Introduction | Nutrition | Supplements | Mind | Mind/Muscle Link | Tips From The Top
In today's world gaining the edge means doing whatever is necessary to overcome any obstacle that threatens to derail our chances of success. For athletes, and bodybuilding/strength athletes in particular (given the extreme physical demands their sports' require), gaining the edge often means using cutting edge supplementation strategies to improve muscle size and performance while keeping (or getting) body fat levels down.
Fortunately for these athletes an increasing number of effective supplement products are hitting the shelves daily. The only real problem, it seems, is choosing the best from such an increasingly vast selection. Though once the domain of elite athletes, supplements are today used by many more people right across the social spectrum. They have quite simply become an essential part of getting in optimal shape.
Often what will separate two people who are eating and training the right way is what they are supplementing with. Of course anabolic steroids are the most effective of all performance enhancing "supplements", but even if they are used the right nutritional framework must be in place.
To get the edge the natural and most convenient (and legal) way for the majority is advanced nutritional supplementation. Is does not matter what a person's goal is, there will always be a supplement to do the job. From fat burning to muscle building to energy production to performance in general, effective supplementation (once a good diet and training plan is in place) will definitely separate the winners from the losers.
To make get the most from your training and nutrition program along with the tips given by the leading professionals featured in this guide, it is recommended that you consider your best supplement options and plan accordingly. A description of the best supplements on the market today follows. Recommend brands a supplement plan will round out this section.
Muscle Building, Fat Loss & Athletic Performance Supplements
A High Potency Multivitamin & Mineral Product
Quite simply the most important supplement you can use from a nutritional and health perspective. This will provide you with the additional micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) your body will need to respond well to the hard training sessions given in this guide.
For various metabolic processes to take place, such as protein synthesis (significant for bodybuilders) and carbohydrate storage for energy, your body will need an adequate supply of micronutrients. A good vitamin and mineral supplement will help in this regard.
Whey Protein Powder
Whey protein has also been shown to be one of the more anabolic (muscle building) of the protein sources, which also has the added benefit of improving immune function and therefore overall health and wellbeing.
Forming 20 percent of cow's milk and having the highest quality rating of all protein sources, whey protein is ideal for rapid digestion and uptake and the provision of a complete protein source.
Ideal times to take whey are directly after training when the body is most receptive rapid protein uptake - it is at this point whey reaches the muscles when they need protein most (refer to nutritional notes). Another ideal time is one hour before training, as it will at this time absorb quickly so as to not negatively impact training progress due to the fullness other protein sources may create.
Omega 3 Fish Oil
As explained in the nutrition section, omega-three fatty acids will assist with many aspects of health and wellbeing. Significantly for bodybuilders and others wanting to get into their best shape they will help to reduce muscle inflammation and enhance joint strength, thereby hastening tissue repair and allowing for greater bone stability respectively.
Omega three fatty acids have many more beneficial qualities. As a brain function booster they are without peer. The right combination of EPA and DHA (eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid respectively) (the two main types of omega three fatty acids used by the body) found in a good omega-three supplement can also aid muscle building, and fat loss in particular.
In fact, studies have shown that those who follow a fat loss diet along with a good exercise plan were able to maintain better control over their blood sugar and cholesterol levels when an omega three supplement was introduced (27). They lost more fat as a result.
From a general health perspective omega-three supplementation has been shown to provide insurance against heart disease, stroke, diabetes and arthritis. Anyone interested in his or her health, and bodybuilding success, would be well advised to use a good omega three supplement.
A drink such as Gatorade (or preferably one containing dextrose or ribose) will supply needed simple sugars directly following training. Sugars introduced at this time will rapidly be absorbed and stored as muscle glycogen, allowing the body to prepare adequately for the next workout.
A dextrose or ribose based energy drink will supply simple sugars when they are needed most: directly following training. Sugars introduced at this time will be rapidly absorbed and stored as muscle glycogen (28). For those who train for longer periods, an energy drink can help sustain training intensity during this time.
