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Back To School Shopping And Supplements.

For those of us who are poor college students as well as many others on a tight budget there is usually little left for supplements. I have put together 3 supplement lists, the biggest of which is for those on a fixed budget.

Fall is here and school has started again. By now you've moved into your dorm room, bought some text books and probably a couple new Polo Shirts. Hopefully you still have money left over to split the cable bill with your roommate and purchase some muscle building essentials.

Having been a college/graduate student going on 6 years now I understand how hard it is to get big on a budget. As I've always said proper nutrition is the foundation of your muscle building success but choosing the right supplements to complement your hard training and nutrition is also very important.

As a student on a tight budget you need to make sure you are getting the biggest bang for your buck and not wasting your money on expensive supplements that are going to give you the added edge you paid for.

For your budgeting pleasure I've created three different lists:

  1. Supplement Staples - Here you'll find my top 7 must have supplements. You should include these time proven products into your arsenal before splurging on more expensive flashy supplements.

  2. If You Have The Money - Here you'll find two supplements that I don't consider essential but are definitely worth your money if you can find a way for them to fit them in your budget.

  3. Your Money Would Be Better Served In A 401(k) - In this section you'll find two supplements that I don't believe are worth your money or time. Unfortunately these are currently two of the most popular supplement out there. I might get crucified for this section but I don't believe that just because they are heavily marketed makes them effective.

Supplement Staples

1. Creatine

    It is hard to deny that creatine works. I won't get into the details of why you should supplement with creatine because Daniel Gastelu just wrote an incredible 7 part article on creatine and creatine supplementation.

    There are a lot of new things being done to creatine in the industry today but that is for a different article. In my opinion you should stick with the research proven, original (maybe boring) creatine monohydrate.

Creatine Super Feature
This will be an introduction and first of seven parts regarding misinformation surrounding the very well known supplement, Creatine. See what the experts have to say. Can they clear up the confusion?
[ Click here to learn more. ]

2. Protein Blend

    For the longest time pure whey was the protein to supplement with. But with the explosion of micellar casein products more companies in the industry have began producing protein blends.

    I think protein blends are wonderful. Every kind of protein (whey, casein, egg, etc) has its own blend of amino acids (or spectrum of amino acids) and its own rate of digestion.

    Protein blends allow for you to optimize the spectrum of amino acids in your diet. The varying rates of digestion are another nice feature of protein blends.

    Whey, casein, and egg proteins are all absorbed and processed by your body at different speeds. Having a supplement that contains all these proteins will allow for a more even distribution of amino acid absorption over time.

    This will help constantly fuel your hungry muscles with amino acids throughout the days.

    What I Like:

3. Fish Oil

    If I could only take one supplement it would be fish oil. There is so much research behind the benefits of EPA/DHA (the two fatty acids that make up fish oil) that it is almost impossible to argue against their use.

    Take 2-3 grams of EPA/DHA a day an you are on your way to improved brain, joint, kidney, heart, vascular, and immune system function; not to mention in increase in strength and stamina. I recommend using OmegaRx for its potency and purity (email me for more information).

    What I like:

4. Multivitamin

    I don't understand why some nutritionists refuse to recommend multivitamins to their clients. A common argument I hear is that if you eat a well rounded diet then you don't have to worry about vitamin and mineral deficiencies.

    But why take the chance? I don't think you have to go crazy with an expensive multivitamin.

    For a little over ten dollars a year you can get a half decent multivitamin and then you don't have to worry about any deficiencies. It is the cheapest insurance policy you'll ever take out on yourself.

    Whatever one you choose, if you're a guy, follow Dr. Lonnie Lowery's recommendation and buy one that doesn't contain iron. Iron is a pro-oxidant and too much in your system is bad news.

    What I Like:

    • Right now I'm using ASTs Multi Pro 32X.

      To View Top Selling Multivitamins Click Here.

5. Hydrolyzed Whey

    I don't know why but hydrolyzed whey hasn't caught on more because it is a dynamite protein. Hydrolyzed whey (or whey hydroslate) is whey protein chopped up into small peptides.

    This makes manufacturing more expensive but it also increases the speed in which your body can get the amino acids it needs to ramp up protein synthesis a lot faster.

    The concentration of amino acids from hydrolyzed whey peaks in your system at 80 minutes (Calbet and MacLean, 2002) while the amino acids from a regular whey protein isolate take two full hours to reach maximum concentration in your system (Dangin et al., 2002).

    I know you're probably thinking "I thought whey protein isolate was supposed to be a fast digesting protein?" Well it is compared to casein or egg protein. If you are looking to get the most out of your time in the gym then you need to be looking into getting some hydrolyzed whey.

    What I Like:

    • VP2 Pro by AST Sports Science - It comes in 4 different flavors (Chocolate, Vanilla, Fruit Punch, and Citrus). Fruit Punch and Citrus are great for right after your workouts. Fruit Punch is currently my favorite flavor; it mixes great with Fruit Punch Gatorade too.

