I’m constantly being asked about supplementation in line with our training programs. Below is a to-the-point summation of the key supplements proven to be of benefit and safe. If it’s not below, chances are you really don’t need it!
But first, by way of background, a brief discussion on the relationship of 3 key elements: Resistance Training, Protein and Amino Acids.
Resistance training stresses the muscle and causes protein synthesis to occur (cells create new proteins). An increase in lean muscle mass (skeletal muscle hypertrophy) occurs ONLY when muscle protein synthesis exceeds muscle protein breakdown. The body is in a continuous state of protein turnover as old proteins are destroyed or degrade and new ones are synthesized. Resistance exercise is essential for creating the stimulus in order for skeletal muscle hypertrophy to occur but nutritional (food) and/or supplemental nitrogen containing compounds are required to increase net protein to the point of becoming anabolic (hormones that stimulate protein synthesis and muscle growth). Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and provide the link between dietary protein and body protein.
Ideally, all essential proteins and amino acids would be obtained via digestion of whole foods. For a number of reasons, it may not be feasible to consume the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) through food alone. I would, however, encourage readers to consider whole food as the primary, and ideally only source of nutrients for the body and suggest starting with the Canada food plate as a highly pragmatic guide for a well-balanced diet and attitude to food/nutrients https://food-guide.canada.ca/en/
Where diet (and/or lifestyle) cannot meet the required needs of the individual, supplementation is supported. There are a myriad of supplements available. I’d invite you to consider that most of these are either not supported by the science as being beneficial and/or may cause some unwanted side effects. Or to put it another way, may be more harm than good. Below is a summary of the main supplements that are discussed by key organizations such as the National Strength & Conditioning Association (NSCA) and are proven to yield benefits.
One of the most researched and generally the gold standard to which other supplements are compared as it improves performance, increases lean mass and has an excellent safety profile. There are proven benefits in terms of strength & power output. Essential to form ATP (Adenosine triphosphate) – the primary energy carrier in the body. Creatine is most prevalent in meat and fish.
Two main types – Whey and Soy. Both are proven to be effective, but Whey yields more muscle mass growth than Soy (approx. 20% more).
Whey protein supplement outperforms other types when we talk about anabolic process/growth in muscle mass over time. Essential amino acids are present in Whey protein with Leucine in particular being the main one to look for as this maximizes muscle fibre growth.
Found in high levels in eggs and meat but is also a stand-alone supplement and the primary amino acid of the three found in BCAA (Branched Chain Amino Acids) supplements. Leucine by itself has more benefits than BCAA mixes but tastes bitter.
4. BCAA - Branched Chain Amino Acids:
Refers to three amino acids: Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine.
For people with low dietary protein intake, BCAA supplementation can promote muscle protein synthesis and increase muscle growth over time. Supplementation can also be used to prevent fatigue in novice athletes.
Leucine plays an important role in muscle protein synthesis, while Isoleucine induces glucose uptake into cells. The benefits of Valine require further study.
BCAAs are important to ingest on a daily basis, but many protein sources, such as meat and eggs, already provide BCAAs. Supplementation is unnecessary for people with a sufficiently high protein intake (1-1.5g per kg of bodyweight a day or more).
Beta-alanine has been shown to enhance muscular endurance and can also improve moderate- to high-intensity cardiovascular exercise performance, like rowing, weight training or sprinting. It can aid lean-mass gain. Its parent compound is Carnosine which occurs naturally in the brain, cardiac muscle, kidney and stomach. In addition to enhancing performance, carnosine appears to be an antioxidant and anti-aging compound.
-While there is no replacement for a balanced diet, sport supplements can help maximize training adaptations leading to increased strength, power and lean muscle mass.
-Creatine has been shown to increase strength, muscle mass and sprint performance; and no other supplement is supported by the same level of positive research.
-Protein and amino acids are required for protein synthesis to remain in positive nitrogen balance.
-Beta-alanine appears to be generating scientific support for its ability to improve certain aspects of high-intensity exercise performance.
-With all the above supplements, each has been found to be safe when consumed at the recommended dosages.