Ordinary supplements can become out of this world when combined smartly. Here's how to mix and match.
Superheroes can be one-man shows (Superman) or duos (Batman and Robin). But imagine if Superman had a worthy partner, too—dueling Lex Luthor would've been a piece of cake. Likewise, where supplements are concerned, you have much-heralded heroes (creatine, glutamine, whey protein) and supporting cast members. In particular, the cutting-edge field of bodybuilding science has recently focused on six "sidekick" supplements that bolster the effectiveness of their respective superiors.
Super Supp: Creatine
The M.O. of creatine, the most extensively researched and most effective (legal) supplement we know of, is making muscles larger and stronger through a bevy of mechanisms. For one, creatine enters the muscle cell and helps produce more of the fast energy you need when you're pounding out reps in the gym. More reps with the same weight, of course, means more muscle. Another way creatine works is by helping to pull more water into muscle cells, a volumizing effect that stretches the muscle membrane and is believed to trigger processes in the muscle that lead to further growth. Creatine comes in numerous forms (monohydrate, citrate, tartrate, to name a few), and all seem to be similarly effective.
As effective as creatine is, it simply can't work if it doesn't enter the muscle. Enter Cinnulin-PF, a trademarked water-soluble cinnamon extract that boosts creatine uptake by muscle cells. Its active ingredient—hydroxychalcone—works by imitating the effects of insulin as well as boosting insulin release itself. Because insulin helps to drive creatine into muscle cells, taking Cinnulin-PF along with your usual creatine supplement can significantly enhance the amount of creatine that enters your muscle cells and thus the muscle-building effects you'll get.
Action: Take 2—5 grams creatine with about 100—250 mg Cinnulin-PF immediately before and after workouts.
Products: For convenience's sake, your best bets are creatine products with Cinnulin-PF already added: BSN CellMass and NO-Xplode, Dymatize Xpand, Fizogen Blast Cycle, Twinlab Creatine Nitrate 3 Fuel.
SUPER SUPP: GLUTAMINE
The ever-popular amino acid glutamine boosts growth hormone levels, promotes recovery, enhances muscle growth, prevents muscle breakdown, boosts immune function, aids digestion and provides a whole host of other metabolic benefits for bodybuilders. (We have yet to find a reason not to take glutamine.) Its efficacy can be attributed primarily to its ability to 1) act as a volumizing agent in muscle cells, and 2) aid in the production of bicarbonate—a powerful buffer that helps prevent muscle fatigue. That allows you to pound out more reps on a set with a given amount of weight, which leads to strength gains and muscle growth. The volumizing effect further enhances the growth potential of muscle fibers.
Carnosine is actually a combination of two amino acids, histidine and beta-alanine, which work with glutamine to increase muscle strength and endurance and prevent fatigue by buffering the lactic acid that builds up during exercise. Carnosine also complements glutamine by displaying a volumizing effect of its own.
Action: Take 5—10 grams glutamine 2—4 times per day on an empty stomach. Take two of those doses before and after your workout with 1—1.5 grams carnosine.
Products: Glutamine: Nature's Best Perfect L-Glutamine, Primaforce Glutaform, EAS Glutamine. Carnosine: Now Foods Carnosin.
SUPER SUPP: WHEY PROTEIN
Getting protein into your body before and immediately after workouts is imperative to your muscle-building progress. Whey protein is a fast-digesting protein that delivers its amino acids to muscles quickly. Without dispute, it's the choice protein for workout time. Case closed.
Although whey contains slightly more leucine than its counterpart powders, taking more of it before and after training can further drive muscle protein synthesis, and thus muscle growth. Many scientists believe that leucine is the most important amino acid for turning on the machinery that initiates hypertrophy, especially around workout time. In fact, recent research has found that taking protein and leucine after weight training, compared to taking simple sugars alone, increased insulinlike growth hormone-1 (IGF-1) levels in muscle—a critical factor for growth—by almost 50%.
Action: Take 20 grams whey protein immediately before training and 20—40 grams immediately after, along with 5 grams leucine, either by itself or from branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). If you go the BCAA route, be sure the product offers around 5 grams leucine, 2.5 grams isoleucine and 2.5—5 grams valine per dose.
