You may have read my first article, if not, a little bit about me. I am in my early forties. I have been lifting on and off since Jr High Football. During my teens and twenties, I ran track, played football, swam competitively, and was on championship fencing and martial arts teams.
I really started lifting consistently after graduating college, having gained some excess weight as the result of a serious back injury. Since then I have gained and lost muscle and body fat.
I have been to the point that I was embarrassed to take my shirt off in public and have been in competitive stage ready condition. During this transition, I probably tried more supplements than most people will go through in their entire lives.
I am not here to sway you with graphs and charts and scientific studies. There is a study to support any side of any argument that you want to make. While working on my Personal Training and Group Fitness Instructor certifications, I realized just how many different theories there are pertaining to "required" nutrition and supplementation.
My wife and I spend many waking hours arguing about workout plans and supplementation. And, although we hardly ever agree completely, we are usually both correct, based on our points of view (meaning I am right, but she will be reading this).
My articles are based on what I have found that works for me. I stick with it, but am always willing to try new things as they come along. Based on my experience from years of lifting and my recent transition from hobbyist to competitor, here's what I can recommend.
From Hobbyist To Competitor
Being in my early forties, I have to stay within 15-20lbs of stage ready condition or I'll lose too much muscle dieting. People say you can't gain any "real" amount of muscle without putting on some excess body fat and smoothing out, but I have managed to do just this. All of my lifts have gone up and I'm now more muscular and healthier than I was onstage last year after dieting down from a "fat boy" state.
I now have a pretty consistent diet and workout routine and am very in tune with what works and does not work for me. This includes diet, lifting, rest, food, and supplementation. Having bought supplements for over 20 years, I have to tell the younger crowd to SAY THANK YOU to these nutritional companies for making excellent products that don't taste like you should be using them to strip varnish of your old desk! Can anyone else remember beef protein powder? Enough said.
Like many of us, you've got a busy day, a wife, maybe kids, and a full-time job. But you just cannot seem to drag your butt out of bed and hit the gym before work. You are in good shape, but are looking to add lean mass and not put on so much fat that you cannot actually tell if you're adding muscle or just more fat.
You need some energy, but you can't be up all night. You need some nutrients, but even after work you know you can't hit the gym with a full meal in you. You know some supplements will help, but what?
As an evening lifter opens up the supplement choices available to you much more than someone starting at 5am on an empty stomach.
Available Nutrients & Evening Energy Levels
First off, we need to address a couple of important issues: the proper nutrient levels in the bloodstream and evening energy levels.
OK, here's the place where I tell you that if you have been eating at Micky D's everyday, drinking nothing but coffee and sugary soft drinks, and snacking on junk all afternoon, then expecting to take some 'miracle supplement' to make your workouts awesome, I need you to do something for me.
Go to the copier, put your hand on the glass, copy it, then take that sheet of paper and slap it upside your head hard enough to knock some sense into that thick skull of yours! Wake up! You are what you eat. Crap in, crap out. Eat bad, have a bad physique. Drink, smoke, take drugs, you'll look like it eventually. This is your health, get with the program!
Yes, you've been awake for many hours, and hopefully eaten several times already. However, you may not have been eating the right things for optimum nitrogen levels to allow for an anabolic state in the muscles.
I recommend that you consider one of the many forms of Amino Acid powders available. My preferences are still SciVation Xtend, Controlled Labs Purple Wraath (which not only has a good amino acid profile but also some Beta Alanine), Sci Fit BCAA 5000, and Xtreme Formulations ICE as they do not upset my system at all.
There are many others, but for me, I need something that is basically transparent to my system at that hour. Liquid protein is a good option too, but it is generally too costly to buy at the gym and too hard to find good RTD's online. However, there is the new IDS New Whey Liquid Protein in the new 42g size. It is in a tube with about 3.1 oz of fluid and makes for a quick shot of protein that is very transparent to the stomach. It is a little costly per serving, but it tastes awesome and has a LOT of protein.
Having had some food in you during the day and having time for a small shake to digest, you can now also look at some of the powdered whey proteins. I suggest one to two scoops of these, 45-60 minutes before the gym, in ICE AND WATER only! No milk or heavy crap.
A pre-workout protein powder needs to be at least 2 things.
Fast Digesting - to get the amino acids in the bloodstream.
Light in the stomach - otherwise, well, you've made the mistake of doing heavy legs after a thick shake, just think about it.
Based on these parameters I can take you right to some of the better, light, whey protein powders.
I will tell you right off that I just cannot go into the gym after having a vanilla or chocolate shake. I must have something light and fruity. Fortunately, for me, the inroads that Syntrax started with their Nectar line have been picked up by others.
