Cut the Clutter: The only three supplements you need to get big

Nowadays, we are bombarded constantly with different stuff coming from all the possible sources. We live in an era of too much information and while this can be good to easily find what you are looking, it can also be quite confusing in case you want to know what are the things you actually need for your life. Are regarding bodybuilding, this excess of information is taken to a whole new level.

Whey, Egg Protein, Beef Protein, Casein, amino acids, pre workouts, fat blockers, fat burners, muscle growth, mass gainers, testosterone boosters, energy boosters, muscle recovery, post-workouts…the list is so vast that, unless you live and breathe for your body, most likely you have been wasting a lot of money, just because most of these companies are simply very good at marketing (most of us should actually learn with them).

We only live once and therefore we should take care of our body as best as we can. This means that we must have an active lifestyle, which obligatory includes lifting weights. But living once also means that life does not end tomorrow and therefore that you should not jeopardize your future due to some cool gains or extra pounds of muscle mass.

I truly believe that you reap what you sow and therefore you must be aware of what you put inside your body. If something is too good to be true, it probably is and if you take something which will give you extra 10kg in just one month, the most likely scenario is that this abnormal gain will fuck you up in the long run.

As you already know, I ALWAYS base my articles on my personal experience, and therefore I feel totally comfortable enough to talk about this topic, since I have been continuously training in the gym for the last fifteen years. I have tried all the methods and different types of trainings, as well as which supplements to take (attention that I am not talking about vitamins or supplements such as Zinc, Magnesium or fish oil, which I take on a daily basis and consider crucial for an overall health maintenance), so I know which ones are effective and not a waste of money.

And after years of trial and experimentation, these are the only three (safe) supplements I recommend to give you the support and visible results in your quest to get leaner and stronger:

 
 

Whey Protein

So let me introduce to the king of supplementation, the one which even your grandmother knows about.

But first, it is important to talk about protein in general, as taking it only in the form of shakes (in this case whey protein) will make you more harm than good.

If you look for this information in the internet, usually it is said that a man who incurs in strenuous activities, such as bodybuilding, and wants to build mass should take between 1.0g and 1.5g per lb of bodyweight, which is the same to say between 2.2 and 3.2g per kg, throughout the whole day. Well, since protein is the basically the foundation block of your muscles (and also of mostly of your body tissues, by the way) and because you are literally building them, you can take up to 3.2g per of kg of bodyweight, especially in case you have a stressful lifestyle or you have high intensity regular trainings, in which your body consumes more nutrients than it should.

However, to keep things simple, I recommend you to stick to the standard 1g per 1lb (2.2g per kg) of bodyweight that you will be just fine. In case your mind understands better Kcal, then this means that you should take between 10 and 12 Kcal of protein per kg of bodyweight in one single day.

Now, it all depends on your lifestyle and whether you eat properly. In my case, I only take whey protein after my (bodybuilding) training and only very rarely in the days I do not hit the gym – for instance, before bed, when I am not in the mood for eating something else.

What I am saying is that, concerning the other 80% of my protein intake, I just get it through food. And by this I mean food which contain serious protein sources such as eggs, fishes such as shad, herring, trout, tuna and salmon, white meats such as chicken and turkey, red meat, pork, yogurt, nuts and beans (if you are a vegetarian who want to build muscle, then I recommend you to take the supplemented protein more often during the day, along with some of your meals).

Hey Andreas, but what about the casein protein, fundamental to take before going to bed, since your body grows while you sleep?”. Well, just like above, you can get the same “slow protein” from cooked eggs, Greek yogurt or slices of dark bread with turkey ham and even salmon on the top. Of course that you could take that casein shake but it is far from being necessary.

Putting all together, the only moment I see the need to use a shake, due to its convenience, it’s exactly right after the training, where a good whey protein shake just guarantees that your bloodstream is filled with the necessary amino acids to build new muscle tissue. And just as a reminder, whey is still the most bioavailable protein which exists, so just forget about the other “hydrolyzed” or other fancy names available in the market.

Recommended dosage: a scoop of 25-30g whey protein after training.

Just as a side note, even if shakes represent the easiest, most practical way to have the necessary protein take, just be careful on not exaggerating on them, because you might be taking more calories than you should! Because one thing is to eat a real meal, in which you will be full for hours, another one is to drink something with the same calories which will make you hungry just one hour afterwards (there is something called the Satiety Index which explains this). And you know what happens when you are hungry, don’t you? Yes, you will just ingest more and that more means an unnecessary caloric surplus.

 
 
Creatine

Creatine is naturally produced in the human body from the amino acids arginine, glycine and methionine, which is then converted into creatine phosphate and stored in our muscle tissue. Whenever you lift weights or perform any other intense sport activity (short-interval exercises), creatine phosphate is converted into adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, the body’s major energy source.

And if whey is the king of supplementation, then creatine is the queen. But this “lady” has had severe problems before reaching the deserved throne.

