The supplement market is confusing. We see a constant barrage of new products, wonder drugs and placebos. How can consumers be expected to tell the difference between what works and pure nonsense?
It can be difficult, but the key is to not buy into magic “pills” or “programs” that promise results without hard work and dedication.
And here’s the scary truth, supplements are not regulated and that means manufacturers can tell you whatever they want...even if it’s not true. We all want that magic quick fix but, let me share with you a little secret, the answer is not in your pill box or shaker bottle.
Just like our training philosophies, we keep our supplements simple and science backed. While you might see athletes bringing in a bag of supplements with them to the gym, there are only two research-backed supplements that really work: whey protein and creatine. And no, neither of these are going to make you bulk up and look like the Hulk...in fact, they may do the opposite.
Protein is essential for athletic strength and power because it, quite simply, helps to build and repair muscles.
Leucine is an essential amino acid found in protein. It’s the one responsible for all the muscle-building effects. What makes leucine unique is that is the key ingredient to post-exercise recovery and repair.
Athletes who are training and competing will find that their body breaks down, this process will continue until given the signal to begin the recovery and repair process. Leucine in the amount of 2.3-2.5 grams can kick-off that important process.
Although the leucine content of protein-rich foods can vary, athletes can generally absorb leucine through 20-35 grams of high-quality protein foods, or protein supplements.
Here are some guidelines for protein intake:
- General: 20-40 grams of protein per meal, 3-4 meals per day
- Athletes: 1.0-1.5 grams of protein per pound of lean body weight
- Post workout: 20-25 grams of protein or 2.3-2.5 grams of leucine provided in an amino acid complex
We can’t stress enough that nutrition is individualized for each athlete depending on their unique training demands. Identifying your training volume, and understanding how your body responds and adjusting for optimal fueling, recovery and repair allows an athlete to perform at their best every time.
Some of my favorite protein supplement brands include: SFH, Ascent and Thorne.
Now, some people believe that you should only have a single protein shake each day--directly following a workout--in order to adequately build and repair muscles. We recommend that if you are trying to build lean muscle mass, why not mix up two, even three high-quality protein shakes each day.
The key is to pay attention to your bodyweight, diet and workout time. The rule of thumb is one gram of protein for every pound of lean body weight you’re working with.
One more thing: Protein shakes are supplemental to your daily intake. Your primary source of protein should always come from actual food.
You can ask my athletes, I always recommend supplementing with creatine. No matter which study you look at, one thing rings clear...this stuff works. Creatine is a naturally occurring substance in the body that helps boost the production of ATP, the fuel that makes muscle work.
Let’s look at the science. Creatine is an amino acid found in the body’s muscles and brain. Muscle contractions are powered by a molecule called adenosine triphosphate, or ATP--the body’s readily usable form of energy. Contractions happen by using one of the phosphate groups in ATP and turning it into ADP (adenosine di-phosphate).
Now, it takes a while for the body to turn ADP back into ATP. Creatine aids in this process by acting as a kind of backup source of phosphate groups. Muscles with stored creatine can rip a group from there and attach it to the ADP lying around and the result is, more ATP. It also acts as a weak buffer, preventing the pH inside muscles from dropping too much and delaying fatigue.
All of this to say that creatine helps your muscles work a little bit harder for a little bit longer. Creatine also helps during exercise and training by helping to promote lean muscle mass; and supports energy production, endurance and power output.
Ultimately this means that when you workout, you’ll recover faster between sets, and perhaps even squeeze in a few more reps between sets. Note that this increase may be small, but over time it could add up to explosive gains in muscle mass and strength.
It’s important to note that the liver and kidneys produce up to half of the body’s creatine needs, but the remainder must come from consuming creatine in food--mainly from meat, fish, eggs or high-quality supplements.
- You can “load” creatine for 5-7 days, 20 grams per day split up in 4 doses (morning, pre-workout, post workout, night), and then go to 5g per day.
- Favorite brands: Thorne, Optimum Nutrition and Naked Creatine. No matter the supplement you choose, make sure you buy a monohydrate.
Again, just like with whey protein, athlete’s should be getting most of their creatine needs from a well-balanced diet.
In the end, remember that there is no magic pill, no supplement will work unless you do!