To be the best you must take every advantage you can, and nowhere does this precept hold truer then in the uncompromisingly tough sport of bodybuilding. As each year progresses, it can become harder to gain the competitive edge.
Age, an adjustment and acclimation to training that causes slower progress and the general complexity of life with its many demands and issues can all conspire to thwart our training efforts.
While training intensity can be accomplished trough a targeted training program and an ability to adequately stimulate our muscles is something the motivated and determined bodybuilder often has no problem doing, muscle recovery is another issue. It is especially important at a time of the year when social demands and incorrect eating combine to stifle our progress.
This is why it is particularly important to fill any nutritional gaps with quality supplementation, a practice that can be done all year round for maximal results in muscle size and strength.
The misconception that supplementation is not really necessary (that they are, after all, only to be used to supplement a nutritionally deficient diet) has persisted for quite some time.
In recent times, however, it has become clear with advancements in supplement quality, purity, and what they can offer, that whole food nutrition simply cannot cover everything. Rather than being an optional extra to boost bodybuilding success, supplement use is a crucial aspect for fat loss, muscle building and performance.
As we all know by now, it is of primary importance to ensure that correct nutrition is in place ahead of training. After all, missing the occasional training session may even be productive for much needed recovery, but neglecting nutrition means a breakdown in the healing process.
Once training is resumed under these conditions, there may be little in the way of caloric support to ensure that protein synthesis and muscle growth occurs. Muscle may even begin to cannibalize itself as the body enters into a catabolic state. Even with the best of diets this can sometimes happen if training demands override the nutritional balance or imbalance.
To be extra sure this does not happen, supplementation has become a must for those serious about ongoing results.
In the following article I will outline the supplements that have helped me to add a massive 10 kilograms (22lbs) of solid muscle to my physique over the past year - taking my body weight from 80 kilograms (176lbs) to 90 kilograms (198lbs) - and explain how these have helped me to improve my performance and enhance my size as a natural bodybuilder, aged 35.
A plan is included to be used by those wanting to achieve similar results. Supplements are listed in order of priority.
1. Whey Protein
As a foundation for muscle gains, quality protein supplementation is without equal. And the best absorbed form - often used specifically post-workout, and with meals to round out one's protein balance - is whey protein. Whey protein has a high biological value and is extremely convenient to take.
While protein obtained from food sources can provide more sustained protein levels (especially prior to bed to offset the fasting period that usually occurs during sleep), whey is rapidly shuttled into the muscles where it can exert its powerful anabolic effects.
I usually use whey protein twice a day - directly after training and first thing in the morning upon rising before breakfast to ensure a rapid uptake of protein to restore the drop in nitrogen levels from the previous night's sleeping/fasting state.
It is worth noting here that to fully preclude this 8-10 hour fast one would need to wake once or twice throughout the night to consume protein. Thus, taking protein immediately upon waking is essential, and whey is, in my experience, the best form to take at this time.
2. Branch Chain Amino Acids
Since taking Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) regularly I have witnessed a noticeable improvement in muscle density and my recovery rate has also increased exponentially. As essential aminos, the BCAAs (leucine, isoleucine and valine) must be taken through the foods we eat.
As the only three aminos metabolized directly by muscle tissue they are especially important for the immediate recovery of muscle tissue. They are used to build new proteins after hard training. As a primary muscle-building insurance policy, BCAAs should be on the top of anyone's supplement list.
Considered a conditionally essential amino acid, L-glutamine comprises up to 60 percent of free-from amino acids circulating in muscle tissue and is critical for muscle recovery.
When other tissues need L-glutamine (for immune purposes, for example, of which L-glutamine is essential) they will often leach this amino from muscle stores, so supplementing it makes sense.
If the muscles and the rest of the bodily systems have an abundant supply of L-glutamine, muscle tissue will be less likely depleted under conditions of stress. After a hard training session L-glutamine levels will be reduced throughout the body by as much as 50 percent.
I have found the best way to supplement L-glutamine is to take 5 grams 3-4 times per day so the body has a constant supply. Adding it to protein shakes is an excellent way to include it in one's diet.
When creatine hit the shelves in the early '90s, it quickly became the supplement of choice for athletes the world over.