For many years, creatine was seen as a synthetic steroid (attention that such things as Vitamin D and cholesterol are also steroids, but in this case natural). Ok, I know that the supplementing creatine is not natural either – it is manufactured from sarcosine and cyanamide, combined with other catalyst compounds, whose mixture is then heated and pressurized to form creatine crystals – but is far from being that synthetic crappy version of testosterone of what anabolic steroids are all about.

Another myth which lasted – still lasts? – for a long time was that creatine was extremely harmful to your kidney and liver. Well, not only studies show that it is not but also I regret to inform you that the excessive creatine you might take will go directly to your intestines. So who will suffer in the end will be your roommates and not your organs.

Last but not least, it is also said that it might affect your hormone function but, while it can obviously be a natural testosterone booster, it does nothing more than allowing a faster synthesis of ATP. In plain English, this means that one is able to lift harder and longer which translates, naturally, in more muscle mass being built.

Of course that there are some claims which can hold true. For instance, supplementing with creatine may cause the body to hold more water (even if this study says it does not) but actually there is nothing to be scared about. Just drink more water to avoid any dehydration – the transparency of your urine will always be a good signal that you are doing it properly.

In addition, if you have the tendency or have already kidney or liver problems, then creatine can accentuate or even lead to its inflammation, so refrain to take it if you have such conditions. It may also cause stomach discomfort in case you supply yourself with high doses of it.

How and when should you take it?

Let’s start first with the how. Too many things have been written about this topic that even for a guy like me, who has been training for more than fifteen years, it can be more confusing than understanding the Schrödinger equation.

Before talking about the right dosage, it is important to talk about a concept called “the loading phase”. It is basically a method in which one takes between 3g and 5g (0.3g/kg) four times per day, for 5 to 7 days, in order that muscle creatine stores are saturated. It is then followed by a “maintenance phase”, where the person takes 5g daily for a period of 3-4 weeks. Lastly, the “washout phase”, in which one stops taking creatine for a couple of weeks (until maximum one month), in order that its stores return to normal levels. Rinse and repeat the whole series.

Well, even if this sounds very technical and cool to show your other buddies in gym how “physical expert” you are, the reality is that the “loading phase” is simply unnecessary, since the results aka muscle saturation will be reached anyway. It is the same as saying that it is better to go to the supermarket once a month and buy all your groceries, instead of buying the weekly supply every Saturday. So just stick to the old formula of 5g/day – or to be more precise, 0.06g of creatine per kg of bodyweight – that you will be just fine.

Talking about that dose per day, you should not take it all from supplements (funny enough, the European standard scoop is 3g while the American is 5g). Did you know that 500g of beef contains around 2,5g of creatine while chicken contains around 1,5g?

However, do not be a purist either and claim that you can get all your daily intake just from food. First of all, when you cook your meals, you also destroy a good part of the creatine present in them. Then, you would need to be totally disciplined and also to eat a lot every day, in order that you ingest the necessary amount of creatine.

So my recommendation is the following:

  • Take a scoop of 3g every day and complement it with a good diet, which includes of course high-protein sources such as beef, pork, chicken or salmon (where you get the remaining 1-2g of creatine from);

  • On the days you train, mix it with your whey powder and take it after your workout; on rest days, take it first thing in the morning with any juice and a tea spoon of honey added to it.

    (the bottom line is that you should take it together with other nutrients such as protein or sugar to raise insulin in your blood,
    which will help creatine to be absorbed faster)

Regarding the when, the second million question is “should I take creatine before or after the workout?

Well, since I have tried both ways, for a long period of time, I can say that it is more effective if used after training than as a pump (before your workout). Regarding the latter, it surely has an effect, but if you can use another thing (more on that right after) and optimize the use of creatine to both recover your muscles and reduce its soreness, why not doing it?

And before you ask, do not fool yourself with the marketing moves and nice labels: just stick to the creatine monohydrate powder and forget about the rest.

 
 

Citrulline

There is a new man in town…and that strong guy is called Citrulline (full name is Citrulline Malate, more on that on just a second).

But let us go by parts…first of all, what is citrulline?

In our body, it is produced during the second step of the urea cycle (where excess ammonia is converted into urea, being then filtered by the kidney and ultimately expelled in the urine), when the amino acid ornithine combines with carbamoyl phosphate. So basically we are talking about an element used for a cellular reaction, crucial to any aerobic organism’s life. So what this has to do with bodybuilding, you ask?

Well, later on that urea cycle – exactly during the fourth step – another amino acid is created: arginine. And you might also have heard that it is a precursor to nitric oxide, a potent vasodilator, which naturally increases the blood flow to your muscles. It is also a very important element for the synthesis of most proteins, contributing directly to muscle growth. And now you ask again, even with more logic: “so why don’t we take directly arginine?!”

When you take directly L-Arginine, it will first make a stop in your intestines and liver, where the enzyme arginase shows up and converts most of it into urea. So this means that large percentage of argine is broken down and will never reach the bloodstream.

