When you browse bodybuilding magazines it’s easy to get confused with the sheer number and variety of bodybuilding supplements. It’s easy to blow a small fortune on protein powders, testosterone boosters and branched chain amino acids. But how do you know which of these supplements actually work and which are just a waste of money? In this article we’ll do just that. We’ll look at the common bodybuilding supplements, how they work and whether they are worth the money. So let’s get to it.
Protein is by far the most common bodybuilding supplement. Protein powder is just what the name says. A powder that is high in protein. You mix it with water, milk or juice for a protein shake. You can also add the powder to smoothies.
The most common protein sources are:
Whey – Contains very high quality and easily assimilated protein with all the essential amino acids and even branched-chain amino acids. Whey is a byproduct from the process of making cheese from milk. Whey protein powders come in two forms: whey concentrate (contains 30 to 90% protein by weight) and isolate (contains 90%+ protein by weight). Note that whey protein powders are highly insulinogenic. This means they can spike insulin levels and possible lead to acne for those prone to getting it.
Casein – Another form of protein from milk. Casein protein powders also contain glutamine.
- Egg-white – Lactose and dairy free source of high quality protein
- Hemp seed – Contains complete and high digestible protein. Hemp is also high in essential fatty acids.
- Rice – Also a source of complete protein. Easily to digest and free from allergens
- Though most bodybuilders swear by them scientists still debate on the merits of taking protein supplements.
Branched-chain amino acids
Just like proteins are the building blocks of muscles, amino acids are building blocks of protein molecules. Branched-chain amino acids are amino acids with special interest for bodybuilders. They are used in the muscle where they have anabolic and anti-catabolic effect. Anabolic effect means they help with generation of new tissue, and anti-catabolic effect means they inhibit breakdown of muscle tissue. The three branched-chain amino acids are: leucine, isoleucine and valine.
Out of all amino acids glutamine is the most abundant in muscles. The body uses glutamine to counter rise of acids in the blood resulting from exercise. When you work the muscles this generates lactic acid which is then dumped into the bloodstream. Glutamine helps to keep the blood pH at acceptable levels.
The theory is that without sufficient glutamine this countering effect could lead to wasting of muscle tissue.
Studies show conflicting results on whether glutamine is actually effective. But this doesn’t prevent manufacturers from filling the pages of bodybuilding magazines with advertisements with outrageous claims about the effectiveness of glutamine.
Essential fatty acids
Essential fatty acids (EFA) are among the most important antioxidant nutrients in the body. They help to counter the deteriorating effect of inflammation to the muscles and health in general. Essential fatty acids are what’s known as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
EFAs play several roles in the body. They are integrated into cell tissues where they help the cell to do what it needs to do. Chronic deficiencies in EFAs can lead to significant health problems.
EFAs for example help to prevent insulin resistance, which leads to accumulation of fat tissue and hinders creation of muscle tissue.
During the ‘cut’ phase many bodybuilders go into such low-fat diets that they become deficient in fatty acids. In such cases supplementation with EFAs is crucial.
Meal replacement products (MRPs) are powders or bars that are designed to replace a meal – as the name implies. This way the person can get an ‘optimal’ amount of protein without overdoing carbohydrates or fats. MRPs also contain various vitamins and nutrients.
Time after time science shows that supplements can’t do what a healthy meal can. In other words nutrients from foods are hundreds of times more effective than nutrients from supplements. In this light using MRPs is highly questionable.
Weight gainers are a form or meal replacement product. They are often very high in calories allowing the bodybuilder to meet high calorie requirements, which through food could be difficult.
These substances are precursors to hormones that are believed to help in bodybuilding. Precursor is like a building block and the body can convert the precursor substance into another substance (such as testosterone). Most commonly these are precursors to testosterone.
Though these were initially available over the counter most countries have now made prohormones illegal. They are also listed as banned substances by most professional sporting bodies.
Effectiveness and health effects of prohormones are unknown at the time. And the use of these substances is strongly encouraged against.
Creatine is one of the few bodybuilding supplements that scientists agree is actually useful. Creatine gives muscles short bursts of energy, such as what is needed when you lift weights.
Several studies have shown the effectiveness of creatine. It can improve strength, energy, muscle mass and recovery time.
Creatine is found in several foods, such as tuna, herring and beef.
When your body digest foods it generates heat. This is known as thermogenesis. The more heat the body produces the more calories it burns. Certain substances are said to boost this thermogenic effect, and are thus marketed as fat burners. While this claim is true in theory the effect of these substances to the overall caloric burn is insignificant.
Numerous naturally occurring plant substances and vitamins can increase testosterone levels. Say an increase in T levels and you’ll get instant attention from any bodybuilder. So naturally these substances have generated lots of interest in bodybuilding circles.
However the reality again fails to live up to the hype in magazines. Some studies show these can increase muscle mass, but equally some studies show no effect.
An increase in testosterone levels can also lead to other problems, such as hair loss and acne, you must click to read more. In some cases excess testosterone is converted to estrogen (a female hormone), and that can give you ‘man boobs‘ (also known as gynecomastia).
Testosterone is a chemical that is delivered essentially in the balls for men and the ovaries and adrenal organs for ladies. This chemical is fundamental to the advancement of male development and manly qualities. For ladies, testosterone comes in a lot more modest sums. Testosterone creation increments around multiple times more during immaturity and early adulthood.