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When it comes to gaining muscle, most people think that supplements are the most important part of the equation. However, this could not be any further from the truth.
Supplements are just additions to an already good nutrition and training program. Nutrition and training are the most important components of a bodybuilding program, with rest and recovery next to them.
Once all of those aspects of your program are maximized, then you can start thinking of adding supplements to your program. Please understand that supplements do not make up for improper training, or lack thereof, or a low quality diet. Supplements only work when your diet and your training program are optimal.
On this installment, we will cover supplements that once can add to the basic ones described on Part 1 of this article. The addition of these supplements will depend on what your goals are, how serious you are about your training, and what your supplements budget looks like.
Performance Enhancing Supplements
(Highly Recommended for the Serious Trainer)
These are the kind of supplements that you take if you are really serious about your training, and if you can afford them.
1 - Creatine Monohydrate
Creatine is a metabolite produced in the body composed of three amino acids: l-methionine, l-arginine and l-glycine. Approximately 95% of the concentration is found in skeletal muscle in two forms: creatine phosphate and free chemically unbound creatine.
The remaining 5% of the creatine stored in the body is found in the brain, heart and testes. The body of a sedentary person metabolizes and average of 2 grams of creatine a day. Bodybuilders due to their high intensity training metabolize higher amounts than that.
Creatine is generally found in red meats, and to some extent, in certain types of fish. However it would be hard to get the amount of creatine necessary for performance enhancement as even though 2.2lbs of red meat or tuna contain approximately between 4 to 5 grams of creatine, the compound is destroyed with cooking. Therefore, the best way to get creatine is by taking it in powder form.
How Does It Work?
While there is still much debate as to how creatine exerts its performance enhancing benefits, it is commonly accepted by now that most of its effects are due to two mechanisms:
- Intra-cellular water retention.
- Creatine's ability to enhance ATP production.
Basically, once the creatine is stored inside the muscle cell, it attracts the water surrounding such cell thereby enlarging it. This super hydrated state of the cell causes nice side effects such as the increase of strength and it also gives the appearance of a fuller muscle. Some studies suggest that a super hydrated cell may also trigger protein synthesis and minimize catabolism.
In addition, creatine provides for faster recovery in between sets and increased tolerance to high volume work. The way it does this is by enhancing the body's ability to produce Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP). ATP is the compound that your muscles use for fuel whenever they contract.
ATP provides its energy by releasing one of its phosphate molecules (it has three phosphate molecules). After the release of such molecule, ATP becomes ADP (Adenosine Diphosphate) as it now only has two molecules.
The problem is that after 10 seconds of contraction time the ATP fuel extinguishes and in order to support further muscle contraction glycolysis (glycogen burning) has to kick in. That is fine and well except for the fact that as a byproduct of that mechanism lactic acid is produced.
Lactic acid is what causes the burning sensation at the end of the set. When too much lactic acid is produced, your muscle contractions stop, thereby forcing you to stop the set. However, by taking creatine, you can extend the 10 second limit of your ATP system as creatine provides ADP the phosphate molecule that it is missing (recall that creatine is stored in the muscle as creatine phosphate).
By upgrading your body's ability of regenerating ATP, you can exercise longer and harder as you will minimize your lactic acid production and you will be able to take your sets to the next level and reduce fatigue levels. More volume, strength and recovery equals more muscle (assuming nutrition and rest are dialed in).
Creatine also seems to also allow for better pumps during a workout. This may be due to the fact that it possibly improves glycogen synthesis. In addition, studies have shown that creatine helps lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels. The mechanisms by which it exerts such benefits remain unknown.
In my own experimentation with creatine I have found that provided your training, rest and nutrition are in order, you will get results out of it.
How To Use It
If you read the bottle, most companies recommend a loading phase of 20 grams for 5 days and 5-10 grams thereafter.
