The most commonly asked question I get is often the last question that should be asked. What supplements should I take to get stronger, to improve my fitness level, to get leaner? I am in no way against supplementation. I think that there are many good supplements on the market and I think that researching natural supplements and integrating them into our diets is far more beneficial than all the money we spend on prescription medication and drugs. That being said, even the guys at the supplement store will tell you that a supplement is just that, a SUPPLEMENT. It is something that you add on to a proper diet and exercise prescription, to intensify your gains. And yes, supplements work. But they work a hundred times better if you follow the proper protocols in the kitchen as well as the gym.
In this multi-part series of articles I will let you know what supplements are proven to be beneficial and why. I will cover supplements that promote both strength and health. I will be writing several related articles, starting with today’s installment, Muscle Building Supplements-The Basics. I will follow with Muscle Building Supplements-Advanced, Top 10 Supplements for a Healthy Body, Top 10 Supplements for a Healthy Mind, and my final supplement article titled Energy NOW, will include a detoxification plan.
What makes our body strong? What builds our muscles and keeps them functioning properly? We are all aware that our muscles are made primarily of proteins and water. Many of us know proteins are made up of long strands of amino acids. But we have to understand more than that. What causes a muscular contraction? Why is increased blood flow important? When does overtraining strike? We will cover all of these things in this discussion and the articles to come.
In this first article, I will stick to The Big 3 for muscle building. The stuff that is proven to work and works well every time. The stuff with the most research behind it. Creatine, Protein, and Amino Acids.
Wow…this one is so simple yet so many people do not understand it.. I am constantly met with the accusation,”David, creatine is a steroid. I can’t take that.” I hate this statement, not just because it is untrue, not only because I am constantly assaulted with it, but because it shows that the person asking for my advice has no base knowledge of supplementation and has not done the proper independent research to warrant taking any product. For instance, when you buy a car, don’t you research the car? Why would it be any different for something going into your body?
Creatine is not a steroid. Creatine or “creatine phosphate” is synthesized by the three amino acids methionine, glycine and arginine. It is made and stored naturally in your own body. In fact some creatine is even stored in your brain. Another interesting fact is that many studies have found creatine to increase brain function and memory in both elderly people, and vegetarians. Both groups improved scores tremendously on the IQ test, Raven test, and the cognitive memory test after supplementing with creatine for only a few short weeks. However this is not the conventional use for creatine.
95 to 98 % of creatine is stored in your skeletal muscle. The rest is stored in and synthesized in the liver kidneys and pancreas. But as most of it is stored in muscle, one can assume that the energy harvested from creatine consumption will be primarily muscular. But let’s get to the interesting stuff.
Your body uses what is called ATP (adenosine-tri-phosphate) for each muscular contraction. ATP is our main anaerobic energy store. Without ATP we literally cannot move. With each contraction of a muscle fiber the body uses a phosphate molecule from the ATP in use at the time. This converts our much needed ATP into ADP (adenosine-Di-phosphate) which is useless for muscular contraction. CREATINE TO THE RESCUE!!! Luckily our nice little store of creatine phosphate is hiding out in our skeletal muscle just waiting to be called in as re-convert it back into ATP. Since ATP is our fuel for muscular contraction, we are now able to continue using our muscles.
Another great thing about creatine is that it bypasses glycolysis. Which basically means it is capable of replenishing energy before reaching the Glycolitic or (lactic acid) energy stage. This helps to stop the body from assuming the acidic environment which is often coupled by intense exercise. In layman’s terms, you won’t get as sore and you won’t feel as much of a burn as you are used to. There are really only two different types of creatine on the market and the best way to categorize them are fat soluble, and water soluble.
Water soluble creatine was pretty much the breakfast of champions for athletes all around the world for a very long time. It’s proven, it’s tested, it works. It also puts weight on you in about ONE DAY. The problem that many athletes have with this creatine is that the weight that it adds initially is water weight. This creatine is stored in the water in your muscles. For football linemen this may be fine. For a kid looking to put on a few pounds, go for it! But to a female looking to get strong while maintaining or losing weight, this is not the way to go. For an athlete looking to stay within the weight requirements of their sport, be wary. This creatine will add size and weight. Another drawback of the water soluble creatine supplements is the initial loading time. You are required to triple your dose for the 4 to 7 days to “Load” your body with this creatine. The problem is that the half-life of creatine is about 3 hours, so much of this is a waste of both money and time.
In my opinion, fat soluble creatine is a better way to go, unless of course you are looking to gain weight. But in my experience creatine should be used for strength gains rather than weight gains. Fat soluble creatine is stored in your fat cells, therefore NO BLOATING, and you are not required to take as much.
One last note on creatine. Ladies please do not buy into this “FEMALE CREATINE FAD.” There multiple products out now that tout that their creatine is specially made for females. If you even read the article above you will know that this is stupid. My muscles work the same way as your muscles. We are both humans. So please do not buy the overpriced bottle of “FEMALE CREATINE” that has half the dose and half the servings. Just because the bottle is pink does not mean it is for ladies. Use your brain Stick to the good stuff.
