Supplements to Make You Stronger

Steven Kemp

London, United Kingdom

Nutrition

When I was in a band I saw a lot of pills. Not the kind that is going to make you stronger, but some of the people I encountered were very happy to pop at least a handful of them before lunchtime. I had thought this was the time that I would be most exposed to drugs in my life, but all of that paled in comparison to the rattling sound at the gym as another 18 multi-colored supplements were ingested by the blokes in the changing rooms trying to get jacked. So much promise, so much money, so few results.

 

The supplement game is big business. If you want to stand head and shoulders above the competition, then your product has to do things that the other supplements can't. This results in a marketing overdrive of exaggeration, twisted science, and outright lies. The number of supplements claiming to be the one thing you need to get bigger, stronger, and more shredded is mind-boggling, but when you look into the claims made by the companies, and the evidence of the products themselves, you find a few sure bets, a couple of maybes, and a whole lot of absolute negatives.

 

 

My aim is to help you navigate the marketing spiel so you only put your hand in your pocket for something that actually has a benefit. This is the only guide you’ll ever need for which supplements to take to get stronger and more jacked.

 

Creatine Is a Sure Bet

Creatine is probably the most researched supplement in existence, and for good reason; it works. If you’re training to get bigger and stronger and had to pick just one supplement off the shelf to help you get it done, this would be what I’d recommend.

 

Creatine is a naturally occurring molecule found in your muscles. You can get some in your diet from eating meat or seafood, but unless you’re chowing down on half a cow every day, you’re going to want to supplement.

 

By the way, don't believe the supplement marketing hype, there's no truth that "newer" forms of creatine work better than anything else. Stick to good old-fashioned creatine monohydrate if you actually want results.

 

Creatine helps you lift more weight and increase muscle mass. As supplements go, it's ticking the boxes we want to be ticked:

 

 

The quickest way to saturate your muscles with creatine is to “load” it for five days by taking 20g split into four 5g doses. After this five day period, your muscles will be saturated, allowing for a maintenance dose of 3 to 5g to be taken daily after that.

 

To get the most out of creatine, taking it in the post-workout period with a meal including carbs and protein is the best bet.

 

Creatine also has a few more benefits outside of what you might expect. If you struggle to always get a good nights sleep, taking creatine can significantly reduce the normal drop in performance usually caused by not getting nearly enough shut-eye. If you're not content with only making your muscles bigger, creatine actually promotes brain gains, too. A study found creatine to improve both working memory and intelligence.

 

 

Caffeine Is Also a Sure Bet

If you’re anything like me or 85% of the population, you can’t function in the morning without a cup of coffee. However, as well as preventing you from turning up at work looking like an extra from the Walking Dead, caffeine actually has a substantial effect on how much work you can do in the gym.

 

A quick review of the benefits of caffeine:

 

 

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of when to take caffeine and how much, I want to cover a few gentle words of warning:

 

  • Do not take caffeine too close to bed if you actually want to sleep. Caffeine has a half-life of around 8 hours. That means that if you take 300mg of caffeine before an 8 pm workout, you'll still have 150mg of caffeine dancing about in your body at midnight. Considering how important sleep is for your training and recovery, staying up all night playing Sporcle on your phone will be detrimental.
  • Caffeine is addictive. The more you use it, the better a tolerance you get for it. You may want to take a few days off here and there to re-sensitize yourself to its effects.
  • You might be sensitive to caffeine. If you don't drink coffee or energy drinks, do not go and smash down two scoops of a caffeinated pre-workout supplement before your training session unless hiding under the bench press shaking like a 6-week old puppy for four hours sounds like fun to you.

 

Supplements to Make You Stronger - Fitness, nutrition, caffeine, supplements, Fish Oil, vitamin D, creatine, fat loss, BCAA, daily exercise, muscle growth, BMUK

 

Several different doses of caffeine can work to your advantage while training, depending on your tolerance and how much of an effect you want to see:

 

  • Doses as low as 3mg per kg of body weight can be effective for increasing performance.
  • Only 5mg per kg of body weight is shown to be a dose that works well without too many side effects.
  • Keep in mind that 6mg caffeine per kg of body weight is the best dose to improve strength. However, assuming you weigh 85kg, that’s 510 mg of caffeine about equal to 6 cups of coffee or 3.5 large energy drinks, and taking that much in one go could potentially turn you into a gibbering wreck.
  • I recommend taking 3mg per kg of body weight of caffeine 60 minutes before a training session in the form of caffeine pills, coffee, or energy drinks as a starting point. Based on your response, you can adjust up or down from there.

