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Increased muscle mass is a healthy goal for anyone. Whether you are male or female.
Aside from the basic aesthetics of being more toned. Increased muscle mass comes with plenty of health benefits.
Among these benefits is an increase in your strength. You will also experience enhances in your functional capacity and will help to increase your metabolic rate.
This will help reduce the risk of weight gain, improves insulin resistance as well as generally enhancing your overall health and life expectancy.
Though bodybuilding supplements focus on a range of uses. Such as increased energy, stamina and overall health, generally speaking. They can be broken down into two main groups.
Those designed to help burn fat and those designed to bulk up.
There are many bodybuilding supplements on the market and all of them promise results. The key is to find which one matches your specific goals.
It is also important to note here that all bodybuilding supplements are designed to complement a balanced healthy diet, not to replace it!
How To Choose A Bodybuilding Supplement?
There are hundreds of bodybuilding supplements available on the market, so trying to find the right one can be a little daunting.
When choosing the right bodybuilding supplement for you, you need to first consider what your goals are?
Are you looking to bulk up, burn fat, increase your energy levels or create a more balanced mindset to improve your performance?
Your answer maybe all of the above. However, for the purpose of this article, let's have a look at some of the different bodybuilding supplements available. What they are used for and what benefits they offer?
That way you can make a more informed decision for yourself.
There are many bodybuilding supplements that claim to work specifically on enhancing muscle mass.
They fall into several categories:
- Mass gaining and weight gaining protein
- Testosterone boosters
- Amino acids
- Protein powder
Mass gaining and weight gaining protein are supplements that increase your calorie intake through the combination of proteins, carbohydrates and fats.
Creatine works to increase muscle strength and mass. Therefore increasing the overall body weight.
Testosterone boosters work at raising your testosterone levels. This results in increased muscle growth potential.
Amino acids are essentially the building blocks of muscle formation.
Specialised amino acids work to promote muscle growth whilst others enhance recovery.
Protein powder gives your body a protein kick which assists in building muscles by boosting muscle protein synthesis.
Different bodybuilding supplements help by reducing body fat in different ways. Some include:
- Appetite suppressants
- Stimulant free products
- Carbohydrate blockers
- Fat burning supplements
Appetite suppressants work at reducing appetite, therefore food consumption, which results in weight loss.
Some people, for health reasons or preference, prefer to avoid stimulants as a means of assisting in weight loss. Stimulant free products work on the process in which body fat is stored.
Carbohydrate blockers, or starch blockers, work by preventing the body from absorbing carbohydrates. Or they inhibit the synthesis of carbs into the body.
Fat burning supplements come in many different forms. Essentially they work at increasing the bodies ability to metabolize fat.
It is important that you consider your diet with all of these supplements. If you are choosing supplements designed to burn fat, yet are eating a diet high in processed sugars and simple carbs, then this is going to negate the properties of the supplement.
Increased Energy And Stamina
There are several different supplements used to increase energy and stamina that have popped onto the market, only to be banned after health risks have been discovered.
There are still many that safely produce the desired effects, some of these include:
Caffeine works by stimulating the central nervous system by inhibiting the calming neurotransmitter, adenosine. This creates a higher level of energy and alertness due to increase levels of adrenalin.
Cordyceps are a type of mushroom that works to increase stamina and energy by enhancing ATP (Adenosine triphosphate) production. This helps to increase cellular energy metabolism, supporting adrenal functions and improving the way oxygen is utilized.
Synephrine delivers a boost of energy by increasing the metabolic rate.
You can buy different combinations of bodybuilding supplements, or ‘stacks’, that focus on different goals, or you can make your own.
Often buying pre designed supplement stacks will save you a lot of money because you don’t have to pay for each supplement individually.
Common Bodybuilding Supplements
Here are some of the most common bodybuilding supplements:
Protein is an absolutely essential nutrient for the human body.
Most people just don’t get enough of it or fail to spread the consumption evenly throughout the day to remain anabolic. Protein is actually required to power your body’s immune system also.
High protein intake requirements shouldn’t be new news to any bodybuilder. However, holding our hands up, 8x chicken breasts per day isn’t an easy achievement.
