There are tons of supplements for bodybuilding on the market; no one person with a spectacular physique takes every one of these, though some muscle building enthusiasts do take a whopping amount of supps on a daily basis.
However, even taking fistfuls of tablets and gagging on many scoops a day of various powders aren’t necessary for building one’s best physique.
It’s hardly a giant leap of faith to conclude that the guys with the most awesome bodies would still have those same bodies if they cut their supplementing down to just four key supplements, while sticking to a clean diet with many sources of quality whole proteins, complex carbohydrates and energizing “good fats” like those found in fish.
Sometimes, supplementation is a matter of convenience, and this is the reason why many men and women use protein powders. In fact, some even like the taste, when these powders are blended up with juice or fruit, yogurt, milk, even peanut butter.
On the other hand, it’s not likely that most skinny guys who deal with gritty, expensive “weight gainer” shakes a few times every day do this because they prefer these over delicious food items that pack as many calories.
It’s not recommended that “hard-gainer” types make a habit out of choking down ultra-high calorie shake mixes to supplement their diets.
These will get tedious after a while, are full of synthetic additives, and quite frankly, don’t come close to the nutritional benefits of natural whole foods.
Top 4 Overall Bodybuilding Supplements
- Whey Protein/Branched Chain Amino Acids
- Essential Fatty Acids
The Power Of Protein
Many nutritionists believe that people do not need protein supplements because people get plenty of protein just from everyday eating. However, nutritionists usually have the average person in mind when offering this recommendation. The muscle building enthusiast is not the average person.
The best way to ingest protein is via whole foods like fish, poultry, lean meats, dairy, eggs, beans and nuts/seeds.
This can create a few issues for someone trying to get in a lot of protein: the threat of calorie surplus in those trying to lose fat, and the inability to consume enough whole-food protein without feeling uncomfortably full.
Reasons For Taking Protein Supplements:
- Cut corners on calories
- Inability to eat the quantity of meat/poultry, eggs, beans and nuts to make the daily protein quota
- Taste; it’s easy to get tired of the same protein foods over and over; protein powders come in chocolate, strawberry and vanilla flavors.
How much protein should the bodybuilder get every day? Recommendations vary.
The American Dietetic Association suggests that those who strength train get up to 1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight per day. Other schools of thought recommend one gram/kg, and others 2 g/kg.
Any of these recommendations needs to be approached with caution, because they do not consider body composition. A 300 pound obese man, according to the ADA recommendation, should ingest 136 grams of protein a day if he decides to take up bodybuilding.
This recommendation certainly can’t be the same for the already-athletic, lean 180 pound man who’d like to pack on more muscle. More protein than for the average person is definitely necessary, but exactly how much is open to debate.
1. Best protein bodybuilding supplement: Whey Powder.
The strongest protein for muscle building, whey powder makes it to exhausted muscle fibers faster than do other protein sources.
Whey protein isolate is the best form of whey for absorption, and can be absorbed through the stomach and first section of the small intestine in under 30 minutes. Whey is unbeatable as part of a post-workout meal.
Other Reasons Whey Is Considered The Best Bodybuilding Supplement:
- Great source of amino acids (building blocks of protein)
- Immune system support
- Versatile for mixing up with water and other items for a flavorful drink or shake
Supplementation with whey powder is a must because muscle is protein. To make something that’s made of protein bigger, feed it quality protein: whey powder.
When eaten it’s broken down into amino acids, which worked-up muscles need for rebuilding and growing.
Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAS). What’s special about BCAAs is that they get transported to fatigued muscle cells very quickly after being ingested.
BCAAs promote a higher degree of circulating insulin, a hormone that delivers blood sugar (from ingested carbohydrates) to insulin receptor sites on muscle cells. These receptor sites uptake the delivered blood sugar (glucose) to feed the muscles.
Whey, with its BCAAs, gets this task done rapidly. A shortage of protein means a risk of catabolism: muscle breakdown. Supplementation protects against this and facilitates repair of damaged muscle tissue.
The next prime bodybuilding supplement is creatine, a compound that’s produced in the liver as a result of one consuming protein from red meat and fish. Ninety-five percent of the body’s creatine is stored in skeletal muscle.
Supplementation with creatine is beneficial because this organic acid plays a key position in ATP restoration. ATP (adenosine triphosphate) is an energy source produced by the mitochondria of muscle cells, and gets depleted during workouts.
Another boon of creatine is that it aids in prevention of muscle tissue damage by helping protect cell membranes.
Supplementing with creatine drives up the amount of this compound in muscle tissue, thus helping with the increase in lean mass by promoting a higher volume of water in muscle cells (sarcoplasmic hypertrophy).
