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2:16pm Thursday Jul 25 2013

Everything and more that you want to know about bodybuilding supplements.

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« Bodybuilding Supplements Guide

Bodybuilding Supplements Guide

1:33pm Thursday Jul 25 2013

As a bodybuilder your whole life generally revolves around eating and training - and supplements. Read any bodybuilding magazine, go into any bodybuilding supplement shop or talk to a someone in your gym and the subject of what suupplement is the best, strongest or most popular will always come up. Take a walk into any sports supplement store these days and take a walk down the many aisles of products. Take a look at some of the labels. Read some of them out loud to get the full effect of just what this particular supplement will do for you. You’ll probably find yourself looking for the nearest dictionary just to try and make sense of what it is your supposed to be reading. Proprietary this, synergistic that, optimise, synthesise, volumise, preserve, enhance, regulate, stimulate.

Knowing what to use can be pretty difficult at the best of times, however supplement companies don't make it easy by using technical jargon, chemical names or crazy nomenclature for common ingredients - how about 1,3,7-trimethyl-1h-purine-2 6(3h 7h)-dione methyl gallate ester which is just a fancy way of saying CAFFEINE. If you can’t even understand what’s written on the label how are you supposed to make an informed decision on what's best for your diet and training?

So while good old fashioned Creatine Monohydrate may give most bodybuilders great gains in muscle size and strength, if your daily protein intake is insufficient you may find yourself actually losing muscle. And sorry to say, using just two servings of whey protein a day isn’t going to turn you into Arnold Schwarzenegger overnight either, no matter what the Muscletech advertisements in the magazines may make out.

So why don't we try and cut through some of this jargon, and give you the nitty gritty information on just what supplements you need to use as a bodybuilder for maximum gains. Build a good foundation with the basic of core supplements and the you can add the fancy supps in later. In this article I’m going to lay down the absolute basics for your supplement plan to help ensure that you are getting the most from your training and try to clear up and confusion or misunderstandings you may have.

The most basic requirement in your quest for the ultimate bodybuilding physique is to ensure you have adequate daily protein intake. When you train, both aerobically (eg running) and anaerobically (eg weight training), you are damaging muscle tissue. To repair this muscle tissue Amino acids are utilised and are sourced from the body’s amino acid pool, which is kept topped up by your intake of dietary proteins, or from amino acids arising from tissue breakdown.

If your daily protein intake isn’t high enough to meet the demands required to repair damage done through training, your body has to scavenge amino acids from other sources (eg other muscle or tissue) to help in repairing the damage that your training has just done. Now obviously this isn’t desirable as now your recovery will be impaired and muscle growth will either be low or non-existent.

The most important factor influencing your muscle growth is called "The Nitrogen Balance of the body". The gist of this is that Protein differs from both fats and carbohydrates in that while similar to fats and carbs in being composed of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen, protein is unique in that it contains nitrogen. This is important as the amount of nitrogen present in the body determines whether the body is building, maintaining, or breaking down muscle tissue.

The body is said to be in Nitrogen Balance when the amount of nitrogen ingested in your diet through proteins, equals the amount of nitrogen lost through urine and faeces, a situation that occurs in all normal, healthy adults.

When protein synthesis or growth is greater than protein breakdown and loss, the body is in a positive nitrogen balance. Positive nitrogen balance occurs when muscle tissue is being repaired, if the amount of protein being incorporated into muscle tissue exceeds the amount being broken down and used for energy. This is the ideal situation as this indicates muscle repair, and muscle growth stimulated through resistance training.

If the protein breakdown or muscle damage exceeds the amount of protein available to be used for repair, a negative nitrogen balance occurs. This can occur during times of stress, periods of overtraining, or when the amount and/or quality of your dietary protein is too low. If this occurs the tissues lose protein faster than it is able to be replaced, leading to impaired recovery rates, sore muscles, compromised immune system, and muscle loss.


So, as a bodybuilder, how much protein do you require to ensure adequate protein synthesis and muscle growth? This can vary depending on your age, weight, metabolic rate, and training intensity. If you are training in the gym daily and follow the values set out by the RDA (recommended daily allowance), which recommends around 0.8g per kilo of bodyweight each day, you 're going to find yourself going no where, gaining no muscle and eventually losing muscle and strength.

