The Top 5 Weight Lifting Supplements
Can They Make You Bigger, Stronger, and Faster?
If you’re in an intense weight training program, you may reach a point where you have trouble supplying your body with the nutrients is needs in order for you to make good progress. Sure, you can just eat, and eat, and eat, but that brings with it something you probably don’t want; excessive calories and fat around your mid section. Besides, there are some trace nutrients that are difficult to find in quantity in the foods we eat. This is where the top weight lifting supplements come in.
The first thing you should know is that you don’t really need supplements if you are eating a nutritionally dense, well balanced diet, and are not participating in a high intensity training program. You’ll get everything you need in your diet. This is true even if you lift weights a few times a week, but are not really looking to make any great size or strength gains.
If, on the other hand, you are trying to lose fat while you gain muscle, or build large quantities of dense muscle, your diet may not supply everything you need in order to optimize your progress. Really, what’s the use in working your ass off if you are not going to get every last thing out of your training program that you could be?
Here are the top 5 supplements that will help you build mass, lose fat, and break through that plateau that you’ve been stuck on for so long.
Weight Lifting Supplement #1 – Protein Powder
Although it doesn’t have to be powder, most protein supplements are in powder form. If you are training hard, eating a high protein diet is essential to build the muscle and support recovery from those grueling training sessions. The good news is that it is not very expensive and comes in several flavors, so you can mix it in shakes, peanut butter, oatmeal, milk, or just about anything else you want. You’ll support muscle growth and recovery without having to eat mountains of burgers, steak, tuna, and eggs (although you’ll probably want to eat some of that stuff too).
Protein supplements also allow you to get the extra protein needed to support muscle growth after heavy lifting sessions, but avoid the extra calories that often find their way in there. That helps you build lean muscle without the “bulking phase fat” that often comes with it.
Different Kinds of Protein and When to Use Them
You’ll typically find either whey, egg, or casein based protein powders. While all can be excellent protein sources, they have different uses. Whey protein is typically absorbed by your body faster and casein takes longer. That means whey is perfect immediately after your workout to help the recovery phase when your blasted muscles are hungry for nutrients to help repair the damage you just did. Casein, on the other hand is absorbed much slower, making it perfect to have immediately before bedtime. Its slower assimilation means your body gets it while you’re sleeping.
NOTE: Many (most??) of the protein powders out there contain more than just protein.
Some of the additives are good, such as vitamins added to help protein assimilation. Plenty of others aren’t, such as artificial colors, sweeteners and flavors. Steer clear of these, please! Artificial sweeteners are NOT good for you. I’ve found some whey concentrate that does not have all the added stuff, mixes well, and is very highly reviewed (by more than just me!). It’s also fairly priced. CLICK HERE NOW to read reviews and get more info.
The lowest price is not always the best deal for stuff you’re putting into your body!
Also, with whey protein it’s important to do a direct comparison, looking at both the protein type and any added nutrients (good) or other additives (bad!). There is whey protein hydrolysate, whey protein concentrate, and whey protein isolate.
- Isolate: Only protein and should be lactose free; important for individuals having lactose sensitivities or allergies. You typically use less whey protein isolate per serving vs the other 2 varieties, although it’s also the most expensive.
- Concentrate: High protein levels, but still contain significant levels of other macronutrients, i.e. fat and carbohydrates. Look for 70%-80% protein levels.
- Hydrolysate: This is partially broken down protein, making it faster and easier for your body to access. It’s sometimes called predigested.
Weight Lifting Supplement #2 – Creatine Monohydrate
Creatine zoomed to popularity in the 1980’s when it was revealed that some Olympic athletes were using it to increase their performance, and even
better, it actually worked well! Since then it’s effectiveness has served to maintain creatine’s popularity to the extent it is still one of the most popular supplements for athletes, bodybuilders, and recreational lifters alike.