A creamy chocolate whey protein shake is a little more appealing.
Whey protein powder is a concentrated protein that has been derived from milk and is the most widely used bodybuilding supplements on the market.
It promotes protein synthesis, which means if you are working out, it helps you bulk on muscle.
Whey protein in its various forms is a fast-absorbing protein and most variations will be absorbed into the body within 60-90 minutes of consumption, some much faster.
Designed to give your diet a protein boost. It is most effective when consumed first thing in the morning and straight after training.
Look for products that compliment your goals. Choose those with higher calories ideally some from quality carbs for those looking to gain size. Alternatively, choose a low sugar lower-calorie option if you’re cutting.
Our suggestion to keep the balance would be to limit your intake of whey protein to three servings per day. This will include a larger serving immediately post-workout to kick start recovery.
Glutamine is the most common amino acid found in the human body. It plays a vital role in protein metabolism, shunting nitrogen into the muscle tissue. This increases the muscle cells size and helps to block acidosis caused by lifting.
An increase in muscle pH can have a catabolic impact on its development. This is bad news when trying to build muscle mass.
Glutamine helps to build muscle by increasing the levels of leucine within the muscle fibres. It also decreases muscle fatigue enabling you to work longer and harder at the gym.
As well as being found naturally in the human body. It can also be found in certain foods such as poultry, pork, beef, corn, cabbage, raw parsley and raw spinach.
It is used as a bodybuilding supplement because it is critical for muscle recovery .
I would recommend that you take 5-10 grams of glutamine pre and post-workout.
Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)
The 3 most common BCAAs include leucine, isoleucine and valine. They are among the 9 essential amino acids and are the only three amino's directly metabolized by muscle tissue.
They are used as a supplement because they aid the recovery of muscles as well as increasing muscle density.
Omega-3 Fish Oil
Fish oils have long been hailed as the super supplement, though it seems many overlook them for fancy trending products.
There isn’t anyone who wouldn’t benefit from having regular fish oil in their diet.
Fish oils provide numerous benefits including joint health and lubrication. They also have anti-inflammatory properties.
New gym-goers are likely to experience muscle and joint soreness, particularly early on in their fitness journey and all too often turn to medication like Ibuprofen as a short term solution.
While this is an option, regular use of anti-inflammatory meds are linked to long term heart problems and can cause stomach irritation, even ulcers.
Give fish oils a try, most will feel the benefits to regular use from as little as one small dose taken daily in the morning. Keep oiling the machine and it will run like a dream.
Creatine is one of the only modern-day bodybuilding products that has genuine testing to back up its claims.
It has been shown to genuinely improve available energy in the muscle. Plus, it can improve short term strength output and even increase the volume of the muscle.
It is found in the body and utilized to help supply energy to the muscles. This will aid in the repair and rebuild process .
It is a very popular supplement because it supports increased size and strength of muscles by ensuring more productive workouts and faster muscle growth.
Creatine comes in a few forms as the product has progressed. The standard being pure creatine monohydrate which many feels needs to be loaded in order to take full effect.
More innovative products include Creatine Ethyl Ester (CEE) in which the creatine molecules have been attached to a fast-absorbing ester to get it into the muscle tissue faster without need for loading.
Creatine in our option is a year-round product. For maximum effectiveness many cycle on and off as it is claimed that this improves absorption long term.
Keep in mind that due to the nature of creatine some of the muscle volume comes from the retention of water in the muscle. Dependant on your current condition can cause you to look softer and less ‘dry’.
Be sure to drink plenty of water when supplementing creatine as it can cause dehydration without adequate fluid intake.
Research shows that carnosine increases strength and endurance by aiding the muscle fibers ability to contract with force. Whilst prolonging the period before fatigue strikes.
Carnitine is a compound biosynthesized from amino acids.
It is required for the generation of metabolic energy. When used as a supplement, carnitine aids the repair and development of muscle cells .
ZMA (Zinc, Magnesium Aspartate and Vitamin B6)
It is also said to raise strength levels and possibly enhance hormone profiles.
Maltodextrin is made from corn starch and it is classed as a polysaccharide. It is found in an abundance of sport’s supplements but can be purchased as a cheap stand-alone product.
