Name: Alex Savva
Occupation: Founder of CircuitFIT, co-founder of Pharmafreak and SD Pharmaceuticals
Education: BA in physical health and education, University of Toronto
Website(s): PharmaFreak.com and SDpharmaceuticals.com
Why do you take supplements? If you're like me, you've probably been asked that question plenty of times by curious friends and family members. And you probably have your stock answers ready: To fill the gaps in your diet, or to maximize the results you get from your training. But don't forget this one: To perform better in the gym!
For me, this is crucial. I love training hard, but I love destroying a hard workout even more. I'm not talking about one of those hours-long leg days, either. I'm talking about 5-10 minutes that feel like a battle for your life. All of your body's energy systems are getting tested, lactate is building up, and your rational self is struggling to see the point of doing one more rep, let alone the 50 that remain.
These workouts are the type of test that can make or break you. If you're not ready for them, they're pure punishment, but if you are ready, they're an especially addictive kind of triumph. And while a multivitamin and protein powder are crucial parts of your fitness life, they're not the supplements that will benefit you most in the middle of a full-on #FreakMode workout like the one I've posted below.
These are the six high-performance essentials that are in my shaker bottle when I'm heading into battle. If they're not already, they should be in yours.
You might be surprised to see this one at the top of the list, but for me, it was a game-changer. Consistent daily use of a top-quality greens supplement can have several beneficial effects on power, strength, and performance. In fact, when it comes to performance, I consider it one of the most important supplements!
Greens supplements have an alkalinizing effect on the body. This means they help prevent the buildup of acidity in your body during intense exercise. The buildup of hydrogen ions causes the pH levels in your muscles to drop, shutting your muscles down and causing failure and fatigue. Win the war against acidity, and you'll be able to bust out more reps more powerfully and see the results in the mirror.
Recommended daily dosage: Take 1 scoop mixed into your protein shake or pre-workout.
Creatine is the most heavily researched sports supplement—and the research has been overwhelmingly positive. This simple, tasteless powder has the ability to increase strength, power, speed, overall athletic performance, and muscle growth. Creatine is the prime mover in the body's short-term energy system, but it also has many secondary roles. It operates as a pH buffer during exercise, which equates to more energy and more complete recovery between bouts of high-intensity workouts.
Creatine, in six words: more reps, faster recovery, better workouts.
But that's only in the short term. Looking out slightly farther, creatine supplementation—in combination with strength training, of course—amplifies the training-induced increase in the number of satellite cells in skeletal muscle. These cells are capable of fusing with existing muscle cells to facilitate new muscle growth. Having more muscle means you'll be able to do more hard work during your future training sessions.
Recommended daily dosage: Load with 20 g for 5-7 days, and then continue with 5 g as a maintenance dose.
No surprise here! Caffeine is one of the most popular performance enhancers simply because it works so well. It's especially popular with power and strength athletes because of its ability to improve mental alertness, cognition, physical endurance, and even max strength. Other stimulants like dendrobium are also increasingly popular with athletes, especially those who have already built up a tolerance to caffeine's stimulating effects.
Recommended daily dosage: This depends on your tolerance and daily intake, but taking 200-300 milligrams before a hard workout has been shown to have the sort of benefits that could make a difference in a brief, intense session.
Citrulline is an amino acid involved in your body's production and synthesis of nitric oxide (NO), among other processes. It gets converted to arginine in the kidneys and feeds into what is known as the NOS (nitric oxide synthase) pathway, which converts L-arginine into NO. NO boosts blood flow, bringing more essential oxygen and nutrients to your muscles when they're under duress. Increased blood flow is also great news for anyone looking for greater muscle pumps.
The most popular form of citrulline, known as citrulline malate, provides its own unique performance-enhancing benefits. Independent of the extra NO production, citrulline is also known to help your body buffer ammonia, one of the acidic byproducts of intense exercise. The malate, or malic acid, is a potent buffer of lactic acid. Together, they reduce fatigue and improve both anaerobic and aerobic endurance. Circuits like the one below demand a lot from both of those energy systems, so getting a little help from citrulline malate is a no-brainer!
Recommended daily dosage: Take 3-6 g 45-60 minutes before training.
If you're the type of workout freak who reads the labels of pre-workout supplements, you've probably seen betaine among many ingredients recently and wondered what it brings to the table. Well, the truth is that it's probably already on your table! Betaine is a derivative of the amino acid glycine, and is a component of many foods including wheat, spinach, beets, and shellfish. So you already get some of it in your diet. But when you train intensely, you sweat plenty of it out, and supplementation has been shown to have distinct benefits.
For one, betaine acts as a methyl donor that can help synthesize creatine in skeletal muscle. Given how important creatine is in high-intensity exercise, that's a big plus. But it's also a been suggested in research to significantly lower levels of lactate, boost muscle protein synthesis, and delay exhaustion during sprint workouts by 40 seconds longer than water alone.
Daily supplementation may even help improve endurance and strength, and help convert strength training into a surprising amount of muscle growth. So not only can betaine make your workout better, it can help you get more of the results you're training for in the first place!
Alex's recommended daily dosage: Take 2.5 g before a workout.
This one is a mouthful to say, but it's worth getting to know! Although the amino acid L-carnitine is best known for its ability to aid in fat burning, it can also improve performance and recovery from intense exercise. This is particularly true when you take supplemental L-carnitine L-tartrate, which is perhaps the most studied variety of L-carnitine from a performance angle.
Supplementation with L-carnitine L-tartrate brings with it all the benefits you associate with L-carnitine, plus a few more. For one, L-carnitine has been shown to increase muscle glycogen storage and improve ATP production, which can improve strength and delay fatigue. From a recovery standpoint, L-carnitine L-tartrate has been shown to decrease production of free radicals, as well as reduce muscle-tissue damage and soreness from exercise.
In other words, it can help you avoid the day-after beatdown that often accompanies a workout like the one below, while helping you maximize fat loss to boot.
Recommended daily dosage: Take 1.5-3.0 g per day.
Alex Savva's Tabata-Style Kettlebell and Bodyweight Blast
Ready to put these supplements to use in an intense training session that will demand everything your body has to offer? Try out this intense kettlebell and bodyweight circuit for a real taste of hard work! It's only 4 minutes long, but each 20-second bout of exercise will leave you gasping for air. You only get 10 seconds to recover after each movement, so every second counts!
The key to this Tabata circuit is to go full-tilt and give every exercise 100 percent effort. If you have anything in the tank after the first 4 minutes, repeat for a maximum of 20 minutes.