A grueling workout takes a toll on the immune system. Glutamine, an amino acid, provides immune system support.
Glutamine also partakes in the resynthesizing of carbohydrates eaten post-workout, making recovery faster. A faster recovery creates a positive ripple effect into the next workout.
The third benefit of glutamine is that of raising levels of human growth hormone. HGH is important in the restructuring of fatigued muscle tissue, and glutamine will help optimize its presence in doing so.
4. Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs)
Just about every list of effective supplements for bodybuilding includes EFAs: namely the omega 3s.
The omega 3s counteract the inflammation in the musculoskeletal system that results from a searing workout.
Recovery is sped up when this inflammation is opposed by an anti-inflammatory agent, of which EFAs are.
EFAs are called “essential” because the body cannot manufacture them; they must come from food or supplement sources.
Though EFAs are abundant in certain foods like fish, oils and nuts/seeds, some trainees do not like or care for fish, oils and nuts/seeds; plus, some trainees have a concern over the calorie content of oils, nuts and seeds.
For them, EFAs in supplement form (e.g., fish oil capsules) are far easier to take. Additionally, even if one enjoys fish, nuts, seeds and regularly uses oils like olive or safflower, it can still be challenging to get plenty of omega 3s from dietary sources alone on a daily basis.
Another benefit of EFAs is that the membranes of muscle cells absorb these compounds, and this leads to more efficient uptake of glucose by the insulin receptor sites on muscle cells. This means faster and more efficient fueling up of starved muscle tissue.
- Whey protein (though this can also be consumed any time of the day, but post-workout is the best time to take advantage of the BCAAs)
The amount should be 25-30 grams. Whey cans come with scoopers that are sized to meet this quantity range.
The powder should be taken with a sweet juice, or milk, as these drinks quickly raise blood sugar levels, thus bringing on a potent insulin response. This metabolic effect from such a post-workout feeding is essential for driving nutrients as rapidly as possible into drained muscle cells.
So go ahead, add a scoop of whey to white or chocolate milk (8 ounces will do); 8 ounces of juice; or mix in a blender with berries, sliced peaches, a banana or yogurt, plus water. Add crushed ice for a smoothie effect.
Fancy weight gain powders in those mammoth cans are not necessary; as mentioned, these are full of chemical additives. For more calories, toss a tablespoon or two of peanut butter or olive oil into the shake (you won’t taste the olive oil).
The best whey powder has the fewest ingredients. Some brands, like the weight gain powders, are loaded with synthetic additives. The fewer the ingredients, the better.
Add creatine to the whey shake. To get started on creatine supplementation, just take 5 grams of this white, tasteless powder every day; saturation of the muscle tissue will occur in a few weeks.
An alternative is to load the body by taking 20 grams a day (four times a day) for five days, to more quickly saturate muscles. The problem with this method is that one may forget a dose here and there.
Either way, include the daily dose, or one of the quick-saturating doses, in the post-workout whey protein drink. The muscles have plenty of creatine in them pre-workout, but post-workout, they need some replenishment.
Add 6-8 grams of glutamine powder to your protein beverage.
4. Essential Fatty Acids
EFAs post-workout are very important, for the reasons already covered in this article. The most practical way to ingest these with the post-workout shake is in the form of fish oil capsules. Take two fish oil capsules with a glass of water.
What About Pre-Workout Supplements?
This need not be complicated. In fact, simplicity reigns.
A scoop of whey protein powder mixed in water and only a few ounces all-natural juice (not something that’s marketed at kids or some “sports drink” that’s full of hard-to-pronounce ingredients) will be adequate. Better yet, have the powder in just water, even if this isn’t very palatable.
Take this 45-60 minutes before a workout because whey lowers the effects of the stress hormone cortisol. Levels of cortisol rise during a workout.
So do the levels of human growth hormone and testosterone, which oppose the cortisol. However, pre-workout whey protein will assist the HGH and testosterone in opposing cortisol.
This means a hardier workout and better recovery, plus a handy available source of important amino acids during the weight lifting.
What About A Bodybuilding Supplement During The Workout?
It’s not uncommon to see big brawny guys drinking from a bottle of orange, red or purple fluid in between sets. This isn’t why they have bristling muscles, but it may be why they can’t seem to crack past a certain body fat percentage goal.
Guzzling sweetened beverages during training means the body will take energy from the sugars in those drinks, rather than from stored body fat. These drinks, marketed as “fuel” needed during weight workouts, are not necessary; skip them and just drink plenty of water.
Supplementation for bodybuilders or muscle building athletes need not be complicated and wrought with confusion. Stick to these basic four supplements and you’ll be on your way to getting the best physique possible.