Dwayne N. Jackson, PhD
In the simplest sense, physical strength is the ability of one to exert force on physical objects using their muscles. Because of the remarkable ability for the body to adapt, repetitive feats of strength result in strength increases. It goes without saying that this adaptive process requires complex physiological and biochemical processing. As such, supplement research and development teams tirelessly strive to develop effective supplements to augment the body’s ability to adapt.
Several compounds have been scientifically proven to increase the rate at which we develop strength. However, with the endless number of products available it can be difficult (and expensive) to sift through them all to find what works. In this short article we hone in on 3 “must have” supplements that are scientifically proven to improve strength in a short time.
Caffeine: There are hundreds of studies that support caffeine as a safe stimulant that holds many exercise benefits. In terms of its strength boosting potential, caffeine is a rare supplement that can increase strength almost instantly. A recent study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning reported that ingesting a single dose of caffeine prior to training increases upper and lower body maximum voluntary contraction strength better than a placebo. Notably, research indicates that caffeine’s effects on strength are most apparent in trained individuals.
Dosing: Take 200-400 mg, 1 hour prior to training. If you have never consumed caffeine, start with the lowest dose and work up accordingly. If you exhibit symptoms like shaking, nervousness, heart palpitations, or anxiety then you have taken too much.
Timmins TD, Saunders DH. Effect of caffeine ingestion on maximal voluntary contraction strength in upper- and lower-body muscle groups. J Strength Cond Res. 2014 Nov;28(11):3239-44.
Creatine: Several decades of peer-reviewed research unequivocally supports the many performance-enhancing benefits of creatine supplements. Although it’s a very potent strength booster, in contrast to caffeine, creatine does not start working noticeably with its first dose. However, strength increases can be noted by 4-6 weeks of consistent supplementation. A recent systematic review and meta analysis published in Sports Medicine concluded that creatine supplementation is effective in lower limb strength performance for exercise with a duration of less than 3 min. In a similar review published earlier in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research it was reported that creatine supplementation increases 1 rep max strength and max number of reps completed by an average of 10% and 15% respectively.
Dosing: Creatine Monohydrate is the most studied form of creatine on the market. Take 3-5g of high-grade creatine monohydrate 2 times daily. On training days take 1 dose 30 minutes before training and 1 dose immediately after training.
Lanhers C, Pereira B, Naughton G, Trousselard M, Lesage FX, Dutheil F. Creatine Supplementation and Lower Limb Strength Performance: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analyses. Sports Med. 2015 May 7. [Epub ahead of print]
Beta-Alanine: This amino acid is the rate-limiting substrate in the formation of carnosine; thus, when it is supplemented adequately it elevates the body’s muscle carnosine levels. Research shows that just 4 weeks of beta-alanine supplementation can increase muscle carnosine levels by more than 60%. Elevated muscle carnosine increases exercise performance through its ability to buffer skeletal muscle pH (acidity) during prolonged high intensity exercise. Since one of the primary causes of fatigue during heavy exercise is metabolically mediated by decreases in pH (or acidosis), it then follows why increased intramuscular carnosine levels would be beneficial to bodybuilders and strength athletes.
Dose: Take 2-3 g of beta-alanine 30 minutes before and right after training. On rest days, take 2-3 g with breakfast and 2-3 g later in the day.