Essential Supplements – The Nuts And Bolts Of Enhancing Performance
In a previous article, I explained the need to take care of all of your body’s basic nutrient requirements, from vitamins and minerals to omega 3s and vitamin D. I also covered the increased need for protein that comes with heavy training. The most spectacular improvements in recovery, training output or body composition come not from selecting the best ergogenic supplements, but from correcting the deficiencies that are slowing progress – spending £2,000 on a bike won’t get you to work much faster if there is still a parachute attached! However, restoring your body into a fully-operational machine ensures that any tweaks and changes you make will have a potent and measurable effect.
With your metabolism restored to efficient function, now is the time to consider using compounds that have proven value in improving performance, strength and body composition. Whilst a multitude of herbs, food extracts vitamin and mineral formulas are just a google search away, it remains the case that, whilst some even do what they claim, athletes got good results before these ‘next generation’ products were available and can still achieve the same, impressive results without them. However, few individuals would agree that this is justification for ignoring the potential benefits that they may offer.
What I wish to discuss here is the select list of supplements that everyone engaged in hard training can benefit from, that deliver reliable and measurable improvements in performance and/or body composition, have a wealth of research to support their use and are not excessively expensive.
First up is glutamine. Dubbed ‘the ultimate amino acid’, Glutamine is an amino acid that has been proven to speed up recovery from surgery/trauma, shut down catabolism post-workout, enhance neural function and heal the intestinal lining. Taking 10g a day just before bed will provide a very positive boost for many; it can also be used peri- and post- workout. Some of my clients have also used glutamine during endurance work to preserve muscle. In any case, glutamine is an excellent addition to any supplement schedule because of it’s wide range of positive effects.
Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) perform a special role during training. As glucose availabilty in the muscle cells drop, Leucine, Valine and Isoleucine are sacrificied in a process called gluceoneogenesis. Although this allows a high workload to be maintained for longer, this results in breakdown of skeletal protein. The use of BCAAs before (and again during) workout provides more of then amino acids, inhibiting their removal from the skeletal protein stores and results in the same level of anabolic stimuli from training, but without the catabolism that preceeds it; 10g and 10g appears to be an effective dose. Some bodybuilders have been known to use BCAAs during the middle of the night, setting an alarm in order to down 10g of BCAAs before settling down to sleep. Although extreme, this does illustrate the trust many athletes put in these amino acids to maintain muscle mass in catabolic situations.
Both amino acid supplements provide a strong base of support to make training more effective. Long-term trainees that have previously not used either are likely to notice an increased response to their gym routines and plateaus – whether in bodyweight or weight lifted – can be overcome without any other changes. However, perhaps the most effective supplement for smashing plateaus is creatine.
Creatine grabbed the attention of the public in 1992, following the success of creatine-supplemented athletes like Colin Jackson, Sally Gunnell and Linford Christie at the Barcelona Olympics. The tri-peptide compound, formulated by scientists at the University of Nottingham, increases the stores of creatine phosphate in muscle cells, a limiting factor in explosive movement. What this translates to is 1-2 extra reps on every set you perform; increased overload and increased response from the body follow in a dose-responsive curve. Creatine’s hydrophilic nature means that cellular hydration is also increased (it is proposed this helps to increase muscle synthesis – at the very least, this effect gives muscles a fuller look). It may not the be-all and end-all by any means but, more than any other supplement available, creatine allows you to train harder and lift bigger.
There are many other supplements that have a positive effect. However, nothing will ever compete with the effect of providing your body with the raw materials it wants to go about building muscle. Instead of searching for the ‘next big thing’, it may pay to remember to first big things, eg. nourishing your body with sufficient micronutrients, protein and omega 3s then using a select few supplements that work. A simpler, healthier regime that delivers better results awaits.