The RDA figures would have an 80kg male requiring only 64 grams of protein per day. This may be sufficient for the someone that sits on a couch all day playing PS3, and that has a low energy demand and low muscle mass, but is massively insufficient for any bodybuilder or strength athlete that engages in any amount of training.

Various studies and real world evidence has shown that hard training athletes and in particular bodybuilders, may require up to two and a half times the RDA. You most probably need at least 2 grams of protein per kilo of body weight each day, to ensure adequate muscle repair., with some strength coaches suggesting upwards of 3g/kilo.

These requirements will vary due to training intensity, training volume and bodyfat percentage. The amount of protein required each day during a maintenance training phase won’t be as high as perhaps a mass or strength gaining phase, but by aiming for around two grams per kilo of bodyweight per day, you should be meeting your body’s requirements.

You should be using various protein sources for your requirements - lean red meat, chicken breast, tuna, salmon, and egg white, are all good sources of protein and each have benefits unique to themselves.

A protein powder or protein supplement, and in particular whey protein powders, should, and most likely will, provide around 20% to 60% of your daily protein intake. However while Whey protein is recognised as a far superior protein source to most other proteins due to its immunological benefits and high BV value (BV - Biological Value is a measure of how well a protein is utilised by the body, taking into account its amino acid profile, solubility and digestibility), you shouldn’t just live in protein powders.

Regular whole food protein sources can offer some unique benefits besides their use as just a protein source:
- Salmon: high in the healthy essential fatty acids Omega 3, DHA and EPA
- Cottage Cheese: Naturally high in the conditionally essential amino acid L-Glutamine, predominantly casein protein so slow digesting and great as a late night protein meal

The most important time for the use of a whey protein supplement is within 30-60 minutes of training. A lot or people refer to the 45 minutes following weight training the "window of opportunity" - basically meaning that for best recovery and maximum muscle growth you need to have your protein within that first 45 minutes. Not only does the protein get straight onto the job of being able to aid recovery, but also your body is in an optimal state for absorption of all nutrients during this time and various biological effects can be triggered by taking the right supplements during this "window of opportunity". Post workout use of whey protein supplements offer some big advantages over eating whole food protein sources after training, as due to its high BV it is able to be quickly and easily utilised by the body helping ensure adequate recovery and muscle development.

To ensure that you can meet these requirements without feeling like you need to eat half a cow at each sitting many bodybuilders eat at least six protein based meals per day. Due to the inconvenience (and extreme boredom) of having six or more meals of tuna, rice and steamed broccoli each day, two or three of your daily meals should consist of a whey protein drink or protein supplement, and most commonly this will be post workout, mid morning and mid afternoon. Depending on your nutrition plan, a pure whey protein can be combined with some form of whole food carbs like fruit, rolled oats, steel cut oats, yoghurt, or wholemeal bread.


Now we come to performance enhancing supplements. Next to your protein powder the absolute number one choice of supplements for bodybuilders, or infact anyone looking to add lean muscle mass and aid strength gains, would be the use of a creatine supplement (preferably creatine monohydrate, however we'll get onto that later).

Creatine Monohydrate is the most popular, most effective, most proven and most studied supplement available on the market today. If you're not using certain mono, or haven't done at least 3 or 4 decent 8 week cycles on it you're really shortchanging yourself.

Creatine Monohydrate supplementation works by increasing the amount of phosphocreatine stored in the muscles. Phosphocreatine is a high energy phosphate and is the second source of energy used for muscular contractions after ATP (adenosine-TRI-phoshate) is used up. ATP is the primary energy source into which all other fuels are broken down and is what is used in the mitochondria in the muscle cell to produce energy. It is stored in the muscle and is available for instant energy however only enough ATP for about 5 seconds of maximum contraction is stored in the muscle.

Once used for energy, the ATP molecule loses a phosphate molecule and converts to ADP (adenosine-DI-phosphate) which is biologically inactive. Phosphocreatine regenerates the ADP back to ATP by providing its own phosphate molecule. Once the phosphocreatine is used up, ATP has to be regenerated through the metabolism of substrates such as glycogen, fatty acids and amino acids.

