5 Inexpensive Supplements to Jack Up Your Performance
In my last article, I discussed supplements that assist with overall nutrition and wellness. These supplements focused on building a foundation of overall health - simple vitamins and minerals that help with immunity, energy, digestion, etc.
In this article, I will outline five performance-enhancing supplements that will help you get more out of your training. There is no replacement for good, old-fashioned, hard work. These supplements will not magically make you better. You still have to work for your results and put in time and effort. They may simply give you a bit of a boost or edge and allow you to push harder and recover better.
All of these supplements are legal, relatively inexpensive, and have little to no health risk associated with them when used correctly. I would consider adding them to your daily routine if their benefits are in line with your goals.
Supplement #1: Creatine
Supplementation with creatine increases muscle creatine and phosphocreatine. This can enhance performance especially during explosive or high-intensity exercise. Performance is enhanced because of temporal and spatial buffering of ATP and an increased muscle buffering capacity. In plain English, creatine increases the body's ability to produce energy rapidly. It is useful in sports or activities that require short bursts of effort, such as sprinting or lifting. Creatine is most effective when training for explosive strength, but there doesn’t seem to be any use for the endurance athlete.
There is no such thing as a magic pill but there are a few supplements that can help give you an edge.
There is also potential weight gain associated with creatine, so if you are in a position where you can’t afford to gain weight (i.e., trying to stay in a certain weight class for a sport) then I would stay away from it.
Dosage: Start with a creatine loading phase, taking 20g a day for 7 days. Then take 5g daily before or after a workout.
Supplement #2: Glutamine
Glutamine is the most abundant free amino acid in the body. It is produced by the muscles and then carried by the blood to areas it is most needed. Glutamine helps maintain the integrity of the GI tract. It is used as a fuel source, can help to boost the immune system, and it aids in recovery. Glutamine may also play a role in preventing muscle catabolism, increasing muscle mass, and keeping the muscles hydrated. It is a building block of protein and essential in bodily processes such as providing fuel to cells and making amino acids and glucose.
If the body uses more glutamine than the muscles are making, muscle wasting occurs. Glutamine is considered gluconeogenic and creates muscle glycogen from blood glucose. This aids in increasing performance. Glutamine is found in high levels within dairy, meat, and eggs. Whey and casein protein both have high levels of glutamine. There are also many isolated glutamine supplements.
Dosage: It appears that up to 30g of glutamine daily is safe. I would aim for between 10-15g.
Supplement #3: BCAAs (Branched Chain Amino Acids)
Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are valine, leucine, and iso-leucine. Leucine is the most researched and seems to have the greatest physiological benefit. BCAAs can help promote muscle protein synthesis, increase muscle growth, keep blood sugar levels constant, and aid in preventing muscle catabolism. They can also help prevent fatigue and reduce tryptophan levels in the brain. BCAAs are found in meat, dairy products, and eggs. They are also found in whey protein and casein.
"These supplements will not magically make you better. You still have to work for your results and put in time and effort."
When taking a BCAA be sure to look into the cleanliness of the product. Many BCAA products have other supplements in them (i.e. caffeine) and also may contain numerous artificial flavors, colors, and sweeteners. As always, cleanliness is key.
Dosage: A combination dose of 20g of combined BCAAs, with a balanced ratio of leucine and isoleucine, seems to be a good start. Some suggest you should ingest 5g of BCAAs per hour of training and then add BCAA supplementation at 4-hour intervals during the day.
Supplement #4: PreWorkout/Caffeine
Let’s face it. We have all had days where we lack energy and need a boost. A pre-workout or caffeine supplement can help. Caffeine can help with issues like fatigue and support energy, focus, and endurance in the gym. I have used many pre-workouts in the past and the key issue here is safety. Many of them are filled with synthetic caffeine and other stimulants that can leave you feeling jittery. Some cause feelings of racing heart and nausea, others can cause adrenal fatigue when overused, and you could possibly fail a drug test taking certain pre-workout supplements.
None of these supplements will replace the hard work you need to do in the gym but they will help you perform and recover better - two vital aspects to improving as an athlete.
When it comes to taking a pre-workout, I only use products that are clean and rely on natural sources of caffeine and stimulants as opposed to harsh chemicals made in a lab. You will pay more for a “clean” pre-workout, but it is worth it. In the past there have been pre-workout supplements that have used banned substances and in other cases chemicals very similar to methamphetamines. As stated above, I would stay clean.
Dosage: Depends on brand
Supplement #5: Protein Powder
The standard bodybuilding magazine recommends 2.5 grams per pound of bodyweight a day when it comes to protein, but you might not need that much. When the bulk of the research is analyzed, it appears that 1.2 - 1.7 grams per pound of bodyweight may be enough. That said, there is little to no health risk in ingesting extra protein (some of the studies say as high as 2.8 grams per pound). In examining these numbers, you may very well get enough protein from your diet, but a protein supplement is useful if:
- You aren’t getting enough protein.
- It is a matter of convenience (a shake is a very convenient meal choice in the morning or after a training session).
I recommend the following types of protein:
1. Whey Protein: It is a fast-acting protein. It spikes the blood’s amino acid levels up the fastest. Because it is rapidly absorbed and the amino acid levels of the blood shoot up so quickly, some refer to whey as anabolic. Whey protein isolate is 90-95% protein by weight and has had almost all of the carbohydrates, fat, and fiber removed from it. Whey concentrate contains varying amounts of fat and carbohydrates. The percentage of protein by weight varies from about 30% to about 80%. Many of these proteins are flavored with artificial flavors, so be aware of cleanliness. Whey protein is good to ingest before or after a workout or at various other times in the day.
2. Casein: Some call this protein anti-catabolic because the amino acids provided by casein stay in the bloodstream for longer. For that reason, many bodybuilders take this protein at night before going to bed. Casein is also good for a snack when you want your blood amino acid levels to remind high for a longer period of time. Casein is high in glutamine. Micellar casein is more bioavailable than caseinates but also generally more expensive. Like whey protein, many of these proteins are flavored with artificial flavors.
3. Plant Based: Plant-based proteins can be useful, especially if a person has a dairy intolerance. There are various types of plant proteins. Rice protein is economical, has a neutral taste, and is high in cysteine and methionine but is low in lysine. Therefore it is often combined with pea protein. There is usually no gas or bloating associated with a rice and pea protein and it has almost all of the amino acids. Hemp protein provides omega-3 fatty acids and fiber and can be bought in raw form. There are soy proteins out there, but I would stay away from soy like the plague.
Dosage: It depends, but I take 1-2 servings per day when trying to build muscle.
And there you have it. Nothing magic. Nothing that promises a shocking transformation or radical gains. Just a few simple supplements that may help you train harder, get more out of each session, recover better, and perform better.
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