My favorite supplements that I think have made the most difference have been my fat burners such as CLA, L-carnitine and pyruvate as well as ephedra, creatine, glutamine and HMB.
CLA, L-carnitine and pyruvate I take primarily during precontest preparation to maximize my metabolism of stored fat which can be used as energy for increasingly harder and longer precontest workouts. Each supplement also has the added benefit of increasing my energy levels, but in different ways.
CLA is a naturally occurring fatty acid in a number of foods (CLA such as milk, cheese, beef, lamb, etc.) that exerts a positive effect on protein and fat metabolism by accelerating fat loss. An added benefit is that it is also a powerful antioxidant.
CLA may slow the loss of muscle tissue in catabolic conditions by lowering levels of anti-catabolic hormones within the body. Since CLA's anti-catabolic effects are still suspect, I also include anti-catabolic compounds such as HMB and glutamine during my pre-contest training.
I believe that by using a variety of anti-catabolic and fat burning supplements (like CLA, carnitine and calcium pyruvate) may produce a synergistic effect for optimal gains.
Because EAS introduced CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) to the market (1996). I typically use their CLA product taking 2 soft gels 3 x a day with my meals.
L-carnitine is another supplement that I have taken for years pre contest time to burn fat and boost my energy and muscle endurance. L-carnitine works by transferring long-chain fatty acids, such as triglycerides into mitochondria where the compound is oxidized to produce energy.
I typically take 1 capsule, 3 x a day on an empty stomach.
Calcium Pyruvate (Pyruvate) is the third fat buring supplement that I stack (with CLA and L-carnitine). Pyruvate is a naturally formed product of digestive processes, which also exists in many different foods such as red apples, and cheese.
Pyruvate (like L-carnitine) also enhances energy, but in a different way. Pyruvate enhances the transport of glucose and protein into muscle cells and increases the amount of ATP available to the mitochondria. I typically take 3 -6 capsules (1500 - 3000 mg), 3 x a day on an empty stomach with the L-Carnitine.
Before ephedra was recently banned (thanks to what I believe is the greedy pharmaceutical companies) I would occasionally take three Twin Labs Ripped Fuel capsules which contained ephedra. Ephedra is actually a naturally stimulating herb that grows in arid regions of the world, goes by other names such as Ma Huang, and Herbal Ecstasy.
Ephedra Free Fat Burners!
It is relatively safe, however if you have a history of high blood pressure, heart problems, or thyroid problems you should see a doctor before experimenting with this beta-adrenergic agonist which increases the heart rate and body temperature resulting in an increase in metabolism and an increase in the metabolizing of fat.
Although ephedra promotes the breakdown of fat cells, I primarily used the supplement to overcome lethargy, stimulate the biochemistry of my muscles resulting in much better workouts in the gym.
I take creatine monohydrate (creatine) year round in a 3 week on, 2 week off cycle primarily for the strength gains I feel. Creatine is a naturally occurring compound produced within our body and also found in certain foods (red meet, salmon, tuna, etc.).
Creatine is metabolized and converted into creatine phosphate which is used promote ATP (adenosine triphosphate) development which our muscles use as fuel. Creatine can significantly increase lean muscle mass, increase energy levels, strength and speed up recovery rates.
Creatine also draws water into the muscle making muscle fibers fuller, bigger and stronger. End result is you look bigger; you get stronger, which further promotes even more muscle growth. Increasing lean muscle mass also has the added benefit of causing an increase in your resting basal metabolic rate (BMR); so you will burn even more calories when you are at rest.
In the past I would start my creatine cycle by "loading up", taking 5 grams, 5x per day on an empty stomach, since powdered creatine can bind with food, hindering its absorption. The purpose of the loading phase required is to saturate the muscles with creatine. Today there are products that do not require loading.
Regardless of the product, to maximize creatine absorption, creatine products must be consumed with a non acidic high carbohydrate base, such as dextrose (glucose) for maximum absorption. Following the loading phase a maintenance phase to 5 grams 2 to 3 times a day will suffice. I prefer to use liquid creatine serums such as MMUSA's liquid ATP Advantage Creatine Serum.
The serum is metabolizes faster and more efficiently than powdered creatines because it bypasses the digestion phase, it is absorbed by the body more efficiently. MMUSA's liquid ATP Advantage Creatine Serum is stabilized in a base of vitamin B12, ginseng, royal jelly, honey, glycerine and distilled water to maximum effectiveness.
Although it is stated by the manufacturer that no loading or maintenance phase is required to saturate the muscles I prefer to take three 5 ML servings daily during a 5 day loading phase, and then reduce the amount tone 5 ML servings daily taken immediately before and after my workout. Each 5 ml dropper is equal to the equivalent of 2,500 mg of powdered creatine.
L-Glutamine, HMB and NOx are newer supplements that were not around or popular when I last competed (1989). I only recently started to use them because of the many studies that point to the importance of both supplements to maintain lean muscle mass. L-Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid found in muscle tissue. 60% of free-form amino acids floating in skeletal muscles are L-glutamine.
Glutamine is involved in maintaining a positive nitrogen balance (an anabolic state). In addition, Glutamine is a regulator is a nitrogen transporter helps prevent muscle wasting improves muscle recovery and has a cell-volumizing effect. Intense workouts can reduce glutamine levels in the body are reduced by as much as 50%.
Catabolism or muscle break down can occur if the body is deficient in regards to glutamine. To minimize muscle catabolism and to speed up recovery time I take 2 grams of glutamine immediately following my work out. I do not take any creatine at this time glutamine and creatine compete for the same absorption receptors.
I also take 4 to 5 grams of BCAA which also serves as an anti-catabolic agent sparing muscle mass, while also ensuring that my protein meal following my work out is effective since without BCAA supplementation following an intense workout the body would only process BCAAa from the complete protein meal wasting the rest.
HMB is a metabolite of leucine, one of the body's essential amino acids and has been shown to support the body's ability to minimize protein (i.e., muscle) breakdown and damage to muscle cells (catabolism), which can occur after intense resistance exercise.
By reducing muscle tissue breakdown, a bodybuilder can maximize gains. HMB also plays a role in the synthesis of muscle tissue and can burn fat while building muscle tissue in response to exercise.
EAS was also the first company to bring HMB to the market. I typically take four capsules 3 times per day with meals. EAS also has a product called "Betagen HP" combines HMB, creatine monohydrate, taurine, glutamine antioxidants vitamin C and E, and a full array of B-vitamins.
This product is great product because it contains so many needed supplements in one mix; however I still prefer to take multiple capsules since I hate mixing powdered drinks.
NO2 Nitric Oxide
I have recently tried the new Nox (Nitric oxide) supplements. The theory behind these new supplements is that nitric oxide supplements relax the blood vessels through vasodilation. When blood vessels relax, they widen, allowing an increased blood flow delivering more oxygen and nutrients into skeletal muscles.
The buzz is that this translates into bigger, fuller pumps, increased muscle size, strength, endurance, and quicker recovery times. I currently use Pinnacle's NOX2 which uses an amino acid compound called arginine alpha-ketoglutarate (A-AKG) and arginine-ketoisocaproate (A-KIC) to boost short term Nitric Oxide levels within the blood.
I take 3 capsules twice daily - once in the morning on an empty stomach and 1/2 hour prior to lunch to maximize results. Because I have always gotten good muscle pumps my opinion is still out on this subject.