A successful foray into bodybuilding, one which yields constant progress in size and strength, requires a multifaceted approach: good nutrition, appropriate exercise selection, good form and adequate rest. But wait – something is missing from the list: supplements!
Contrary to what some publications and marketers might have the novice bodybuilder believe, one needn’t procure every pill, powder, drink mix and meal replacement in existence, leaving the health food store shelves barren. The best bodybuilding supplements are few and straightforward, with proven benefits. They help aid performance and help muscles grow. Let’s discuss them.
Whey Protein Isolate
Whey protein isolate enjoys great popularity in the bodybuilding and athletic community – and with good reason. It has the highest biological value – BV (a number which represents how much of any given protein is assimilated by the body) – and a complete amino acid profile, which provides all the essential amino acids required for prolific muscle growth. Its benefits are myriad: beyond its significant role in increasing lean mass, it improves performance, general well being, and reduces body fat.
The price tag of whey protein isolate is marginally higher than that of whey protein concentrate, on account of the increased processing the isolate undergoes. However, reflected in the slightly higher cost is a food supplement with greater purity and a higher – as high as 95% – pure protein content. Whey isolate performs admirably when taken before or after working out – it is rapidly digested and utilized.
Whey stimulates muscle protein synthesis better than any other protein source. In simple terms, this means stronger and larger muscles, faster. Let’s take a brief look at why whey is king:
- Rapid digestion and assimilation of its complete amino acids
- Quick transport of amino acids to the muscles, where protein synthesis takes place
- Rich in BCAAs (branched chain amino acids), which will be discussed shortly
- More blood flow to muscle tissues, providing oxygen, glucose (fuel for the muscles) and amino acids, which increase performance, improve endurance and are utilized for growth
- Starts to recovery and growth process after weight training
Creatine is one of those body building supplements that are easily overlooked. There’s nothing exotic about it – just a white, fairly bland-tasting powder. But hiding inside this unassuming-looking substance is a myriad of muscle building benefits that no bodybuilder should ignore. Creatine is an organic acid naturally produced by the liver. It provides cells – particularly muscle cells – with energy, by furthering the rate at which the body powers muscle contractions with adenosine-triphosphate (ATP).
Okay, so it fuels the muscles. But how does that make them grow? Unlike whey protein isolate, creatine does not build new muscle tissue – and that’s okay! Think about it for a few seconds: more power for muscle contractions means a better, harder workout. A better, harder workout means more muscle growth.
- Creatine increases workout intensity. Having the energy to intensify every training session, allowing you to push past plateaus, will cause more (desirable) micro-tears in muscle fibers, resulting in more growth. (Don’t forget to give yourself enough time to recover, and feed your muscles what they need to heal and expand!)
- Faster recovery is possible. Although adequate rest is and always will be important, regular supplementation with creatine increases how quickly muscle cells recover – meaning the time spent resting between training sessions may be less, and more time can be devoted to increasing muscle growth.
- Speed up your metabolism. Just like whey protein isolate, creatine helps improve body composition, by furthering the body’s ability to power muscles with ATP – particularly useful for exercises engaged in during weight loss phases. Losing excess body fat simultaneously improves the visibility of existing and new muscle mass.
Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)
Hold on a second – isn’t whey protein isolate a good source of BCAAs? It is – however (and without discounting the phenomenal qualities of whey), consuming BCAAs in isolation provides further benefits, affecting muscle growth in other ways that no serious lifter should disregard. BCAAs refer to a combination of only three amino acids: leucine, isoleucine and valine. The small number is not reflective of what they can do.
For one thing, each of these BCAAs is an essential amino acid, required, but unable to be synthesized, by the body, and obtainable only through diet. They make up approximately one third of the amino acids found in muscle tissue.
- BCAAs are metabolized differently than other amino acids. Most amino acids get metabolized by the liver; BCAAs are unique in that they are metabolized almost exclusively by muscle tissue. This means that muscle cells use BCAAs to create ATP (energy required for muscle contractions). The more ATP, the more you can work out. (If there was ever a good reason to combine BCAAs with creatine, this is it. The two are highly complementary.)
- BCAAs save biological fuel. Research indicates that branched chain amino acids can spare glycogen (fuel) by as much as 25%. That is not an insignificant number, and translates into longer, harder sessions before fatigue kicks in.
- They have a beneficial effect on hormones. Anabolic hormones – of the most importance, testosterone, growth hormone and insulin – play vital roles in increasing muscle growth and improving body composition. Taking BCAAs prior to working out can keep testosterone levels high, even hours after a session ends, the net result of which is that muscle gains can be maximized every time. There is more to it than that, though. BCAAs not only help increase post-exertion testosterone, they help decrease cortisol (a stress hormone with a catabolic – muscle wasting – effect), helping to prevent muscle loss after a heavy workout. Branched chain amino acids may also increase one’s sensitivity to insulin, resulting in greater loss of body fat and increased muscle growth.
- BCAAs get the right message across. Rather than looking at BCAAs as “building blocks”, look at them as “messengers”. In particular, the amino acid leucine “tells” the body to build more muscle through a pathway which governs hypertrophy (muscle growth). When this pathway is activated, more muscle is built and the ability to create new muscle cells is increased.
Whey protein isolate. Creatine. BCAAs. Three humble bodybuilding supplements with huge, scientifically proven benefits. For maximum synergy, take them together. They all complement each other, while minimizing the confusion that taking too many supplements brings.