The Best Supplements for Beginners
Are you new to bodybuilding? Heavy resistance training requires significant nutrition and fuel in order to develop strength, power, and build muscle mass.
While we've talked about the importance of nutrition and lifestyle choices before, additional supplements can help you reach your goals faster while supporting health and wellbeing.
There are so many supplements out there now available to improve bodybuilding performance that are natural and effective, but it can often feel overwhelming to know where to start.
Don't fret, we got you covered in today's blog on how you can supplement to get the most out of your strength training routine and start to build real muscle mass.
L-Arginine is considered a semi-essential amino acid, which means that it becomes essential under certain circumstances such as injury, stress, illness, gastrointestinal issues, or pregnancy (1).
This amino acid is involved in nitric oxide production via the l-arginine-NO pathway. Nitric oxide is a molecule that can increase blood flow and oxygenation to muscle cells, while enhancing mitochondrial function (2)(3). As a result, it may benefit physical performance and recovery (4)(5).
Arginine has many additional roles in the body including immune function, cellular communication, cardiovascular function, and blood sugar regulation (6)(7)(8).
Deficiency can not only impact physical performance but also overall health (9).
Arginine has been shown to improve sports performance in male athletes though future studies are needed to determine the effectiveness of arginine (10).
Bodybuilders can use l-arginine as a pre-workout supplement to potentially enhance energy, strength, and muscle mass.
The dosing utilized and investigated during human trials typically ranges from 6–30 g per day of l-arginine in 3 divided doses (11).
A popular supplement among bodybuilders, creatine is one of the most popular nutritional ergogenic aids for athletes (12).
Though the body does create creatine on its own, bodybuilders and elite athletes may benefit from additional creatine to boost exercise performance, increase muscle mass, and benefit recovery.
Creatine can also result in higher energy levels and increased time to exhaustion due to greater ATP synthesis which can help bodybuilders maximize their workout performance and increase strength and power (13)(14).
It doesn't stop there. Creatine also boosts anabolic hormones such as Insulin-like Growth Factor-I and Human Growth Hormone, resulting in more muscle and less fat (15).
Creatine can be obtained from food or supplements. Creatine supplementation has been shown to increase muscle creatine concentrations which may explain why studies have observed improvements in high-intensity exercise and post-exercise recovery (16).
Studies indicate that creatine supplementation of up to 30 grams per day is safe both short-term and long-term with rare adverse effects (17).
Creatine supplements come in different forms and include: creatine monohydrate, creatine hydrochloride, creatine ethyl ester, buffered creatine, creatine magnesium chelate, and liquid creatine.
Creatine monohydrate is the most well studied for its ergogenic effects and the most popular form of creatine that is supplemented in the fitness industry (18).
HMB, or Beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbuteric acid, is a metabolite of the essential amino acid leucine. HMB was first discovered for its ability to slow the breakdown of protein in the body. HMB has been shown to be effective at increasing muscle mass and muscle strength while decreasing body fat.
A study that examined the effects of 12 weeks of HMB supplementation noted enhanced muscle mass, strength, and power following chronic resistance training while also preventing a decline in performance among trained individuals (19).
It has also been shown to preserve lean body mass and preserve muscle strength among the older population (20).
HMB is produced naturally in the body from the breakdown of the branched-chain amino acid, leucine. The body only produces HMB in small amounts which is why bodybuilders may choose to supplement in order to increase their HMB levels for greater exercise performance and muscle growth.
The usual dose of 3 g per day may be recommended to maintain or improve muscle mass and prevent muscle damage (21).
High quality protein is an essential part of building muscle and whey protein powder is a common supplement you will see bodybuilders bring with them to the gym.
Whey protein comes from milk and makes up about 20% of the protein found in milk. It is one of the most popular protein supplements for those wanting to gain muscle strength and muscle mass as it contains all nine essential amino acids and a high amount of the branched-chain amino acid, leucine. Leucine in particular has been shown to be the key amino acid involved in accelerating muscle protein synthesis while decreasing muscle protein degradation (22).
Whey protein typically provides around 20 grams of protein per 1 scoop or serving and is considered a high-quality and effective form of protein due to its quick absorbability rate compared to other proteins (23)(24).
