There are 6 nutritional supplements available, however, that are indispensable for enhancing muscle-building and fat loss. Given the importance of a good diet, this should be the highest priority in any fitness training program. Once your diet is tuned to perfection, adding the right nutritional supplement at the right time will take a great thing and make it better.
Certain bodybuilding supplements are extremely valuable in particular situations, especially when the goal of your weight training program is to lose fat while building muscle. Our bodies have been designed to survive the harshest of conditions, readily storing body fat during times when food is plentiful and shedding it (along with muscle-tissue) when food is scarce. While this characteristic of our metabolism kept us alive through the ice-ages, it makes things really difficult for building a lean-muscular physique (that is if you are not busy running from saber-tooth tigers and fighting rival tribes!).
The right supplementation in the context of your bodybuilding or fitness workouts (pre and/or post-workout) can “trick” the body into thinking it has what it needs so that muscle-mass is preserved. What happens during intense weight training and cardiovascular exercise is that our bodies, along with burning glycogen and body fat, are also very efficient at breaking down muscle tissue. This metabolic adaptation helps to preserve energy stores at the expense of metabolically costly muscle-tissue; if you are starving the more muscle you have the quicker you will die (good for us back in the cave-man days, but bad for us now!). Our muscles are constantly being broken down and built back up from hard weight training, and if we could shift the balance just slightly away from degradation (catabolism) and toward accumulation (anabolism), this would have a huge effect on the effectiveness of our muscle training program.
My top-6 list of indispensable nutritional supplements:
How Glutamine works: glutamine is known as a “conditionally essential” amino acid; it becomes “essential” during intense exercise such as weight training or cardiovascular exercise, as the need for glutamine is greatly increased. During bouts of intense activity (or stress), glutamine enters the bloodstream and travels into the liver where it is converted into glucose; this newly synthesized glucose helps to fuel the working muscles. This process is known as gluconeogenesis-the process of turning a non-carbohydrate substance (glutamine and some other amino acids) into glucose which can be used for energy. While this all sounds great for the muscles, the problem is that the primary source of glutamine during exercise is from broken down muscle tissue; the body actually breaks down muscle tissue to help fuel the working muscles by preserving their glycogen stores1. Supplying the muscles with an exogenous source of glutamine (i.e a glutamine supplement, has been shown to reduce muscle degradation during intense exercise-the body is “tricked” into not breaking down as much muscle tissue.
2. Branched chain amino acids (BCAAS)
How BCAAs work: Unlike glutamine, BCAAs, consisting of leucine, isoleucine, and valine, are essential amino acids, meaning that the body cannot synthesize them from precursors-they must be obtained from the diet. Like glutamine, there is a greater requirement for BCAAs during intense exercise such as weight training and they are derived primarily from catabolized muscle tissue. BCAAs are broken down into (among other things) alanine and glutamine (remember glutamine?) which are in-turn used to generate glucose in the liver. Supplementing with BCAAs will help to prevent their degradation in muscle tissue, limiting muscle-degradation and speeding up recovery. Leucine itself has been shown to stimulate protein synthesis, and research has shown that the BCAAs have a positive effect on recovery, can reduce fatigue, and encourage an overall anabolic state in the muscle. BCAAs seem to be especially effective in times of reduced calorie intake (i.e. while dieting down to lose that last 5lbs).
3. Protein: (whey protein isolates)
How whey protein works: This one may seem like a no-brainer; proteins are made of amino acids and as discussed above, certain aminos can greatly enhance your weight training efforts. Whey protein is a great protein source because it is very high in both BCAAs and glutamine; any whey protein will have these qualities, but after a weight training workout timing is the key. Many whey proteins are a mixture of both whey isolate and whey concentrate. Whey protein isolate is absorbed extremely fast, while whey concentrate is broken down more gradually over time. Fast-acting proteins such as whey isolate are known as “anabolic proteins”, dumping tons of amino acids into the bloodstream very quickly, promoting muscle-growth. Slower acting proteins such as whey concentrate, soy protein concentrate, or calcium casienate (milk protein) are known as “anti-catabolic proteins”; they provide a slow, steady release of amino acids into the bloodstream helping to reduce muscle-protein breakdown for fuel. After a weight training workout, we want our protein to get there fast-whey protein isolate is ideal for this purpose.
4. Creatine monohydrate:
How creatine works: Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is the primary energy source to fuel intense muscular contractions, such as those during sprinting or weight-training. ATP contains a high-energy phosphate bond, which is broken down into ADP (adenosine monophosphate), releasing the energy necessary for muscles to contract. Every muscle cell has a store of phosphate, from which ADP is recycled back into ATP to continue fueling contractions. As this pool of phosphate gets depleted, so does our ability to make ATP; when we run out of ATP the muscle is exhausted and unable to further contract (i.e. the muscle fails such as on the last rep of a bench press). It was discovered some time ago that our muscles can actually be “loaded” with additional phosphate, which can extend our capacity to do high-intensity exercise. Phosphate is stored in the muscle as creatine phosphate, which acts to replenish cellular phosphate stores. When creatine monohydrate is ingested, it is converted to creatine phosphate and absorbed into the muscle cell, helping to replenish the phosphate pool. After an intense workout, muscle phosphate levels are drastically decreased. Supplementing with creatine post-workout replenishes creatine phosphate stores much faster, speeding recovery. Creatine also acts through unknown mechanisms to increase protein synthesis and muscle growth. For every molecule of creatine absorbed into the muscle, several molecules of water are absorbed, giving the muscles a fuller, more pumped appearance. A hydrated muscle is an anabolic muscle.
4. Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs)
How EFAs work: Without getting too much into fatty acid biochemistry, EFAs are required by the body for a countless number of processes, and are an essential element to any nutritional supplementation regimen whether for bodybuilding, athletic training, or general fitness training. The typical American diet is largely deficient in EFAs, and dieters often have less than optimal levels while on low-fat diets. There are 3 basic EFAs which are named based on their chemical structure, including omega-3, 6, and 9. Most commercial EFA supplements are a blend of the various EFAs, providing an ideal EFA profile.
5. Meal replacement powders (MRPs): Commonly known as the “protein shake”, MRPs serve not only as a convenient protein supplement, but as a substitute for regular meal.While real food is always best, the busy schedules of most people simply cannot accommodate the optimal 5-6 meals per day-MRPs are a great way to stay on the diet in spite of the most hectic of schedules. There are many brands commercially available with different nutrient profiles; choose the product that tastes good and provides the nutrient profile that fits for your particular diet plan.
6. Multivitamin/multi-mineral supplements: While in an ideal world we would get all the vitamins we need directly from the food we eat, in practice we can all benefit from a quality multivitamin. Stay away from the typical once/day tabs found at the supermarket. It is questionable whether these are absorbed well at all. Stick with those vitamin/mineral supplements derived from whole-food extracts-these are more readily absorbed. In addition, whole-food based multis may contain unknown substances which are found in food which are either essential or beneficial; science is constantly discovering new nutrients present in food-our current list is far from comprehensive.
There you have it, the only nutritional supplements you need to care about. They have been proven both anecdotally and with rigorous peer-reviewed research to enhance the muscle-building and fat-burning effects of any weight training and fitness program including.