Supplements—and supplement companies—are a dime a dozen these days. This is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, it means that there's more discussion and serious research into the benefits of strategic nutritional supplementation than ever before. On the other hand, far too few people are strategic about what they take, and why.
This problem often goes hand-in-hand with an overall confusion about fitness goals. People haven't taken the time to figure out what they're training for, or to master the fundamental concepts of training and nutrition. Whether they say it or not, they expect supplements to perform the hard work for them—which they definitely won't do.
Does that mean supplements are just expensive bottles of empty promises? Definitely not. I want you to take a smarter approach to supplementation and get maximum benefit out of the hard work you do. Let's dial in the fundamentals of sports supplementation in Mass Class!
Mass Class: Supplements
Watch The Video - 5:52
Question 1 Why should I use supplements?
This is a great question, and one that deserves real discussion. Why should you supplement? Simply put, if you are training hardcore and your nutrition is in place, there are plenty of studies which show supplements are better than not supplementing. Supplements, it's been shown, can help you get bigger or leaner. They're perfect for when you're trying to take yourself to the next level.
Maybe you're a competitive bodybuilder, or you're just a guy or girl in the gym who wants to maximize your potential; in either case, supplements can bring you closer to that goal. When someone has their program in place, supplements can work, and that's why—and when—I recommend them.
Question 2 Which supplements should I start with?
I'm a big believer in the basics. Once you have that your nutrition down, the next step should be to look for a whey protein is an outstanding first supplement to take. After that, I would move to things like branched-chain amino acids. Why? Because, as I discussed in Mass Class Nutrition, BCAAs can stimulate muscle growth with incredible caloric efficiency. This is essential in a sport like bodybuilding, where the goal is to be both as huge as possible and as lean as possible.
After that? One word: creatine. Unfortunately, there are still a lot of tall tales floating around about creatine, both positive and negative. But from a mass-building perspective, these three well-established benefits of creatine are enough to start the conversation:
- It helps fuel the body's creatine phosphate energy system, the mechanism most responsible for powering muscular contraction during high-intensity activities like weightlifting. This means you can push yourself in the gym harder and for longer.
- It draws water into cells, increasing cell volumization or "the pump." I discussed the importance of the pump in Mass Class Training.
- It helps the body adapt to stress from exercise and repair itself afterward. Remember: Recovery is when growth happens, not training!
If your goal is to build quality mass, you simply can't beat those big three. For most people, they're enough.
* Ratings as of article's date of publication
Question 3 Which supplement can be especially helpful for beginners?
The big three are the place to start, but from there, you can start to specialize a little. For instance, people who are novices in the gym are going to experience a lot of muscle damage. HMB, which is a metabolite of the branched-chain amino acid leucine, has been shown to help speed up the recovery of muscle to training-induced damage.
But there's a catch: You need to do the damage in order for it to work. What this means is that if someone takes HMB—or creatine, or any other supplement—and thinks "I'm going to get huge," but then trains like a pansy, it's not going to happen. But if they push it in the gym and they constantly change their workouts and push themselves to the limit, that's when a supplement is going to help.
Bodybuilding supplements only work if you do. If you don't train intensely and have anything to recover from, then why are you supplementing? You need to get your behind in gear and start training intensely first. That's a takeaway I want to get across to everyone: Supplements interact with the training stimulus.
Question 4 Are supplement companies all the same?
Definitely not! When it comes to supplementation, it's all about quality, and that quality only goes as far as the company making the supplement.
One of the things we found in our lab is that, when we test certain supplements, the claims on the back of the label don't always pan out. We've tested proteins that claim to contain 25 grams of high-quality protein per serving, but it's really only 19 or maybe 18 grams—and it was low quality. It had maybe a gram of leucine, and if you read Mass Class Nutrition, you know you need 3 grams of leucine to grow. That means you would have to take 3 servings of that protein to do anything. Your money is more or less wasted in this case.
So do your homework and select a company that has a good reputation, creates high-quality supplements, and just as importantly, does scientific research. There are plenty of companies that just want to talk about old research, but they won't perform research on their own products. I have a lot of respect for companies which are willing to say, "We'll put our products to the test." Stick to those companies, and your money will go a lot further.
Question 5 How should I learn about supplements?
Step one is to be clear about what your goals are, because when it comes to supplementation, it's crucial to individualize. If you don't know what you're aiming for, then you won't train adequately for it, and you'll set yourself up to fail.
Once you've got a goal in place, do your research. Don't just take someone's word for it, whether it's your friend or the guy at a store who tells you, "Oh, bro, you should definitely take this." Take the time to research it yourself, so you know exactly what you're taking and why. Bodybuilding.com is a great place to start, because there are a lot of reputable scientists on the site who take this stuff seriously, and who list sources you can go out and investigate.
This allows you to be your own scientist. No one else knows what you're really working toward, so make your body your laboratory and get to work!