 

If you already love coffee, you probably don’t care about the bonus benefits of caffeine. You already know it’s awesome. Here are a few though benefits about caffeine, just in case you didn’t quite love it enough yet:

 

 

Moving on to Maybes

Moving on from the sure bets, we approach the realm of the maybes. With much less research backing or general use, I wouldn’t be too quick to spend my hard earned cash on something that I wasn’t totally sure about, but if you find yourself browsing the supplement aisle, you might at least pause to have a look. If anything, see these as the icing on an already very tasty cake.

 

Beta-alanine Is a Maybe

Beta-alanine is mostly taken by endurance athletes to increase muscle endurance and improve fatigue. Despite having a lot of evidence for helping people perform exercise lasting at least 60 seconds, beta-alanine may have some benefit for lifters training to get bigger:

 

Beta-alanine may help performance for very high rep (15-20) strength training. Very recently, a study by José Luis Maté-Muñoz compared two groups of people in a five-week weight training study, where one group were randomly given beta-alanine and the other a sugar pill placebo. The group of people taking beta-alanine improved their one rep max and lifted more kilograms overall compared to the placebo group.

 

You can take beta-alanine in the following dosages:

 

  • Take a loading dose of 80mg per kg of body weight for the first 4 to 10 weeks.
  • Take a maintenance dose of 40mg per kg of body weight after that.

 

Citrulline Malate Is Also a Maybe

Citrulline is used to reduce fatigue for both cardio and lifting. It should help you reduce fatigue, and therefore perform more reps and sets in a session than you would normally.

 

A study showed that supplementing with citrulline malate increased the ability to perform higher reps to failure of lower body exercises. In a later study, two groups of people did three sets of chin-ups, pull-ups, and push-ups to failure. One group were randomly given citrulline malate, while the other group of people were given a placebo. A week later, the groups were reversed. The researchers found that the group that supplemented with citrulline malate were able to perform more reps to failure.

 

If you want to try citrulline malate, take 6 to 8g around an hour before your training sessions.

 

Supplements to Avoid

In an article recommending supplements, it might seem a little bit strange to have a section containing supplements to avoid. However, there are a bazillion worthless supplements out there and there are two that come up time and time again in conversations in the gym and in chats on the internet. In trying to keep you from falling into the same useless supplement money pit as I did, I’ll address two chronic offenders here.

 

Avoid BCAAs

Branched-chain amino acids are usually touted as improving muscle building, reducing fatigue, and generally giving you superpowers. The truth is a bit different. Rather than helping you build muscle, BCAAs actually make the process worse.

 

Studies have shown that they don’t do anything to reduce muscle soreness, and they don’t do anything to reduce fatigue.

 

Avoid HMB

HMB is used to promote muscle gains while stopping muscle breakdown. Recently, the headlines around this supplement have been extraordinary and people rushed to dose up on the stuff. However, as with a lot of supplements, the claims made were too far-fetched.

 

In a recent study, HMB was said to have contributed to literally ridiculous gains in muscle mass, more so than that produced by anabolic steroids. Frankly, I would not believe the results of this study, and the rest of the literature on HMB is severely lacking. This is one supplement where you should definitely not believe what you read.

 

Supplement Bonus Round

We're not quite done. There exist a couple of bonus supplements. These supplements are beneficial to your health, and despite being a sure bet for health reasons, there is at least some evidence pointing toward them regarding increased muscle building (making them a win-win in my book for muscle building and overall health).

 

Fish Oil - As well as having a multitude of health benefits making supplementing with fish oil or eating fatty fish a no-brainer, fish oil also has emerging evidence pointing to a potential for helping build muscle.

 

 

Vitamin D - Vitamin D is critical for survival and improves bone health, immune health, increases cognition, and reduces the risks of cancer, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and heart disease. If that's not enough reason to get more of it, recently it has been found that vitamin D improves recovery from training and may enhance muscle growth.

 

Keep It Simple

Taking supplements for strength and muscle gain doesn't have to be confusing, time-consuming, or expensive if you know what to take when to take it, and why. Stick with a few sure bets, dabble with a couple of maybes if you like, but keep your money firmly in your wallet when it comes to everything else. Streamline your supplements and then pay more attention to smashing it in the gym and eating right.

 

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