Supplements for strength training
The vast array of supplements, all promising to benefit physical performance or strength gain presents a confusing choice for regular athletes. Many are advertising in fitness publications alongside impressive testimonials or sports celebrity endorsements, which can make the product’s claims, appear extremely convincing. But, despite the hype, many have little, if any, scientific backing. To me, I will go over 4 supplements that I strongly believe they help athletes seeking strength improve their performance.
HMB (beta-Hydroxy beta-methyl butyrate)
HMB is the by-product of the body’s normal breakdown of leucine, an essential amino acid. HMB is involved with the repair and growth of muscle cells. Studies that HMB may reduce breakdown and damage, promote faster muscle repair and increase muscle mass. But these benefits have not been found in all athletes, particularly more experienced athletes. A more recent study found that six weeks of HMB supplementation had no effect on the strength or muscle mass gains of well-conditioned athletes. HMB may only help boost your strength and build muscle if you are new in strength training. Ingesting 3g per day before training is the most common dosage.
Beta-alanine is a naturally occurring nonessential amino acid. It is a component of carnosine, anserine, and pantothenic acid. Carnosine and anserine are protein-like compounds that seem to be concentrated in actively contracting muscles. Beta-alanine appear to be a buffering agent, meaning that it prevents certain enzymatic reactions that increase lactic acid in working muscles and therefore reduces the burn in your muscles when you work out. This means that you might be able to perform extra reps before the muscle burn forces you to quit. The more beta-alanine in your muscles, the better you should be able to perform. Beta-alanine also increases carnosine in the muscle. Research shows that muscles with higher-level carnosine levels may produce greater force and contract harder for longer periods, which ultimately leads to better muscular development and endurance. The daily dosage of beta-alanine varies between 2 and 6 g per day. Researches are still investigating the optimal dosage for this supplement.
Creatine is a protein that is made naturally in the body from three amino acids (arginine, glycine and methionine) but it is also found in meat and fish or taken in higher doses as a supplement. As a supplement, creatine is most commonly taken as a powder mixed with water or juice. Creatine combines with phosphorus to form phosphocreatine (PC) in muscle cells. This is an energy-rich compound that fuels muscles during high-intensity activities, such as lifting weights or sprinting. Boosting PC levels with supplements enables you to sustain all-out effort longer than usual and recover faster between exertions or ‘sets’, resulting in greater strength and improved ability to do repeated sets. Studies have shown that creatine supplements can improve performance in high-intensity activities, as well as increase total and lean body weight.
If you lift weights, creatine supplements may help increase your strength, muscle mass and performance. But creatine doesn’t work for everyone; several studies have found that creatine made no difference to performance, and it is unlikely to benefit endurance performance. The only for you to know if your body responds to creatine, you simply need to purchase a tub a creatine monohydrate and start taking it.
While most manufacturers recommend loading up on creatine to boost levels in the muscles (20-25g daily for 5 to 7 days), other suggest a more moderate dose over a longer period. Most of the early research on creatine used a loading dose of 20-25 g followed by a maintenance dose of 2-5g daily. This method gives quick results but is more likely to produce side effects such as water retention. Also, the body has to work harder to process the excess creatine as less than 1% of the dose ends up in the muscle; the remainder is excreted from the body. More recent research has shown that lower daily doses of 3-7g, divided into 4 equal doses for 30 days, give similar performance results but with less water retention. Some research found that 7 g daily produced significant increases in workout intensity, power output and muscle size over 21 days.
I personally recommend taking creatine with carbohydrate (CHO) or fenugreek supplements because the insulin spike produced by the carbohydrate drives more creatine into the muscles. The exact amount of CHO is debatable but 50g of it have shown to be enough. Taking creatine supplements with meals is a cheaper and equally effective option to buying more expensive creatine-CHO products.
Protein supplements can be divided into three main categories: protein powders, ready-to-drink shakes and high protein bars. They may contain whey protein, casein, soy protein or a mixture of these. Protein supplements provide a concentrated source of protein to supplement usual food intake. Whey protein is derived from milk and contains high levels of the essential amino acids (Arginine, Cysteine, Glutamine, Histidine, Proline, Taurine, Tyrosine), which are readily digested, absorbed and retained by the body for muscle repair. When protein my also help enhance the immune function. Casein, also derived from milk, provides a slower-digested protein, as well as high levels of amino acids. It may help protect against muscle breakdown during intense training.
Protein supplements are really convenient and may help make up any protein shortfall in the diet of regular gym goers who have higher protein needs than normal, such as strength and power athletes. Researchers have recommended a protein intake of between 1.4 and 1.8g per kilogram of bodyweight per day. However, most of us can get enough protein from between two and four daily portions of chicken, fish, dairy products, and eggs. I personally don’t take any protein supplements as I get enough protein through my diet. I recommend using protein supplements if you are unable to meet your protein needs from food alone.