The Top 10 Bodybuilding Supplements - Part 2

Article by James Collier BSc (Hons) - Moderator and Contributor to Muscletalk as an Expert in Nutrition.

Best Muscle Building Supplements - The Top 10 - Part 1

Nutrition Bars
These are useful additions to the bodybuilding diet if you are a busy athlete who struggles to find the time to eat, as bars can be eaten on-the-go. They come in many forms, some are termed meal-replacement bars which have 'complete nutrition', some are high protein bars, providing high protein, some are energy bars which contain high carbs for bursts of energy. There are also flapjack-based bars and 'slimming' bars available.

Although they are extremely convenient they do contain some trans fats and a lot of additives so should not be depended on too much and should not replace proper food! Another criticism is their price; is there really a need for them to be so expensive?

Pre-Workout Drinks
Energy drinks come in a vast array of different concoctions, some just sugar-based and some containing a range of stimulants like caffeine, guarana and ephedra. Again very expensive, but nice tasting and many feel they need them to train after a hard day at work. I will not recommend any particular types, I'll leave that for you to decide which you prefer; but avoid the high sugar (glucose) ones which are full of calories, as these can have a rebound effect on your energy levels and, in fact, cause sluggishness. To avoid stomach cramps, sip them before and during workouts, don't gulp!

Fat-burners and Thermogenics
The fat burner market is big business and there are 100s of compounds and formulas on the market which contain different combinations of a huge range of ingredients which are claimed to help burn fat. In reality there are only a few compounds which are actually effective and, although it is beyond the remit of this article to detail all, there are a few ingredients which are useful for burning fat through thermogenesis, acting as a stimulant to help you train harder, mobilising fat through metabolic processes or by curbing your appetite.

Most people agree that a thermogenic aid based on the herb ephedra (from the ma huang plant) is the most effective. Ephedra is even more effective when combined into ECA stack with caffeine and aspirin. These three ingredients are synergistic, though may be labelled as ma huang, guarana and white willow bark respectively. (We also have a more detailed article about caffeine and ECA.

Other possibly useful fat-burning supplements are sido cordifolia, alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) and green tea extract (catechin).

Creatine Monohydrate
Probably the most scientifically researched supplement ever, results of which are conclusive in that creatine does help improve performance. Here's the science in brief: ATP is used for energy, by being broken down to ADP. Creatine Phosphate (CP) is found in muscle cells and replenishes ADP to ATP; hence more ATP is available for energy. It has been found that muscles can store far more CP than is possible to obtain from food (creatine is found in meat), so by supplementing with creatine monohydrate you can maximise these stores. More CP stored in muscle also draws water into muscle and makes it fuller and stronger.

Not only does creatine allow you to have more energy (through the above process) to help lift heavier weights, train harder and at higher intensity, but it also has other benefits to the bodybuilder. It has been demonstrated that creatine may also promote muscle growth by stimulating protein synthesis in two ways. Firstly, from the increased work you are able to do as a result of the above actions. But also, creatine's other principle function is as a cell volumiser, the more CP that is stored in muscle, the more water is drawn in. This aids ability to work, enhances the muscle 'pump' and helps to trigger protein synthesis, minimise protein breakdown and increase glycogen synthesis. If a muscle is then trained properly, this could lead to enhanced muscle growth.

Creatine formulas
You will see a number of formulas each marketed as being 'the best'! To sum it up - only use creatine monohydrate powder. Creatine phosphate, creatine citrate and creatine serum are useless. Some are marketed with special transport mechanisms, but these are expensive. Stick to the basics.

How to use creatine
You will hear a number of theories as to the best way of supplementing with creatine, some say take with a carbohydrate load; some say take with a hot beverage so it dissolves and is absorbed more easily; some advocate a loading and maintenance phase; some say only a maintenance dose of 5g a day and loading is a waste. My justification for having a loading phase is down to its side effect of nausea and using a continual 5g a day for weeks on end can be a lot to stomach. Though a loading phase does mean more creatine per day initially, this is only for a few days and enables a maintenance dose of merely 2g. Some argue that having a loading phase is just a way of companies selling more but, if you use my regimen below, you will actually require less.

