Casein protein shake before bed can aid in muscle growth and recovery.
Plant Based: These are best used if you have a dairy intolerance and cannot make use of either of the above options. While there are many, many, many types of plant based protein powders I would recommend finding a blend of rice and pea; it has a fairly neutral taste and two combined covers the shortfall found in just taking either one individually.
There you have it. No magic or secret pills with guarantees of “XtremE” gains in a shockingly short amount of time just three simple supplements which, if used correctly, should help you train a little harder, recover a little faster and perform a little better.