The supplement industry is full of products that claim to help you no matter what your goal is. Weight loss, muscle gain, better focus, or even better sex all jump out on the labels. Yet, what needs to be understood about this over $10 billion a year business is that not everything works. What is worse though, is not everything is safe either.
Every year the FDA orders a recall on hundreds of supplements due to safety concerns, or at the very least, inability to meet claims on the bottle. A few companies even get raided and seized in an effort to find out what they are really putting inside their pills and powders.
All of this can make someone steer clear of supplements altogether and instead focus on their training and nutrition. To be honest, most people should do just that. Far too many eighteen year olds are spending hundreds of dollars a month on pills and powders instead of meats and potatoes, or vegetables and fruits. People look for the best supplement to kick body fat instead of spending the uncomfortable time on the stairmill or treadmill to achieve their results.
The best bodies are built with smart training modalities such as traditional weightlifting, challenging conditioning programs, and some long sustained cardio. Other methods such as our very own BFR training are incredible additions to a solid program to allow you to train harder without beating up your joints.
These same bodies are built from diets that emphasize vegetables and fruits, lean proteins and healthy fats, and more water than other fluids. There is minimal junk food, an avoidance of calorie-laden beverages, and an emphasis on sleep.
Yet, with all this said there is still plenty of space in one’s routine for supplementation. That is, if you choose the right supplements for you, your body composition, and your goals. Be sure to check with your doctor before taking anything that may increase your blood pressure, heart rate, or contains stimulants known to cause issues with neural or cognitive function.
Read on to find out the best supplements that should be in your routine:
As the most talked about, debated, hated and loved, creatine has a lot to live up to. A supplement most associated with building muscle mass and getting stronger, it is perfect for any program where throwing down in the weight room is the goal.
It is important to understand what it is though before using it. Unlike what every high school football mother thinks – creatine is NOT a steroid. In fact, there are absolutely no androgenic properties to its compound, nor is it based within a carbonated fatty-acid structure – a major kicker for something to be classified as a steroid.
Sure, taking it can make you bigger in terms of muscle size and help you throw around a little bit more weight on the bar, but it isn’t going to give you aggression, cause you to breakout (unless you are sensitive to it), or suddenly make you the envy of the gym.
Here is what creatine does do:
Your muscles utilize an energy currency known as ATP, adenosine tri-phosphate. This molecule is literally your function for life. Without it your muscles could not contract, including those in your heart, and therefore you’d be dead. So, for you to truly appreciate creatine’s function we must explore a bit of the science.
Lab coats and glasses on please…
During exercise ATP expenditure obviously goes up. You are doing more work with your body and therefore more energy must be consumed internally to drive external actions. As ATP breaks down into ADP as a result of contraction another molecule comes into play to regenerate it. That molecule is known as creatine phosphate (CP).
Now, the process that comes next is a bit complex, but the essential part for you to know is this:
As your body recycles ADP (adenosine di-phosphate), the byproduct of contraction, it needs to pick up another phosphate molecule in order to reform ATP for any following demands. Thus, creatine donates its phosphate to the process and expires in the body as creatinine. The phosphate assembles with the ADP to become ATP and boom, more energy.
Creatine phosphate is stored in muscle tissue and the liver as it awaits usage by the body for the creation of ATP. There is a finite amount that your body can store, just as there is a finite amount of ATP that can be stored as well. The more intense an activity is – the more stored ATP is utilized during muscular contraction. As a point of reference – a max effort deadlift uses significantly more ATP, and thus CP, than a mile jog.
Ok, end bioenergetics lecture. Sorry if your head did a little spin move, but it is important to get the factual science out there these days.
The simple version is a follows:
Creatine serves as a source of fuel for your body’s inner most energy production. This is especially beneficial for weight lifting, an activity that demands extremely high amounts of stored ATP. As you ingest creatine you are providing your body with a building block nutrient that will allow for you to exert more forceful contractions as well as recover a bit sooner from high exertion lifts.
