In the not-so-distant past, bodybuilding was considered a “hit or miss” science, whereby most successful training programs and diets were created on a trial-and-error basis. With the fitness explosion of the 1990s, however, there was an influx of scientific efforts to maximize athletic performance safely, legally and naturally. As a result, the supplement industry experienced exponential growth — literally flooding the market with new, innovative products. Today, in a gargantuan supplement world, there are many science-backed products designed to push your muscular potential and maximize your gains. This is both a blessing and a curse — after all, you have a ton of choices, but you also have to sift through the good, the bad and the downright useless to come up with the most effective supplementation regimen. Read on for a walkthrough of the best supplement stacks to take at key markers of the day to amp up your mass-and strength-building efforts. (Note: This schedule assumes your training occurs in the afternoon and before dinner. Make adjustments as necessary, according to your training time.)
WAKE AND SHAKE
Your body is starving for nutrients when you roll out of bed, especially your recovering muscles. After a 7-10-hour fast, you need some fast-absorbing nutrition. Here’s a stack that’ll surely shut down catabolism (i.e., muscle wasting) and get your body refueled for growth.
1 Weight Gainer
When you’re trying to gain lean mass, you need to pack in as many beneficial calories as possible — weight gainers provide 500-1,000 supplemental calories, depending on serving size. The product you choose should be composed mainly of high-quality proteins like whey protein isolate (WPI) and micellar casein. Ideal weight-gain products are high in protein (50-60 grams per serving) and carbohydrates with a modest amount of fat. Because the goal is to gain lean mass and minimize fat accumulation, steer clear of products with more than 50% fast-digesting carbohydrates (e.g., simple sugars like high-fructose corn syrup or sucrose) and more than 5 grams of saturated fat per serving.
» Drink one shake immediately upon waking (i.e., about 30 minutes to an hour before breakfast).
2 Creatine Monohydrate
No other mass-building supplement works as well as creatine. Research illustrates that creatine is a potent cell volumizer that increases muscle water content and glycogen resynthesis (signals for anabolism). Creatine also boosts muscle creatine levels for short-term energy and bolsters anabolic signalingthrough insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1).
» Mix 5 grams of creatine monohydrate into your shake. Most weight-gain formulas already contain small amounts of creatine. The addition will ensure adequate dosing for faster muscle gains.
3 Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)
The BCAAs (leucine, valine, isoleucine) are unique essential amino acids that share a branched-chain structure and are preferentially taken up by skeletal muscle and broken down during exercise. New research illustrates BCAA in-
gestion directly stimulates anabolism by acting as an “anabolic switch.” In addition, this supplement trio is anticatabolic, reduces exercise-induced muscle pain and decreases mental fatigue during intense exercise.
» Mix 5-10 grams of BCAA powder into your weight-gainer shake.
As you’re planning out your overall nutrition and supplement regimens, remember whole foods should make up the majority of what you fuel your body with. Supplements are just that — products made to supplement (not replace) a quality diet. Assuming your diet is in check, there are a few key products that absorb more completely when taken with a meal to give your breakfast an extra anabolic kick.
1 Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs)
This group of fatty acids can’t be synthesized by the body and therefore must be taken in through diet. There arc two families of EFAs: omega-3 (alpha-linolenic acid) and omega-6 (linoleic acid). In terms of mass building, these “healthy fats” promote growth hormone secretion, increase protein synthesis and increase insulin sensitivity.
>> Take 2-3 grams of a balanced omega fatty-acid blend with breakfast.
Micronutrients are essential for proper cellular function and nutrient absorption. Many a bodybuilder’s diet has been known to contain very little variety, so a daily multivitamin will ensure you’re not lacking certain micronutrients. Furthermore, vitamins act as catalysts for many important internal processes; heavy training boosts metabolism, therefore making the vitamin requirement needed to catalyze cellular reaction go up.
» Use a multivitamin formulated for athletes; take as directed on label.
Tribulus terrestris is a flowering plant that contains natural steroidal compounds called saponins. When ingested, these saponins tell the brain to pump out luteinizing hormone (LH), which signals the testes to make more testosterone. Research has shown that a saponin called
protodioscin has the greatest effect on increased LH production and testosterone release. Therefore, you must use high-quality products standardized to contain at least 80% total saponins and 40% protodioscin.
» Take 500-750 milligrams with breakfast on training days.
