21 Aug Supplements: The most effective on the market
How is this for a claim: “In 30 days, gain 10 pounds of lean mass!” or, “In just 30 days, shed 5 inches off your waist with our fat burner!” How many of you have fallen for these ridiculous claims that supplement companies advertise on their products? I know I have. Back when I was 15 and just getting serious about lifting and eating well, I would see one of those statements in big bold letters on the front of a container and say to myself, “I have to get this! I want to gain 10 pounds of lean muscle in 30 days!” Obviously not knowing at the time that these supplement companies were just counting up my money while I failed at my goal of gaining that muscle that their product guaranteed would happen. You see, supplement companies can make these claims because the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) does not need to approve these supplements before being sold and the safety and effectiveness of a supplement is totally determined by the company who manufactures it. As I’ve gotten older, wiser, and more knowledgeable about the fitness industry when it comes to supplements, nutrition, training, and the like, I have found that there are some very great supplements out there that can help you improve your performance in the gym and have been scientifically proven to be the safest and most effective supplements on the market. What are they? Well, you’re about to find out.
Whey protein is one of the most commonly used supplements out on the market today, and for good reason. Whey protein is one of the main groups of proteins found in milk and it is isolated from a liquid by-product of cheese production called whey. Whey protein contains all of the essential amino acids necessary for the rebuilding of lean mass, including the amino acid some scientists say is the most important for “turning on” muscle protein synthesis, Leucine. A study that was published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism showed that “males who supplemented with whey protein had a greater relative gain in lean tissue mass.” Another study published in the journal Nutrition and Metabolism found that “…in terms of current recommendations it appears that consumption of ~ 20-25 grams … of a rapidly absorbed protein may serve to maximally stimulate muscle protein synthesis after resistance exercise in young healthy individuals.” Some of the most noted benefits for supplementing with whey protein have been an increase in lean mass, weight loss, anti-cancer properties, reduction in cholesterol, lowering blood pressure, and reducing risk of cardiovascular disease. There are a variety of whey proteins out there, such as whey protein concentrate, whey protein isolate, whey protein hydrolysate, and other versions of protein such as casein, which is a slower digesting protein. Do your research on the different kinds and choose the one that will best help you achieve your goals.
Creatine is another supplement that has skyrocketed with popularity over the last decade. Creatine is naturally synthesized in the body from the amino acids methionine, glycine, and arginine. There has been many studies showing the benefits of creatine supplementation, including an increase in muscular creatine levels, increase in muscle mass, strength, and anaerobic performance. The main benefit creatine has is that it can rapidly regenerate the high-energy molecule ATP (adenosine triphosphate) from ADP (adenosine diphosphate) to maintain high-intensity muscular efforts for about 10 seconds. This extra edge could help you achieve 1-2 more reps in a lift or keep an all out sprint going for 1-3 more seconds. Stick with creatine monohydrate. Some supplement companies will claim, “No water retention!” or, “Our creatine will help you hold less water!” but the fact is the effect of creatine pulling water into your muscles is one of the most anabolic properties of it. You want this to happen! So supplement companies that make those ridiculous claims are really saying, “Hey, our creatine is less anabolic and less effective than the others out there.” Most people don’t know this though, so again, they will spend their money on the products that make claims that ‘seem’ to be positive, but really are not. Do your research. Creatine users usually begin with the “loading phase” by supplementing with 20 grams per day for the first 5-7 days. The loading phase is then followed by the maintenance phase of 2-5 grams per day for however long you stay supplementing with creatine. I like to take 5 grams before my workout and 5 grams after my workout. As with most supplements, take a break from them for about 4-6 weeks after using them for about 3-4 months straight.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of essential fat, so they are necessary for human health, but our bodies cannot make them; we have to get them through food. There has been a ton of research on Omega-3 fatty acids and the supplementation of them has been proven to reduce inflammation, help lower chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and arthritis, improve eye health, improve cognitive function, lower blood pressure, lower LDL cholesterol, increase levels of calcium in the body which will help improve bone strength and fend off osteoporosis, help with depression; should I go on? A placebo-controlled study indicated that “supplementation with higher doses of fish oil may lower levels of plasma triglycerides naturally.” Remember, we need to be more cognizant of having a healthy balance between Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids in our diet (See article “Fat Makes You Fat? The Nonsense Continues”). Personally, I take two fish oil tablets in the morning with breakfast and two more with my last meal before bed.
Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)
Branched-chain amino acids are essential nutrients that the body obtains from proteins found in food, specifically meat, legumes, and dairy products. These essential nutrients include leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Some of the benefits of BCAA supplementation include improved concentration, prevent fatigue, improved exercise performance, reduce protein and muscle breakdown during intense exercise, improving muscle control, and mental function.
Glutamine is the most abundant free amino acid in the body. We know that amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Glutamine is produced in the muscles and distributed to the organs that need it by way of the blood. There is some evidence that suggests that glutamine may help to reduce muscle and joint pain and other evidence showing that it may help keep bacteria from moving out of the intestine and infecting other parts of the body. Glutamine also plays a key role in protein metabolism, cell volumizing, and anti-catabolism. Some studies have shown that glutamine supplementation can minimize breakdown of muscle and improve protein metabolism.
The most commonly used supplement is a multiple vitamin and mineral pack, or a multi-vitamin. These supplements are used to compensate for certain nutrients that may be limited in a person’s diet. The amounts in certain multi-vitamins will vary depending on the individual’s needs for certain nutrients. The deficiencies of certain vitamins and minerals can impair the individual’s ability and desire to perform physical activity and also cause mental and emotional problems. The safest level for most nutrients in a multi-vitamin is 100% of the DV (daily value). As always, do your research on anything that you believe you will begin supplementing with, ensuring that it is a right supplement for you, your needs, your health, and your goals.
Some people, and scientists alike, believe that caffeine is the most widely used drug on the planet. Caffeine is a white, crystalline xanthine alkaloid that performs as a stimulant drug. 90% of U.S. adults consume caffeine daily; I am definitely one of them. Caffeine acts as a central nervous system stimulant, while also affecting the heart and skeletal muscles, which gives it the effect of temporarily warding off drowsiness and helping people become more alert and focused. Many studies have proven caffeine to be effective for it’s ergogenic effects, especially when tested on well-trained athletes performing endurance exercise or high-intensity short duration exercise such as HIIT (high-intensity interval training) and tabata. The amount of caffeine one needs to take for it to be effective is completely dependent on the individual. Find what works for you.
Now there are a lot of really good supplements out there that I did not include in this article, but these are the ones that I take consistently, on a daily basis, and what I have found, and also studies all around the world, to be the safest and most effective. For instance, I take 2 grams of vitamin C immediately after my workouts as there have been studies proving it’s effectiveness for diminishing free radicals and decreasing the amount of muscle soreness you experience. I also take psyllium husk during competition preparation as it has been proven to be one of the best ways to get fiber into your body when you are on a strict, low calorie diet, as well as it’s effectiveness of reducing appetite without over stimulating the nervous system. Beta-alanine is a non-essential amino acid and some clinical research has shown that it improves some measures of physical performance, more specifically with high-intensity exercise and strength training. Acidophilus is a type of bacterium that has been shown to be very effective for digestion and intestinal flora. There are a ton of supplements out there that deliver results. Do your research.
I’ve said it before, if you do not have your nutrition in check, meaning you don’t eat several healthy meals a day, ensuring you are supplying your body with the proper nutrients it needs to function at an optimal level, don’t even think about supplements. Supplements are there for one reason and one reason only; to SUPPLEMENT your diet. Supplements are not made to take the place of any whole food meal. They are made to simply help you gain an extra edge in your performance, which should already be improving by how well you are eating and working out on a consistent, daily basis.
Train hard; train smart.
Paul Hovan Jr., B.S., NASM CPT, CSN
Sources: NASM Essentials of Personal Fitness Training, Fourth Edition http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-878-GLUTAMINE.aspx?activeIngredientId=878&activeIngredientName=GLUTAMINE http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/omega3-fatty-acids http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/263371.php http://fitness.mercola.com/sites/fitness/archive/2012/07/20/whey-protein-on-resistance-exercise.aspx http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-1005-BRANCHED-CHAIN%20AMINO%20ACIDS.aspx?activeIngredientId=1005&activeIngredientName=BRANCHED-CHAIN%20AMINO%20ACIDS http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/glutamine.htm http://www.news-medical.net/health/What-is-Caffeine.aspx http://www.herbwisdom.com/herb-psyllium-husk.html