Posted on 22 Jul 2014
8 min read
Step into your local health food store and glance at the aisles.
You’ll be faced with bright shiny labels and ever outrageous claims of anabolic potency and promises of six pack abs.
How do you know which supplements are worth your hard earned cash and which ones are just marketing gimmicks?
Well the short answer is research.
And, luckily for you, I’ve done that part for you already.
Once you know which ingredients you are looking for you can cut those myriad products down to the least common denominator and decide for yourself what’s worth it and what’s not.
In this article I’ve narrowed down some staple bodybuilding supplements – not including protein which I covered in an earlier article – which have earned their place in your supplement cupboard.
And, best of all, most of the supps I describe below are available in bulk for a fraction of the cost of many expensive proprietary blends.
A fitting start, creatine is one of the most well researched products on the market and has stood the test of time.
Like the jacked bald old timer who’s always in the gym during your session, it simply works.1,3
Creatine phosphate stores in muscle are essential for contraction.
Ingesting it increases muscle strength by saturating these stores which allows for more intense workouts, which in turn equate to better gains.
There are also some hormonal benefits from creatine use, such as increased levels of DHT (the more potent brother of testosterone), but this is a relatively minor mechanism in its function.
I find that creatine is best used during bulking cycles, but there is no reason why it should not be used during cutting as well.
The effects become noticeable after about two2 weeks of use, 5g per day being sufficient to achieve muscle saturation.
The old school idea of “loading” is completely unnecessary.
Creatine is available in numerous new forms and delivery systems, but creatine monohydrate is by far the most studied.
A good quality micronized creatine monohydrate should be tried first, and if results are inadequate or side effects intolerable then you can move on to these newer forms.
Just make sure you drink plenty of water, unless you want to experience some painful and uncomfortable cramping.
And don’t mix it with acidic juice either.
A small side note to consider – if you ever need to complete a routine blood test, always let your doctor know about using creatine.
Creatinine, a waste by product of creatine, is used as a measure of kidney function because it correlates closely to the kidneys filtration rate.
If given an overabundance of creatine, especially in muscular individuals, this level can rise above normal.
I’ve heard of a few clinicians scratching their heads in confusion as to why their seemingly healthy young patient is suffering from kidney failure.
The branch chained amino acids are composed of leucine, isoleucine and valine.
Leucine in particular has been shown to increase the rate of protein synthesis in skeletal muscle.2,8
In fact it is so potent at this that we have to exclude its use from our experiments in fear that it will skew the results.
In the past BCAAs have been touted as a way of improving endurance and fighting catabolism (muscle breakdown).
However there is sufficient evidence to show that leucine in particular has potent effects as a muscle builder as well.
Taking leucine on its own is not a particularly good idea as it will lead to deficiency of the other two amino acids.
It can however be combined into protein shakes (“spiked” with leucine so to speak).
BCAAs taste like Chewbacca’s ballsack, so be prepared to either use capsules or mask it with juice.
Otherwise you’ll feel like Nigel Farage being forced to down liquidised Halal meat at a UKIP hazing ceremony.
There have been a number of designer stimulants popping up on the market recently.
Personally I would stay clear.
DMAA is a good example, which I don’t have a particular fondness for.
Dirty stimulation with an abrupt comedown will leave you feeling like you’ve been on a cocaine bender in a Nicaraguan slum.
I will delve in more detail into stimulants in an upcoming article.
When it comes to things that interact with my brain cells, I like to stick to the well known.
Aside from ephedrine (which has been banned from sports supplements) caffeine is another useful and underestimated supplement and its one that can achieve significant results.4
It’s been proven relatively safe and has been used in numerous trials.
Tolerance is the major drawback, but of course this is true for all stimulants.
If you are involved in any sport that benefits from improved endurance (i.e just about all of them) then this supplement is for you.6,7
Beta alanine combines with l-histidine to form carnosine, an intracellular buffer concentrated highly in muscle cells.
