When it comes to building muscle, there is a lot of different kind of supplements available. New ones are coming out almost every year as companies are pushing new products to market. Some of those products are scientifically proven to work, some not so much. If you’re new to this and looking for ways to get more out of your training, the list of available supplement products can be overwhelming at first. Influencers on social media are not making this any easier by promoting products, sometimes even with unrealistic results. Luckily, most available supplements won’t harm you and are basically a waste of money. I have collected a short list of those scientifically proven supplements that can help you. This article works as a starting point for beginners and provides information about the most common supplements.
Protein is what you need to build muscle and you need to eat a surplus of protein to gain new muscle. If you’re unsure how much protein you should be taking, I have written an article about it. The question is, is it necessary to take it as a supplement? Do you need the isolates? The answer is no. You do not need to supplement with protein powder and you can get all the protein you need from food.
Protein powder just makes it a little bit easier to reach the amount of protein you should be eating, especially if you’re a vegan or on a calorie-deficit diet. Protein-rich foods like salmon, beef, or pork also have fat, making it harder to keep to your calorie goals. On the other hand, on a vegan diet, you need to eat good protein sources with suitable amino acids, and this is where products like brown-rice isolates can really help you out.
When should I eat protein?
If you’re not a professional weightlifter and you’re eating 3-5 nutritious meals daily, you shouldn’t really worry about the timing. It’s definitely a good idea to time one of those meals before your training session. This gives you the energy for your workout and supplies you with protein to recover from that training session. You can boost your protein intake after the workout with some protein isolate if you like. Nevertheless, your primary focus should be on just eating enough protein to support your goals to build muscle.
Creatine is a natural compound that your body produces, and it’s made of three different amino acids, glycine, arginine, and methionine. It is also found in some meats high in protein, like fish and beef. It is a perfectly safe and natural supplement to take.
To understand why supplementing with creatine can help you, we need to know how our body uses energy. Energy is stored in our cells in a molecule called ATP (adenosine triphosphate), and it is used almost in every energy process there is, even for creating more ATP. When the body uses ATP to produce energy to drive processes, like muscle contraction, it loses one phosphate and becomes ADP (adenosine diphosphate). Our bodies cannot use ADP for energy and in that sense, it’s useless until it’s recycled for more ATP.
How can creatine help with this, then? When creatine enters our body, it is stored as creatine phosphate. This compound can give its phosphate group to ADP to create more ATP, which means more energy for your muscles! This enables you to train longer, harder, and get more out of your training.
When should I take creatine?
There is an ongoing debate about when you should take your creatine, but I think you shouldn’t worry about it. This is because there are no immediate acute effects with creatine and when your muscles are saturated with creatine, it’s always readily available for use. Just remember to be consistent and take it daily, about 3-5 grams (teaspoon), to keep your creatine levels up. If you’ve heard about the loading phase, it’s totally optional. You’ll get to the same end result with or without the loading phase. You can just speed up the process with the loading phase.
Caffeine is another safe supplement to take to boost your training. It can increase your energy levels, alertness, and mental focus. It can increase your power output and training volume while suppressing fatigue. After long-term use of caffeine, your body becomes tolerant of it, and the effects will be significantly diminished. Increasing the dosage will not help. The solution for this is to cycle the amount of caffeine you take. This can be done for example, by taking a week off caffeine every 1-2 months or by just not consuming it every day.
What about other supplements?
There are a lot of different supplements on the market, and we barely scratched the surface. Like L-theanine works great when used in combination with caffeine or beta-alanine can help you if you’re training for endurance but doesn’t seem to have any effect on strength training and can cause skin irritation. There are pre-workout mixes that can boost your training but can also be overpriced and include unnecessary supplements. My tip for any supplement you decide to try is that you do your research on it. Check Youtube for reviews and google it. Don’t waste your money and just buy something that looks promising, it might not be.