It is also recommended to take creatine with simple carbohydrates. Pre-formulated creatine + carbs concoctions are available, but these are very expensive and contain excessive amounts of sugars, it is far cheaper and better to add your own carbs.

My conclusion, studying all data, it appears the following may be the optimal way of using creatine. Take creatine monohydrate powder in a hot beverage with sugar (or a sugary cordial with hot water) with fruit with a loading and maintenance phase as follows:

Loading phase: 10g per day as 2 x 5g for 5 days; 5g per day for 5 days; 3g per day for 7 days.
Maintenance phase: 2g per day for 5 weeks.

This may be followed by a period off, or back on the loading phase.

Some 'experts' claim that creatine shouldn't be taken with caffeine, like tea or coffee. They say that caffeine inhibits optimal absorption of creatine due to its effect on carbohydrate take up by muscle, and there is sub-optimal hydration of muscle too. There is no evidence to substantiate these claims, and I really fail to see that caffeine with creatine is a problem, as long as you continue to drink plenty of fluid.

Creatine is not the be-all-and-end-all of supplements and is certainly not fundamental to your nutrition regimen, though it is worth giving it a try to see for yourself. There are side effects namely nausea, especially on the loading phase, and quite intense muscle cramps, which can lead to injuries if you are not cautious whilst training. You MUST drink plenty of fluid whilst using creatine.

For more information on creatine, please see the Creatine FAQs article.

Glutamine is a supplement which is claimed by many bodybuilders to be 'essential' for quality muscle gains, yet many researchers claim it is completely useless. The reason for using glutamine arose from its clinical use in the intensive care setting to aid wound healing, as in times of stress levels are reduced, therefore bodybuilders hypothesise that they too require extra.

Bodybuilders claim they 'need' more glutamine as it is the most abundant amino acid in muscle tissue. Scientific evidence points to glutamine being of no use in sports, but anecdotal reports have shown benefits. Indeed, even some clinical evidence points to no benefits from supplementation with glutamine. However, the most overlooked function of glutamine in reports both for and against its supplementation is that glutamine is the nutrient which is the preferred source of energy for intestinal muscle cells; so higher levels mean a stressed digestive system may be able to work more efficiently in helping us absorb more food. This is the key factor and the reason that I choose to supplement with glutamine myself.

If you're unsure as to whether supplementing with glutamine is worth it, bear in mind the following: whey protein is naturally high in glutamine, so if you consume a lot of whey, you may not need extra glutamine. Also note that glutamine supplements are relatively cheap for the amount you use, and one small tub will last weeks.

Glutamine supplements come in two forms, L-glutamine or glutamine peptides. On the grand scale of things it doesn't really matter which you choose as digestion of protein foods will provide both forms anyway, so shop around for a reputable brand at a fair price.

If you do feel glutamine is worth including, take one of your daily servings with carbohydrate (e.g. fruit juice) at least half an hour away from other protein sources, as other amino acids will compete for receptor uptake. You may also wish to add an additional 2-3g to your early morning and post-workout whey protein drinks. I see no need for it to be used in the ridiculously high doses some bodybuilders recommend.

If you still can't make up your mind about glutamine, have a read of some other articles or read topics in the Bodybuilding Supplements section of MuscleTalk. Glutamine may have a place for the more advanced bodybuilder in improving growth and helping the digestive system be more effective.

I have discussed which supplements I feel have a use in certain circumstances to the bodybuilder. I hope this article makes spending your money wisely a little easier. I'm sure there are many points which I haven't covered, so please ask me any questions in the MuscleTalk forum.

Best Muscle Building Supplements - The Top 10 - Part 1.