Many of you that read my articles know I spent 13 years working for a major retail nutrition company. After a brief lay off, I am now back working for a smaller retail nutrition company. One thing that has not changed is the amount of young guys new or fairly new to bodybuilding that have a ton of questions - supplement questions to training questions.
With all the sources of information available, it's amazing that so many lifters still have so many questions. This article is meant for the newer lifter that isn't sure what supplements to take, when to take them or how to take them. I will also talk about some stacks that people are using and having good luck with. Finally, I'll touch on common training mistakes and include a good beginner program.
First off, when it comes to supplements, there are certain cornerstone products everybody should be using. First and foremost, protein powder is the single best supplement investment you can make. Why? Because your body needs enough protein in order to repair, maintain and build muscle and to deprive your body of that, or to just assume you eat enough, will lead to a catabolic state - a state where you are actually losing muscle.
It's important to understand that the body has a great need for protein - before you take into account the extra demands of breaking down and building up muscle tissue through the training and recovery processes.
This is because protein makes up the greatest portion of our body weight next to water, so the body requires adequate protein daily to help maintain and carry on the processes of life. Taking in extra protein allows you to maintain an anabolic state - a state where you are building new muscle.
The best protein to buy is Whey Protein - whey is the protein source and it's the highest quality protein out there. Other good sources are 100% egg, milk and egg and casein (milk). Also, you can buy a "meal replacement powder" that adds carbs and vitamins/minerals to your protein but are usually expensive in comparison to a good whey protein powder.
Of course, just buying protein is not enough, you have to know when and how much to take. First, you should be ingesting at least one gram of protein per lb of body weight. So if you weigh 190lbs., you need to take in 190 grams of protein. The next question is - when do you take in all this protein?
Try our handy protein intake calculator!
Your protein intake should be divided up throughout the day over the course of 5-6 meals. Other than that, there are some critical times to take in protein - first thing in the morning, with carbohydrates because you have not eaten in any where from 6 to 12 hours and your body is in a catabolic state.
You should be sure to take in some protein and fast carbs - like fruit - about 1 hour before you train and you should take in a similar meal after you train - this should be, by the way, 40-60 grams of protein and about the same in carbs.
Finally, you should take in protein before bed. This is critical because during the night you can easily fall into a catabolic state - a state in which muscle tissue may actually be broken down to help meet the body's protein needs if there is not enough protein in your system. Along with the powder you can add protein bars, these may sense if it's hard to eat a meal during the day.
The next cornerstone product should be a multiple vitamin. A multiple vitamin?!!? That doesn't sound like a hot bodybuilding product! Guess what? This product is critical to ensuring your body is not suffering from any nutritional deficiencies.
Any lack of nutrients could completely halt your bodybuilding progress because many of the nutrients found in a good multiple vitamin are involved in the processes that allow you to work out and recover from your workout, and to grow from it, and are also involved in the absorption of your food.
Supplements For Building Muscle
This has been around since 1993 and is considered to be one of the most popular and most effective supplements. When creatine was first introduced, it was touted as a muscle builder because it forced water into the muscle cells causing them to grow bigger (super-hydration).
I still suggest and have used and still use it for that very purpose - increasing muscle size through the super hydration effect. Sure, it also increases energy allowing you to work out longer, but most people I talk to and sell it to want to know what it does for size.
Economically speaking, you can buy a basic creatine powder, get as much as 200 servings for not much money and have a great product at little cost that will last you quite a while. Now, I tell people to load up on it for 4-5 days - that's 4-5 servings a day. Take in between meals, mix with 6 ounces of fruit juice or even with your protein shakes, as long as your protein shakes have some simple carbs in them.
After this loading phase, take it once or twice a day. Take one serving before your workouts to help with energy while training. I know there's mixed info out there about cycling Creatine (staying on it for 6-8 weeks then going off for 4-8 weeks) but if you cycle it, you allow your body to "de-adjust" to it and you see better results from it when you go back on it again.
As far as the loading phase, there are other Creatine products out there that do not require any loading at all. But most do, yet you have options as far as buying straight Creatine or something that has extra ingredients to help with the absorption (like Cell-tech).
Nitric Oxide (NO)
Nitric Oxide is a relatively new product. I have a little bit of first hand knowledge of this (and of Creatine) as I met the man responsible for both of these products through my former job. It's widely known now how well this works - it enhances the pump, enhances muscle size and strength, increases nutrient uptake, and can increase the effectiveness of creatine.
I like it as part of a stack that also includes creatine. Those of you who read my stuff know I followed an andro stack last year with a stack of creatine and NO and saw results in muscle gains almost as impressive as the results I saw from the andro.
I would like to try adding Glutamine to this and see how that works (I've never used Glutamine supplements but have read enough about it to want to use it). For most new lifters, adding this product - NO - to your supplement program wether you use it by itself or as part of a stack may not be economically feasible as it is expensive.
I also think most new lifters should worry more about the basics and getting those right and save some of these extra products for later when the gains start to slow. Usually, people new to the sport can see a good initial growth spurt, then they enter the real world where gains are harder to come by.
As you move along in your progress, adding good supplements to your program and trying stacks of two or more popular products makes sense, as this can lead you to new growth. For those using NO, use as it's directed on the label.
These two really constitute as the best supplements out there and are at the core of dozens of good products currently on the market.
Beginners tend to overtrain in terms of days spent and time spent per session and tend to do to many non productive exercises. I can't tell you how many new lifters come in and tell me that they work out 6 days a week, 2-3 hours a day. I've encountered this for 13 years, I guess some things never change.
When you're new to lifting, you should work out 3 days a week, stick to basic exercises and limit your sets. You also should realize you can't turn fat into muscle and you can't lose a lot of fat and build a lot of muscle at the same time - these are all questions I routinely hear. First of all, fat and muscle are two different things, one cannot change into the other.
You don't build muscle size by simply moving the fat around. Secondly, you can't lose a lot of fat and build a lot of muscle at the same time because, to lose fat requires a decrease in calories which means you can't train as heavy or as hard and an increase in cardio exercise, while to build muscle requires an increase calories, a decrease in other activities, such as cardio, that can have a negative impact on recovery and the use of calories to help build new muscle.
Finally, here's a good routine for the beginner - one that makes sense, instead of trying to do Ronnie Coleman's routine with 2 weeks training under your belt:
Squats - 2 warm up sets
2 working sets of 8-10 reps, the final two reps being very difficult to complete.
Leg Curls - 1 warm up set
1 working set of 10 reps.
Calf Raises - 1 warm up set
1 working set of 15 reps
Click here for printable legs workout.
Click here for printable back workout.
Days 2 & 3 - Rest
Click here for printable chest workout.
This is a simple starter routine, one of many choices. The advantage to not doing the traditional full body, 3 days a week routine is that this promotes the idea of split routines and ample recovery time right away.
Spilt routines are important because most lifters will be training this way there entire training lives, a full body is to much in one session and does not allow the lifter to train hard for the whole time and doing a full body routine every other day in no way allows for recovery. With the above routine, sets can be added every few weeks, eventually adding a third training day of just back and biceps, separate from legs.
Also, don't think in terms of fitting your workouts into 7 day weeks. You may need 8 or 9 days to complete all routines - especially when you are doing a 3-day split - and allow enough recovery.
That's it, if you're a beginner or know somebody who is, the above information can be a big help in terms of getting to a decent start - I tell you, I wish I had this information when I started, I'd have saved years of wasted effort!