It is also one of the best-studied nutritional supplements.
Out of all of the macronutrients, protein exerts the highest thermic effect and is the most metabolically expensive, which is why it may come as no surprise that higher protein intake has been associated with reduced body fat and improved body composition
Numerous studies have shown high protein diets to not only promote lean muscle mass but also cause a decrease in body fat content in athletic subjects (26).
High protein diets are generally defined as making up at least 25% of total caloric intake or 1.2–1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (27).
Daily protein requirements for the average healthy individual is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight however protein for athletes and very active individuals such as competitive bodybuilders will often rise to 2.3-3.1 G/Kg (28).
Glutamine is the most abundant protein in the body and can be found in the blood but also muscle tissue. Glutamine is critically important for a range of bodily processes including immune function, gastrointestinal health, brain function, muscle growth, metabolic health, and heart health.
Glutamine can support your bodybuilding efforts via various mechanisms such as preventing muscle wasting, reducing inflammation, and decreasing the risk of injury (29).
It is also involved in the processes of protein synthesis, BCAA metabolism, and glycogen synthesis (30)(31)(32).
After strenuous exercise glutamine can become depleted by 50% and supplementation can help to prevent muscle breakdown and a longer recovery time while allowing your muscles to push harder for longer (33).
Including glutamine as part of your workout regimen can support a quicker recovery, reduce fatigue, and diminish muscle soreness (34)(35).
Though glutamine is conditionally essential because it is produced by the body, active individuals may benefit from additional supplementation because it is required in greater quantities under physically intensive conditions.
Glutamine comes in powder or capsule form and it is recommended to supplement around 30 grams of glutamine per day in divided doses before, during, and after your workout for body building benefits.
Developing new muscle tissue relies heavily on your diet & nutrition status. This is where a good quality multivitamin can not only support your fitness goals and efforts, but also your overall health status.
Let's take a closer look at certain nutrients in particular:
Vitamin D: an essential vitamin, which is actually a hormone, for proper immune function but also growing strong bones and muscles. Vitamin D deficiency is associated with muscle weakness and reduced muscle mass (36).
Vitamin C: an antioxidant vitamin that is involved in body repair, development and growth processes. It also helps to fight oxidative stress and inflammation in the body, supporting recovery, reducing the risk of injury, and maintaining connective tissue health (37).
Magnesium: this mineral can be lost quite easily during strenuous exercise and as physical activity levels go up, so do the requirements for magnesium (38).
It assists in the maintenance of normal muscle function, enables muscles to recover faster, and improves muscle performance (39).
When magnesium levels are low, muscle cramps are more likely to occur.
Zinc: zinc plays an important role in immune function, and it can also enhance Insulin-like Growth Factor-I and testosterone levels, two anabolic hormones that enhance muscle function and physical performance while decreasing the catabolic hormone cortisol (40). These outcomes have been shown to be even greater when combined with magnesium.
A multivitamin can help to cover the foundational vitamins and minerals as well as provide additional supporting nutrients to support increased activity levels and perform at your best.
Fish oil supplements are a potent source of the omega-3 fatty acids; eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
These fatty acids are essential and must be obtained from the diet or supplementation.
Omega 3 fats can benefit exercise by reducing inflammation and as a result, reduce soreness and stiffness, also referred to as delayed onset muscle soreness, after heavy exercise (DOMS) (41)(42).
They can also improve physical performance and bodybuilding results by preventing muscle damage and loss of muscle mass as well as restoring insulin sensitivity (43)(44).
Research has shown omega 3's to have a positive effect on the metabolism of muscle proteins.
Omega 3 fats are known to blunt the stress response and lower cortisol levels (45). Cortisol is a catabolic hormone that reduces protein synthesis and muscle strength (46).
You can obtain omega 3 fats from food sources however if you don't consume fish on a regular basis you might not be receiving enough of the active omega 3 fats. What's more, plant sources provide omega-3's in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is a less active form and is inefficiently converted in humans.
Though fish oil is often the more popular choice, vegans can also supplement with algae oil to receive the benefits.
Dosing for body builders is recommended between the range of 2-3 grams of EPA and DHA per day.
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