Taking the recommended dose for your bodyweight is best practice for increasing your strength and workout intensity naturally. It’s key to understand that creatine itself will not cause your muscles to hypertrophy. There is nothing in the compound that will inherently lead to muscle gain. Rather, supplementing with it will lead to an increase in muscular energy for doing work in the gym. So, you can’t just drink creatine and play video games…you have to go to the gym and throw it down.
- There is often bloating when someone supplements with creatine, especially creatine monohydrate. This is because the compound literally includes hydrated molecules, AKA water, which leads to a swelling of both the muscle and the deep layers of skin around it. This a normal effect and will fade within a week of ceasing creatine intake. Roll with it while you are supplementing and enjoy the boost in strength.
- Some studies have pointed to creatine leading to kidney issues. There is some data that suggests this is true, but it is important to realize that many of these young athletes were not drinking enough water. A major component to healthy body, with or without creatine, is the intake of adequate water to fuel your needs. Aim for half your bodyweight in ounces of water per day.
This next one is a bit boring. You won’t hear people raving about it on blogs and crediting it with their elite physiques, but it is an important asset to have for health and wellness. Fish oil, when made honestly, is a critical staple in every person’s diet, but most especially the person looking to build muscle.
Here is why: Fish Oil is constituted of the two major Omega 3 fatty acids: EPA and DHA. Depending on brand you’ll find a different dose of each, but a quality supplement will have both present. Now, the current western diet is one that is exceptionally high in Omega 6 fatty acids. The high meat, oil, and bean diet of most exercise enthusiasts leaves little room for the necessary omega 3s.
Why should you care?
Omega 3 is the anti-inflammatory fatty acid, while its omega 6 and 9 compadres are the inflaming type. Now, a certain amount of inflammation is OK in the body as it is a necessary element in signaling the brain to release satellite cells to repair damaged tissue. Yet, too much can halt muscle growth in its tracks by leaving the body in a weakened, over-inflamed state.
Moreover, this state can also lead to illness, G.I. dysfunction, and a complete loss of desire to train. Yes, it is true. Not getting enough omega 3 in your diet can even lead to you not wanting to go to the gym because you are too sore to push yourself.
Other health benefits of Omega 3 fatty acids include improved vision, better cardiovascular function, lower cholesterol, lower instance of joint pain, improved cognitive function, better sleep, and better mood. Some studies have even shown it to increase blood flow to sexual organs.
What more do you need to hear to be convinced?
Absolutely nothing. Now, know you can eat plenty of omega 3 in your diet by consuming salmon, cod, and other fatty fish. You can also get it from walnuts if you’re looking for a little crunch with your munch. Unless you eat fish and walnuts all day every day you can be sure that it is safe to take your fish oil.
Natural Testosterone Support
This next one is specifically aimed at the males who are reading this post due its impact on exogenous hormones, specifically estrogen and testosterone.
First, let’s establish a few points loud and clear.
- Steroids really do work, and work well. However, they carry risks to the human body and are illegal just about everywhere in the world. So, we aren’t discussing them.
- Prohormones do a great job of mimicking steroids functions in the body since they are based upon similar compounds. However, the oral nature of these supplements can make them extremely toxic to the liver and the blood. Many steps must be taken to protect your body during cycles of these drugs.
- Natural modalities will not ever have effects like the previous two substances. However, you will see a modest increase in testosterone, free testosterone, and overall recovery by choosing the right ones and adding them into your supplement protocol.
Now that we have established those facts let’s move into what you should be looking at.
There are really 4 specific things that work wonders for boosting natural testosterone in the body –
- Tribulus Terrestris
- Maca Powder
- D-Aspartic Acid
- Pine Pollen (particularly in tincture format)
Many supplements that claim to boost your testosterone will have these ingredients in addition to things like ginseng, vitamin D, zinc, and mucuna Pruriens. If the supplement you are looking at doesn’t have any of the aforementioned elements – you’re probably being sold a bunch of bull.
Now, the benefits are simple in this line of supplements. They will subtly increase the factors that lead to testosterone production. In some cases, they ingredients can also lead to an unbounding effect – meaning that testosterone stored in your body is released back into the bloodstream for usage.