In fact, it is common practice nowadays for bodybuilders to consume an energy drink before, during and after training to ensure adequate performance and optimal energy replenishment. The key to optimal performance in the weight room is an adequate supply of glycogen within the working muscles.
Energy drinks, particularly those with a dextrose base (dextrose is more rapidly absorbed) are the most efficient way to achieve this. Ribose is great also as it plays an active role in the construction of the energy molecule ATP within the mitochondria of every muscle cell. It therefore is also very good to use after training. In fact, dextrose and ribose can be combined and used post-workout.
Glutamine is one of the more important of the amino acids for bodybuilding purposes as it is a crucial factor in protein metabolism and comprises around 60 percent of the free form amino acid content circulating in the muscles at any given time. A lack of this crucial competent of muscle building will result in muscle degeneration.
Since glutamine is also used for all other cells of the body, if one does not achieve sufficient levels of it, these other tissues will take it from the muscle leading to atrophy and weakness of the muscle. Therefore is it always wise to supplement with L-Glutamine.
One of the more significant amino acids due to its ability to aid in nitrogen metabolism, meaning it can restore nitrogen balance (the body's main protein status marker), glutamine is often mixed with whey protein and creatine to provide a triple-whammy effect. It has a more significant anti-catabolic effect compared to other amino acids as it directly prevents muscle tissue wasting, a process that can occur when glutamine stores are low (as mentioned in the preceding paragraph).
Some studies have even suggested that glutamine (as little as two grams) can boost growth hormone levels. In light of the research and real-world evidence to show how it works, glutamine is one supplement a bodybuilder cannot do without.
Thought to be the gold standard in supplementation, and certainly the most scientifically studied, creatine, available in several forms (the most common being monohydrate) provides several positive benefits for those wanting to add quality muscle (22). It has been shown to enhance our ability to exert maximal effort during training sessions due to its ability to facilitate ATP production.
Also it directly adds volume to the muscles through its ability to initially increase intracellular water uptake by the muscles (the process responsible for the initial rapid weight gain experienced while using it), before, according to some reports, stimulating protein synthesis.
Research has also shown creatine to have a positive effect on myogenic cells - non-specific cells that can form new muscle following muscle tissue damage (23). Due to its powerful effects, creatine has been likened to a legal steroid. Most products containing creatine are likely to benefit the hard training bodybuilder in more ways than one.
Creatine comes in many different varieties and most of these will work in different ways to provide the same intended outcome: massive muscles and more strength. Choose one from the following that suits your needs.
Creatine Monohydrate is the most common form of creatine, the one most scientific studies use. It is bound with water to provide 88% pure creatine per molecule. In other words, one gram of creatine monohydrate will supply 4.40 grams of active product to the body.
Despite the newer creatine products to have hit the market, monohydrate remains the most used from of creatine (400 million in annual sales in the US alone).
Micronized Creatine is essentially creatine monohydrate, but with much smaller molecules (this creatine has been micronized, which means its molecules have been cut up or divided). This dividing or cutting reduces the surface area of the creatine, making it easier to absorb and lessening any potential stomach discomfort.
It also reduces the unwanted bloating effect - one of monohydrates drawbacks. It is also thought to be purer then monohydrate and more effective as a result (it goes through a more thorough manufacturing process).
As mentioned earlier, for creatine to be effective is first has to bond with a phosphate group to become creatine phosphate. It follows that taking a creatine phosphate supplement would giver better results than the monohydrate form, right?
Probably not: the reality is, creatine phosphate has only 62.3% creatine per molecule as opposed to monohydrate, which has 88%. As well, creatine phosphate has never been shown to be more effective than monohydrate, and it is more expensive to buy.
This is essentially regular creatine bonded with special molecules to increase absorption. This type of creatine mixes extremely well but has only 400 milligrams of active creatine per gram. Also, it is very expensive. However, it has been shown to cause less stomach discomfort in those susceptible to this problem.