By first loading and then using a maintenance dose of creatine you effectively increase the amount of phosphocreatine available in the body to convert ADP to ATP. This results in a greater length of time over which the muscle can be exercised and a greater amount of work that can exerted upon the muscle. This results in increased power and strength and to the permanent increase in muscle development strength.


The next step up the supplement ladder would depend on your training goals and requirements. Below we'll run through some of the more common supplements and the areas where they may offer bodybuilders the most benefits.

A Carbohydrate Supplement:

Typically carbohydrate drinks or sports drinks are used by endurance and multi-sport athletes to replenish glycogen stores in the muscle and liver during and after hard training and competitions, leading to improved endurance and faster recovery. Many bodybuilders and weight trainers can benefit from these products - either used pre or during weight training, or combine these with whey protein to use as a quickly and easily digested post workout drink, helping speed recovery and ensure maximum results from training.

Suggested use:
Endurance benefits - approx. 25g per half hour of continuous exercise.
Post weight training workout use - approx. 0.5 to 1.0 gram per kilo body weight, 30-60mins after training.
Pre weight training - 25g to 50g carbs 30mins before training

Essential Fatty Acids - EFA’s:

Essential fatty acids are fats our body cannot make so must be sourced from our diets -0 hence the term "essential". EFA’s are important for hormone production, and are used by the immune, digestive and reproductive systems, as well as for the structure of the brain, eyes and membranes that support and protect cells in the body. High doses of EFA’s have also been shown in studies to decrease bodyfat by increasing the metabolic rate and burning more fat as fuel, in particular Conjugated Lineolic Acid (CLA). Two of the most important EFA’s, alpha linolenic acid (Omega 3) and linoleic acid (Omega 6) can be found in Flaxseed oil, Hemp oil, and Canola oil, with Omega 3 being found in fatty cold water fish (salmon etc).

Suggested use: Flaxseed Oil approx 10-20mls per day, Flaxseed oil can be added to salad dressings, or protein shakes, but must not be heated as will turn rancid.

CLA - studies show a daily dose of at least 3 grams a day, up to 4.5grams a day is most effective. Unfortunately CLA is quite expensive and so if you decide to economize by using a lower dosage you're most likely just wasting your money.


KInd of old school now and no where near as popular as it was in the late 90's, HMB, or beta hydroxy beta methyl butyrate, is actually highly effective supplement,. Next to creatine this should be high on tour list for anyone wanting to gain quality lean muscle mass and increase strength. HMB may help reduce protein breakdown from hard training and may lead to increased strength, muscle gains, and improved recovery. Some studies have shown HMB can help increase fat burning, helping to spare protein for muscle growth. Originally marketed as a strength and muscle builder due to its purported ability to increase lean muscle mass, it is now popular with bodybuilders during a cutting phase, as HMB may help bodybuilders retain more of that hard earned muscle whilst on a calorie restricted diet.

Suggested use:
Women - 2g per day.
Men - 3g per day -
Spread dosage over 3-6 servings. Capsules are available in either 250mg, 500mg or 750mg depending on brand, and HMB is also available in powder form.


This is an amino acid that ay help fatloss by metabolising stored fatty acids in the body and transferring them into muscle cells where the fatty acids are then burnt for energy. Basically making your body more efficient at burning fat for fuel. The most important aspect of those is that if you're diets no good, and/or you aren't doing much card exercise L-carnitine won't really work too well for you. Some studies show that this may only be effective and show noticable fatloss results when on very low calorie diets - your body much prefers carbs or glycogen as a fuel source, so by reducing your carb and calorie intake and not providing the fuel through your diet you therefore allow the metabolized fatty acids to be used .