Increasing your levels of free testosterone will help you be stronger in the gym, experience a youthfulness in terms of sexual performance, and help you recover better from intense workouts. Beyond this there is not much else to report, although all these things are quite incredible.
Most men should have something that boosts their testosterone in their arsenal. It’s just important to understand that it will not work like the steroids people are on and will not lead to a dramatic shift in your body. This is something you would take in the morning, prior to lifting, and even before bed to maximize effect.
Zinc-Magnesium-Aspartate is a compound that directly helps your body fall into a deeper sleep. This deeper rest will put you into the oh-so-important REM cycles that lead to real recovery and benefit.
This deeper sleep will help you wake feeling rested and ready to take on your day, even if you didn’t have the most optimal amount of time dedicated to sleep. Now, it won’t help you get past a late night NETFLIX binge, but it can help you overcome those nights where you are a bit later to bed than you’d prefer.
ZMA is something that you would take about 45 minutes before bed on an empty stomach. Most companies sell it as a pill capsule, although powders do exist.
An interesting fact about ZMA is that it contains two minerals that most men are deficient in – zinc and magnesium. These two minerals are critical for a healthy metabolism and sexual hormone function. In conjunction with Vitamin D, these essential nutrients can make a tired man feel a bit more alive when dosed correctly.
Nitric Oxide and Precursors
The last item on our list is here for two reasons.
- It works
- It works even better when using BLOOD FLOW RESTRICTION
First, let’s discuss why it works.
Nitric oxide is a compound in the body that increases the diameter of your arteries and veins by relaxing the smooth muscle that forms their walls. In doing so, you rapidly increase blood flow throughout the body which helps in performance, recovery, and overall wellness.
Now, you can’t take nitric oxide in your supplement since it is a gas that would make your higher than a kite tied to an airplane, but you can take its precursors. A precursor is just a compound that leads to the production of an end-product. In this case, the amino acids arginine, citrulline, and even glutamine are a piece of the complex puzzle.
Ingesting nitric oxide prior to a workout is going to spike blood flow levels which will increase your endurance, strength output, and lead to the best muscle pumps of your life.
It is important to start at the lower end of dosing and build up over time as overdosing can lead to a bit of dizziness and discomfort during an exercise bout.
Outside of that safety marker, N.O. supplements are safe to take and very beneficial to overall performance.
Now, let’s discuss why BFR makes nitric oxide supplements even more effective and vice versa.
The science of it is actually quite simple. BFR works to trap blood in a working muscle, which can lead to an increased stimulation of IGF-1 and growth hormone glands. Once these hormones are in your bloodstream you can all but bet on your muscles growing. Add in any simple sugars, stored ATP and creatine phosphate, and amino acids and you’ll be looking at a muscle well saturated in nutrients, but unable to let them free.
The nitric oxide boosts blood flow, remember? So, you can count on it to only better fill your muscles with the nutrient-rich blood. When following a correct BFR protocol you’ll find that you’ll get more repetitions, resist that burn a little longer, and in the long run – build a better body with hard muscles.
BFR Nitric Pump is a non-stimulant based nitric oxide booster that is specifically designed to go hand-in-hand with your BFR training program. Not only does it enhance the “pump” effect (which is known to sensitive IGF-1 receptors which triggers muscle growth) but being a non-stimulant you can use it any time of the day.
Supplements aren’t mandatory, but if you are going to take them it is important that you know which ones get the job done. Each of the supplements listed above are going to knock your goals down and become the secret sauce to your new found glory. Remember though, nothing works better than a great diet and hardcore training. So, lift heavy when you can and eat a vegetable and protein dense diet. Then, slap on those BFR bands and burn out those arms and legs to realize the best definition isn’t found on your TV, but under your clothes.
To your gains,
Kevin M. Mullins Jr, CSCS
ISSA C.P.T. / USAW Level 1 Sports Coach / Pn Level 1 Certified
B.S. Kinesiology, University of Maryland
Equinox Tier III+ Trainer, Washington D.C.
2014 and 2015 Men’s Health Next Top Trainer Finalist
2015 and 2016 PTontheNet Ambassador