So here they are: Syntrax Nectar and Syntrax Nectar Grab N' Go (LOVE the Lemonade flavor and Kiwi Strawberry, my wife also likes the Green Apple), Primaforce Substance WPI (Grape and Watermelon are just awesome), Zero Carb Isopure (Alpine Punch baby), and ErgoPharm GF Pro (I believe it was the Raspberry Lemonade I liked). Now there are a few others out there, but as I have said before, unless I have personally tried it, I will not recommend it.
Now, if you want to buy a plain unflavored whey isolate you can get a tub of Biochem Ultimate Lo Carb Whey and put any of those flavored powders that are listed in the rest of the article in with it and shake it up (I prefer the shakers with the screen type strainers). Done deal.
Evening Energy Levels:
Now that I have some nutrients ready to hit my system, I still need a little burst of energy after spending all day in front of a computer that was sucking my will to live! Come on people, you KNOW it's tough to work all day, leave the office and head to the gym, knowing you'll be kicking your own @ss.
You need some extra energy, but not something that will keep you awake all night. So I use several preworkout stimulants. My evening favorite is Athletic Edge's Steel Edge (I can use one scoop, wake up, and still sleep well) followed by Serious Nutrition Solutions Focus XT powder, CEL N-Cinerate, and SciVations Neurostim + C (1/2 dose at this hour).
All of these give you energy, focus, and intensity without the jitters. The flavored drinks will mix well with the BCAA's and will not upset your stomach during heavy sets. A few honorable mentions in my book are:
- Goliath Labs Thermoloid
- Designer Supplements Basic Cuts
Now that I'm awake and have a few nutrients in the system, I'm looking for a little edge in the gym. Something to help me "push it" a bit. Fill out the muscles, get the blood flow going, and give me that little mental edge that I need after dealing with some of the gomers at the office and on the phone all day.
There are SO MANY choices, that I'm going to narrow it down to creatine and nitric oxide enhancing choices. Most people have their favorites, but I'm going to list only the ones that have worked for me personally. I have tried MOST of the major brands, except some of the newer offerings and the ridiculously priced stuff.
I automatically drop monohydrate from my consideration. I tend to bloat and get cramps from it and it never worked very well for me. I still have a lot of choices, especially since I have been up and eating all day, and having tried many of them, I suggest sticking with a Creatine Ethyl Ester, a Creatine Titrate, or a blended Creatine product.
Since monohydrate is not an option for me, I still prefer the CEE capsules because; let's face it, the powder tastes like Hai Karate after-shave. After trying many different brands, here a few that do a great job for me and are fully compatible with an evening routine.
Serious Nutrition Solutions Creatine E2 and Creatine E2 Matrix and Axis Labs Creatine Ethyl Ester HCL each do a great job at keeping the muscles full and have given noticeable and sustainable strength gains in a very short amount of time.
The nice thing about the CEE is that it does not require a carbohydrate transport mechanism to pull it into the muscles. This allows me to use the CEE all the way through a contest prep diet, with little to no subcutaneous water retention, and none of the gastrointestinal problems that I see with monohydrate. Overall, it is a win for me.
Since this article looks more at the supplements for use in the evening, I am now free to use some of the other effective forms of creatine that did not really sit well during my 5am 'empty stomach' routines.
IDS Creatine Extreme and Controlled Labs Green MAGnitude both did an awesome job for me, taste great, and sit well at this time of day. Even with heavy rack deadlifts or a widowmaker set of squats. Also of note is MAN Orotine which works very well, but is basically flavorless so you can add to flavored Amino Acid mixes without changing their taste.
Nitric Oxide Stimulator Choices:
This supplement is full of controversy, purely subjective choices, and a lot of trash talking. I have this to say, if you use a nitric oxide supp and it works for you, keep using it. If you think it is worthless, hey don't buy it. It seems to work very well for many people, but not so well for others. You should always try something and find out on your own if it works for you.
If you have read my last article, you'll know that I thought I was an NO non-responder too. I had tried most of the hyped products by the companies with pictures of pro bbr's in their ads and I really didn't get the whole thing. Then one day I got a bottle of IDS NP2 Thintabs. I decided to give them their fair shot of one week taking them consistently (one day does not a supplement success make). Needless to say, I had phenomenal results.
After the experience with the IDS Thintabs, I tried a couple of the other "big brand name" products, again with little or no results. Then I got a sample of Serious Nutrition Solutions Arginine E2 Matrix to try with their Creatine E2 Matrix and those pumps were back.
Serious Nutrition Solutions.