While that is the commonly accepted way to use it, in my own experimentation I have found no benefit to loading. I have even gone as far as loading for 7 days with 40 grams a day and found no difference.
There is only so much creatine that the body can store. Recall that the creatine is stored every time that you take it.
So by taking it every day before and after the workout, eventually, you will reach the upper levels that provide the performance enhancement.
After you reach that level, you could get away with just taking it on your weight training days as it takes two weeks of no use for the body's creatine levels to get back to normal.
Another point to talk about is the issue of cycling creatine. If creatine would be a supplement that loses its effectiveness as time goes by then I would recommend cycling.
For example, it was beneficial to cycle fat burning supplements containing caffeine and ephedrine as the body's receptors began to attenuate after 2 to 3 weeks of continual use. Once the body would get used to them, you needed to either increase the dosage or stop their use so that the body begins to respond once again. However, that is not the way that creatine works.
Basically, creatine gets stored into your muscles and you get the effects mentioned above, period. It is really straightforward. As far as the initial weight gain that you may experience when you start taking it, whether you cycle it or not, you will get the same amount of initial weight gain as that extra weight is determined by the amount of intracellular fluid retention that your muscle cells can store (something that remains a static figure).
The reason I say "the weight gain that you may experience" is because if once you start taking it you concurrently increase the volume of your workouts and remain at the same caloric intake level you may lose fat as you gain your added muscle volume and because of that the scale might not register any weight gain (this is what happened to my training partner).
However, the lack of "registered" initial weight gain by the scale does not mean that you are a "non-responder". To gauge creatine's efficacy on you judge it by the muscle appearance effects and the performance enhancement in the gym.
The only adverse side effect that I have experienced in my over two years of continual use is the gastric upset at the beginning of use. After a couple of weeks or so my system adapted to absorbing the powder. Other than that, I have not observed any other side effects. Keep in mind however that the liver and kidneys have to process this compound.
Therefore, I would not recommend it for someone with kidney problems or liver problems. Also, even if you are completely healthy ensure more than adequate hydration levels (bodyweight x 0.66 = total ounces of water to drink per day) and if you drink coffee, add an extra 16 ounces of water for every cup that you drink over the day.
A side effect that I have read happened, but I am unable to quantify, is the fact that your body's production of creatine shuts down. However, after cessation of use, according to all of the literature your body's production kicks in again. No adverse effects have been documented due to the creatine shutdown created by the body.
Good brands of creatine that I have used are:
2 - Glutamine
L-Glutamine the most abundant amino acid in muscle cells. It is released from the muscle during times of stress (such as hard weight training workouts) and dieting. This amino acid not only has been shown to be a great anti-catabolic agent (protects the muscle from the catabolic activities of the hormone cortisol), to be a contributor to muscle cell volume, and to have immune system enhancing properties but also to help in the following ways:
- Regulation of protein synthesis (this is one of the ways in which steroids exert their muscle building effects).
- Accelerating glycogen synthesis after a workout.
- Sparing the use of the glycogen stored in the muscle cell (recall that the glycogen stored in the muscle cell is what gives the cell the healthy volume and firmness that you seek).
- Faster recuperation from weight training workouts.
How To Use It
Due to its anti-catabolic properties and the fact that it accelerates glycogen synthesis after a workout, glutamine is best taken 20-30 minutes after a workout with a protein shake.
On days that you don't workout, just take it with your last protein shake of the day. While there is much debate amongst experts as far as dosage is concerned, I always like to remain on the conservative side.
Therefore, I feel that 3-5 grams is a sufficient dosage to start with and as your stomach gets used to it you can increase it to as much as 10-15 grams.
As far as cycling this supplement, there is no evidence that suggests cycling would improve its efficacy.
As far as side effects we only experienced a slight stomach discomfort during the first week of use (I took the straight powder form). Other than that, I did not experience any other side effects while using the compound and I have not found any literature that links its use to anything bad.