4 L-Carnitine L-Tartrate (LCLT)
LCLT is a stable form of L-carnitine and is completely absorbed by the body. Recent research has demonstrated that LCLT supplementation upregulates the skeletal androgen rcceptor (the receptors that testosterone binds to) expres-
sion and increases LH secretion. The end result is greater testosterone and receptors for interaction. LCLT also reduces exercise-induced muscle tissue damage.
» Take 2 grams of LCLT with breakfast.
A naturally occurring beta amino acid, beta-alanine is the rate-limiting precursor to the production of carnosine in the body. Research has shown that powerful fast-twitch muscle fibers have higher levels of carnosine, and it buffers skeletal muscle pH. In a recent study, dietary supplementation with beta-alanine for 2-4 weeks was shown to increase
vastus lateralis carnosine concentration by more than 60%. In terms of performance, science has shown that beta-ala-nine supplementation for as few as four weeks can result in 13% greater gains in total work completed during training with no change noted among the control group.
» On non-training days take 2 grams with breakfast.
A few hours after breakfast and about one hour before lunch think about giv-
ing your body a calorie boost. This is an ideal opportunity to help load up with nutrients for a busy day.
1 Weight Gainer
» Drink one 500-calorie weight-gain shake 1-2 hours before your high-protein lunch.
Since we’ve assumed lunch comes before your workout in this supplement schedule, you should be consuming a well-balanced, high-protein whole-food meal that meets your nutritional needs.
When training for mass, you want to be sure the body’s cellular environment is primed for performance. To achieve this state, there are a number of supplements designed to feed your muscles and minimize catabolism throughout the training session. The following preworkout stack is designed to optimize energy and muscle performance while blunting muscle breakdown during training.
This is the most abundant non-es-sential amino acid in the body, and years of research have uncovered its several direct and indirect performance-boosting benefits. Glutamine supplementation has been shown to enhance cell volumization and serve as a potent anticatabolic factor and muscle-building aid during heavy training. Its major effects on muscular growth result from the fact that glutamine increases leucinc concentration and maintains positive nitrogen balance in skeletal muscle. Further muscle-building support comes from glutamine’s ability to boost growth-hormone and steroid production. Finally, through augmenting bicarbonate production, glutamine significantly increases skeletal-muscle-buffering capacity, thus delaying muscular fatigue during exercise.
» Ingest 5 grams of pharmaceutical-grade L-glutamine, one hour before training, on an empty stomach.
In the body, this conditionally essential amino acid’s primary role is in nitric oxide (NO) production. Thus, arginine supplementation elevates skeletal muscle blood flow, especially during your workout. The end results are more efficient delivery of nutrients and complete metabolite clearing in working muscles, enabling you to work out longer and harder. After exercise and during rest, the augmented blood flow
to trained muscles continues to enhance nutrient delivery and flushes out byproducts to optimize recovery.
L-arginine also increases anabolic substrates like growth hormone and insulin. With long-term supplementation, L-arginine ingestion upregulates mitochondria (the cellular energy “powerhouses”) in skeletal muscle, resulting in heightened metabolism and greater capacity to use energy for contraction. In addition, extended use has been shown to increase the growth of blood vessels in skeletal muscle and the heart, resulting in an even greater capacity to deliver nutrients and remove metabolites during and after your workouts.
» Ingest 5 grams of pharmaceutical-grade L arginine, one hour before training, on an empty stomach.
3 Tribulus Terrestris
» Take 500-750 milligrams about 30-60 minutes before training.
This preworkout dose is intended to ensure substrates for camosine production are maximized for the upcoming training session.
» Take 2 grams of beta-alanine 30-60 minutes before training.
5 Whey Protein Isolate (WPI)
Whey protein isolate is the best source of protein to ingest before training. It digests rapidly and completely, filling your blood with amino acids, including BCAAs and other essential aminos. Science has shown it’s the hyperaminoacidemia that gives WPI its great anabolic properties. WPI also provides the body with additional mass-building support, as research indicates WPI ingestion upregulates glutathione (a powerful antioxidant) production because of its large fraction of the amino acid cysteine.
» Consume a shake with 25-40 grams high-quality, cross-flow microfiltered WPI 30 minutes before training.
6 Beta-Hydroxy-Beta-Methylbutyrate (HMB)
This metabolite of leucine has been scientifically proven to prevent muscle breakdown, increase strength and promote fat loss. The anticatabolic effect of HMB is more pronounced in beginners than intermediate or advanced bodybuilders, but HMB is a potent strength-and recovery-boosting supplement for all levels of trainers.
» To maximize strength, take 3-6 grams with your preworkout protein shake.
