Okay, you've heard it all before but I'm still going to have my say on the best supplements. Everyone has their favorites and I'm no exception.
But I think that many get carried away and take excessive amounts in the hopes that they will somehow reach a saturation level which will catepult them into steroid-like growth. Let me settle this, there is no such realm!
Even the greatest of prohormones (or pro-steroids for those of you who love Biotest products) will not create the type of gains that a steroid cycle can result in. But none the less there are those that are worthy of mention.
For The Record
For the record, I would like to state that you must get your training and diet in order before you attempt the use of any supplements. If a routine is not working for you now it will not work for you when you use supplement "X". It's that simple.
Supplements serve only one purpose and that is to give the body any nutrients that it may be missing thus correcting any weak link in the biochemical chain. No supplement or combination of supplements is going to fix a bad diet and/or bad training routine.
With that said, let's get to the good stuff. The following are listed in order of importance. If you can't afford them all start at the top of the list with the most basic and add in as you can or just for a trial.
The Good Stuff
I know you think I'm crazy for listing water as the main supplement. First, however, ask yourself what is more important to muscle mass than water. It comprises up to 73% of the mass of muscle tissue! It is what muscle is primarily made of so drink lots of it.
This is one of the reasons why liquid supplements (i.e. protein drinks) are so useful. They flood your muscles with the two prime components: protein and water. Don't neglect fluids in your diet or you will rob yourself of some major muscle building potential. Go for at least 10 cups of pure water per day plus all other fluids.
WATER INTAKE CALCULATOR
Since I already spoke a little about these in the previous paragraph it makes sense to include them next. These supplements can be an inexpensive and convenient way to add calories and protein to your diet. What could possibly be simpler than mixing up a powder in a little milk or water and then drinking it?
It takes all of 2 minutes and can provide potentially all of the nutrients of a solid meal. In some cases, like "hardgainers", there is a problem with consuming enough solid food to support muscle growth. For such people (I was one of them) these can be of great value.
A weight gainer like N-Large 2 by Prolab (my personal favorite) can be a source of up to 600 calories in one single serving. Two of these per day and you have enough extra calories to put mass on a total skeleton!
For those who don't really have trouble putting on weight but may need a little extra protein for gaining muscle mass there are the protein powders. The most popular form today is Whey protein. Whey protein comes from milk, or more specifically milk whey.
It is comprised of reasonably short chains of amino acids making it very quick to digest and get absorbed. It also seems to have a close to ideal ratio of amino acids to support muscle growth. Whey protein products also tend to taste quite a bit better than most other forms.
There are many other protein powders on the market like soy (especially cheap for those on a budget!), egg, milk and combination products. Each has its own set of advantages and disadvantages. Soy protein, for example, is very cheap and is an all vegetable product, great for the vegetarians out there.
It is a complete protein and has very little taste which means it can be mixed with just about anything. In addition, it comes with a host of health benefits that no other protein can match.
But, it is somewhat lacking in its profile of essential amino acids making it somewhat limited in its use as a sole source of protein. If you decide to go with soy, I recommend that you use it in combination with whole food at each serving or combine it with another protein product.
For many years, egg protein was considered the best source. It is still the best natural source. It has a complete protein profile and is easily digested and absorbed. For the most part though, egg protein powders are fairly expensive and tend to taste pretty awful.
Why bother, then, when whey protein powders are reasonably priced and taste much better? The other option of eating a lot of eggs is a reasonable one but, believe me, you'll soon learn to dislike eggs if you begin eating a couple of dozen a day! Not to mention the fat contained in them.
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Milk has been used by generations of bodybuilders to gain mass. It is probably still the most convenient and easy to use "supplement" available. It contains complete protein which is slowly digested and absorbed over several hours. This makes it ideal for day to day protein consumption between meals as you get a steady feed of amino acids into the blood over the course of the day.
The added benefit here is that even when you don't have time to mix a shake or eat a meal you could always grab a liter of milk at the nearest corner store and make a snack out of it. A liter of milk contains 32 grams of protein, and 48 grams of carbohydrate and depending on you goals the fat can be controlled by buying different levels from skimmed (0.1%) to whole (3.3%).
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It's also even available in a powdered milk protein form, but my question would be why bother? Milk is convenient, cheap and available. Don't mess with a good thing.