It counteracts the actions of lactic acid in strenuous exercise to prevent pH decline.
Beta alanine has been shown to be beneficial in cycling and boxing sports, in one study increasing punching power by about 20 times over control (in fatigued athletes).
Two to three grams of the stuff will lead to carnosine muscle saturation.
Beta alanine should be taken in divided doses as it can cause paraesthesia or nerve pain that manifests as tingling over the entire body.
Like an over-affectionate uncle offering to help iron your underwear, this is completely harmless, but can be disconcerning if you’re not expecting it.
As beta alanine acts as a weak neurotransmitter, it is best taken before workouts, when the mild stimulatory effect can be unleashed on some iron.
There has been some controversy regarding taking multivitamins and exactly how much benefit, if any, these provide.
In my opinion, the most important thing to keep in mind is that your micronutrients should be coming predominantly from a well balanced diet, not supplements.
However I have found some to be useful:
These can improve memory and cognition so a multi which has plenty of these (they are water soluble so we pass excess in the urine) can be beneficial.7
B vitamins will support healthy energy metabolism as well as helping to keep you mentally sharp and focused.
I prefer soluble tablets as they have better absorption.
Zinc is a component of many enzymes in the body and plays a part in tissue healing and testosterone production.
Since testosterone is produced during sleep, it is best taken before bed, in quantities ranging from 10mg-30mg.
I found this to be one of the most useful of the vitamins – I had morning wood like an incarcerated rapist on viagra, which goes to show it most definitely works.
This vitamin has long been touted as a cure for the common cold and a general immune system stimulant, but the evidence is not convincing.
Unless perhaps the idea of shooting up a IV dose every day appeals to you.
However, not all is lost because vitamin c has been shown to be effective at reducing the levels of cortisol in our bodies.
A stress hormone, cortisol promotes degredation and breakdown of muscle.
In a nutshell it is bad for our purposes.
The following is an example supplement protocol which I have designed that should stand you in good stead:
Remember to keep your expectations realistic.
This stack will help support solid progressive gains that are easy to maintain.
But as always remember that these are supplements, they can only augment a base of a solid diet and a sound workout regime.
They won’t replace hard work and dedication.
Or in the case of Henry Croft, make up for a penchant for crème cakes and shitty pizzas.
If you have any questions or comments about any of the topics tackled in this article, or any other supplement questions, I’d love to hear from you.
Just leave me a comment below and I’ll get back to you.
1. Antonio J, Ciccone V. The effects of pre versus post workout supplementation of creatine monohydrate on body composition and strength. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2013 Aug 6;10:36. doi: 10.1186/1550-2783-10-36. eCollection 2013.
3. Claudino JG et al. Creatine monohydrate supplementation on lower-limb muscle power in Brazilian elite soccer players. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2014 Jun 18;11:32. doi: 10.1186/1550-2783-11-32. eCollection 2014.
4. Beedie, Christopher. All in the mind? Pain, placebo effect, and ergogenic effect of caffeine in sports performance. Open Access J Sports Med. 2010; 1: 87–94. Published online Jul 1, 2010.
5. Helms ER et al. Evidence-based recommendations for natural bodybuilding contest preparation: nutrition and supplementation. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2014 May 12;11:20. doi: 10.1186/1550-2783-11-20. eCollection 2014.
7. Kendall KL, et al. Ingesting a preworkout supplement containing caffeine, creatine, β-alanine, amino acids, and B vitamins for 28 days is both safe and efficacious in recreationally active men. Nutr Res. 2014 May;34(5):442-9. doi: 10.1016/j.nutres.2014.04.003. Epub 2014 Apr 13.
None of what I write should be taken as medical advice, but rather entertainment purposes.
Always speak to your doctor about what supplements, drugs, diet, and workout regimes you are undertaking.
Let them know if you suffer any side effects.
A close and honest patient/doctor relationship is vital for good health and wellbeing.