If you know me, you know that I'm all about the basics. I think that reinventing the wheel simply for the sake of being different is silly. I mean, I've certainly gone against the grain with much of the advice I've dispensed over the years, but it was usually because the "grain" was, well, stupid and unsupported by evidence.
So I always chuckle when supplement companies hype up their products with new, unproven ingredients. Who cares how novel something is if it doesn't do jack? This is why I've always been big on creatine monohydrate, despite many "improved" novel forms. Monohydrate can saturate the muscle cell 100 percent—and the last time I checked, you can't get better than 100 percent. Whey protein, BCAAs, fish oil, and a few others have never been improved on, no matter how hard the industry has tried.
But your stack doesn't have to end there. In recent years, a few new supplements have been building up not only good reputations, but good evidence to support their effectiveness. Down the line, it wouldn't surprise me in the least to see them skyrocket into mainstream popularity.
Here are my five picks for the best bodybuilding supplements you aren't using—yet!
OK, so ashwagandha isn't exactly "new." This herb, which has long been used in Ayurvedic medicine, is what's known as an adaptogen. Technically, that means it may help support a healthy stress response. In rodent models, it has been demonstrated to support relaxation and a sense of calmness.*1,2
You may be wondering why I'm giving so much attention to a supplement that has primarily been tested in rodents. Well, there's new human data from a study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition that found supplementing with ashwagandha twice per day supported strength, muscle growth, and even reduced body fat.*3
More research will be needed to further explain how and why this occurs, but it appears that taking 300 milligrams twice per day may benefit strength and muscle gains. Even though research is still in its infancy regarding ashwagandha, this supplement has much more backing than some of the more popular ones on the market today.
Ursolic acid is a phytochemical found in apple peels. Oral supplementation with up to 450 milligrams per day has been suggested to simultaneously support strength and decrease body fat in human subjects.4 There's also data in rats suggesting that ursolic acid may reduce muscle loss during fasting.*5
Sounds great, right? It definitely is, but ursolic acid has very low bioavailability, meaning it takes a lot of the supplement to get the job done, so to speak. Fortunately, minimal amounts are needed to provide benefit, which suggests oral supplementation may be useful for supporting strength gains and body compositon.*
Fucoxanthin is a marine compound found in several types of brown seaweed. It's not a stimulant, but it may have an effect on fat loss and the creation of new fat cells.6 Fucoxanthin seems to be stored in existing fat cells and appears to induce increased energy expenditure, possibly via increased thermogenesis, which is the creation of heat.7,8 Why should you care? The creation of heat requires calories, meaning there's potentially an increase in calorie burning.
The thermogenic effect takes time, however, as fucoxanthin must accumulate in fat cells before it can exert its fat-burning effects, similar to how creatine must accumulate in muscle cells before is benefits can be optimized.
So how significant are those benefits? One human study estimated that fucoxanthin increased metabolic rate in obese women by approximately 450 calories per day after 16 weeks of supplementation.8 This may be due to its ability to stimulate activity by the fat-oxidizing enzyme AMP kinase, and by increasing white fat's levels of UCP1 (also known as "thermogenin"), a thermogenesis-inducing mitochondrial protein.9,10
That's all a sciency way of saying that fucoxanthin could be a novel but effective way to reduce body fat that is not stimulant-based. Generally, it's recommended you take fucoxanthin with dietary fat to enhance absorption.11 And remember, the effect of this compound isn't acute; it could take numerous weeks, or even several months, to build up enough to make a significant difference.
Another adaptogen that's been gaining popularity in recent years, Rhodiola's benefits are derived from the fact that Rhodiola acts to fight fatigue and reduce the perception of fatigue, which supports enhanced physical and cognitive performance.12,13
It has also been demonstrated to reduce the effects of stress and feelings of being "burned out," and may enhance recovery from workouts.12* It appears the effect on fatigue is both acute and chronic, though the acute affect may only be seen in untrained people, whereas trained individuals may need more time.14
Whether you like the taste of cherries or not, research suggests tart cherries deserve some consideration as an ergogenic aid. Specifically, an extract from a variety known as the Montmorency tart cherry has been suggested to have multiple beneficial effects on recovery, including reducing delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and improving recovery after a strenuous workout.15
Most impressive, however, is that tart cherry has been suggested to improve recovery in resistance-trained individuals.16 Why is this important? Untrained people produce a lot of muscle damage, so they often respond better to supplementation with compounds that reduce soreness than trained individuals. It's rare that a compound demonstrates the ability to support recovery in resistance-trained individuals, since they already recover at a faster rate than untrained individuals.