Creatine Ethyl Ester (CEE)
Widely touted as the future of creatine supplementation, CEE is thought to have absorption rates up to ten times higher than regular creatine due to its solubility. This solubility improves its transport over biological membranes such as muscle.
Basically CEE is creatine monohydrate with an ester attached (an ester is made when an alcohol molecule is combined with an acid). Normal creatine molecules have one positive and one negative end. However, the ester attached to this molecule counteracts its charges, therefore making for greater absorption.
Anecdotal reports suggest it is superior to creatine monohydrate in several ways. Reported benefits of CEE include faster absorption, smaller dosages needed, and elimination of the "creatine bloat" look (CEE is thought to pull nearly all the water into the cell, whereas regular creatine that is no so well absorbed leaves much of the water sitting outside of the cell, which causes the bloated appearance).
The main goals of creatine manufactures is to improve the absorption rate of their product to ensure greater results in performance and muscle size in those who use these products. A buffered from of creatine that is processed at higher PH levels than regular creatine monohydrate, Kre-Alkalyn is believed to have one of the fastest absorption rates of all.
Regular creatine is broken down into a waste product called creatinine before the active compound is absorbed - this lowers the absorption rate. With Kre-Alkalyn, this conversion to creatinine is halted and the absorption rate is enhanced as a result. Reported benefits include: faster absorption rate, no loading phase or creatine bloat and immediate results.
One of the more controversial of the creatines, Creatine Serum is variously reported to give great results or no results at all. This is basically creatine dissolved in water, often with various vitamins and amino acids added. Many like this product as there is no loading phase required and it is easy to use (it is simply dropped under the tongue).
On the downside, scientific evidence points to it as being virtually useless as creatine is unstable in liquid (it breaks down to creatinine over time).
Effervescent Creatine is combined with sugar or sodium and a chemical that gives it an effervescent quality. It is thought to have better absorption than monohydrate and tastes better. However, it does have the sodium and/or sugar, two compounds bodybuilders generally try to eliminate. It is also very expensive.
A Fat Burner
A good fat burning supplement will work on three levels: it will increase energy, boost metabolic rate and suppress appetite. Sure, hard work and good nutrition will always be fundamental ways to lose unwanted weight, but a fat burner will definitely optimize this process to achieve fast, more effective fat loss.
With ephedrine off the market, companies are frequently coming out with revolutionary fat loss products, all designed for the express purpose of getting the bodybuilder ripped, fast. Today's bodybuilders take every advantage to gain size and lose fat, and this means using fat loss products in conjunction with muscle building supplements to maximise their progress.
A N.O. Product
NO promoting products (nitric oxide) have become all the range in bodybuilding, and for good reason: they allow an increased blood supply to the working muscle and a greater uptake of nutrients and oxygen to improve performance and aid recovery.
NO is a free form gas that effectively allows for increased blood flow and the communication of all of the cells in the body. Products that promote NO production feature arginine - an amino acid broken down in the body to form NO.
Micronutrients: The Metabolic Sparkplugs
Micronutrients, the vitamins and minerals that are needed in small amounts to maintain healthy physical development, are an often-underestimated nutritional component, as they are not considered a large enough nutrient source to warrant specific attention (24).
It is not surprising then that many fall short in structuring adequate amounts of these essential nutrients into their diets due to limited knowledge of their effectiveness and the faulty nutritional planning that results. The fact remains: the micronutrients as major health components are vital in that they help structure and regulate all reactions and processes that take place within the body.
A good way to ensure optimal levels is to design a nutrition plan that includes a wide variety of healthy foods, with an emphasis on fruits and vegetables (24). The best way to ensure they are not overlooked is to include a high potency vitamin and mineral supplement in addition to a well-balanced diet to ensure there are absolutely no nutritional gaps.