I have also recently tried and been very pleased with Axis Labs NE2, Goliath Labs Groloid, CEL Edge-NO, CEL NOX Surge and Shocker Nutritions NO Extreme. Why these work for me when others did not, I am not sure. But if you have been disappointed with NO products and want to try it one more time, the ones I've mentioned really work for me.
If you do not see one mentioned, chances are I tried it and got nothing from it. Although I have not tried EVERY one of them, I really have tried MOST of them, just ask my wife (she calls me a "supplement junkie").
I am paying less per serving, for all of the above supplements combined, than some people are paying for the newest "Supplement of the week." This preworkout stack works for me and I'm sticking with it because I am getting everything I need with this.
I feel I must mention some of the "Have it all" powders. These have some CEE and N.O. stimulators, they taste good, and they are very affordable per serving. I may use these with unflavored BCAA's, stimulant caps, and maybe a half serving of CEE caps or N.O. caps. For some reason, at my size, I need to almost double the serving size of almost every powder, so I would opt to add some caps instead.
Serious Nutrition Solutions CVM Extreme, Dymatize Xpand, IDS Creatine Extreme, and Ultimate Nutrition Horse Power have proven themselves worthy, after many wasted dollars on supposedly comparable items. I also like ISS Research Satur8 Rush, but I must mix it with another powder or almost a full serving of caps. It has a very good energy hit, but I don't get great pumps from it alone.
You can also look above at any of the powders and pills for the NO and Creatine and you can combine them. Having tried them all, I can attest that the mix and match method works very well, especially if you get used to one brand or blend.
Body Octane and H-Blocker do not fall into the above categories of Creatine or N.O Stimulators, but I have used both, as well as Athletic Edge Nutrition IntraXCell and they all are excellent products that do they job they claim, at the recommended dosages.
They do an excellent job of delaying the onset of the lactic acid burn failure that you get when you push into high rep or final set territory. Flavor would be the determining factor for me as the Body Octane is citrus, the H-Blocker is Fruit Punch, and IntraXCell is capsules. So choose accordingly. They all passed my one week early morning test which includes one heavy leg workout and the Group Power "squat until you puke" workout.
Post Workout Nutrition
The last part of the equation for me is the post workout meal. I generally have a small, fast digesting shake.
I do not subscribe to the school that says you must have a ton of "waist expanding" simple carbs in the PWO shake, especially now, since you will be eating in 60-90 minutes anyway. Your muscles are hungry. Provide them with quality nutrients, a decent amount of simple and complex carbohydrates, and a good protein, and they will eat it up.
Since I am going to be eating within an hour, this is the time I prefer to use a whey protein isolate. I get plenty of fast acting, quickly absorbed protein this way. This is the only time I will advocate the faster carb sources, as you do not need very much of them at this point.
I will add a scoop of a waxy maize starch type carbohydrate, also known as vitargo. This stuff does not bloat me. I have found that if I use pure maltodextrin, dextrose, or another "quick hit" sugar source by themselves, I simply get sleepy and fat.
Professional Supplements Presents: Pure Vitargo
I look for quality muscle gains that I can see. I can't see them if I get fat. I only use ONE scoop of carbs and about 30g of whey isolate. I do not feel that much more than that really makes too much of a difference as long as I am eating soon. All too much does is curb my hunger for dinner. Most people are not so huge that they need a massive shake right now.
Mix this dry in your shaker cup, add water to it IN THE GYM post workout, slam it, head home. Then have a good solid meal with lean protein and green vegetables in about 60-90 minutes.
I've been lifting in the mornings on and off for over 25 years, taking some time off and switching the workout times around, although I tend to be a morning lifter, for long stretches of time I will be forced to lift after work.
If you are an evening lifter, which a lot of you gainfully employed people are, I hope this article has helped direct you to some supplement choices that will work as well for you as they have for me. We have addressed amino levels, energy, muscle fullness, and post workout nutrition. Drink plenty of water during your workouts and you should be good to go.
Remember that none of these supplements will take the place of a good diet, plenty of rest, and a lot of serious hard work in the gym. If you are lacking the basics and you take these supplements hoping they will magically transform you into Ronnie or Jay, you will be sorely disappointed and it will not be the fault of the supplements. It will be your own fault. So Eat good, lift heavy, get plenty of sleep, and drink plenty of water. Supplements are designed to help AFTER you've gotten these points covered.
I want to take a moment to thank all of you who emailed me about the last article. The response was overwhelming and very positive. I hope you enjoyed this one as much. Look forward to more in the coming months. Get those shopping carts ready, more tried and true suggestions coming.
Until next time, Good luck
Lift Big 2 Get Big