AMINO ACIDS and BCAAS
Amino acids perform a multitude of different things in the body, from improving eyesight to building muscle. There are 22 standard amino acids, 9 of which are essential for humans, essential meaning that the body cannot manufacture it and it must be ingested. Because of the complexity of the structure, makeup and effect of amino acids, I will stick to the basics and tackle what are known as the BCAAS, (Branch Chained Amino Acids). These three amino acids are leucine, isoleucine, and valine. These are the three amino acids most important for muscle growth and recovery.
LEUCINE or L-LEUCINE is an essential amino acid found in protein rich sources such as meat, dairy and legumes. While no concrete evidence has been brought forward suggesting that Lucien helps in the muscle building process, pages and pages of evidence suggest that it does prevent muscle breakdown on a grand scale and helps to regulate insulin levels while also stimulating growth hormone when taken in larger dosages.
ISOLEUCINE is another essential amino acid found naturally in many of the same foods as Leucine. While possessing the same abilities to repair muscle and prevent muscle breakdown as leucine, isoleucien also helps in the production of hemoglobin and aids the body in clotting injuries. Many surgeons recommend using isoleucine after surgery to speed the healing process. And because of its ability to promote hemoglobin in red blood cells, it promotes the carrying of oxygen to all of the cells in your body. Sounds pretty good for athletes, right!? Also if you are anemic and iron supplements just aren’t cutting it, add BCAAS to your supplement plan and you will probably get some additional relief from their oxygen increasing properties.
VALINE is yet another essential amino acid found in protein rich foods. Valine is very interesting because it performs tasks so vastly different from the other BCAAS. While it does promote a decrease in muscle breakdown and an increase in muscle repair, it also has a stimulating effect on the central nervous system. In fact it has been shown to improve both mental focus and function. Many people who supplement with valine report an increase of body awareness. Although I cannot think of a way to measure body awareness, I can say that I supplement with valine and it does help increase my positive energy and makes me feel more “alive”. Valine has also been found to help detoxify the bladder and liver by removing excess nitrogen from those organs. Because of its detoxifying properties on the liver it has been used to treat people suffering from alcohol and substance abuse related health problems.
The big man on campus. He’s the guy that you have to have on your team if you are going to win the battle against muscle loss and degeneration. In order to be considered a protein there must be an amino acid chain of at least 50 amino. So you can imagine the benefit of getting these proteins in your body when I just finished explaining the benefits of just 3 amino acids. Proteins are the building blocks of muscle and you simply cannot expect to perform a high level of physical activity for an extended period of time, while trying to increase your gains without proper protein intake. If you are not consuming at least.5 to 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight per day, and you are performing a high level of physical activity, you are breaking down your muscles and will not be able to provide the proper nutrients for repair of the skeletal muscle tissue. I personally try to intake 1.5 to 2 grams per pounds of body weight. High quality proteins are found naturally in all meat, in dairy, legumes and some vegetables. As with all food it is best to have your proteins in the most bio-available form. This means as fresh as possible. Kill the chicken and eat it that day if you can. However since we sadly live in a world based upon convenience rather than health and wellness, we have been provided the opportunity to decide which type of protein powder suits our needs best.
Whey Protein- A protein derived from milk. This is a fast acting quickly absorbed protein that is beneficial for both pre and post workout meals. Before your workout you need the amino acid provided by this protein to help dilate veins and carry nutrients and oxygen to your muscles. Post-workout this protein is useful because of it quick absorption rate. Our muscles are very hungry and eager to rebuild after a workout so take advantage of whey.
Casein-This is a slow acting protein also derived from milk. It is what you would consider a nighttime protein. Take it before you go to bed and let your body be fed throughout the night. One thing to remember is to not take this protein during the day as it will block absorption of any fast acting proteins your body may be trying to digest during the day.
Egg protein- Another fast acting protein, this protein is used primarily by people who are lactose intolerant. Although some people say that this protein is more highly absorbable than whey, I haven’t personally had that experience nor have I found any credible evidence supporting that statement.
Soy protein- In my opinion, don’t go there. In America soy has been advertised as this super healthy food. Please do your research, as soy has been found to have many adverse side effects on children and adults including things like early onset of puberty, fluctuation in thyroid hormone levels, excess estrogen in men, and higher carcinogen counts in the body. Soy is advertised so much to the American people because it is a great filler in processed food, it is cheap and it is readily available. Please do not become a vegetarian and tell me that you will get all the protein you need from soy. You were born with incisors for a reason, you are an omnivore…please behave like one.
This concludes my article on the basics of muscle building supplements. I hope you find this informative and helpful. Part 2 will be coming out later in the week as well as the other articles that I have scheduled.
Owner/ Head Trainer
Primal Athletic Performance