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There was once a golden age where following a heavy workout body builders and fitness enthusiasts would turn to a fabled substance known as ‘food’. This bizarre and alien matter was ingested orally and when combined with an intelligent resistance routine it enabled muscle to grow and gains to show.
Strangely enough, food still has anabolic properties and truly has stood the test of time when it comes to building strength and mass however, if you are finding it difficult to get enough protein into your diet then turning to a whey protein supplement could be the help you are looking for. This is an example of intelligent and calculated supplement use where the diet is supported by throwing in a couple of protein shakes throughout the day to achieve a nutritional goal.
Simple as this may seem, protein supplements are only the tip of the iceberg with Creatine, BCAA’s, Pre-workouts, Intra-workouts, Glutamine and many more often confusing people senseless and causing gym goers to pour their hard-earned dollars down the drain.
In order to avoid financial ruin at the hands the supplement industry it is vital that you know the basics about supplements. Here are three points to understand before we move onto the different types of supplements you can get today.
- Supplements are not drugs
Performance enhancing drugs such as amphetamines and anabolic steroids are not supplements. As it says in the name, these are drugs. Supplements are normally just food. Protein supplements will not cause you to fail a drugs test.
- Supplements are food
As outlined above, supplements are simply a convenient form of food. You will go on to read this below however it must be stressed that if you are going to take a protein supplement when you are eating a whole cow every day you will be wasting your money. Additionally, if you are full of energy and love a strong coffee before killing arms then a pre- workout will just be an expensive way of disturbing your sleep. Do not get sucked into marketing rubbish. If you don’t need them then don’t take them.
- Supplements are expensive
Unless you are a sponsored athlete you will find that bodybuilding/training is expensive enough with the amount of money spent on food. Supplementing food with all the latest and greatest products may not be the smartest financial move. Only supplement if totally necessary to avoid going broke.
Now that we have a firm grasp on the three important notes above it’s time to look at the basic products. There are perhaps hundreds if not thousands of supplements available today however the four below are the big boys.
Whey protein is derived from cow’s milk and is taken to add additional protein into an existing diet. Getting enough protein in your diet is very important even if you don’t train. Protein is used by the body to aid in repair and recovery amongst many other vital functions. Whey protein is most commonly taken by gym goers to support recovery and development of new muscle tissue whilst it is also a supplement of choice for vegetarians who simply use it to support a meat free diet. Just remember that eggs, steak, chicken, salmon, dairy, nuts and grains are all excellent sources of protein. If you are focused heavily on what you eat and are passionate in the kitchen then don’t waste your money. If however you are on the go all of the time and have little time for food prep then perhaps a good whey protein supplement is for you. Whey protein is most commonly taken in powder form and mixed into milk or water to create a drink although it can be purchased in bars which some find easy and convenient after a workout.
Creatine is found naturally in some of the foods we eat whilst our body synthesizes and stores it. We use creatine to re-synthesize ATP (adenosine tri-phosphate) which put into layman’s terms means it helps us to use energy. It has been proven time and time again through many studies that by supplementing with creatine we are able to increase our creatine stores which could increase potential for improved athletic performance. (One extra rep, one second faster etc)
Having said this, it is important to know that creatine like all other supplements, can only increase potential for improved performance. It won’t make you any leaner, bigger, faster or stronger over night and as always, you may find that your diet is sufficient. This one is down to personal preference and just be careful to avoid the creatine supplements packed with sugar. Look for pure creatine monohydrate and add it into your protein shakes.
BCAAs (Branch chain amino acids) are the building blocks that make up protein, so once again (you guessed it) this is found in the food you eat. When you eat protein (or take protein supplements) it digests and breaks down into amino acids, so if you’re getting in enough protein, taking BCAAs could be a total waste of cash. As an example, whole eggs contain all of the amino acids required to aid in protein synthesis (building new muscle fibers). If you do decide that you should take a BCAA supplement you are simply adding potential for improved/faster recovery following your workouts. BCAAs can be found in pill and powder form and come in a million flavors.
Pre-workout supplements are mainly creatine, BCAAs, beta alanine, some sort of pump agent, a stimulant (normally caffeine) and a whole load of other minerals and herbs that you could argue no human should consume. The stimulant is the selling point and is normally caffeine which the supplement companies will pack into their products in huge doses in order to create a rather profound and intense feeling. There is around 80mg of caffeine in a large filter coffee whilst you can find anything between 150 to 400mg per serving in some of today’s popular pre-workout supplements. This huge jolt of caffeine can help to push you through a grueling workout whilst it can leave others with horrendous gastric upset and some serious problems getting off to sleep. The body is a very clever machine and will rapidly grow accustomed to the caffeine which means that after a week of feeling like a man possessed on the squat rack, this feeling will start to dull which turns one scoop into two, into three, into four etc. The process of inevitable increasing caffeine tolerance will lead most to come away from pre-workout supplements for a week or two before recommencing which is also a good idea as if you are always relying on a supplement to get you through a workout, it’s gonna cost. Ultimately, some get the motivation to train from a strong cup of coffee whilst others will value the effects of a strong pre-workout supplement.
As outlined above there are many more supplements available today such as fish oils, glutamine, intra-workout supplements and nitric oxide boosters however, the four above are considered the big boys and also effective when used correctly.