Some would say that a good diet is all you really need. The reality for most of us, however, is that due to the poor nutrient content of many of our natural foods and the artificial chemicals that are added to these products (which leaches nutrients from our cells), a good multivitamin/mineral supplement will be needed as an insurance policy.
Given optimal health and training progress depends on an interrelationship between many different nutritional factors, a once-a-day multi-vitamin/mineral supplement (recommendations below) is recommended as part of the eating plan given in this article.
Micronutrients are essentially substances that are like "magic wands" that enable the body to produce enzymes, hormones and other substances essential for proper growth and development. As miniscule as the amounts are, however, the consequences of their absence are severe. Iodine, vitamin A and iron are most important in global public health terms; their lack represents a major threat to the health and development of populations the world over, particularly people in third world countries.
A successful diet is one that does not overlook any health-contributing factor. Although micronutrients are only needed in smaller amounts compared to the larger macronutrients, they are essential in supporting the systems responsible for protein, carbohydrate and fat metabolism and should be included in the diet accordingly.
Vitamins and minerals are essential to your health. Although they do not give you energy directly, they do assist in energy-yielding reactions and promote body growth and development. Vitamins and minerals are vital for human function, each one playing a different role. A description of the role key vitamins and minerals play, along with their specific features, follows.
Vitamins are compounds formed by living organisms that serve as metabolic regulators to support health and sustain life (24). The following is a list of all vitamins needed for the maintenance of good health and proper physical development along with a description of what they do and their primary sources.
This vitamin promotes healthy bone growth along with vision, reproduction, and cell division and helps to regulate the immune system. Good sources include whole milk, liver, eggs, some fortified breakfast cereals, carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach and most darkly colored fruit and vegetables.
B1 helps supports the normal function of the nervous system, muscles and heart and promotes normal growth and development. Good best sources are whole grains and fortified cereals.
Supports energy production, is necessary for red blood cell and antibody production, respiration and regulating human growth and reproduction. It is also essential for healthy skin, thyroid activity, healing of wounds, nails and hair growth and general good health. Good sources include liver, kidney, whole grains, green leaf vegetables, milk, yeast, cheese, oily fish, eggs, enriched cereals, almonds and mushrooms.
In heavily involved in converting food into energy. B3 also regulates circulation, the digestive and nervous systems, hormone production, and promotes healthy skin. Good sources are beef liver and kidney, pork, turkey, chicken, veal, oily fish, beets, peanuts and strawberries.
B6 is necessary to balance the hormonal changes in women. It will also assist in the growth of new cells and the functioning of the immune system, converting food into energy, and in controlling moods, behavior and sex drive. Good sources of B6 are similar to other B vitamins and include eggs, chicken, yeast, carrots, fish, liver, kidneys, peas and walnuts.
An important function of C is the building of collagen that gives structure to bones, cartilage, muscle and blood vessels. It also aids in bones and teeth maintenance, and in the absorption of iron. Good sources are most fruits and vegetables. These are to be served raw if at all possible to obtain the highest levels of this vitamin.
Vitamin D is known to promote calcium and phosphorus levels to ensure optimal bone growth. It is also thought to play a role in regulating cell growth immune system function. Exposure to direct sunlight is the best way to obtain sufficient vitamin D. Also, most dairy products contain smaller amounts, while better sources include oily fish, fortified cereals, eggs, and beef liver.
As a powerful antioxidant vitamin E acts as a barrier to poisons and diseases that can damage the body. It also helps with immune function, cellular repair, protection of the nervous system and blood vessels. Best sources of E include nuts, green vegetables (spinach, broccoli, sprouts) eggs, wholemeal products, soya beans and vegetable oils and particularly olive oil.
Vitamin K plays an essential part in the production of coagulation proteins, which aid in blood clotting. Good sources include any green, leafy vegetables, oats and oils, such as olive oil, and asparagus.