Maltodextrin is broken down quickly into glucose. This creates a sharp spike in the blood’s insulin levels.
When insulin is controlled in the right manner it is a powerful anabolic hormone that drives the amino acids into the muscle tissue.
This process is a solid platform for protein synthesis as the glucose binds with the muscle tissue to boost your muscle growth gains.
In addition by boosting your muscle glycogen stores will enable you to feel stronger and more powerful during your training sessions.
Many bodybuilders after they have finished their gym session tend to consume a protein shake to aid muscle growth and repair. Unfortunately, your body uses all of the protein as an energy source instead of building blocks for muscle tissue.
By using maltodextrin post-exercise will ensure that the body doesn’t use the protein as an energy source but instead, it is redirected to the skeletal muscle for growth and repair.
This also reduces your recovery times in between training sessions because your glucose levels are replenished.
Magnesium can be bought in tablet form and it is an essential mineral that is required for over three hundred body functions.
These functions include the breakdown of fats and proteins, muscle contractions, the creation of testosterone and the maintenance of a healthy heart and immune system.
It also has a key role in muscle function as it used to produce ATP which is the major unit of energy that is used rapidly when lifting.
When there is a deficiency in magnesium it has serious ramifications on your training potential because the ATP supply is reduced.
Energy supply has to meet demand when training hard and if there is an imbalance this is when fatigue kicks.
This can be caused by the limited supply of ATP supplies and bodybuilders who are deficient in magnesium may have the following symptoms:
- Muscle cramps when training
- Poor sleeping patterns
- Irregular heartbeats
- Bouts of depression and anxiety
Magnesium supplements are important to bodybuilders because it helps to reduce the amounts of lactic acid within the skeletal muscle.
Bear in mind that high levels of lactic acid within the skeletal muscle can lead to fatigue especially when training very hard at higher intensities for longer durations.
Magnesium buffers the lactic acid within the skeletal muscle. Thereby allows you to increase your muscle gains by being able to train at higher intensities for longer.
Supplementing with magnesium can help to counteract the high levels of cortisol that is prevalent after a hardcore session at the gym.
Cortisol is a stress hormone that is a catalyst for the muscle tissue to be broken down to produce energy.
An additional benefit of taking magnesium is that it increases testosterone levels. This is an important anabolic hormone for building new muscle tissue.
If you sweat a lot at the gym then replacing the magnesium that is lost when sweating is a simple strategy for gaining muscle.
Zinc can be bought in tablet form. It is a mineral found in most cells within the body and consists of over three hundred enzymes.
It has crucial roles in cell division, hormone balance, a healthy endocrine and immune system and helps to build muscle tissue.
Zinc has a major role for insulin sensitivity and as mentioned previously the right amounts of this anabolic hormone is vital when trying to pack on some serious muscle.
Current research suggests that having the correct quantities of insulin within your bloodstream will enable you to train harder for longer. It also reduces your fatigue levels and these factors have a positive impact on muscle growth and development.
In addition, there is solid evidence to suggest that supplementing with zinc can increase your levels of anabolic hormones such as testosterone, human growth hormone and IGF-1. These are key hormones for building muscle and stripping fat.
If you are deficient in zinc then you may not be reaching your full potential at the gym.
This works by inhibiting the flow of adenosine. This is a calming neurotransmitter that passes through the body at day, causing it to become sleepy.
This then stimulates the central nervous system and increases the levels of dopamine, which is a precursor of adrenalin .
Synephrine works at increasing your energy levels and stamina by stimulating your metabolism .
Cordyceps can enhance ATP (Adenosine triphosphate) production, which increases both energy and stamina .
Nitric Oxide Boosters
These are used as muscle building supplements because they work to dilate the blood vessels.
This enables higher levels of oxygen, anabolic hormones and nutrients to be transferred to the muscles through increased blood flow. This in turn allows for increased energy as well as a faster recovery rate.
As so many of the foods we eat today have been highly processed. It often means they are missing many vitamins and minerals.
Vitamin and mineral supplements work to ensure we are getting all the goodness from our diet to ensure we can maximize our performance.
