In this third and final installment of our Stimulant Free Preworkout Supplement series we hone in on the top preworkout muscle building supplements. Products in this category range from supplements that provide preworkout muscle building nutrition to those which naturally increase anabolism by molecular signaling or altering hormonal balance.
PROTEIN POWDER BLEND
What is it? Proteins powder blends are well thought out protein supplements that incorporate proteins from many sources, which have different absorption profiles. Most simply put, these are products aimed at raising blood amino acids quickly and keeping them elevated over 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 proteins.
How does it build muscle? Proteins are chains of amino acids that provide amino acids needed to build muscle and support metabolism. In an effort to maximize protein synthesis ands 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 muscle of amino acids for energy production. A recent article published in The Journal of Nutrition reported that a blended protein supplement raised and sustained blood amino acid levels and protein synthesis better than whey protein isolate alone.
Dosing? Ingest 1 to 2 scoops (20 to 40 grams of protein) of blended protein mixed in water– 30 minutes before training. For additional anabolic kick, drink another shake postexercise, but add 25-50 grams of dextrose to spike insulin.
BRANCHED CHAIN AMINO ACIDS (BCAAs)
What are they? 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.
How do they build muscle? 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 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 rapidly 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. Taking BCAAs pre-workout prevents their breakdown 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. Finally, supplementing with BCAAs has been shown to support the immune system, which will keep you from getting sick and missing workouts.
Dosing? The BCAA product you choose should have at least twice as much leucine as the other aminos. Take 5-10 g of BCAAs, 30 minutes pre-workout. For additional anabolic drive and to protect from catabolism, take another dose immediately after training.
What is it? Although this is an essential BCAA (mentioned above), we feel it deserves its own spotlight, since it plays such an important role in anabolism and protein synthesis.
How does it build muscle? Research has proven leucine to be an unequivocal anabolic activator and muscle builder, as it is primarily involved in protein synthesis. In fact, a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2011 showed that taking leucine-enriched amino acid supplements during exercise enhances protein synthesis by over 30%.
Dosing? 4-6 grams 2 times daily. Take the first dose with your preworkout protein shake and the second dose 90 minutes after your post-workout meal. On non-workout days take one dose of leucine with your first whey protein shake and then one 90 minutes after your last meal.
What is it? 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.
How does it build muscle? 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.
Dosing? Although creatine monohydrate dosing is body weight and tolerance dependent, a good starting point is to first complete a loading phase of 5g, 4 to 6 times per day for a week. After a week take 5 g 30 minutes before and immediately after training. On rest days take 5 grams with breakfast and 5 grams later in the day.
L-CARNITINE L-TARTRATE (LCLT)
What is it? 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.
How does it build muscle? LCLT can be thought of as an “anabolic potentiator”—it works by upregulating the testosterone-mediated “anabolic system” in skeletal muscle resulting in enhanced recovery and greater gains. The proof comes from a randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled study concluding that 21-days of LCLT supplementation upregulated 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).
Dosing? Take 2 g of LCLT with your preworkout meal. On non-training days, take 2g of LCLT with a meal containing carbohydrates.