Creatine is found in nature and in your body, but typically not in the amounts that are needed to maximize performance when training hard. Creatine supplementation gives your body the ability to tap into additional stores so you can squeeze out those extra few reps during a tough training session. That, in turn, makes you grow stronger, and possibly bigger. For more on how creatine works and if it is safe, see my post on Creatine Side Effects from last year.
NOTE: Make sure your creatine supplement doesn’t contain exrtas like: sugar, soy, dairy, yeast, gluten, corn and other additives.
Weight Lifting Supplement #3 – Glucosamine/ Chondroitin/ MSM
One of the biggest surprises was that this supplement is so popular. In fact, it is one of the top five (hence it’s inclusion in this list) weight lifting supplements around. The reason is simple; heavy lifting and high intensity training can wreak havoc on your joints and connective tissues. If you are in constant pain it can be difficult or impossible to keep up with any kind of beneficial training program, or in some cases, get through your daily life. Glucosamine/Chondroitin/Msm supplementation can mitigate much of the wear and tear faced by your joints and connective tissues from heavy training and other sports related activities.
MSM stands for methyl sulfonylmethane, a natural form of bio-available sulfur. In an example of why some people prefer whole, non-processed foods, many foods have naturally occurring MSM, but it is invariably destroyed during cooking and processing. Much of the evidence supporting MSM is purely anecdotal, and although some scientific studies have been done there are few to date that have been of the double blind variety, later published in peer reviewed journals.
This supplement works by increasing the formation of cartilage in your joints. In many cases this cartilage becomes degraded by years of vigorous activity, such as lifting, running and sports with constant stopping and starting, like tennis and basketball. These three compounds were first used to help with the effects of osteoarthritis, but later found to be very effective for some people with joint and connective tissue problems related to athletics and training. A caveat; if you have diabetes, be careful with Glucosamine because it can cause a rise in blood sugar levels.
Weight Lifting Supplement #4 – Nitric Oxide Boosters
Bodybuilders and eight lifters have only recently come to start regularly using nitric oxide supplements to increase muscular size and strength. Nitric oxide itself is actually a gas, and has a few functions in the body, but for lifting and training purposes, it is an intracellular messenger that regulates blood flow. Obviously blood flow has an important impact on performance and recovery from training sessions.
In fact, nitric oxide was deemed so important by the scientific community for the vascular system that a researcher, Dr Louis Ignarro, actually received the 1998 Nobel Prize in medicine for his research on nitric acid’s importance to the circulatory system.
Your body produces nitric oxide naturally, and nitric oxide supplements aim to increase natural production and levels to benefit muscle size and strength. It helps give body builders that vascular “pump” they are looking for, and makes it last much longer. Most lifters and bodybuilders love that “veins popping out all over” look that these supplements can give.
Making more nitric acid in the body requires a combination of amino acids, of which arginine is the most important, but aspartic acid, and citrulline can be utilized as well. Arginine combines with certain types of enzymes in your body called Nitric Oxide synthase, often abbreviated NOS. This combination creates a reaction that produces nitric oxide your body can use.
From a body building and lifting perspective, nitric oxide keeps your muscles full of blood , a similar effect to the pump you get after a hard workout, the difference being the nitric acid enhanced pump lasts longer, much longer. The extra blood flow not only makes your muscles appear larger, it also does a better job flushing away metabolic byproducts and bringing oxygen and nutrients to fatigued muscles, letting them grow even bigger, and recover from training sessions faster.
Nitric Oxide Side Supplement Effects
Some study has been done on nitric oxide supplements, and some effects on liver enzymes (reversible) have been anecdotally reported from a few people using this type of product (though not from all people using all the different types of nitric oxide supplements on the market), so it would be a good idea to use it under a doctor’s supervision, at least until you determine if it will have an adverse effects on you.
In addition, since these products contain amino acids, care should be taken not to exceed the recommended dosage. Some amino acids can cause problems if over done. For example, excessive arginine can cause varied symptoms, including diarrhea, nausea, and ironically enough, weakness.