6. Dextrose/Maltodextrose

    You need sugar after your workout and you need it fast. Dextrose (also known as glucose) is the simplest sugar there it and thus has an extremely high glycemic index rating (a measure of how fast the sugar gets into your blood).

    Maltodextrose is just a bunch of glucose/dextrose molecules stuck together. The dextrose will get into your system fast and prevent the release of catabolic hormones (e.g. cortisol).

    This will help prime you system for muscle growth and not muscle breakdown. The maltodextrose will be absorbed into your system and will help replenish your body's glycogen stores better than the dextrose.

    This sugar blend with help create an anabolic environment by reducing the secretion of catabolic hormones, increasing protein synthesis, and replenishing glycogen stores.

    Combine the dextrose/maltodextrose blend with hydrolyzed whey and some creatine and you'll have a great post workout shake that will allow you to recover faster and get stronger.

    What I Like:

7. ZMA

    This is a solid supplement that isn't very expensive. You can get a month supply of ZMA from NOW Foods for under ten dollars a month.

    That's not that much money if you consider that the magnesium can help you sleep deeper (leading to faster recovery and more muscle) and the zinc can boost you testosterone levels again leading to faster recovery and more muscle.

    What I Like:

If You Have The Money

1. N-Acetyl-Cysteine (NAC)


    Derek Charlebois wrote a two part article on BCAA a couple months ago so I won't rehash the myriad of benefits here. Although Charles Polquin recommends 40 grams of BCAA you will find great benefit upon adding 10-20 grams a day. Split the dosage in half and take it before and after your workout.

Branch-Chained Amino Acids: More Than Just Amino Acids?
The idea of supplementing with extra branch-chained amino acids (BCAA) in addition to ones protein intake has been around for quite some time. It is time to take an in depth look at BCAA's.
[ Click here to learn more. ]

Your Money Would Be Better Served In A 401(k)

1. Arginine Supplements

    Notice I didn't call them nitric oxide supplements. These supplements don't work. That's right I said it. You just spent $50.00 on a one-month supply of the latest arginine supplement and it just doesn't work. The science behind these supplements is shaky at best.

    Think about it... so you ingest a bunch of arginine and it somehow finds its way to the muscle that you are working that day. We've all seen the Muscle Tech ads so we know what happens next.

    The arginine gets turned into nitric oxide which then activates guanylyl cyclase. Guanylyl cyclease converts GTP into cGMP which then mediates smooth muscle relaxation causing blood vessels to become bigger and increased blood flow.

    Here are the questions that I have which make me question these supplements.

    1. What if the arginine (and arginine precoursors) does not go straight to the muscle being exercised and this incredible vasodilatation (the one that causes "mind blowing pumps") occurs somewhere else or maybe everywhere. Couldn't this possibly lead to hypotension (a drop in blood pressure)?

    2. Nitric Oxide is a nasty free radical with an extremely short half-life so how can you get "mind blowing pumps that last hours"? All I'm saying is that I would like answers to these 2 questions before I drop $50 on one of the myriad of arginine supplements (and you should too).

    If you truly want to increase the blood flow to your muscles then I have a cheap and even more effective way to increase blood flow to your muscles - dextrose/whey. Can it be that simple? Yup.

    Tipton et. Al (2001) showed that an amino acid/carbohydrate increased blood flow 300% when taken before the workout and blood flow remained elevated by 30% up to one hour following the completion of the workout. Think about it and save your money.

2. Creatine Ethyl Ester

    Much like arginine supplements the scientist in me is weary about this supplement. We all know how our bodies handle creatine monohydrate. There are hundreds of studies out there proclaiming all its benefits. Will our bodies treat CEE the same? I don't know.

    One of the big claims to creatine ethyl ester is that it is absorbed better so you don't get the "creatine bloat". The "creatine bloat" is often due to the poor solubility of creatine.

    One of the problems with creatine supplements is that all the labels tell you to dissolve your creatine in 12 oz of ice cold water. This is the complete opposite of what you would want to do to a compound that has solubility problems.

    To maximize the solubility of your creatine you need to either use more water or use warmer water (both would be best).

    Once you do this shake your creatine thoroughly until none settles to the bottom. Then you are ready to drink with no bloat. If you are still having trouble with creatine solubility then I would look into a micronized creatine supplement.

    In the end you can buy Creatine Ethyl Ester for $.02 more per gram than regular old creatine monohydrate. So it might be worth a try, but I'm waiting for a little more research.

Final Exam

Now that you have the proper shopping list you can check out your budget and see what you can afford. Just remember the following things

  • A great supplement stack won't make up for lazy efforts in the gym.
  • Saying you don't have the money to buy the supplements you need when you spend $20 each weekend on beer is a poor excuse.
  • Don't be fooled by clever marketing. Stick with time and research proven products that are worth your hard earned money.