Products: Whey: Optimum 100% Whey Gold Standard, MuscleTech Nitro-Tech, Primaforce Substance WPI, VPX Zero Carb Protein, ISS Whey Matrix, MRM Metabolic Whey, Nature's Best IsoPure Protein Powder, SAN Volumass 5.0. BCAAs: Optimum BCAA Capsules, Universal Animal Nitro, John Scott's Nitro Amino Armor, SAN BCAA-Pro 100 & 200.
Leucine: SAN Vault.
SUPER SUPP: FAST CARBS
In addition to whey and leucine, your immediate postworkout cocktail needs to include glucose to restock your depleted muscle glycogen stores and blunt the release of the catabolic hormone cortisol. The only way to achieve this is through carbs—and the faster-digesting, the better. Good choices to add to your whey shake are dextrose, Vitargo and maltodextrin powders, honey or even table sugar.
This amino acid, extracted from the herb Fenugreek, has been shown in numerous studies to increase insulin release by the pancreas. A recent study found that when subjects took 4-hydroxyisoleucine along with dextrose following a workout, muscle glycogen stores were better replenished compared to subjects who took dextrose alone.
Action: Take 60—100 grams simple carbs immediately following training, along with 300—600 mg 4-hydroxyisoleucine or 1—1.5 grams fenugreek.
Product: Fast Carbs: Nutrex Vitargo CGL. Fenugreek: MHP T-Bomb II, BSN Cheaters Relief Primaforce FUZE, SAN Endotest-Pro, Universal Nutrition Storm
SUPER SUPP: CASEIN
This slow-digesting milk protein is a favorite among bodybuilders seeking a steady supply of aminos to the muscles to prevent muscle breakdown; some data suggest it takes some forms of casein up to seven hours to be fully digested. Casein is a critical protein source to take before bed, especially for hardgainers, since your body will be entering a fasting and potentially muscle-wasting state. Downing a casein shake before you sleep will provide your muscles with amino acids throughout the night.
Sidekick: Flaxseed Oil
To further slow protein digestion, dietary fats do the trick nicely. But don't grab just any lipid—the healthy fats found in flaxseed oil offer a multitude of health benefits as well as enhanced fat loss. Insulin sensitivity decreases later in the day, making you more susceptible to carbohydrate-induced fat gain. Taking essential fatty acids, like those in flaxseed, at night can not only help prevent this problem but the omega-3s may actually ramp up your metabolism. Flaxseed oil will also add a refreshing, nutty flavor to your casein shake besides helping to slow digestion and providing your body with a steady source of nutrients while you sleep.
Action: Immediately before bedtime, consume 20—40 grams casein protein with 3 tablespoons flaxseed oil.
Products: Casein: BSN Lean Dessert Protein, Next Proteins Optibol, SAN Infusion (also includes flaxseed), ISS Micellar Matrix, VPX Micellean. Flaxseed oil: Optimum Flaxseed Oil Softgels, SAN Lipidex.
Some dietary culprits work against the purposes of your favorite products. Avoid these foods in combination with the following super supplements.
High-Fiber Foods: The whole point of taking whey is for its speed of absorption. Foods high in fiber will only slow things down. Sure, oatmeal (a bounty of roughage) is a great bodybuilding food, just not immediately before or after a workout. An hour before will work.
High-Saturated-Fat Foods: Fatty dishes inhibit NO's ability to dilate blood vessels. Eat a burger and fries immediately after taking your arginine and you might as well have been supplementing with baking flour.
Fast Carbs' Nemesis
Alcohol: Studies show that consuming cocktails inhibits muscle glycogen storage. If Happy Hour beckons, hold off at least two hours after your postworkout meal before bellying up to the bar. Your muscles should have absorbed the carbs by that time.
ZMA: This one works in reverse: Casein sabotages ZMA's effects when the two are taken together. Wait 30—60 minutes after taking ZMA before taking casein, since ZMA is most effective on an empty stomach.