This means tart cherry supplementation could cut down the time it takes for you to recover from a workout, allowing you to perform your next one more effectively.* When the weights get heavy and the volume piles up, like in Phase 3 of my 13-week program PH3, that could make all the difference.
- Bhattacharya, S. K., & Muruganandam, A. V. (2003). Adaptogenic activity of Withania somnifera: an experimental study using a rat model of chronic stress. Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior, 75(3), 547-555.
- Gupta, G. L., & Rana, A. C. (2007). Protective effect of Withania somnifera dunal root extract against protracted social isolation induced behavior in rats. Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology, 51(4), 345-353.
- Wankhede, S., Langade, D., Joshi, K., Sinha, S. R., & Bhattacharyya, S. (2015). Examining the effect of Withania somnifera supplementation on muscle strength and recovery: a randomized controlled trial. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 12(1), 1-11.
- Bang, H. S., Seo, D. Y., Chung, Y. M., Oh, K. M., Park, J. J., Arturo, F., ... & Han, J. (2014). Ursolic Acid-Induced Elevation of Serum Irisin Augments Muscle Strength During Resistance Training in Men. The Korean Journal of Physiology & Pharmacology, 18(5), 441-446.
- Kunkel, S. D., Suneja, M., Ebert, S. M., Bongers, K. S., Fox, D. K., Malmberg, S. E., ... & Adams, C. M. (2011). mRNA expression signatures of human skeletal muscle atrophy identify a natural compound that increases muscle mass. Cell Metabolism, 13(6), 627-638.
- Maeda, H., Hosokawa, M., Sashima, T., Takahashi, N., Kawada, T., & Miyashita, K. (2006). Fucoxanthin and its metabolite, fucoxanthinol, suppress adipocyte differentiation in 3T3-L1 cells. International Journal of Molecular Medicine, 18(1), 147-152.
- Yonekura, L., Kobayashi, M., Terasaki, M., & Nagao, A. (2010). Keto-carotenoids are the major metabolites of dietary lutein and fucoxanthin in mouse tissues. The Journal of Nutrition, 140(10), 1824-1831.
- Abidov, M., Ramazanov, Z., Seifulla, R., & Grachev, S. (2010). The effects of Xanthigen in the weight management of obese premenopausal women with non alcoholic fatty liver disease and normal liver fat. Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism, 12(1), 72-81.
- Maeda, H., Hosokawa, M., Sashima, T., Funayama, K., & Miyashita, K. (2005). Fucoxanthin from edible seaweed, Undaria pinnatifida, shows antiobesity effect through UCP1 expression in white adipose tissues. Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications, 332(2), 392-397.
- Kang, S. I., Shin, H. S., Kim, H. M., Yoon, S. A., Kang, S. W., Kim, J. H., ... & Kim, S. J. (2012). Petalonia binghamiae extract and its constituent fucoxanthin ameliorate high-fat diet-induced obesity by activating AMP-activated protein kinase. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 60(13), 3389-3395.
- Hu, X., Li, Y., Li, C., Fu, Y., Cai, F., Chen, Q., & Li, D. (2012). Combination of fucoxanthin and conjugated linoleic acid attenuates body weight gain and improves lipid metabolism in high-fat diet-induced obese rats. Archives of Biochemistry and Biophysics, 519(1), 59-65.
- Hung, S. K., Perry, R., & Ernst, E. (2011). The effectiveness and efficacy of Rhodiola rosea L.: a systematic review of randomized clinical trials. Phytomedicine, 18(4), 235-244.
- Spasov, A. A., Wikman, G. K., Mandrikov, V. B., Mironova, I. A., & Neumoin, V. V. (2000). A double-blind, placebo-controlled pilot study of the stimulating and adaptogenic effect of Rhodiola rosea SHR-5 extract on the fatigue of students caused by stress during an examination period with a repeated low-dose regimen. Phytomedicine, 7(2), 85-89.
- Parisi, A., Tranchita, E., Duranti, G., Ciminelli, E., Quaranta, F., Ceci, R., ... & Sabatini, S. (2010). Effects of chronic Rhodiola Rosea supplementation on sport performance and antioxidant capacity in trained male: preliminary results. Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, 50(1), 57.
- Howatson, G., McHugh, M. P., Hill, J. A., Brouner, J., Jewell, A. P., Van Someren, K. A., ... & Howatson, S. A. (2010). Influence of tart cherry juice on indices of recovery following marathon running. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 20(6), 843-852.
- Levers, K., Dalton, R., Galvan, E., Goodenough, C., O'Connor, A., Simbo, S., ... & Riechman, S. (2015). Effects of powdered Montmorency tart cherry supplementation on an acute bout of intense lower body strength exercise in resistance trained males. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 12(1), 1-23.