It is for this reason that we must go "back to the basics" and separate the wheat from the chaff. This article will start basic supplementation. The questions I will answer are:
What are the categories of bodybuilding supplements?
What is "essential" supplementation?
What are the best compounds available in each category?
What are the better supplements available in each category?
For ease of understanding, I will categorically discuss supplements as ergogenic (muscle building), lipolytic (fat-burning), nutrient partitioners, appetite suppressants, and nootropic supplements (increasing alertness, awareness, concentration, and/or aggressiveness in the gym).
Yes, it's an oxymoron. That was the point. There is no mandatory supplement; unless of course you want to optimize results. And your health. The items here are the "no brainers." All of the supplements I will discuss throughout this article inherently have a cost-benefit analysis, and the supplements that are discussed here are must-haves if you have even the paltriest of supplement budget.
Topping the list, of course, is a
multi-vitamin (yes, it's necessary - all folks need their daily allotment of vitamins and minerals - bodybuilders and athletes need it even more). I don't think it's necessary (or cost-effective) to go for the fancy-schmancy ones. Good ole Centrum (or the store brand) is adequate.
Following as a tie for a close second - for their general health and body-composition benefits - are the duo of
fish oil (specifically EPA/DHA) and SesaThin.
There are plenty of good articles on why these are must-haves, year round supplements, so I will just say that 2-5 grams of EPA/DHA should be consumed daily, along with 1-2 grams of SesaThin (a bit more if you are an endo who is cutting).
Third, and in my opinion equally as important in a bodybuilder's regimen, is
whey protein concentrate.
Isolate is nice, and has a few less calories, but it's not nearly as cost-effective. Any good whey is fine. Find a brand that is within your budget, and find a taste that you like.
It is "mandatory" (in my world) that you consume 40-50 grams immediately upon completing your workout.
You can use it for the rest of the day as necessary to ensure adequate protein consumption (at least one gram per pound of lean bodyweight) but it is not mandatory.
That's it, as far as I am concerned, for the true basics.
The Next Level
So you have religiously incorporated the essentials, you have sweated your ass off in the gym for the last three months, and you are not a college student wondering where you are going to get your beer money from, and now you want to know "what's next?"
In order to make the best (i.e. most cost-effective) decisions, you need to be educated, and you need to understand what your goals are. Once you have decided that, read on.
Fat-Burning Compounds & Supplements
There is no over the counter magic bullet. There are, however, a number of very good compounds and supplements that are good for battling the bulge. Here is a list of compounds worth looking into:
- EGCG (green tea extract)
- SesaThin (but you should be taking this anyway, see above)
- 7-oxo-DHEA (not terribly orally bioavailable, but works well topically)
- 7-hydroxy-DHEA (the more potent derivative of 7-oxo known as 7-OH)
- Hoodia Gordonii extract
The SesaThin/7-OH/Hoodia stack makes for a very potent non-thermogenic fat-loss stack (though personally I like my thermos).
Non-Thermogenic Lypolytic Compounds
Avoid Overdoing It
Overdoing it with any of these compounds is not particularly effective and the shotgun approach will not be cost-effective either. Rather, you should look for a product that is sufficiently dosed in several synergistic compounds.
Our own H.E.A.T. Stack is quite an elegant approach to fat-loss (and enhanced mood) if I do say so myself.
Ergogenic Compounds & Supplements
Creatine is the 500 lb gorilla, the compound that is proven through tons of research and years of anecdotal feedback to add weight (some muscle, some water) and increase strength.
There are many different types and many different "transport" systems. The tried and true (and cost-effective) is plain creatine monohydrate (which is cheap) along with glucose/dextrose (Gatorade or one of the other sports drinks; or you can buy dextrose cheaply in bulk).
Creatine Ethyl Ester (CEE)
CEE is the latest rage, and it's getting solid reviews. As a creatine non-responder, I am looking forward to trying CEE.
Designer Supplements is soon to come out with an advanced CEE matrix known as XCEED -- which I will have hopefully tried out by the time this goes to print.
Once and for all let me make this clear - save your money and your time, despite what all of the "big guys" say about it. There is plenty of scientific and anecdotal evidence that
Glutamine is useless (unless you are a burn victim and taking ultra-high doses of glutamine intravenously). And before I knew better, I tried glutamine at doses ranging from 2-40 grams a day. I tried it for extended periods. Guess what? Nada.
NO-Type Products (Arginine)
I have yet to see compelling evidence (research or anecdotal) suggesting that this is truly an ergogenic supplement.
It's nice for an increased pump, which results from increased blood flow, which results in extra nutrients being delivered to the muscle tissue.
This is a good thing, but if you are paying through the nose for a specific product, you are surely overpaying for this (marginal at best) supplement.
Creatine and NO products, among other things, are cell volumizers (they cause a temporary increase in muscle cell size by increasing blood flow, among other things).
As stated above, this has a number of positive benefits. In addition to being a potent nutrient partitioner, our LeptiGen MASS is a very potent cell volumizer.
Branched Chain Amino Acids
BCAAs, are a group of three essential amino acids (l-leucine, l-isoleucine, and l-valine) that play important roles in protein synthesis and energy production. Supplementing with BCAAs in the 20-30g per day range can offer significant ergogenic benefits in terms of promoting protein synthesis and partitioning nutrients when trying to gain muscle and helping to stem muscle loss when dieting.
