In bodybuilding, supplements are not really important. Which muscle growth supplements are worth their money though? We help you on your way with a top-8.
Creatine is the most researched strength sports supplement and one of the few whose possible positive effects on strength training have been conclusively demonstrated. Greater creatine levels in the muscles mean that more energy can be produced for short-term efforts. Supplementation with creatine, at about 5 grams per day, thus increases both explosive power and maximum power.
In addition, creatine indirectly saves glycogen, the main energy for strength training, which is stored in your muscles. As a result, you can do an extra repetition in the range of about 6 to 10 repetitions. With creatine you become a little stronger and you can do a little more repetitions.
There are several types of creatine on the market, of which creatine monohydrate is by far the most researched and cheapest. So there’s absolutely no use in using different types of creatine.
2. WHEY PROTEIN
It is sometimes said that protein supplements are not necessary at all. Strictly speaking, it is. But because you need to eat a lot of protein for optimal muscle growth and because you may benefit a bit from the timing of protein intake, protein supplements can be really useful. In addition, they are a relatively inexpensive source of protein.
Most protein supplements provide whey protein. There is nothing ‘magical’ about this protein for muscle growth, but because of the fast absorption and the favorable amino acid profile, it is an excellent protein to consume, for example, right after training, especially if you train on an empty stomach.
If you want as much pure protein as possible – so with as little sugar and fat as possible – it is best to choose the slightly more expensive whey isolate. For example, if you are cutting while following a strict diet.
An alternative to whey protein is casein, an equally high-quality protein. Casein is digested slowly, allowing the amino acids from it to be absorbed more gradually. For that reason, it is often advised to take casein (powder) before going to sleep, which nourishes your muscles throughout the night. However, this theory has not yet been sufficiently scientifically proven.
3. CITRULLINE MALATE
Supplementation with citrulline malate increases the levels of nitric oxide (NO) in your body. This widens your blood vessels and allows more oxygen and nutrients to be transported to your muscles. This provides slightly more anaerobic energy during strength training, allowing you to do an extra rep in the 5-10 rep range.
Another function of nitric oxide is to activate satellite cells, the stem cells of muscle tissue. These can ‘specialize’ into new muscle cell nuclei and thus help with the growth, maintenance and repair of (damaged) muscle tissue. Citrulline malate can therefore indirectly, via NO, stimulate the process of muscle growth.
8 grams is usually recommended as an effective dose, but 6 grams is probably sufficient. Take citrulline malate 30-45 minutes before your workout. However, the effect is only noticeable later in your training, when you are already a bit tired.
Caffeine has long been a popular substance among (strength) athletes. Caffeine has a mild stimulant effect on the central nervous system. As a result, most people experience a more energetic feeling and better focus, more alertness and greater stamina. The latter is not only beneficial for endurance athletes, but also for strength athletes.
Perhaps even more interesting for strength athletes is that caffeine also promotes maximum strength and explosive power, especially in the upper body. Disadvantage: caffeine only affects strength performance if the body is not used to the substance. That’s why, according to supplements expert Frank Kurtis (co-founder of Examine.com), you should only be taking caffeine once every two weeks — at a hefty dose (400 to 600 mg), taken about an hour before your workout. The rest of the time you should therefore not consume coffee or other caffeinated products, at most one cup of green tea per day. The result is one great workout every two weeks, but at the cost of a further caffeine-free existence.
So is pre-workout caffeine intake completely useless for coffee drinkers? Not that per se. Even if you are used to it, caffeine will increase your alertness, which can positively influence your exercise performance.
5. ALPHA GPC
Alpha-GPC (choline alfoscerate) is a natural choline compound found in the brain. It is much less well researched as a supplement than caffeine and its effect also appears to be weaker, but probably no habituation occurs with alpha-GPC. As a result, you could take it before any workout to benefit your strength performance.
Alpha-GPC is a precursor of choline, and therefore also acetylcholine. Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter that is important in the control of muscles by the brain. Alpha-GPC enters the brain relatively quickly after ingestion. The temporary surplus of acetylcholine ensures that you can contract your muscles more powerfully.
Because little independent research has been conducted into alpha-GPC, it remains unclear what the most optimal dose of alpha-GPC is. For strength athletes, 600 milligrams seems an appropriate amount, to be taken 30-45 minutes before training.
Alpha-GPC is a relatively expensive supplement and, as mentioned, still limited research, but supplement experts like Kurtis Frank call it promising.
6. WEIGHT GAINER
Intermediate and advanced bodybuilders need to bulk to grow. That means eating several hundred calories more than your basic energy requirement every day.
Most bodybuilders achieve that calorie surplus with ease. They are often even, consciously or unconsciously, over it. However, some people find it very difficult to eat enough. Usually it concerns ectomorphs of a young age, who naturally have difficulty building muscle mass and also have a very high resting metabolism, so that they burn a lot of calories at rest.
If you’re having trouble gaining weight, liquid foods can help. In any case, it’s a better option than snacking. For example, in addition to proteins, you can also add finely ground oats to your shake. Another possibility is ready-made weight gainers. These offer a high-calorie mix of proteins and complex (and therefore nutriocious) carbohydrates. It’s a rather expensive way to get more calories though.
7. BETA ALANINE
Supplementation with beta-alanine is an effective way to increase the concentrations of carnosine in the muscles. Carnosine counteracts the so-called acidification in your muscles, the accumulation of lactic acid that the body produces during heavy exertion of medium duration.
Specifically, beta-alanine can help you with efforts of two to three minutes. The effect is therefore only noticeable with more metabolic forms of strength training, such as very long sets (dropsets, supersets, metabolic finishers), circuit training and sets with very short rest breaks (20 seconds, for example), such as with German Volume Training.
During regular strength training, in which you usually do sets of 6-15 repetitions, beta-alanine is not of much use. But beta-alanine may also have a direct effect on muscle growth, in addition to improving exercise performance. However, this is still unclear and little researched.
Beta-alanine does not work acutely; the maximum effect is often only reached after weeks, regardless of the timing of intake. The recommended daily dose is 2-5 grams.
8. PRE-WORKOUT BOOSTER
Pre-workout boosters (PWOs) can help you train better (read: heavier). A PWO is a mix of multiple (reinforcing) supplements aimed at energy/endurance, strength, focus, pump and sometimes muscle building and recovery. They are the most popular supplements among bodybuilders after protein powders and creatine.
However, take a critical look at the composition of a PWO: if a PWO contains active ingredients with an immediate effect (which is often not the case), they are often underdosed.