Minerals are non-organic substances, meaning they are derived from non-living sources (sand and rocks being common origins). For good health, proper metabolic functioning and disease prevention, the body requires an adequate supply of minerals. They are equally as important if not more so than vitamins as, unlike some vitamins, they cannot be manufactured within the body. In addition, vitamins cannot be assimilated without the aid of minerals. Minerals are divided into major minerals and trace minerals. A list of each type and their respective functions follows:
Calcium helps build strong bones and teeth. It is involved in muscle contractions and nerve function.
Calcium can be found in milk and milk products (yogurt, cheese), tofu, broccoli, fortified orange juice, and some fortified cereals.
Chromium works with insulin for proper glucose metabolism. It can be found in Egg yolks, meat, whole grains, and cheese.
Iron helps carry oxygen to body tissues including muscle.
It's found in red meat, seafood, and fish. Also dried apricots, beans, and fortified cereals.
Magnesium maintains normal muscles, nerves and immune functions.
It can be found in halibut, nuts, soy foods, spinach and fortified cereals.
Phosphorus is vital for muscle contractions and nerve transmission and important for heart and kidney function. It helps regulate fluid balance and blood pressure.
It is found in milk and yogurt, many fruits and vegetables.
Zinc is important in the function of many enzymes and wound healing. Zinc can be found in seafood, meats, eggs, and whole grains.
With such a wide range of bodybuilding supplements on the market it is a tough job deciding on the best of the best. The following products on this list have been shown time and again to be the best bodybuilding/fat loss supplements around. Many of these products have won awards of excellence for the results they produce. In line with their status as market leaders, they are featured here as suggested supplements to for enhance your progress as you complete the training and nutrition programs outlined in the guide.
Universal Animal Pak
Has won the bodybuilding.com multi-vitamin of the year award for the past three years. Contains a full spectrum of all the essential vitamins and minerals along with many crucial performance optimizers, essential fatty acids, amino acids and digestive enzymes.
Lipo 6 Rx: Nutrex
With the active ingredients Synephrine, Yohimbine HCL, Caffeine Anhydrous and Bioperine Lipo 6 Rx is considered the best fat burning supplement on the market today. It utilizes an advanced delivery technology to shuttle its powerful fat burning agents to specific, localized receptor sites.
Optimum Nutrition 100% Whey Protein
Voted best whey protein product in the bodybuilding.com supplement of the year contest for the past three years, Optimum Nutrition 100 percent whey protein is a very good source of this essential bodybuilding nutrient. It has a proprietary blend of:
- Microfiltered Whey Protein Isolates
- Ion-Exchange Whey Protein Isolates
- Ultrafiltered Whey Protein Concentrate
- HydroWhey Hydrolyzed Whey Peptides
Higher Power Micronized L-Glutamine 1000
The benefits of L-glutamine for muscle recovery and growth cannot be overstated and Higher Power Micronized L-Glutamine 1000 supplies a massive 4500 mg of this important amino acid per serving.
Higher Power Micronized Creatine 1000
Countless testimonials and scientific studies have lauded the benefits of creatine monohydrate. Higher Power Micronized Creatine Monohydrate 1000 has been shown to be one of the better products on the market and is an essential addition to any bodybuilder's supplement program.
NO, or Nitric Oxide, is known as one of the most potent muscle builders of all time because of its positive effects on mental focus, general performance, strength and the acceleration of blood flow to the working muscle and consequent massive muscle pumps. All of these factors combined allow the bodybuilder to surpass previous workout intensity to build muscle like never before. For the past three years, BSN NO-Xplode has been voted the best of these products in the bodybuilding.com supplement awards.
The supplements mentioned above could all be used to assist muscle building and fat loss efforts, but only in conjunction with an adequate diet and training program. The training program and diet featured in this guide will be all the more effective with the right supplement plan. It is advised that the following plan be used for the duration of the 12-week three-phase training program for optimal results. Ensure also that if a creatine-loading phase is to be completed, that it is done before the commencement of this program.