There’s no getting away from workout supplements now in days. They can provide a great benefit to the lifter, but they aren’t the key to all muscle growth. Unfortunately, in the mind of the common lifter, supplements are the last final key to great muscle gains.
Advertising of supplements and athlete endorsements by the fitness industry has painted this image. To these people, fitness is a business. There isn’t anything wrong with creating a business selling a value. If you have a value, you shouldn’t do it for free.
The problem we face though, is this money driven mindset drives the advertisers to make crazy claims. Some supplements don’t even do anything at all! Unfortunately, your favorite bodybuilder isn’t huge because of protein powder . . . steroids did that. Sure, he worked hard, but that’s not the main contributor; it’s actually quite a small one at the least.
A classic example that I’ve seen is a supplement company that claimed their supplement is the reason behind Zac Efron’s radical transformation. I don’t even know what was in the pill, but this is the type of scam that plagues the fitness industry. There is no way one pill contributed to Zac’s gains. He has been lifting for years. Based on his physique and time frame, he has done this completely naturally as well.
When we look at three very popular workout supplements, specifically for building muscle, we have whey protein, creatine, and pre-workout.
These supplements all have merit but are merely supplements. You may have heard this before, but they are meant to supplement a good diet. A proper diet will fill most holes that supplements provide. Then you can choose to use supplements for potentially greater gains in the long run.
I’m at the very end of the spectrum because I have built my physique with no supplements. I’ve done this mainly to show that you can build muscle completely naturally at a great rate.
I also want to note that this article will be unbiased while just looking at the facts.
Whey protein is arguably the most widely used supplements by lifters. It’s also just as commonly used without proper knowledge. With a proper diet whey protein has limited uses but it still has a place!
Perhaps the best use for protein powder is the convenience. It takes two minutes to make maybe and is a great source of protein and calories you need. These are both a bonus to the lifter. Especially with the more muscle you put on, the harder it becomes to fill your calories.
Now of course your appetite goes up as well and alternative options such as meal prep will be components to make it manageable. The convenience of protein powder though is still hard to beat!
Post workout nutrition is where protein powder can potentially offer a slight edge. During a workout your body goes into a state of breaking down to create energy for your workout. Immediately after your workout, this leaves your body in a highly receptive state to protein and other nutrients. This receptive state is termed “the anabolic window”.
Science is not completely conclusive on how long this window of time is, but it seems to be peaked anywhere from forty-five minutes to two hours after a workout.
Whey protein is a fast digesting protein meaning in can get to the muscles incredibly fast. This is the slight edge whey protein might hold compared to something like chicken breast.
There will be two things you will want to consider first though.
Protein powder actually turns out to be cheaper per serving compared to something like chicken breast. This may seem to contradict the subheading but hold on.
If you don’t have trouble getting in your meals, then you are paying an extra $65 a month for an extremely small potential gain in muscle size over the long run. That’s $780 a year.
Macronutrients are more commonly known and are proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. These contain calories and are needed to nourish the body.
Less commonly known are micronutrients. These are vitamins and minerals and help to carry out body functions including muscle building. Whey protein commonly doesn’t have micronutrients included which is something to consider for maximal muscle growth. Will it make or break you? Not necessarily. If you do replace multiple meals a day though with whey protein, a multivitamin may be recommended.
Creatine is not only one of the most popular performance supplements, but it is also potentially one of the most studied. Creatine is so prevalent that up to 80% of strength/power athletes in certain sports use creatine.
There’s no doubt creatine is effective, but based on your goals you will want to weight the pros and the cons first!
Creatine supplementation after 5-30 days will start to show increases in body weight and muscle size. This is a desired effect for many. It is important to note though that this increase in body weight is just intracellular water weight in the muscle. This isn’t a sudden jump in lean muscle mass.
You will also reach a point of saturation where no more creatine can enter the muscle. More won’t be better.
Strength will be increased when supplementing with creatine. The more advanced the lifter the more pronounced the effects of these strength gains. This can be especially beneficial for lifters reaching the upper limit of their genetic potential. This will allow them to put a sufficient stimulus on the muscle to create new strength and size gains.
Upon stopping creatine supplementation, you will see differences in your physique and performance.
Your body weight and muscle fullness will go down. The creatine leaves the muscle and the muscle will no longer be saturated with water.
Strength and performance will also go down. You no longer have this extra energy from the added creatine, so strength will decrease. In addition to this, creatine supplementation will actually lower your bodies utilization of creatine.
It’s been reported that creatine will return to baseline within four weeks. These are things to consider when deciding whether to start creatine. Maintaining your current size and strength after starting creatine means you need to keep taking creatine to maintain it.
Some of you might not even respond to creatine! If you do respond to creatine, your responsiveness to it will still vary from person to person.
Again, the more advanced lifter will see a greater benefit. . . if he’s a responder. If you are a beginner lifter, creatine supplementation will make little difference. You will be making strength and size gains incredibly fast through proper training it really won’t be necessary.
Pre-workout drinks are commonly used by lifters to increase performance and they do! Safely using them and proper reasoning for the use of them is important to consider before use.
Most pre-workouts have a few common ingredients that contribute to the feeling you get. Let’s take a quick look at these for a better understanding. Creatine won’t be listed since we have already covered this.
Caffeine is proven to increase weightlifting and aerobic performance. Although it’s not known why completely, there is no doubt caffeine will improve your training. Improved alertness, improved work capacity, and a decrease in feelings of perceived exertion are all benefits you may experience.
Consumed in large amounts, beta-alanine contributes to the tingly feeling you get from most pre-workouts. Beta-alanine has been shown to improve muscular endurance (higher rep ranges and high intensity aerobic exercise).
This is proven more specifically through the ingredients within pre-workout. Ingredients vary widely from each pre-workout.
Your work capacity will be increased and with creatine maximal strength will be increased as well.
Constant use of pre-workout can lead to dependency. Over the long run the effectiveness of pre-workout also diminishes so lifters will commonly cycle on and off.
Almost all pre-workouts have creatine, so you will then have to consider the cons of stopping creatine use if that’s the only place you get your creatine from.
The decrease in performance seen is a con you will want to consider before supplementation. A good alternative can be consumption of just caffeine before your workout when needed. Since you are just ingesting caffeine and not the other multiple additives when needed, it becomes much harder to become dependent.
In the world of sports and strength training, many trainees adopt the mindset that more is better. Rarely is this ever the case in any scenario in life!
This leads to extreme overuse of pre-workout by some. Silent strokes, silent heart attacks, and high blood pressure has been reported and age doesn’t matter. If you do choose to use pre-workout and any supplement, please do so responsibly!
Is there anything wrong with supplementation? Absolutely not. Is supplementation vital to great progress? Absolutely not.
Here I have given you the unbiased pros and cons of three extremely popular workout supplements. Approaching supplementation knowledgeably is much better done compared to being sold by someone who just wants your money.
You need to ask yourself first, “Why do I want to use supplements? What is my goal?”. Once you have answered this, then ask yourself “Am I willing to accept the cons associated with these supplements?”
Then the choice is up to you. If you click on the Instagram icon in the sidebar or top right corner of my website, you can learn more about my opinion.
Do you use supplements or decide to go truly natural? Let people know in the comments below!
Haff, Gregory and Triplett, Travis. Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning. National Strength and Conditioning Association, 2016. Print.
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