A lack of beneficial green vegetables or superfoods like wheatgrass in the average person’s daily diet is common. Even among some of the more health aware individuals.
Many don’t like the taste or don’t really know how to cook with these ingredients. Others simply don’t realise the benefits.
While a moderate amount of greens in the diet is sufficient for a sedentary individual, a more active and intensely trained body will need more. Stands to reason really doesn’t it?
There are a variety of options available from capsules to powders you can mix into food or flavoured drinks to help kick up your greens intake for the day without the hassle of eating a ton of broccoli with each meal.
The Truth About Bodybuilding Supplements
In all walks of life, there is good, bad and ugly! The supplement industry is no exemption to this concept and like any other industry where there is a lot of money at stake, it can attract scams and pitfalls.
The bigger picture is that some supplements do offer numerous benefits. Including the ability to increase muscle mass and size.
Unfortunately, others don’t have any impact on your physique and training potential whatsoever.
Are They Scientifically Proven?
Some of the adverts in bodybuilding magazines make some absolutely ridiculous claims about the benefits of consuming their supplements.
Things like ‘scientifically proven to burn fat in 7 days’ and other claims made by the manufacturers for you to buy their products without questioning them.
However, when you do start to see little or no results over the next 7 days, you start to realise that the companies are only telling you half of the story because their research on the product is probably ‘junk’.
The actual research conducted on their supplements may not be robust enough, valid or even reliable and therefore should not be classified as a ‘scientifically proven’ supplement.
Some top advice is to look at the research conducted. If it is published in a peer journal e.g. The Lancet or the Journal of Sports Science etc., then you know that it is a solid piece of research!
A Conflict Of Interest
Some of the supplement companies have one thing in mind and that is to turn a fast and huge profit. For you to buy their products sometimes they stretch the truth about the real impact that their supplements really have on your performance/physique.
This is misleading and unfortunately, some of the major bodybuilding magazines are the major culprits in advertising these sub-standard supplements. The question is ‘why?’
Well believe it or not some of the bodybuilding magazines actually own the supplement companies and a lot of them use this as a platform to sell their products.
This conflict of interest makes it very difficult for you to make an objective decision about the supplements.
Think about this ‘Would a bodybuilding magazine that owns the supplement company actually give the product some bad press?’ You can make your mind up on that issue!
Are All Supplement Brands Equal?
Some of the supplement companies buy their products from a contract manufacturer.
This means that the contract manufacturer is able to produce the supplements on a large scale for the bodybuilding supplement companies.
Basically, many of the supplements on the market are from a handful of major suppliers that merely change the label and slightly modify their products in terms of flavours and colours etc.
However, this is not always the case and some products are made solely by one company.
Having the heads up on this fact should enable you to make the right choice as many companies do plough more money into researching their supplements. Some are a lot better quality than others!
Is Soy An Issue?
Have a look at the label on your supplement. Does it have soy in it?
Soy is genetically modified which means that every time you consume it, you are filling your body full of nasty pesticides.
There is evidence to suggest that soy is an estrogenic compound that is a catalyst for erectile dysfunction, mood swings and man-boobs!
In terms of soy products, some top advice is to give them all a wide berth.
High In Additives
Many of the supplements that are on the market are high in additives, artificial sweeteners and food dyes. These could be damaging your health in the long term.
Unfortunately, the supplement industry in the UK has very little regulation overseeing it.
This means that almost anything can be added into them and many of the supplements contain a lot more than just protein.
Many supplements contain androstenedione which is a man-made hormone that mimics the male hormone androstenone.
This ingredient has been related to heart and liver failure, bouts of mood swings and man-boob development. It also has a close relationship with genital shrinkage and issues with erectile dysfunction.
Below is a list of ingredients that you should be aware of when purchasing supplements:
- Stearic acid
- Sodium Benzoate
- Silicon dioxide
- Titanium dioxide
- Sodium glycolate
- Calcium stearate
Long term use of these man-made ingredients in the supplements can lead to digestive and immune system issues.
Bear in mind that none of these substances are natural and your body goes into overdrive to try and break them down.
