Your nutrition plan will lay the foundation that you need to develop your body during the Built by Science six-week trainer. A stronger, more muscular physique starts there, so make sure you're familiar with the plan and have what you need to make it work for you. But in order to optimize your approach, we will also use a select number of key supplements.
These supplements don't lessen the importance of your food, but they will allow you to get higher concentrations and more optimal modes of delivery for certain key nutrients that can accelerate your progress. Assuming you already have certain staples like a multivitamin and fish oil, we're going to keep this stack simple and focus only on fundamental categories that have been shown over time to make a big difference.
Here are the four key supplement areas to support your training and nutrition.
Area 1: Pre-Workout
Pre-Workout supplements are a great way to increase focus and intensity while also potentially fighting neurological and muscular fatigue. More than any other supplement category, they provide a difference you can feel and see reflected in your workout performance. If you've been waiting to try a pre-workout, the next six weeks could be a great time to give it a shot.
What you need: Caffeine is the foundational compound in most pre-workout supplements, and with good reason. It has a wide range of effects, including increased neuromuscular efficiency and greater pain tolerance. Caffeine's effectiveness has been shown time and time again in clinical studies, but this doesn't mean everyone can handle the same amount. Use a product where the amount of caffeine is disclosed on the label so that you can dose based on your own personal tolerance.
Many pre-workout supplements contain creatine as well. This is a timely place to have creatine, but not necessarily because of the effect it will have on the workout itself. Rather, on the Built By Science nutrition plan you'll be ingesting carbs during your workout, which stimulates insulin production. Insulin enhances creatine uptake into your muscles, making this is an opportunity for you get the most out of this proven muscle-building supplement.
When to use: Caffeine takes 45-60 minutes to peak in your blood stream, so don't wait until you start training to start mixing it. Instead, drink it on your way to the gym. Start with the lowest dose recommended on the label, and then increase incrementally based on your tolerance and the label instructions.
It's important to realize on the front end that every pre-workout product contains a unique mix of stimulants with varying effects and intensities. Start slow and pay attention to your tolerance.
Area 2: Post-Workout
Research shows that taking in protein after exercise boosts protein synthesis beyond the stimulus provided by exercise alone. There's an ongoing debate in the research community about just how long the post-exercise "anabolic window" is, but my advice is to not over-think timing. Take your shake right after your workout, and trust that its effects have been well-established.
What you need: Whey protein is a leucine-rich, fast-digesting protein that is versatile enough to be used post-workout or mixed in meal replacement smoothies at other times during the day. Look for a whey supplement in which whey protein isolate is the first ingredient listed on the label. Whey protein isolate is the most purified form of whey protein, and if it's first on the list, you can be confident you're getting more whey than anything else.
Looking further down the ingredients list, the addition of digestive enzymes or lactase can help with the digestion of the protein and the breakdown of any residual lactose. Ideally, a whey protein supplement should contain less than 5 grams of carbohydrates and less than 2 g of fat, as this ensures that there aren't a lot of additives.
When to use: Have 25-30 g of whey protein right after you complete your workout. Whey protein is ideal in this situation because it contains relatively high levels of leucine, the key amino acid initiator of protein synthesis. Whey is also rapidly digested and absorbed, giving you a big and fast spike in your blood amino acid levels at just the right time. At other times during the day, use whey as necessary to enhance a meal's protein content or serve or as a meal replacement.
Area 3: Between Meals
Research shows that ingesting free-form essential amino acids between meals can double your opportunities to stimulate protein synthesis, but without dampening the protein synthesis stimulation of your actual meals. If you're looking to maximize muscle growth and make the most of your intense training over the next 6 weeks, these supplements belong in your toolbox.
What you need: Look for a branched-chain amino acid supplement that will deliver you at least 2.5-3 g of leucine per serving. Research suggests that this is the threshold for maximizing protein synthesis.
Many BCAA supplements contain a mix of other amino acids beyond the three BCAAs of leucine, isoleucine, and valine. If you're looking for one to prioritize, consider citrillune malate. This amino acid has been shown to have anti-fatigue properties and can support the clearance of metabolic waste during training.
When to use: BCAAs are absorbed very rapidly, causing a quick spike and decline in blood amino acid levels. Take a dose between meals to keep the machinery of muscle protein synthesis humming throughout the day.
To further optimize the growth stimulus provided by your training, time your BCAA intake on training days so that you have 1 dose with your pre-workout mix. Adding BCAAs at this time can help attenuate the catabolic effects of intense training, while allowing enough time for your blood amino acid levels to return to normal before receiving the amino acid spike from your post-training whey protein.
Area 4: Before Bed
Sleep is the wild card in many people's training. Far too many of us don't get enough of it, and the sleep we do get isn't deep or restful enough. This is one area where strategic supplementation can help both men and women.
What you need: Magnesium and zinc are both considered to be "essential" dietary minerals, meaning your body needs them, but can't produce them on its own. Both are also readily depleted with intense exercise, with some research showing that the depletion of these minerals can negatively impact testosterone levels and thyroid function.
But beyond their biological importance, the most pressing reason to consider supplementing with these two minerals is because most people simply aren't getting enough of them. Anecdotally, I have yet to have a client pass an oral zinc tolerance test, suggesting that most of us are walking around with suboptimal zinc levels. Magnesium is also known to be widely deficient in the American population, since most of us don't ingest enough in our diet to meet the recommended daily allowance.
One place where a deficiency can effect your quality of life is in sleep and recovery. Magnesium is a well-known muscle relaxant, and its use prior to sleep can aid in sleep quality. Zinc deficiency can also wreak havoc on your sleep and immune system, whereas having healthy levels have been shown to boost your body's production of anabolic hormones, improve insulin sensitivity, and support sexual health. Zinc has a hand in an incredible range of biological processes, so it's worth your while to make sure you're getting enough.
People who have trouble falling asleep may also see a benefit from taking melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone secreted from your pineal gland in response to darkness. It signals the body that it is time to sleep, and research shows that it may be an effective supplement for helping you fall asleep faster. If you work different shifts or travel across multiple time zones, melatonin can help get your sleep cycle back on track. And let's be clear: You need sleep in order to grow.
When to use: ZMA provides zinc and magnesium in highly bioavailable forms. Taking ZMA prior to bed will help maintain optimal levels of these minerals while also aiding in relaxation and sleep. Melatonin can also be taken prior to bed to help reduce the time until the onset of sleep.