However, BCAA supplementation is also problematic for one single reason: cost. Consistent BCAA supplementation in the 20-30g/day range can become very expensive very quickly.
In this sense, BCAAs must be considered as a trade-off supplement: one that provides tangible benefits, but also at a noticeable cost to the user. Personally, I only recommend BCAAs while cutting, unless your supplement budget is unlimited.
This, my friends, is the future of supplements. Few companies have realized this, however, so outside of Avant Labs' products (the LeptiGen series, SesaThin - I told you this stuff was mandatory - PhenoGen, and even H.E.A.T. Stack) you will be hard pressed to find supplements that impact nutrient partitioning. There are, however, a number of compounds that are cost-effective nutrient partitioners.
Perhaps I should first explain "nutrient partitioning." After all, this is a Back to the Basics article. Nutrient partitioning is the term used to describe how both macro and micronutrients are shuttled to the cells (both fat cells and muscle cells). The nutrients you consume at any given time are sent in part to muscle and in part to fat.
Think of nutrients in the blood traveling down a two-lane highway. The nutrients then come to a fork - one direction leads to fat tissue and the other to muscle tissue. Different folks have different natural partitioning levels. Mesomorphs, for example, tend to have a very high percentage of the nutrients they consume going down the muscle route.
Indeed, one of the main ways anabolic steroids impart their effects is through improved nutrient partitioning -- if you can increase the percentage of the nutrients and calories that go to muscle as opposed to fat, you will increase anabolism, reduce fat, and thus positively affect body-composition.
Again, there is currently no over the counter magic bullet, but there are a number of compounds that can subtly improve nutrient partitioning and in combination, over the long haul, can have significant effects on body-composition.
The best of the best in terms of improved nutrient partitioning includes, in no particular order:
The Best Improved Nutrient Partitioning Products
Other Improved Nutrient Partitioning Products
(If You Have The Time & Energy)
There are few products designed as nutrient partitioners, let alone effective ones. LeptiGen MASS is perhaps the single best partitioner on the market - that is what it is designed for - lean bulking by positively effecting nutrient partitioning (therefore you need to eat less to do a bulk proper).
There are a litany of supplements and compounds that purport to be testosterone boosters. There are two common uses for such a product.
- The first is post-cycle recovery after androgen use.
- The second is that raising natural test levels should be anabolic in its own right.
I say 'should,' because I have not noticed increased muscle gains from several very good test boosters. They may have raised test levels, but it just did not translate into increase muscle mass. So for these, you should probably consider the cost effectiveness.
Tribulus is the most notorious of the bunch. I have long believed that tribulus is a compound that is overrated at best, and complete bunk at worst.
That said, there is a product called Anabolic Matrix by Ironmaglabs.com that claims that (most) other tribulus products are under-dosed, or do not have quality ingredients.
And, much to my surprise, the feedback I have seen on this product has been positive. For me the jury is still out, but this may be a product worth trying.
6-OXO by ErgoPharm is the most heralded testosterone booster and it's even backed by solid studies. I have seen a ton of great product feedback on 6-OXO as a post-cycle supplement.
I have not seen much in the way of use of 6-OXO as a stand alone. And as such, it would be quite expensive to use.
A new one to the market that I am particularly excited about is Rebound XT by Designer Supplements. The main ingredient is Diene-3 . We will await real world feedback, but on paper it looks quite promising.
There are a number of worthy compounds as far as hunger/appetite control and suppression. There are also a handful of products out there whose direct or indirect purpose is to control appetite.
The Best Of The Compounds Include
Trimspa is the first product I know of that contains hoodia gordonii (Unfortunately, this product has been discontinued by AST. - ed.). NOW Brands also has a quality hoodia product, Mega Hoodia.
LeptiGen (the classic version) is unprecedented in terms of killing appetite. From the LeptiGen series, LeptiGen Rebirth is the most effective for this purpose.
H.E.A.T. Stack also offers mild appetite suppression, but burning fat is what it was designed for, and what it is best at.
Anorect-IN is designed for the sole purpose of suppressing appetite, and it is quite effective.
There are plenty of good choices here that can help save any diet from going the way of the dodo.
Nootropics Or "Smart Drugs"
Nootropics are fairly new to the bodybuilding world, but certainly have their place in terms of improved cognitive function, improved mood, improved sleep, better focus, and even more intensity, aggression, and motivation in the gym. Some of the tried and true substances are
Acetyl-L-Carnitine (ALCAR) and
caffeine combined with
A few of the better products fitting into to this category are H.E.A.T. Stack, and NeuroStim by Scivation.
The former is more of a fat-burner with the side effects of improved mood (anti-anxiety), whereas the latter is more of a nootropic with the side effect of fat-loss; each worthy in their own right (on top of being an excellent focus supplement, the newer version has caffeine - Neurostim + C - I would expect this to be excellent pre-workout product).
If you are looking for focus and aggression in the gym, keep your eyes peeled for Avant's DOMINATE , which should be available in the coming months. Other worthy pre-workout products include VPX's Redline (the RTD is reportedly unmatched), and I have seen unparalleled preliminary reports on ErgoPharm's new product AMP.
At this point, you should have a basic understanding of various categories of supplements to aid in your pursuit of a better body. You should also have come to realize that it is not the name of a product that should drive your purchases, but the ingredients that make up the product.