As usual, we recommend that you start with a low dosage (such as only 3 grams a day) in order to assess your tolerance. From there you can build up to 10-15 grams.
By looking at the effects that this supplement can provide you with, along with the fact that these days it can be purchased for a very cheap price, we wonder why more athletes don't use it. This is especially important during dieting, as a way to protect the muscle from being cannibalized by the effects of cortisol.
Testosterone Boosting Supplements
(Not Recommended for Teenagers)
These are the type of supplements that you can take if you plan to compete, if you have the budget to try them, and only if you are older than 25 when the hormonal production begins to decline. Teenagers, in my opinion, should stay away from any supplement that has an effect on hormonal levels as there is no need to upset a teens delicate hormonal balance.
Besides, teenagers produce approximately the equivalent of a 300 mg shot of testosterone per week anyway so there is no need to attempt to increase the production of testosterone in a system that is already producing at peak levels.
The efficacy of some of these supplements is still under debate by some of the experts in the field, but in my opinion as a competitive athlete I have seen an edge by using them. Also, I would like to mention that by increasing your hormonal levels you may experience some acne and slightly increased aggression. Finally, if you have a propensity for male pattern baldness and/or an increased prostate you should monitor these things if you still decide to use some of these products.
1 - ZMA
A scientifically designed anabolic mineral formula. This formula consists of Zinc Monomethionine Aspartate, Magnesium Aspartate and vitamin B-6.
This all-natural product has been clinically proven to significantly increase anabolic hormone levels and muscle strength in trained athletes. Hard training athletes typically deplete the body from these essential minerals.
Studies have shown that supplementing with 30mg of Zinc and 450mg of Magnesium per day can elevate testosterone levels up to 30%!
Due to the fact that ZMA consists of two minerals and a vitamin B, teenagers can safely use this product
2 - Tribulus Terrestris
A Bulgarian herb that tends to increase both free and total testosterone levels enhancing, as a result, your sex drive and muscle building capabilities. It is believed that it exerts its effects through an increase in Luteninizing hormone (LH) levels, a hormone which in turn signals the body to increase its testosterone production.
In addition, this herb has been used for centuries for ailments such as headaches, premature ejaculation, water retention, and dizziness. Also, some research indicates that it has properties that enable it to protect the liver and the cardiovascular system as well.
3 - Avena Sativa
Avena Sativa, better known as wild oat, is an annual grass, which is cultivated for its edible grain. It has the effect of increasing free testosterone levels (the testosterone that can be used by the body).
While the mechanism under which it exerts this benefit is not clear, it is suspected that it occurs through an increase in LH levels, just like Tribulus. Because there seems to be a synergism between Tribulus and Avena Sativa, Biotest Labs included both herbs in their product Tribex.
I take in 3 capsules twice a day on an empty stomach only from Monday through Friday.
4 - Red-Kat
This is another product produced by Biotest Laboratories. It is another hormone free formula designed to increase the free testosterone levels in males. The formula is based on
Eurycoma Longifolia Jack and Sclaremax. Eurycoma Longifolia Jack is a plant reputed to have aphrodisiac properties. It is commonly known as Tongkat Ali in Malaysia.
The effects of Sclaremax, the other ingredient in Red Kat, include its antithrombotic and antidepressant effects, as well as its stimulating effect on luteinizing hormone, resulting in the production of Testosterone (in males). I take 2 capsules of these with my Tribex (twice a day) only from Monday through Friday.
5 - 6-OXO
6-OXO, which is short for 3,6,17-androstenetrione, is a very powerful androgen metabolite that increases testosterone levels naturally through a suppression of estrogen levels (the hormone that females produce in high amounts and that gives them their female characteristics).
Believe it or not, males produce this hormone as well, mainly through the work of the aromatase enzyme which aromatizes (converts) the testosterone we produce into estrogen.