Still, the protein of choice is whey. There are so many available. My choice of pure protein powder would be HDT's 5+1 Whey. It's inexpensive and tastes great. If you can't really afford to use whey protein all of the time use it after you workouts to help get some protein into your system immediately. Whey's fast digestion allows the amino acids to get into the blood within about 30 minutes to 1 hour. This is ideal for post workout recovery.
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A general multivitamin/multi mineral supplement is more of an insurance policy than anything else. You may not need one but it certainly can't hurt. Because of some bodybuilder's very restricted diets and repetitive consumption of the same foods they are at particular risk of developing deficiencies. So get one and take it. End of story.
The big one. This is by far the most popular supplement on the market right now. And for good reason. Creatine works! No need to get fancy. Just plain Creatine Monohydrate is fine. Creatine is a carrier molecule for phosphate. The creatine monohydrate supplement that you take is converted to creatine phosphate in the muscles.
When your muscles contract they use the energy from the breakdown of Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) to do work leaving a less energetic compound Adenosine Diphosphate (ADP). Under anaerobic conditions (weight training) this ATP must then be regenerated from the resulting ADP in order to be reused for energy again.
What Is ATP?
Otherwise known as Adenosine TriPhosphate, ATP is critical to the release of energy. ATP is an adenosine-derived nucleotide that supplies large amounts of energy to cells for various biochemical processes, including muscle contraction and sugar metabolism, through its hydrolysis to ADP.
This is done by taking a phosphate from creatine phosphate and attaching it to the ADP molecule to reform ATP, thus making the molecule useable again. If Creatine is consumed in supplement form more of the Creatine phosphate can be stored and made available thus allowing anaerobic work to be carried out for a longer period of time. The result... you can train harder, longer, and make better gains!
But the story gets even better. When your muscles store creatine, more water is also stored in the muscles in order to maintain homeostasis. This causes the muscles to appear more full and can allow for the gain of up to 10 lbs of lean mass in a matter of about a week!
Initially, this mass gain is almost entirely water but if creatine supplementation is continued the body begins to respond to the equilibrium shift by building more muscle. Thus solidifying the gain. Users will tend to lose some of the weight gain at the end of a creatine cycle but an average muscle mass gain of 2-5 pounds is very common, especially among first time users.
There's lots of info about creatine available on Bodybuilding.com and on the supplements labels so I won't go into that here. Sufficed to say that creatine is definitely a must-have supplement if you want to maximize your gains in the gym.
If you can afford it, this is a great supplement. Glutamine is the primary amino acid found in muscle tissue. For many athletes, heavy training can deplete its availability because of the constant state of muscle repair. For this reason, supplemental glutamine can drastically decrease recuperation time meaning you can get back to the gym sooner and make better gains as a result.
Glutamine has been added to intravenous solutions for many years for post surgical patients for this very reason. It lessons healing time. Don't take this as a go ahead to follow Arnold's routines though! Even with such help most people take much longer to recuperate from training than they think. Be smart and listen to your body. It tells you everything you need to know.
Another one of the great effects of glutamine is that it works well with creatine by increasing the volumizing effect. By doing this you can increase the growth potential of both compounds. For best results take creatine and glutamine in the same cycle. They are a winning combination.
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This one is very controversial but I have had great results with it. At the very least it appears to increase my levels of aggression in the gym. It also doesn't hurt that it really increases sex drive - an added benefit!
The best products are those that combine Tribulus with other products like ZMA, vitamin B-6, and Avena Sativa. The added products seem to increase its effectiveness and the duration of its action.
Biotest produces and excellent product called Tribex Tabs which I highly recommend. The claim to fame for this product is that it somehow increases the levels of luteinizing hormone (LH) in the blood. LH is the hormone responsible for controlling the release of testosterone.
Whether or not increasing LH levels artificially actually increases testosterone release is still debatable not to mention the fact that there really isn't any proof that increased natural testosterone has anything to do with muscle mass gains.
None the less, as I have said, I think it works pretty well. If you can't afford it don't worry about it. It certainly isn't an essential supplement.
Well there you have it. My list of the best supplements. I'm sure there are some who would argue with me but through trial and error (mostly error) I have found these to be the best available.
If I learn anything more, I'll be sure to post it here for all to see. Don't burst a blood vessel if you can't afford all of them. Get your training in order and then experiment with one or two and see what happens.
If something works, try it again later. If it doesn't, ditch it and move on. Happy training!