Are you maximizing the potential benefits of the supplements you take? Your body is a temple that deserves only the best products, so you might as well use them correctly. Darryn Willoughby, Ph.D., is a professor in the Department of Health and Human Performance and Recreation at Baylor University, as well as a former president of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. Here the good doc gives us the heaping scoop and breaks down five ways to up your supplement game.
Pro Tip 1: Take Blended Protein
Most of us know that whey is best taken post-workout. Since the body digests and absorbs it quickly, it improves muscle protein synthesis. Willoughby suggests mixing things up by adding in casein as well for a ratio of 60 percent whey, 40 percent casein.
"Also having casein available will be able to extend that period of time by several hours after exercise, so that the muscle can benefit and optimally engage in muscle protein synthesis," he says.
Pro Tip 2: Get Enough Leucine
Leucine initiates the process of muscle-protein synthesis. Willoughby explains that there is an effective threshold of 4 grams, and he recommends that you take a close look at the BCAA supplements you're using.
"Typically, you'll see the BCAA ratio to be a 2:1:1, meaning two parts leucine, one part isoleucine, one part valine," he says. "If you're talking about taking in 4 grams of BCAAs, you're only going to be taking in 2 grams of leucine."
It might be time to double up your scoops or find a more complete product.
Pro Tip 3: Rethink Your Approach to Taking L-Citrulline
The theory that L-citrulline is necessary before workouts for wicked muscle pumps is debatable. Willoughby points out that it's usually supplemented as a pre-workout, but research says it may not be as effective for that purpose as we think. Still, L-citrulline shouldn't be omitted from your stack.
"A study was recently done that gave subjects L-citrulline daily over the course of 10 weeks of heavy resistance training, at a dose of 2 grams per day, along with 200 milligrams of glutathione. This significantly increased lean mass, which was positively correlated to the increases that occurred with muscle strength," Willoughby says.
So, L-citrulline could be effective in improving performance if it's taken daily, rather than simply in conjunction with your pre-workout.
Pro Tip 4: Don't Worry About When You Take Creatine, Just Take It
You may have noticed a lot of pre-workout supplements including creatine in their ingredients lists, implying that this is a crucial time to ingest the muscle-building powder.
"The problem with this is that creatine is not readily assimilated into muscle, as many people would think," says Willoughby. "Instead, it takes a while for creatine to saturate the muscle."
Not that there's anything wrong with taking it before your workout. Just be aware that you will likely not see an immediate benefit during your workout. Timing isn't as important as simply taking 3-5 grams daily—whenever it's most convenient for you.
Pro Tip 5: Don't Worry About When You Take Beta-Alanine, Just Take It
Beta-alanine is another substance that's often combined with pre-workouts. Yet, like creatine, it is not fast-absorbing.
"When it is taken into muscle, it binds with an amino acid histidine and creates a small protein called carnosine," says Willoughby. "Carnosine is a very effective protein buffer, meaning that it helps to minimize the amount of acid formation that occurs in muscle in response to very high, intense muscle contractions."
Beta-alanine is better used for diminishing the muscle fatigue caused by heightened acid levels in the muscle. It has also been shown to increase anaerobic endurance. Take beta-alanine daily on its own and save the overthinking for actually crushing your workouts.
Interested in learning more about the basics of nutrition and supplementation? Check out Foundations of Fitness Nutrition plus over 50 other expert-designed fitness plans in Bodybuilding All Access.