Some of these supplements also contain caffeine and other stimulants, so if you are trying to limit caffeine look at each one to see if it contains high levels. As with everything else, look closely before you choose. Do your homework, but these supplements have been extremely popular recently, and with good reason, they seem to be safe and effective for most people when taken as directed.
Some of the more popular Nitric acid enhancing supplements include, Muscletech PUMP-TECH, Optimum Nutrition Nitric Boost, BSN Nitrix, and IDS NP2.
Weight Lifting Supplement #5 -Natural Testosterone Boosters
Testosterone is “the” male hormone. Testosterone levels tend to decrease with age. By age 60 the typical man losses half of his testosterone production capacity. Raising testosterone levels can promote greater muscular development, fat loss, even benefit your overall mood and increase your sex drive! There are over 125 products marketed by the major supplement manufacturers aimed at naturally increasing testosterone production. The reason there are so many is due to their popularity with weight lifters, athletes, and body builders. The companies are just responding to the market.
How Do Natural Testosterone Builders Work?
Most have combinations of various ingredients shown or thought to increase testosterone production. One of the most popular is the plant derived compound tribulus, from the tribulus terrestirs plant. This vine like plant has been used for hundreds of years as a way to increase overall well being. However, when extracts are used in supplements it can have a powerful testosterone building effect, although nowhere near the “legal steroid” levels that some people proclaim. It is possible that tribulus actually stimulates the pituritary gland to increase testosterone production.
A test was actually performed on the effects on tribulus on the effects of it on body composition and athletic performance on resistance trained men. It was published in the June, 2000 edition of International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism. Overall, it was shown to have a positive effect on testosterone levels on test subjects. However, some subsequent studies have shown little to no tribulus benefit. One of those was conducted on 21 men over 4 weeks. It was published in Journal of Ethnopharmacology, so one would think it reputable. It failed to find any significant testosterone boosting effect from tribulus.
Do your due diligence! (I know, that’s why you’re here.)
Another popular ingredient in natural testosterone builders is the zinc / vitamin compound ZMA. ZMA contains vitamin B6, plus the compounds Zinc Monomethionine Aspartate plus Magnesium Aspartate and vitamin B-6. ZMA appears to work for testosterone boosting, according to several scientific studies.
The most referenced was presented in 1999 by Dr. Lorrie Brilla of Western Washington University, who examined ZMA’s effectiveness on college football players. Her research discovered that test subjects who took a course of ZMA gained 250% more strength while weight training that those who took a placebo! In 8 weeks, their leg strength went up over 11%. WOW!
Dr Brilla also noted a 30% increase in free testosterone levels in the ZMA group, compared to a 10% decrease in the placebo ingesting group. Note that these were already highly trained, college athletes, so an 11% strength increase and a 30% testosterone increase is substantial in an 8 week time period. The supplement has also been shown to improve sleep, itself important for recovery and increased HGH production.
Some caveats to the Brilla ZMA study: It was funded by the company that first developed the supplement.
Many have claimed that the methodology was flawed, since the athletes used as test subjects may have been zinc deficient from the outset. The supplement would have served to restore proper zinc and magnesium levels, thereby increasing strength. Many hard training athletes can be deficient in zinc. A subsequent German study noted no increases in testosterone levels among their subjects, who were also well trained males.
ZMA has received more press and positive feedback than any other supplement since Creatine. It is even being used by NFL athletes to increase performance. The reason is that highly trained strength athletes tend to deplete their zinc and magnesium levels rather dramatically. The specific combination in ZMA reverses that and restores levels to optimum, thereby providing a dramatic performance increase. According to research, this is also a result of the ZMA derived testosterone boost.
NOTE: As effective as ZMA may have been at improving performance, it was still insufficient to keep WWU from canceling their football program last year.
There you have it. The top 5 weight lifting supplements are:
- Protein Powder
- Creatine Monohydrate
- Glucosamine/ Chondroitin/ MSM
- Nitric Acid Boosters
- Natural Testosterone Boosters
Do you take supplements to help boost your training results? Which ones? What results have you experienced, if any?