The fitness industry often tries to sell you on a magic pill that will add an inch to your chest or make you drop 10 pounds overnight. With good advertising, supplement companies can make even the smartest athletes become curious. In actuality, however, this is not the case. There’s simply no pill or powder or magic drink that will make you reach your goals immediately, or to answer your question, make you gain muscle…and that’s because supplements are what they’re called: supplements. They’ll give you the fuel, but you have to do the rest.
Supplements are intended to give your body with certain nutrients and chemicals that the average individual simply doesn’t consume enough of on a daily basis to have an effect. Take, for example, creatine. Sure, you can get creatine in whole foods, such as tuna, but if you look at the cost breakdown and how much tuna you would have to eat on a daily basis to get 5g of creatine into your body, I think you’d forego the idea quickly. So in the case of creatine, as well as many other substances, it may be more realistic to use a supplement to get the amount you need. Again, taking supplements will give your body the proper amount of nutrients and chemicals required to achieve maximum performance, but they will not get you to maximum performance, you have to do that on your own. Supplements won’t correct a bad diet, they won’t get you to the gym, and they won’t help you build any muscle unless you do your part too.
That said, supplements help, and they can greatly improve your workouts if you take them the right way. Since they don’t all work the same for everybody, it’s important to take notice of how your body reacts to certain supplements. When taking any supplement, you should only add 1 to your stack at a time. Observe the results you get while taking it for a prolonged period of time (personally I would go with 30 days minimum, but that number is up to you), and then decide from there whether or not you think the supplement benefitted you. Would you rather add 5 supplements to your stack at once, make great progress, but then not know which ones helped and which ones were ineffective, thus you end up potentially spending hundreds of dollars per month to keep buying all 5? Or, would you rather add 1 at a time and only repurchase the ones that worked?
So now the question is, “What supplements will help me get that aesthetic physique I’ve been dreaming of?” To answer that question, I’ve included a breakdown of my five favorite performance-improving supplements that are clinically shown to have a positive effect on one’s workout.
Known by many of my non-gym-going friends as a “steroid” that all of us athletes take (not being a steroid, of course!), creatine has been shown to improve strength significantly over longer periods of usage. Creatine, in my opinion, is an essential supplement in any stack, assuming one already is already getting an adequate amount of protein. Creatine comes in multiple forms with numerous different effects, but the most tested, most common form is creatine monohydrate.
By taking 5g daily, creatine will cause one’s muscles to become saturated with water, thus improving strength. It shouldn’t need to be said as to why that’s good, but if you’re still skeptical, more strength means lifting heavier weights and lifting heavier weights means more muscle. Creatine does not need to be cycled and has no long-term side-effects, however, it will increase the user’s demand for water and one should make sure they’re drinking lots of water while taking creatine.
Along with creatine, beta-alanine is another very common supplement found in many pre-workouts. Beta-alanine is a modified version of the amino acid alanine that will turn into carnosine when ingested. Carnosine helps regulate pH and protect your body from lactic acid buildup during exercising. Basically, it’s improving your performance by giving your body the ability to make more energy behind the scenes. When taking beta-alanine, users have found that they are able to get one or two more reps in the gym (which ties back to more strength, more muscle).
Users have also found better performance while doing cardio too, so it’s a supplement that can benefit a variety of gym-goers. Science has shown that optimal results are yielded when taking between 3 and 6 grams of beta-alanine per day, depending on one’s individual needs. Beta-alanine does not have to be cycled and has only one side effect, a tingling feeling on the skin. This effect, however, is not universal and is harmless, it may also subside as one begins their workout.
BCAAs, for short, refer to branched-chain amino acids, of which there are three: isoleucine, leucine, and valine. Each amino acid has different effects and together, BCAAs can have many benefits for your body, such as promoting protein synthesis for those with low protein intakes, increasing performance in a fasted state, and helping out with recovery in general.
While the consensus is not out for when to take BCAAs, with the debate scattered around pre, intra, or post, it can be said that they are most beneficial when taken somewhat around your workout, and the rest is preferential. Personally, I’ve found that taking BCAAs before a fasted workout has yielded better performance, as well as allowing me to recover more efficiently than when I have worked out in a fasted state without them. Despite my success with the supplement, some of my friends have actually found that BCAAs did not help them significantly.
This may be because, depending on one’s protein intake, he/she may already be getting a proper amount of branched-chain amino acids from their diet. Regardless, BCAAs are essential for working out in a fasted state, and can provide great health benefits to the user.
I don’t think caffeine needs to really be explained. It’s a stimulant, and if you’re like me, it’s the only reason you drink coffee in the morning. It’s found in many carbonated drinks, such as energy drinks and sodas, as well as nearly every pre-workout intended to get you psyched for the gym. Not only does caffeine keep your brain awake and give you increased energy, but it can also increase your strength in the gym.
One thing you should note about caffeine, however, is that frequent use can lead to tolerance build-up, which can cause the user to only be able to reap the anti-sleep benefits of the drug. If you notice this happening, a one-month cycle off of taking any caffeine should reset your body’s natural tolerance levels. Sufficient caffeine dosages general vary by the user, so I recommend being smart, starting with low dosages, and working your way up until you find what suits you best.
This one’s a given. Protein is the essential nutrient to any athlete’s diet. Protein fuels muscle synthesis and growth, meaning it lets you recover and build muscle after you work-out. It can also keep you feeling full and make you fart more… it has a lot of effects on the body. Protein is a necessary nutrient to have in any diet and you literally cannot avoid it, otherwise you would die.
Now, I’m not saying you need to be drinking protein shakes between every meal, but there are multiple benefits to supplementing protein. For one, it gives you one of the highest-concentrated sources of protein per 100g, if not the highest that you can consume, and it only takes a couple seconds to throw together a snack/meal. By supplementing protein, you also have access to choosing a specific type of protein to meet your goals. If you need a slow-digesting protein, you can use casein, but if you need a faster-digesting protein, you can use whey, and if you’re vegan, vegan-based protein supplements can be essential to getting the daily protein intake you need to match your goals.
In summary, protein can be and is easily found in whole foods, but there are also countless benefits to using protein powders, and if you’re someone that’s having a hard time reaching your protein goals everyday, protein powder may be what you need.
To sum it all up, none of these supplements will give you immediate gains, but what they will do is increase your performance in the gym, which will then, in turn, translate to consistent gains (provided you’re eating and training right).