In terms of mass building, scientific data suggests proper post-workout nutrition and supplementation are vital because cells are depleted of nutrients and can quickly slip into a state of catabolism. This period is termed the “anabolic window” and represents an approximate two-hour time frame when the body is hypersensitive to any nutrient intake. The following stack has been designed to capitalize on the anabolic window by augmenting anabolic hormones, replacing amino acids and maximizing recovery.
1 Creatine Monohydrate
This dose of creatine is vital to restore the creatine pool in your muscle. It’ll also fire up key anabolic pathways for a more complete and faster recovery.
» Ingest 5 grams of creatine monohydrate immediately after training.
2 L-Carnitine L-Tartrate (LCLT)
Research shows that ingesting a 2-gram dose of LCLT immediately after training will augment LH responses and increase androgen (testosterone) receptor expression in skeletal muscle.
Taken post-workout, L-glutamine is a proven agent for blunting catabolism. Research shows that ingestion of L-glutamine immediately after exercise enhances recovery and muscle growth.
» Take 5 grams of L-glutamine immediately after training.
4 Beta-Hydroxy-Beta-Methylbutyrate (HMB)
Scientific data suggests that HMB supplementation post-exercise augments the recovery process. The outcome — more strength and size in a shorter period of time. As well, among novices, HMB will significantly blunt the catabolic response.
» Take 3-6 grams of HMB immediately after training.
5 Whey Protein Hydrolysate (WPH)
Whey protein hydrolysate is made from WPI by enzymatic degradation (hydrolysis). Essentially, manufacturers use special enzymes to predigest the proteins in WPI. The end product is digested high in the gastrointestinal tract and enters the blood almost immediately upon ingestion. WPH is the fastest-digesting protein source, and studies illustrate that the faster amino acids enter the blood after exercise, the greater the anabolic response. The rapid digestion of WPH also loads water into muscle cells (cell volumizing), speeds recovery, drives anabolism and supports immune function. The drawback is that WPH is costly to manufacture and thus is relatively expensive.
» Consume a shake with 25-30 grams of high-quality WPH immediately after your workout.
This D-form of glucose is a small monosaccharide and one of the simplest sugars. It’s digested high in the gastrointestinal tract (beginning in the mouth) and is very high on the glycemic index. The rapid absorption rate of dextrose makes it an ideal post-training carbohydrate supplement that enters the blood immediately to cause a great spike in blood insulin and drive sugars into depleted muscles. In addition, insulin is very anabolic, so combined with high amounts of protein, dextrose serves as a mass-building agent.
» Mix 25-50 grams of dextrose into your WPH shake and drink immediately after training.
Since we’ve assumed that dinner follows your workout in this supplement schedule, it’s imperative you consume a large, well-balanced, high-protein dinner.
1 Essential Fatty Acids
» Take 2-3 grams of balanced EFAs with dinner.
The day is done and it’s time for some high-quality rest and recovery. Since you’ll be fasting for the next 7-10 hours, it’s crucial you give your body the appropriate nutrition before hitting the hay. Here’s a stack that’ll feed your muscles and help prevent catabolism while you sleep.
1 Micellar Casein
This is the purest casein protein available, and its unique properties make it seem like a custom food supplement designed specifically for sleeping bodybuilders. Its slow digestion results in a sustained release of amino acids into the blood, which produces anticatabolic effects in the body. In fact, research has shown that ingestion of micellar casein inhibits muscle breakdown by over 30%. Additional data illustrates that casein ingestion produces a seven-hour sustained plateau in blood amino acid levels and that it offers the best muscle nitrogen retention and utilization needed for substantial mass gains.
» Immediately before bed, drink a shake with 30-50 grams of high-quality micellar casein.
2 Zinc Monomethionine Aspartate and Magnesium Aspartate (ZMA)
ZMA is an acronym for zinc monomethionine aspartate and magnesium aspartate, a proprietary zinc supplement reported to increase growth hormone and testosterone levels when taken before bed. A bonus side effect of ZMA supplementation is that users have reported falling asleep more quickly and deeply. In a recent study, it was found that subjects who took ZMA during eight weeks of train ing had 250% greater strength
gains than the placebo group. The ZMA group also had a 20% greater increase in testosterone levels as well as over 20% greater insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) levels compared to the placebo group.
» ZMA supplements arc formulated in the following ratio: 11 milligrams vitamin B-6,450 milligrams magnesium, 30 milligrams zinc. For optimal results you should try taking this supplement on an empty stomach approximately 30 minutes before drinking your micellar casein shake before bed.