By Dwayne N Jackson, PhD
Gaining muscle mass without a substantial gain in body fat requires a synergistic approach to training, diet, and supplementation. In order to provide the signal for your body to adapt (i.e., grow), your training must be heavy, intense, and consistent. Along the same lines, you need to supply fatigued muscles with substrates essential for growth—thus, your diet must provide adequate and balanced calories from high quality sources of protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Finally, in an effort to ensure your body’s environment is primed for muscle growth, several key supplements should incorporated into your ‘master plan’. Herein, we present a 5 supplement muscle-building stack that will synergize with your diet and training to push your muscular gains to the max.
Blended Protein Powder
Proteins are chains of amino acids that provide the substrates needed to build muscle and support metabolism. In an effort to maximize protein synthesis and minimize catabolism, bodybuilders require at least twice as much protein as the regular sedentary Joe. Thus, it is no mystery why protein supplementation is necessary to make significant lean mass gains. Taking a protein supplement prior to training raises blood amino acids during your workouts, which ensures your body will not rob hard-earned muscle of amino acids for energy production. A recent article published in The Journal of Nutrition reported that blended protein supplements raise and sustain blood amino acid levels and protein synthesis better than whey protein isolate alone.
Protein powder blends are supplements formulated using proteins (from many sources) that have different absorption profiles. Most simply put, these products work by raising blood amino acids quickly and keeping them elevated for extended periods of time (i.e., several hours). The best protein blends contain fast digesting whey protein hydrolysates and isolates, as well as slower digesting milk protein isolates and micellar casein. Beyond milk proteins, some of the top brands also include high biological value egg protein.
Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)
The BCAAs are the essential amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and valine. They are considered ‘essential’ because the body cannot synthesize them— therefore they must be acquired in your diet or supplemented.
BCAAs make up a great proportion of the total amino acid content in skeletal muscle and are readily broken down (catabolized) during exercise. During exercise, BCAAs are reduced to their basic components and are eventually used as fuel for energy. Based on this, it is obvious why BCAA supplementation benefits bodybuilders and athletes undergoing strenuous training. Taking BCAAs pre-workout prevents BCAA loss from muscles during exercise, reduces muscle soreness, and protects muscle from catabolism. BCAAs have also been shown to decrease perceived exertion and fatigue during heavy training by balancing the brain’s tryptophan levels.
Taking BCAAs after training ensures that the body has an abundance of these amino acids for recovery. This protects the body from catabolism and decreases recovery time. The BCAA leucine also boosts the release of the anabolic hormone insulin. You want insulin levels to be elevated after your workouts because this hormone carries nutrients such as glucose and amino acids into muscle cells—this promotes greater protein synthesis and muscular gains during recovery. Furthermore, supplementing with BCAAs has been shown to support the immune system—which will keep you from getting sick and missing workouts.
Creatine is synthesized by the body from arginine, methionine, and glycine and is stored in skeletal muscle. During exercise, it plays a fundamental role in energy production by forming the ATP needed for muscle contractions.
The abundance of positive research comes from studies using the monohydrate form of creatine (i.e., creatine monohydrate). When taken after exercise, it can replenish and significantly boost muscle creatine stores. Having extra creatine around after training not only provides energy substrates for future exercise bouts, but also promotes greater protein synthesis in recovery by physical and hormonal mechanisms. First, it increases the amount of water taken up by muscle cells—which swells the muscle and signals for increased repair (it also makes your muscles look bigger). Second, it increases the release of the anabolic hormone, insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) and decreases myostatin levels (the ‘anabolic brakes’) during recovery from heavy training.
HMB (β-Hydroxy-β-methylbutyric acid)
HMB is an active anabolic metabolite of leucine and is found naturally in skeletal muscle. In the early 1990’s, Dr. Steven L. Nissen at Iowa State University discovered the important role of HMB in skeletal muscle protein synthesis. Since then, research has shown that that HMB combined with regimented heavy training enhances recovery, increases lean body mass, and decreases in fat mass. Furthermore, those who are just beginning an exercise program benefit greatly from increases in strength and power when taking HMB.
Like many supplements, past research on HMB was equivocal, mainly do to differences in study design and dosing; however the most recent and rigorous studies illustrate that, with intense training and high enough doses, HMB is a potent muscle-building supplement for individuals at all levels.
L-Carnitine L-Tartrate (LCLT)
Carnitine is a compound synthesized by the liver and kidneys from the amino acids methionine and lysine. The blend of L-carnitine and L-tartrate produces a highly stable and bioavailable form of carnitine.
LCLT can be thought of as an “anabolic catalyst”—it works by boosting the testosterone-mediated “anabolic system” in skeletal muscle, resulting in enhanced recovery and greater gains. The evidence comes from a randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled study which concluded that 21-days of LCLT supplementation boosted androgen (testosterone) receptor content in skeletal muscle and augmented luteinizing hormone secretion (a signaling hormone for testosterone production) in resistance-trained men. A complimentary study showed that LCLT supplementation reduced exercise-induced muscle tissue damage after heavy squatting exercise. Carnitine also increases nitric oxide production and increases fat loss by transporting more fat to the mitochondria where it is oxidized and turned into energy (ATP).
|SUPPLEMENT||WHEN TO TAKE||DOSE
|Training Days||Rest Days|
|Protein Blend||30 minutes preworkout and immediately postworkout||Upon waking and before bed||20-40 g
(For an additional anabolic kick, add 25-50g of dextrose to postworkout shake)
|BCAAs||30 minutes preworkout and immediately postworkout||Upon waking and before bed||5-10 g|
|Creatine Monohydrate||30 minutes preworkout and immediately postworkout||With breakfast and last meal of day||5 g
(For best results complete a 1-week loading phase: 5g, 4 to 6 x per day.)
(take one dose pre- and postworkout)
|3-4x daily||Beginners: 1g
|LCLT||1x daily with preworkout meal||1x daily with carbohydrates||2g|