6-OXO works by binding to the aromatase enzyme and rendering it ineffective, something that corresponds in an increase in testosterone levels. I take 3 capsules of 6-OXO with my ZMA at night with the last meal. The product I take is made by ErgoPharm.
Fat Burning Stacks
Before I discuss my favorite stacks for fat burning, keep in mind that in order to lose fat, one needs to follow a nutrition plan and workout program that is designed for that. Otherwise, these supplements will exert very little effects on your body composition. If you need help designing a program, be sure to check out my article Hugos Rules For Getting Lean In 8 Weeks.
Stack 1 - Good For People Sensitive To Stimulants
1 - Metabolic Thyrolean From Prolab:
When you go on a caloric restricted diet, your metabolism begins to slow down in an effort to maintain homeostasis (constant state) in the body.
The body accomplishes this through a reduction in active thyroid (T3) production and through a reduction of certain neurotransmitters in the brain like epinephrine and norepinephrine which play a role in keeping our metabolic rate high.
This formula from Prolab contains a clinically tested combination of ingredients that preserve or increase thyroid output and also provides the substrates needed for the production of neurotransmitters.
Metabolic Thyrolean is stimulant free so it can be used year-round. I like to take 3 caps twice a day, first thing in the morning and then at around 3pm, when I take my thermogenics of choice.
2 - Hot Rox From Biotest:
Hot Rox delivers six compounds that were stacked to increase thyroid levels naturally while maximizing fat mobilization, appetite suppression and mood enhancement; all things that contribute to the successful loss of body fat while keeping the energy levels optimal.
This formula has 50 mg of caffeine per serving (2 capsules) so it is another good choice for those of you who do not like stimulants.
I've stacked it with the Metabolic Thyrolean with good results and since I like stimulants, I take a 200mg tablet of Prolab Caffeine along with it. So in other words, my stack consists of 1 tablet of Prolab caffeine, 2 caps of Hot Rox and 3 Metabolic Thyoleans twice a day (1st thing in the morning and at around 3pm).
Because the formula does not down regulate your beta adrenergic receptors (these are the receptors where stimulants like caffeine and ephedrine operate at) the formula can be used year round as well.
Stack 2 - Good For People That Love Stimulants
1 - Lipo-6 From NUTREX:
Lipo-6 formula is a combination of several stimulants, which work by increasing your metabolism by stimulating an increase in noradrenaline.
An increase in noradrenaline is favorable as fat cells and muscles have an abundance of adrenoreceptors, which are the receptors to which noradrenaline binds to.
Once noradrenaline binds to the adrenoreceptors in the fat cells, a chain of chemical reactions occur (I won't bore you with the details) that result in the liberation of fatty acids (fat loss).
In addition, this formula contains guggulsterones, which help support healthy thyroid metabolism and bioperine which aids in increasing the absorption of nutrients and thus enhancing the effectiveness of the formula.
I like this product the most because it utilizes the HCL forms of the ingredients (as opposed to herbal forms) and in addition, it comes in a liquid capsule that releases the ingredients faster into the bloodstream. This is a strong thermogenic!
2 - Thyrocuts II From S.A.N:
Thyrocuts II is an actual form of thyroid (T2), which when taken, has a less adverse effect on the body's own thyroid production (it does not shut it down as badly as prescription T3), and penetrates into the inner membrane of brown-fat tissue and uncouples it.
Brown fat is the most stubborn fat in the body as the body likes to save it for cases of famine.
3 - Metabolic Thyrolean From Prolab:
This product is also useful for this stack, and I particularly like to include it here to protect from any small thyroid shutdown that may occur from supplementing with T2.
The way I take this stack is a serving of Lipo 6 first thing in the morning and at around 3pm along with 3 caps of Metabolic Thyrolean and 1 cap of Thyrocuts II.
I do not use this stack for more than 6 weeks as the body begins to get used to the stimulant based thermogenics after this period and also to prevent the body from getting used to needing T2 supplementation. After 6 weeks of use, I go to Stack #1 and stay on that one for at least 8 weeks before using Stack #2 again.
