Q: I’ve decided I want to look my all-time best this summer. Can you tell me which supplements I should buy and how much to take for best results?
A: You didn’t tell me your height and weight, so I can only guess how much is appropriate for you, but I can definitely recommend some supplements that are best suited to gaining mass and losing fat (two goals for nearly every bodybuilder). You should also know, however, that when you use a supplement is just as important as what you take. You want to take supplements when your body can best use them’there are times when it needs key nutrients more than others.
Understand that the body adapts to training. Hard exercise places high demands on available amino acids, glucose, essential fatty acids, vitamins, minerals and electrolytes.
There’s also a definite relationship between good nutrition and hard training. As John Parrillo often says, you have to match your training to your nutrition. The harder you train, the better your nutrition has to be, or you won’t be able to recover from your workouts. Most bodybuilders overtrain. Overtraining is as common as dirt. It really slows growth and in extreme cases prevents growth. Some people actually lose muscle mass.
If good nutrition makes such a difference in recovery and gains, it’s not a good idea to scrimp on good food and supplements. You want to bombard the body with as much good food and high-tech supplements as you can. You have to be just as serious about nutrition as you are about training or you can say bye-bye to good gains.
If you’re a regular reader of IRONMAN, you know enough to eat lean red meat, poultry, fish and eggs for your protein and baked potatoes, rice and fresh vegetable for your carbs. You should try to get in six meals a day, or one every three hours, and two or three of those meals can be a meal-replacement or protein drink because it’s easier to drink protein and calories than it is to eat them.
As a bodybuilder you should be grateful that you have access to the kind of wonder supplements that people in the ’80s and before could have only dreamed about. Here’s a short list of supplements that should make a big difference in your gains if you use them regularly.
Whey-based protein supplements or meal replacements, with micellar casein. Try to get in two to four protein drinks or meal replacements every day. You can take them between your solid-food meals and before bed. That should supply an extra 150 to 200 grams of protein (depending on the brand you buy). If you can eat 100 grams of protein and drink another 150 to 200 grams, that should be more than enough to ensure positive nitrogen balance and to repair tissue for recovery and growth’unless you weigh 300 pounds.
Glutamine and branched-chain amino acids. We know that when muscles are worked hard, ammonia is one of the toxic fatigue factors released into the blood. In response the body releases large amounts of glutamine from its amino-acid pool to squelch the buildup and to counteract its effects. When glutamine levels fall, muscle growth becomes almost impossible. High glutamine levels are associated with muscle growth, so glutamine supplementation is a must.
Once glutamine reserves are released to counteract ammonia, the body immediately tries to replace glutamine stocks from other sources. Glutamine can be made from branched-chain amino acids, but BCAAs are also used up during training, especially leucine, which is crucial for muscle energy. If there’s a deficiency of BCAAs, the body starts to break down precious muscle tissue to get what it needs.
Thus, it should be obvious that for best results you should be using supplements that supply both glutamine and BCAAs. Eighteen percent of whey protein is inherently BCAAs, so if you’re drinking three or four whey protein and/or meal replacements every day, your BCAA needs should be covered.
Creatine monohydrate. Creatine monohydrate can increase muscle stores of creatine. It also causes cell volumization’the feeling that the muscles are full and swollen. That carries over into the gym, so you can get very large pumps. Creatine monohydrate is definitely one supplement that seems to work well, especially with an insulin spike. Insulin drives glucose and nutrients into muscle cells for maximum recovery and growth.
The best time to take creatine monohydrate is first thing in the morning, when glycogen levels are low, and immediately after training. I mentioned that some supplements should be taken at certain times for best results: Creatine is one of them. Immediately after your workout your muscles are starved for glycogen and nutrients to repair muscle tissue. There’s a small window of about 45 minutes after your workout ends when your muscles are more receptive to certain key muscle-producing nutrients. As soon as you finish your last set’before you even shower’take a serving of creatine so it can get to work.
Along with the creatine, add two scoops of whey protein because your muscles are starved for protein and amino acids at that time. Whey is high in both glutamine and branched-chain amino acids. Mix your protein powder into your creatine monohydrate and drink them together. Add about 60 grams of a high-glycemic sugar so you get an insulin surge. [Note: RecoverX is a postworkout powder that has the perfect ratio of fast protein to fast carbs. Visit muscle-link.com.]
Speaking of insulin, I also recommend taking a couple of capsules of chromium picolinate and vanadyl sulfate. Chromium is a trace mineral that works to increase the efficiency of insulin. It helps drive more nutrients into the muscle cells. Chromium increases muscle sensitivity to insulin. When muscle becomes more sensitive, the body puts out less insulin so that carbs can be directed toward the muscle and fat storage lessened. About 200 micrograms of chromium should do nicely.
Vanadyl sulfate is similar to chromium. Vanadyl works inside the muscle cell and can draw circulating carbohydrates into the muscle without the assistance of insulin. If the muscle needs less insulin, there is less chance the carbs will be stored as fat.
To summarize, your postworkout supplementation should look like this:
10 grams of creatine monohydrate
20 to 40 grams of whey protein powder
60 grams of a high-glycemic carbohydrate
200 milligrams of chromium picolinate
Two vanadyl sulfate tablets
By the time you shower, dress and drive home, your body is well on its way to recovering from your workout. You’ve done all you can to ensure good muscle growth.
Preworkout nutrition. This can include any fat-burning product that supplies caffeine and ephedra, or mahuang, available at any health-food store. You can also buy caffeine pills. Fat burners give you a boost in energy so you can train harder, which means you kill two birds with one stone. You have more energy to train, and you burn more fat as you train.
Anticatabolics. Anticatabolism is a word introduced back in the early ’90s by those associated with Met-Rx. They argued persuasively that the reason anabolic steroids were effective was not just that they were anabolic but that they were effectively anticatabolic. Steroids reduced the effects of catabolic hormones like cortisol and glucagon. Any stressor can cause cortisol levels to spike, and that includes hard training in the gym. Your body cannot differentiate between good stress and bad stress, and overtraining is the kind of stressor that stops recovery and growth.
Not everyone wants to take steroids, so supplement companies came up with supplements that helped reduce cortisol levels. Acetyl-L-carnitine is a good anticatabolic. ALC has been shown to promote muscle growth by lowering cortisol production and stress-related reductions in testosterone, prevent protein and skeletal muscle breakdown, increase protein synthesis and improve nitrogen retention. It also causes the cells of the hypothalamus to release more gonadotropin-releasing hormone, which stimulates testosterone release. ALC can be taken before workouts and immediately after.
Those should be the supplements you buy first. Are they the only supplements you should use? No. You should also include a good, potent vitamin-and-mineral supplement; antioxidants such as beta-carotene, selenium, zinc, vitamin C and coenzyme Q10; borage oil or oil of evening primrose; essential fatty acids and desiccated liver tablets.
You may wonder why I include desiccated liver. Well, because it works. It supplies lots of iron and B-vitamins, is rich in beef protein and high in the energy factor P-450. It was good back in the ’50s and ’60s, when Vince Gironda advocated its use, and it’s still good today. I recommend five to 10 tablets at each meal (including the protein-drink meals) and before bed. You should feel an energy increase in a few weeks and even an increase in strength. Beef is best for strength; that’s my rule. IM