Suggested use: A least 500mg-2000mg 30-60 minutes before training, and/or 2-3 times per day on an empty stomach. Most effective daily dosages of at elates 3grams per day. Available in capsules, tablets, powder form, and liquid. NZ dietary supplement regulation limit L-carnitine servings to 500mg per capsule/serve. Some weightloss protein formula's add L-carnitine however normally in ineffective doses of 100mg or 200mg (or even less). Unless you use 20 serves per day this isn't going to be much benefit. There is some possible issue with protein ingestion with l-carnitine, due to competing amino acids which may reduce absorption. Carbohydrate ingestion with l-carnitine has been shown to enhance absorption however this isn't probably suitable if you are using it precardio.


The most abundant amino acid in the body, L-Glutamine helps to regulate protein synthesis and degradation. Also used as a fuel source by the immune system. May increase Growth Hormone (GH) levels in the body, and may aid in increasing muscle cell volume, leading to increased pumps and muscle growth. Low levels of glutamine can lead to difficulty in losing fat and low muscle development.

Suggested use: approx. 5g post workout and 5g 30 minutes before bed time. It is recommended to use doses of at least 5 grams per serve as the mucosal cells of the intestinal tract use much of the orally ingested glutamine, and so very little glutamine gets past the stomach unless large amounts are consumed.

Most commonly sold in powdered form although some companies provide it in a tabletted form. These aren't recommended however, as the tabletted forms are generally inconvenient and expensive due the large amount of tablets required per serve.


Just about a staple supplement for some strength trainers, bodybuilders and dieters, caffeine can aid mental alertness and energy levels, and if used in correct doses can boost fat burning. Ideal used about 30 minutes before training for increased energy and fat metabolisation. Can cause sleeplessness depending on sensitivity to caffeine and time of day used. Typically doses of 50mg to 200mg are recommended, more regular low doses for fat burning, higher doses for energy boosting. Regular users of caffeine will find if used on a daily or long term basis a tolerance will develop due to adenosine receptor attanuation. Overtime a higher dose of caffeine will be required to get the "buzz". Generally it is best to cycle caffeine on an alternating day basis or use no more than 3 or 4 days per week. If used daily in high doses cycles of 4 weeks on and 2 week off are best to avoid dependance. Caffeine is not recommended if you suffer from high blood pressure as it is a vasoconstrictor and increases blood pressure. It is also not recommended if you have Type 2 diabetes as it can effect blood sugar due to it's disruption of glucose metabolism.


An amino acid that is precursor to adrenaline and nor-adrenaline, both of which increase blood pressure and brain alertness, stimulate the release of stored bodyfat, elevate mood and increase energy. Often used in thermogenics, weight loss supplements, nootropics and pre-workout formula’s.

Suggested use: at least 500mg to 3000mg pre workout, or 500mg 3x per day for increased fatloss.

Multi-Vitamin/Mineral formula:

Due to the extra stresses placed on the body through training, as well as inadequate diets, many bodybuilders can become deficient in various areas. These deficiencies are commonly rarely noticed until the complainant is unable to train at all due to sickness or flu. By using a good Multi-vitamin each day one can effectively safe guard against these deficiencies, and avoid any interruptions or setbacks to training.

Branch Chain Amino Acids - BCAA’s:

Another staple supplement for many gym goers, Branch Chain Amino Acids are so called because they structually branch off another chain of atoms instead of forming in a line. They play a major role in protein synthesis and have been shown to have powerful anabolic (muscle building) and anti-catabolic (prevents muscle breakdown) effects.

There are only three BCAA’s - Leucine, Iso-Leucine and Valine. These amino's are used directly for fuel by the muscles and so spare other amino’s from being used during exercise. Maintaining high levels of BCAA’s in the diet is extremely important to help ensure muscle growth and avoid muscle tissue being burnt for fuel. Most people using a quality whey protein should be getting enough BCAA’s to cover their training with 100g of whey protein containing approximately 15-25 grams of BCAA’s.
However if you are training intensely and your protein intake isn’t as high as it should be or if you are not using a Whey protein supplement you may benefit from using a BCAA supplement.
Benefits gained should include improved recovery rates as well as less muscle soreness following training. BCAA's will be most effective when used seperately from other amino acid contain supplements so a pure BCAA supplement should be used either pretraining with water, during training or post training with water, followed 30 minutes later by your protein shake. By splitting up your BCAA use from other protein or amino acid supplements this will avoid receptor inhibition caused by other aminos that may limit or block absorption.