A supplement that can support increases in size and strength - as attested to by countless scientific studies - creatine (monohydrate, the version that, despite many new revolutionary forms, still seems to work best in the long run) will, for most, boost lean muscle mass and amplify strength gains.
I have personally found that when I'm not taking it my muscles become much flatter and energy levels tend to plummet. Creatine's major benefits - among many - are twofold.
It increases muscle energy, allowing one to train harder and to reap the results. And secondly, it hydrates muscle tissue, which, over time, causes them to become bigger and stronger.
Naturally produced in the kidneys, pancreas and liver, creatine is transported to muscle tissue where it is transformed into creatine phosphate, from which the energy molecule ATP is produced to regenerate the muscles' ability to contract and generate power during short-burst (anaerobic) activity. This translates to more productive workouts and faster muscle growth.
Though produced in the body, these levels are sufficient only for ongoing cellular function, not massive muscle growth, which in itself is not at all conducive for survival purposes.
And relying on nutrition to significantly boost creatine is futile in that many pounds of raw meat would need to be eaten to extract five grams of creatine, the quantity provided in one teaspoon of creatine monohydrate powder. So supplementation is necessary to realize creatine's full benefits.
5. Omega-3 Fish Oil
The many health benefits to be derived from eating fatty, cold-water fish such as salmon and mackerel are well documented.
However, due to various contaminants, purity and quantity of essential fatty acids supplied, availability and price, gaining valuable Omega-3 fatty acids from these sources is often not ideal. Fish oil in supplemental form, on the other hand, provides the perfect ratio of these Omega-3's in the purest and most concentrated way possible.
To improve performance and build muscle a healthy physical state must first be attained as muscle can only grow when the right conditions are in place to do so. Omega-3 fatty acids may support blood circulation to allow nutrients such as protein and carbohydrates to reach muscle and exert their effects.
Omega-3s may also assist fat loss through maximizing metabolic rate and helping to form a foundation from which thermogenesis can occur. Joint lubrication and cardiovascular health are also major benefits to be derived from Omega-3 supplementation.
6. Vitamin/Mineral Supplement
A multivitamin and mineral supplement is not purely a bodybuilding supplement in terms of directly targeting muscle growth the way creatine and L-glutamine do. Taking a high potency and high quality vitamin/mineral product is a fundamental way in which to support the cellular conditions under which performance and muscle growth can occur.
Though certain compounds like vitamin-C (comprising, along with A and E, the so called antioxidants) are thought to be of greater importance for immune function, it is the synergistic effect of all key vitamins and minerals taken in a specific ratio that will support the best results in health and subsequent tissue growth and function.
So-called doctors and nutritionists might tell us that the perfect ratio of vitamins and minerals can be achieved through eating a diet rich in certain fruits and vegetables. However, today's soil conditions, various pollutants, and the over processing of foods make it all but impossible to achieve such a perfect ratio.
Even those who eat strictly "organic" do not get what they should as far as nutritional potency and quality is concerned.
Supplement program to boost bodybuilding progress
Upon Rising (First Thing In The Morning)
- 1 tsp (or Serving) of Fish Oil
Directly After Training
Supplementation could today be regarded as a necessity rather than optional to supplement a balanced diet. Since the conditions under which muscle growth occurs demand precision as far as the nutritional status we achieve is concerned, a good diet, regardless of how well balanced it is, simply cannot fulfill this function.
Creatine, L-glutamine and whey protein - as the big three bodybuilding supplements - can only be obtained in sufficient amounts in supplemental form.
Sufficient quantities of fish oil, from which to extract Omega-3 fatty acids, key vitamins and minerals, and Branch Chain Amino Acids also are found lacking in the foods we eat.
Gaining the athletic edge has, since the '90s, been a process of consuming the right nutrients in the correct ratios.
Simply put: with correct supplementation the process of building muscle, losing fat and amplifying performance is made significantly easier. And, as opposed to less than natural means, the results are lasting.
Try this little exercise some time: follow the supplement plan provided above for at least three months. Then quit all supplement use for a further three months and watch what happens. Sure, most supplement marketing involves hype and some companies make laughably outrageous claims, but there is no secret as to why the supplement industry is booming. Supplements work.