Pre Workout Supplements
When training for mass gains there are a couple of supplements that I alternate every month that have proven to deliver results in the form of more focus, energy and intensity in the gym along with faster recuperation in between sets and workouts:
1 - Labrada Super Charge
I take a serving of
super charge 15-20 minutes before my workout when building mass and believe me that once it kicks in you feel it! Super charge has a variety of ingredients that enhance energy, strength, endurance, focus and recovery. If you have the money it is certainly worth a try.
2 - BSN NO-Xplode
Once I finish up with a can of the Super Charge then I switch to
NO-Xplode. The goal of this formula is also to increase your focus, energy, pump and intensity in the gym.
I notice that by alternating between both formulas I keep getting the same effect from them. I take NO-Xplode 15-20 minutes before my workout and I am more than ready to go once it is time to lift.
You won't be disappointed with the results you will get.
Supplement Recommendations Summary
1 - Essential To Take
- Multivitamin/mineral complex taken with breakfast.
- Essential oils and monounsaturated oils as per nutrition section.
- 1 gram vitamin C taken with breakfast, lunch and dinner.
- Weight gain, whey protein powder or meal replacement powder for mixing with skim milk or water in order to make protein shakes.
- 200mcg of chromium picolinate taken with protein shake after the workout.
2 - Highly Recommended
(Only Useful If You Are Really Pushing Your Workouts To The Limit.)
- 2.5 grams of creatine before and after the workout.
- 3 grams of glutamine after the workout or at night-time before bed on non-workout days.
- ZMA (1 serving with evening meal)
- Metabolic Diet TestoBoost (Four tablets per day. Can be taken at one time or two tablets twice a day, before training and/or before bed.)
- Nutrabolics HydroTest (With the enclosed oral syringe, dispense 6ml of HydroTest into mouth and swallow solution. HydroTest should be taken 15 minutes prior to training. For heavier training and competition, take a second serving of HydroTest upon waking.)
- 6-OXO (3 capsules at night every day)
There is no need to take all of these testosterone-boosting supplements at the same time. You could get great benefit from doing 6 weeks of one, 6 weeks of another and so on. But if you have the finances to use them all there is no adverse effects from doing so.
3 - Fat Burning Supplements
(To Be Used When Losing Fat Is The Main Goal.)
- Prolabs Metabolic Thyrolean (3 caps first thing in the morning and around 3pm)
- Biotests Hot Rox (2 caps first thing in the morning and around 3pm)
4 - Pre-Workout Supplements
I hope that this article has cleared the confusion as to what supplements to take. The key point that I want you to remember and I cannot emphasize enough is that the most important variables for making gains are your training, nutrition and recovery.
Once you have these variables dialed in then you will be amazed at the gains that you can make once you add the right supplements into your training program.
About The Author
Hugo Rivera is an ISSA Certified Personal Trainer, Sports Nutrition Specialist and Computer Engineer graduate from the University of South Florida. Hugo is owner of www.hrfit.net, an informational, free fitness and nutrition website.
Hugo is author of a self published bodybuilding e-book called Body Re-Engineering geared towards the natural bodybuilder and co-author of one of the most popular Men's Health book in the country (according to Barnes and Noble) called The "BodySculpting Bible for Men" and the very popular "BodySculpting Bible for Women".
Hugo also just released his new book called The Hardgainer's Handbook of Bodybuilding in March 2005 and also serves as a nutrition consultant to several professional football players and other elite athletes. Hugo serves as business consultant to many personal training studios as well and offers personalized diet and training programs through his website.
Hugo continues to publish several articles on the subject of health and nutrition in several magazines and websites and has been with Prolab Nutrition for over three years. Hugo competes as drug free NPC athlete at the National Level and his core supplementation has always consisted of Prolab products.
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