Synephrine is an alkaloid found in Citrus Aurantium, and is used a thermogenic ingredient in weight loss supplements and fat burners. Thermogenics help speed up the metabolism, raise body temperature and increase calorie expenditure. Normally combined with caffeine and white willow bark (natural source of aspirin) or salicylic acid for increased thermogenesis and fatloss. Syneprhine used to be one of the most commonly used ingredient in weight loss formulas however isn't so widely used anymore.

Suggested use: approx 400mg Citrus Aurantium standardised to 10% Synephrine, 1-3 times per day, up to 4 days per week.

Olea Europaea extract ( oleuropein) aka Olive Extract:

now a popular ingredient in fatburners, olive leaf extract is a potent adrenalin stimulant that aids enegy and boost fat burning through enhanced adrenaline and nor adrenaline production. May have a mild analgesic effect and antioxidant properties. Has also been shown to have positive effects on glucose metabolism. May also help lower blood pressure however due to its usual combination with caffeine in most fat loss products this effect won't be noticed unless using pure olive leaf extract. A dose of 500mg, twice per day has been found effective for reducing blood pressure and lowering cholesterol.

Tribulus Terrestris:

Normally found in test boosters or male health products, Tribulus terrestris helps increase Luteinizing Hormone (LH) levels in your body. In males, LH causes the interstitial cells of the testes to produce more testosterone. This increased testosterone has positive anabolic/muscle buidling effects and also increases the basal metabolic rate which can aid weight loss. Tribulus may also improve libido and increase aggressiveness in some users. Tribulus may also have a slight diuretic action helping reduce excess body water. There are varying potencies of Tribulus available due to the many different methods for extracting the active nutrients so there can be large variations in effectiveness between brands. Always use a reputable brand that lists the potency of the tribulus contained, this is normally referred to as the steroidal saponin or saponin content (ideally at least 40 to 45% saponin).

Suggested use: approx. 1000mg-2000mg per day, cycled 5days on 2days off or used for four continuous weeks, followed by a break of 2-4 weeks.

NB: While some sports nutrition companies often recommend women to use Tribulus, we don’t think this would be a desirable supplement for increasing muscle and strength in women. In Women LH triggers ovulation and stimulates ovarian production of estrogen and progesterone with no effect on Testosterone. While increased estrogen levels in females offers some anabolic effect, increased estrogen also increases sodium reabsorption leading to increased water retention. Tribulus may be suitable for helping aid pregnancy however will not increase Test levels in women.


ZMA is a patented combination of three main ingredients - Zinc, Magnesium Aspartate, and Vitamin B6. This combination may increase strength and muscle gains, enhance natural testosterone levels in males, and improve recovery and sleep quality. Zinc plays an important role in testosterone production, and supplemental zinc may help optimise your natural testosterone levels if there is a zinc deficiency.
Magnesium may reduce cortisol levels helping decrease muscle soreness, and also acts as a muscle relaxant which for many users improved sleep quality.

Vitamin B6 is involved in many chemical reactions of proteins and amino acids, helps in energy production. Low levels can cause insomnia, hence supplemental B6 is often linked with improved sleep quality.
This is one of the hottest products at the moment with most users noticing significant results with continued use. The most common benefit reported is enhanced sleep quality and reduced waking during the night, leading to faster and better recovery from training.

Suggested use: Scientific studies have shown that for the ZMA supplement to be effective and offer the most benefit the the daily dose of each ingredient should be: 30mg Zinc, 450mg Magnesium, and 10mg Vitamin B6. This can be split up into 2 doses - generally 30 mins before training and 30mins before bedtime, or consumed as one serving 30 minutes before bedtime.

NB: It is important to avoid ingesting any calcium within 30 minutes of ZMA as the calcium competes for the same receptor sites as the magnesium and zinc, rendering them inactive and limiting their effects. This includes whey protein, milk, cottage cheese, etc.
Obvioulsy there are waaaay more supplements than this available however I think that this covers the basics or some of the more effective and more commonly used supplements.

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