Natural ingredients are always best and if you are unsure about what you are putting into your body then do your homework on it!
Remember that you are not a guinea pig and it is far better to be safe than sorry!
How Safe Are Bodybuilding Supplements?
Bodybuilding supplements are a huge industry. Every bodybuilder you have ever heard of in the last 20 years has either promoted, directly sold, or at the very least recommended a type of supplement.
In recent times governments have cracked down on a lot of supplements. They have made them illegal or at the very least forced them to repackage their products.
Supplements such as Ephedrine have been taken off the shelves in the UK and US whilst other countries such as Canada and Germany continue to sell them.
One of the most famous product bans in recent times was Jack3D. It contained DMAA and was thought to be responsible for the death of a marathon runner and two US soldiers.
Stories like this can cause regular gym-goers to worry about the state of the supplement industry. How safe are the products currently resting in your gym bag?
Let's look at a few supplements you should probably avoid:
Ephedrine is a product that comes from a herb known as Ephedra. It can lower body fat when taken on its own  but is most effective when taken as part of a stack known as ECA.
This combination is Ephedrine, Caffeine, and Aspirin which form a synergistic relationship (a relationship that is greater than the sum of its parts).
The stack is known to increase thermogenesis  and improve anaerobic performance.
Ephedrine stimulates the central nervous system while the caffeine stimulates the skeletal muscles .
The aspirin helps to increase thermogenesis as well but is essentially useless unless taken with the other two ingredients.
Ephedrine was finally banned after multiple studies found that it increased blood pressure to dangerous levels which could potentially result in death.
As such it is now banned in the UK and US and is only available in certain countries (and not for export).
Ephedrine used to be sold in pharmacies as it was an effective cold remedy. Many bodybuilders would simply buy the remedy as a source of Ephedrine and as such the products are no longer available.
A synthetic version of Ephedrine that is known as Synephrine is now on the market. It is nowhere near as effective as Ephedrine was but is a lot safer as it doesn't raise blood pressure.
It has also been proven to raise metabolism  so should work as a good (but not spectacular) fat burner when taken short term.
1,3-dimethylamylamine, methylhexanamine better known as DMAA is a stimulant which is similar to amphetamines .
DMAA was originally a nasal decongestant but was repackaged as a performance-enhancing supplement around 10 years ago .
DMAA is very similar to ephedrine, it can help with fat-loss and is often used as a pre-workout .
As with Ephedrine, DMAA was pulled from shelves due to its dangerous effect on blood pressure.
The problem is that bodybuilders were taking it at much higher levels than was safe.
Is It Safe To Buy Bodybuilding Supplements Online?
The internet makes buying supplements online easy.
However, with this easy access to goods people are often left wondering if it is safe to buy bodybuilding supplements online?
The answer, for the most part, is yes. However, there are precautions to take that make you have to think before you buy a supplement.
The Big Issue With Supplements
Supplements are meant to support your already stable diet and training programs. They are not intended to take place of anything unless a doctor has told you to do so.
The issue with supplements is that they are not really controlled as they should be. You could be consuming something that is harmless, but the amount they provide in the supplement is not.
Then you have to think about the ingredients allowed in supplements where there is no research saying they are harmful yet.
This is where you have to do your own research prior to consuming anything that is labelled as a dietary supplement.
An example would be an energy supplement with 600mg of caffeine. That is like drinking 6-7 cups of coffee at once.
Obviously, this is too much caffeine. But you would not know unless you were aware that 300-400mg is the max amount a person should be consuming per day.
Research is imperative when purchasing supplements online.
How To Safely Choose Supplements Online?
The primary area to start is looking at the company selling the supplements.
Think about these questions when you search their “about us” or landing page:
- How many reviewers like this company?
- What else does this company sell?
- Do they provide images for all supplement labels?
- Are their prices too cheap to be real?
- How many products are they selling?
These are all good questions that need answers.
Be cautious with on-page reviews because they are most likely paid for and falsely advertising the supplement. You have to find reviews for the company and supplement on third party sites that have no affiliation.
Another good area to research is product availability and production.
A brand that creates bread and then all of a sudden sells protein powder seems a bit odd and should throw up caution signs in your mind.
