Muscle Building Supplements
The market for muscle building supplements is huge, expensive, and filled with marketing hype. So how do you know what is truly effective?
The truth is, most of the muscle building supplements on the market have limited effectiveness, their supposed benefits based on an obscure study that showed that one of the ingredients may play a role in a mechanism that might help you to bulk up!
For most people, simply improving their diet by eating a good variety of fresh, natural foods will make more difference than most supplements.
There are some supplements that have solid, proven results, however. The most effective of these, and the undoubted king of weight lifting supplements, is creatine.
Although athletes have been using creatine as a nutritional supplement since the mid-1960s, it only really came to the attention of the American public in 1998 when it emerged that baseball slugger Mark McGuire was using it during his pursuit of Babe Ruth’s single season home run record.
So What is Creatine?
Creatine is an amino acid – the building blocks of protein – that is produced naturally in our bodies, and composed of 3 amino acids, glycine, arginine and methionine. However, the body produces it in small doses. What athletes have discovered is that if you supplement the body’s supply of creatine, it can have dramatic effects on strength and size.
It has thus become the number one muscle building supplement worldwide, supported by both anecdotal and research evidence. Indeed, with over 2000 pieces of research published to date, it is the most researched performance enhancing supplement on the market.
What research shows is that creatine supplementation can benefit athletes in several ways1(Williams et al, 1997). These include:
• Permitting you to train harder
• Improving repetitive interval/sprint capacity
• Reducing overall training fatigue
• Accelerating muscle hypertrophy (growth)
• Increasing lean body mass
As a result, it is popular with not only bodybuilders, but with any athletes involved in sports that require high levels of strength and power – rowing, American Football, track and field, etc.
However, it is worth pointing out that creatine doesn’t work for everyone – the particular mechanism by which it works means that unless you are training really hard, it will not be effective2.
The typical dose is 5 grams of creatine taken around 20 minutes before a workout. That will maximize the amount of creatine available when you workout.
The final consideration is whether it is safe. The evidence is overwhelming that this is one of the safest muscle building supplements on the market, with no reports of long-term side effects3.
The other weight lifting supplement you should consider is beta-alanine. Like creatine, it is an amino acid, but it is not found in any food sources. Supplementation is thus essential.
So What is Beta Alanine?
Beta-alanine is one of the newer muscle building supplements, and in truth, the mechanism by which it helps athletes is still not fully understood. However, researchers believe that it works as a buffering agent, reducing the amount of lactic acid in your muscles4.
Lactic acid is the waste product the muscles produce when you work hard, and when too much builds up, it ultimately stops you from working any more – it’s the burning you feel in your muscles when you reach the limits of your strength or endurance. Thus anything that can reduce lactic acid will help you to work out harder and longer.
In addition, Beta-Alanine increases the supply of the amino acid carnosine in the muscles – research shows that if muscles have higher carnosine levels, they can contract harder for longer and produce greater force, again leading to better muscular endurance and performance5.
The obvious question is, why don’t you simply supplement carnosine directly? In fact, many bodybuilders do – however, carnosine supplements, though popular, are ineffective, because when you ingest carnosine directly, it is almost all broken down in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. The little that does escape is destroyed when it reaches the blood. It is therefore far more effective to take Beta-Alanine.
Dosage of beta-alanine is similar to creatine – the research that has been conducted has used dosages of between 3.2 grams and 6.4 grams per day – therefore most people use between 4-5 grams a day, typically taken 30 – 60 minutes before a workout.
It is important not to expect miracles from these supplements. Although some people will notice benefits within one week, research shows that the maximum benefit of beta-alanine will occur after around 10 weeks6.
Because it is much newer to the market than creatine, beta-alanine doesn’t have the same body of evidence to its safety, but various studies of up to 12 weeks have shown no negative changes across a wide range of blood, biochemical, hematological and hormonal markers7.
For someone who is training hard and eating right, muscle building supplements are thus an effective way to maximize strength and mass gains.
1Williams, Melvin H., Kreider, Richard B., and Branch, J. David, 1999. Creatine. Human Kinetics Europe.
2Kleiner, Susan M., and Greenwood-Robinson, Maggie, 1998. Power Eating Human Kinetics Europe.
3Volek, J.S. 1997. Creatine supplementation and its possible role in improving physical performance. ACSM Health Fitness Journal, 1(4); 23-29.
4Susan M. Kleiner, Maggie Greenwood-Robinson, 2007. Power Eating: Build Muscle, Increase Energy, Cut Fat
5Mike Greenwood, Douglas Kalman, Jose Antonio, 2008. Nutritional Supplements in Sports and Exercise
6Hill, Harris, Kim, Harris, Sale, Boobis, Kim, Wise, 2006. Influence of beta-alanine supplementation on skeletal muscle carnosine concentrations and high intensity cycling capacity. Amino Acids. 2006. July 28
7Susan M. Kleiner, Maggie Greenwood-Robinson, 2007. Power Eating: Build Muscle, Increase Energy, Cut Fat
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