On other hand, when you take citrulline, it bypasses the liver and it is simply ignored by arginase. This means that it does not go through any intestinal or liver metabolism, reaching your general circulation in a much faster, more direct way. The irony is that citrulline will create higher levels of arginine than arginine itself, leading consequently to a higher Nitric Oxide production.

Ok, now that we have reached the conclusion that Citrulline is better than Arginine for our muscle gains, we can all go home happy about it, right?

Well, not so fast champ…there is still a very important detail to talk about: we still need to talk about the two types of Citrulline available in the market: L-Citrulline and Citrulline Malate.

L-Citrulline is basically the natural form of citrulline, while Citrulline Malate has malic acid added to it. And what the hell is malic acid, you may ask (yes, too many questions in a row, I know)?

First its name is derived from the Latin word for apple. Not coincidentally, green apples have the biggest percentage of it, but it can also be found in other fruits such as pears, kiwis, watermelons or apricots (basically it is largely responsible for the sour taste of these fruits).

Malate is an essential component in the Krebs cycle (Citric Acid Cycle), where the nutrients are converted into energy and water. Putting it in other words, malic acid plays an important role in generating ATP, the cellular energy source. Therefore, it is important to supply your body with it, especially if you go through exhaustive physical activities in which your levels of acid malic get depleted. So if increasing malate levels increases the energy production on your body, then in theory that translates into more oxygen in your blood and therefore more power to perform!

Mix that with L-Citrulline, the precursor of Arginine which increases the production of NO in your blood, and you will have the extra boost and pump, which also delays fatigue during intense training.

And now that we have come with the winner CITRULLINE MALATE, it is time to talk about the right dosage and when to take it:

Even if you can get citrulline from food – watermelon is its primary dietary source – it can be a frustrating experience, since you would need to eat a ton of fruit every day. But that is why supplements have been invented and in this specific case it makes totally sense to rely on it.

So, without further ado, there are a lot of studies and theories about the right dosage of CM, which usually fall between the 3g-8g range. The problem of these studies is that usually they are done comparing a certain dosage used (e.g.: 8g assigned to 30 men with high resistance training experience) vs none (e.g.: placebo). They never compare, for instance, 8g vs 6g or 6g vs 3g, that is why I am going to give you the right dose based on my experience:

I took first 3g for one month and on the second month I switched to 6g. And guess what? Well, the latter option has proven to be more effective, as I have had more power and a better resistance while lifting. Ok, I could now try the 8g to check whether that would make a difference but, if the 6 grams work for me, why messing with a winning formula? As a side note, just make sure you choose a product which contains at least 4g of L-Citrulline, which usually comes with the ratio on the label of 2:1.

Ah, and regarding the “when”? Take it just on the days you train, one hour before the workout and mixed with green tea, of course.

 


 

Conclusion

And that’s it! You were expecting something much more complex, weren’t you? Well usually the most important things in life are that simple and concerning bodybuilding this principle is applied with no exception.

Hey but what about Caffeine and Beta Alanine for your pre-workout”? Well, you already know my opinion about the former, as you should rely on a constant state of energy and not in spikes (that’s what coffee does), and concerning the latter, an amino acid known for increasing the buffering capabilities of the body, it does not live up to the hype. Sure, it can give you that extra boost and make you tingle, but for me green tea and citrulline malate will be more than enough.

Come on, but regarding your post-workout, BCAAs and Glutamine are absolutely crucial to ensure you have a proper recovery!” I do not what annoys me more: whether the hype, created by clever marketing moves, or the general ignorance which exists in the bodybuilding community. BCAAs, or Branched-chain amino acids, are a group of three essential amino acids, in which the most important is Leucine, as it directly stimulates protein synthesis.

But do you know who does this also and better? The food you (hopefully) eat and the whey protein you take, since they contain all the amino acids you will need to grow. And what about Glutamine? If you take a look at some studies, you will realize that is has really no effect on the process of muscle growth.

We could also talk about Tribulus Terrestris, Taurine, Casein (as I already did inside the “Protein” topic), Carnitine or Dextrose and the like, but my point is that you do not neither to become a moving dietary store nor to spend a bunch of money every month.

The bottom line is that I do not bite that bullshit neither of taking endless supplements nor of taking them throughout the day. And you know why? Because I have a very thin structure and I still manage to get lean (if I did not train I would be a skinny stick).

So if I can, everyone else can, so you do not need extra doses which can just harm you in the long run (don’t think your kidney and liver can take up everything). I know that I could be bigger, but I prefer to focus on a lean, natural body like. That is also why I have never considered nor ever will to take steroids or any artificial help to get bigger.

Just supplement yourself in key moments – pre and post-workout mostly – and stick to the following points, that the results will show up naturally:

Of course that everyone is at different stages and you will need to adjust your training according to where you are at. But I promise you that, if you follow the above, regardless of your body structure, you will get bigger and leaner.

 

⇒ In case you want to order your supplements, then I strongly recommend you to do it via iherb.com. They have not only the biggest variety of products but especially the best customer service that I have ever experienced online, in which they treat you as an individual and really ANSWER to your questions. 

 

 

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