You have your diet sorted, you get loads of sleep and your training is dialled in. That’s when you can look at supplements to boost your gains and push you through energy slumps.
There are so many products though, where the hell do you start?
The answer: With the basics.
Beginners will get more out of an article like this, but some experienced lifters might learn a thing or two.
Protein is the obvious place to start. Everyone that goes to a gym ought to know that proteins are the building blocks of muscle, and that maintaining an anabolic environment in the muscles will help them recover and grow.
There are a few different types, and there have been a bunch of theories about which ones are the best.
In the end, your decision on which protein powder to buy should come down to:
- Your Dietary Intolerances (if you have any)
- Taste Preference
Sure, money comes into it as well, but I hesitate to say it should be a determining factor because these days you have to pay for quality in a protein powder, and going cheap might be a waste of money.
Personally, I find Optimum Nutrition’s line the safest bet as they are widely regarded as being one of the highest in quality and they have access to the source product (the huge dairy conglomerate Glanbia owns them).
Also, a blend of casein, egg and whey might be a good choice if you want to have a variation of release times and amino acid spikes. This could help your body to keep a steady uptake of the proteins.
The advice used to be that you must take your protein shake immediately after your workout, during the ‘anabolic window’ or else it would be wasted and all your hard work in the gym was pointless.
In truth, this has been largely debunked as bro-science. Most people still drink theirs straight after a workout, and I would advise it as well. This is more about creating a habit of remembering to do it than anything else. Also, it helps keep your hunger at bay until you get home from the gym.
A lot of people are lactose sensitive, or flat out intolerant.
For the ‘sensitive’ crowd, whey protein with whey protein isolate as the primary ingredient should be fine. For lactose intolerant people, pure whey protein isolate or something totally non-dairy is necessary.
I mentioned cheap. That would be Whey Protein Concentrate – and not high grade at that. The cost to benefit should be taken into account. Not many people can drink them without experiencing gas!
Also, there has been a large spiking scandal throughout the protein industry. Nothing too dramatic but some companies add some cheap amino acids to make up the percentage of protein. It’s best to stick to a brand you know has been tested thoroughly and is proud to show it.
You will pay for those ones, but they will also work.
Here’s perhaps the most affordable, most proven ergogenic aid in the world. And yet, the supplement industry has tried to make it super complicated, to turn more profit or some cases make people think it is bad for you so you buy their snake oil instead.
Make no mistake, creatine works. It increases levels of Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) in your cells. They use it for energy, which provides your muscles with energy, allowing you to lift more, which elicits bigger overcompensation and thus, growth.
There’s been a lot of nonsense over the last few years which has put a lot of people off creatine.
The first thing to be aware of is creatine that is called anything other than creatine monohydrate. This simple version is the one that is the most readily absorbed in the body.
Any other type e.g. creatine malate, is the supplement industry trying to make more money by claiming it is better. That’s because monohydrate has saturated the market and is now cheap.
The other fuss is to do with how it works.
Creatine works by being absorbed into cells, which can store a maximum amount to be used in moments of explosive energy expenditure.
Many sources still explain the need to “load’ creatine. “Loading” entails taking 20g a day for five days and then continuing a “maintenance dose” of 3-5g per day thereafter.
These same sources often go on to explain the need to cycle creatine, i.e. come of it after a number of weeks, take a break, and then resume – once again with the fabled “loading’ procedure.
Is all of this necessary? – Nope.
With creatine, the cells will saturate whether you load it or not. They can take a maximum before you are just straight peeing creatine.
You can take 3 – 6g a day (depending on their energy usage) and within a week or two the cells will get close to being saturated anyway. After that, the same dose is merely topping up the levels.
As for cycling, that’s unnecessary also. Your body gets creatine from your diet, it is a natural thing, you are merely supplementing to optimize your own levels. So, you see, you cannot “cycle off” creatine.
NOTE: some people are creatine non-responders, which means they could eat the stuff all day and they will just have expensive bathroom breaks (plus, just don’t do that).
Luckily, the results of creatine within the first two weeks of taking it are quite obvious, you notice a strength spike and possibly some size gain from the initial water retention.
What about the water retention? – Yes, some supplement manufacturers say their product is ‘creatine free’ so that you don’t get that awful water retention. To them, I say this “well done, you have excluded the world’s most proven muscle supplement. You must be pleased!”
Oh, and the water retention goes away anyway.
NOTE: be aware of pre-workouts that include creatine in some form. Often the dose is crappy (like 1g or 500mg), and people are left confused as to why they aren’t getting creatine-like results.
Advice: Buy quality bulk creatine monohydrate – it’s a squillion times cheaper than that pre-workout and it doesn’t taste like bullsh*t.