We all love to save money when it comes to supplements online because they are not the cheapest thing to come by.
However, if it seems too cheap then something may be wrong with the product. For example, they may be using very low-quality ingredients or they are expired.
Lastly, you want to see images of their actual product labels, the ingredient portion being the most important.
A lot of wannabe supplement retailers only show the fancy front label of the product, but the ingredient listing is nowhere to be found.
The servings should be looked at to see how much is required as well.
Are They Legal To Buy?
Another thing to think about is if they are legal to purchase.
For example, in the United States, certain supplements and/or ingredients are banned in one state, but not in any of the others.
Purchasing a supplement online that is illegal may end in unexpected consequences.
Supplements such as multivitamins, BCAAs, creatine, etc. are pretty safe products to purchase since they are technically natural. However, something labelled as a steroid or prohormone is a different story.
Usually, you can go on any search engine and find the information you need.
Normally most supplements are going to be allowed, but if they are illegal then there is probably a reason why.
You don’t need supplements. True, they are useful, they speed up and make it easy to achieve your goals. But that’s not saying that they are essential though.
Even something as basic as protein powders you can do without it.
You can grow just fine as long as you are in control of the diet intake. Ensure it’s based around food with a high quantity of carbohydrate and protein.
The key is to realise that supplements are not a necessity if you want to train hard and eat healthily.
You simply need a proper meal plan that allows you to eat consistently during the day.
One trick is to ditch the regular 3 big meals/day chart for 6-7 small meals to gain quality muscle.
What’s important here are the meal timings. The meals should be stretched out throughout the day.
They should be filled with high protein and carb choices, especially for the meals right after training.
This will make sure that you have a sufficient amount of glucose and amino acids to maintain performance and strength as well as concentrate on the core needs of your body too.
Your New Routine
It’s a rule of protein consumption that you need to eat a gram of protein for every pound of body weight.
When you are bodybuilding, you use 1.5-2.5g per pound of body weight.
For a 200-pound person, this will equal to 300-350g of protein every day.
You need protein to both rebuild and repair muscles.
The body’s need to recover as well as the intensity of the training are some factors that you need to take into account when measuring the calories you consume.
Foods rich in calcium are compulsory if you wish to enhance the ability and extent to which your muscles can contract.
You should include the following in your diet:
- Skim milk – 90 calories, 9 g protein
- Calcium-rich tofu – 183 calories, 20 g protein
- Low-fat cottage cheese – 80 calories, 14 g protein
Foods rich in protein, including the following, are important for strength.
- Chicken (6 ounces) – 280 calories, 54 g protein
- Beef (6 ounces) – 350 calories, 48 g protein
- Salmon (6 ounces) – 350 calories, 38 g protein
When eating egg whites (17 calories, 4 g protein), hard-boil them, whip up an omelette or add them to soup or your oatmeal to eat.
Other foods, such as lentils, beans, and whole-wheat pasta are great sources for high carbohydrate and high protein constituents.
A cup of whole-wheat pasta, or half of a can of black beans, or a quarter of pink lentils, for example, can meet your daily requirements.
You should also drink at least a litre of water every day.
Water makes up 70% of your muscle mass. So drinking will allow you to have more energy and build muscle more quickly.
Make The Most Of Your Workouts
For a healthy workout, you should try to beat your last set and/or workout rather than handling the same amount of weight or the same number of reps. If you don't then your muscles won’t grow.
Maintaining a log can help you identify, if and when, you are doing more, so you can build muscle faster.
If you are unable to push yourself, for at least 2-3 times consecutively despite trying, then you need to take time off, rest, and let your muscles recover. Otherwise, you’ll just be wasting your time.
You should avoid using weights that are too heavy or too light. As either, it won’t be intense as you need or you’ll be following poor technique.
Our Final Tip
It helps if the snacks you’ve prepared to eat immediately after the weight-training session include protein, fast-digesting carbohydrates, and some fat.
This will aid in replacing the glycogen store as well as foster muscle growth. The fat will enable increased levels of testosterone as well as other hormones that are involved in building muscles.
One delightful combo can be an orange with baked potato and a lean steak.