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“What supplements should I be taking?” That is a fair question, and one that we receive via our customer support page almost daily. It’s also a difficult question to answer without falling back on the dreaded “It depends…” The truth is that so much does depend on the individual asking the question — his or her current physical state, experience level, and choices made in the kitchen and grocery store.
Those of us with a few grey hairs can remember a time when this was a more simple question. Twenty years ago, supplements were limited to a few sawdust-flavored protein powders, ass-expanding weight gainers, and a variety of questionable “anabolic megapacks” that we all knew were snake oil despite cool packaging that featured the reigning Mr. Olympia’s glowing endorsement.
Today, the supplement scene is much different. Walk into your local supplement shop and you’ll be bombarded by row upon row of protein powders, fat burners, pre- and post-workout mixes, weight gainers, lean-weight gainers (huh?), and countless other products. An eager salesperson will offer extra-high praise for a chosen few items but most likely has one eye on the commissions list and the other eye on your wallet.
Yes, she’s a powerlifter, and yes, she uses AtLarge’s supplements.
So what can we do to demystify this situation? In sports, many coaches preach about mastering the fundamentals before trying anything fancy. For example, in football, blocking and tackling take priority over running the flea-flicker or perfecting touchdown celebration dances. This logic is simple yet sound — if you can’t handle the basics, all the razzle-dazzle in the world won’t help you win a game.
A similar paradigm can be used for choosing the right supplements, whether your goal is to build muscle, get stronger, lose fat, or just be healthier. For example, let’s say your goal is to build muscle, and you’re wondering whether the newest nitric oxide product will help. Before you whip out your wallet, first take a look at your diet. Are you getting sufficient calories? What about protein (at least a gram to a one and a half grams per pound of bodyweight per day)? Are you consuming enough polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, and saturated fats? Are you getting a decent serving of carbs post workout?
These building blocks are mass building fundamentals, and MUST be set correctly to achieve maximum strength and mass gains. As for that six-scoop serving of Mega-Pump 8000? Despite what the guy-in-the-labcoat ad is selling you, that product about as important to your gains as the color of Mr. Olympia’s banana hammock. Sadly, the onslaught of advertising and information confuses many rookie lifters. With little to no clue as to what is really required to accomplish their goals, they spend much time and money fussing with the supplementation equivalent of the trick play when they don’t even have enough players lined up on the field.
The right supplements can enhance your CrossFit performance. Jaime Gold at the 2102 CrossFit Games.
Before you part with your hard-earned cash for a supplement, do an honest assessment of your situation. What is your goal? Is it to build muscle, lose fat, or perform better? Where does this supplement rank in the big picture? Does it fill a gap left by your diet or lifestyle, or is it redundant or just not necessary at this time?
For example, if you’re trying to lose fat and are already eating a high-protein calorie-reduced diet, then a fat burner like Axcel might be a great addition. However, if you eat haphazardly, have no idea how much protein you take in, are scared of dietary fat, and won’t perform any cardio because you’re afraid of “losing muscle”, then even Axcel can’t help you. You simply need more protein (like Nitrean+), some fish oil, and a serious reevaluation of your exercise plan. On the other hand, if your goal is to build mass and you’re already eating pounds of lean red meat, poultry, and eggs multiple times a day, a quality protein supplement like Nitrean might not be priority number one. But if you have a busy schedule or find cooking and eating to be a chore, then maybe a protein supplement is a good assist.
You get the idea by now…first, determine your goal, and then figure out what you need to do to need to get there. Examine your diet, training, and lifestyle and pinpoint where your gaps might be. What are you missing? This analysis will determine what supplements should be on your own priority list. Figure it out and you’ll get the most out of your supplement dollar while greatly accelerating your progress.
So if the goal is building muscle, what are the absolutely most effective supplements to take?
Nitrean+ is an enhanced version of our award-winning Nitrean protein. You need protein to build muscle. This fact has been validated both by science and by thousands of bodybuilders throughout the history of bodybuilding. To get bigger and stronger muscles, you need to stimulate them in order to drive adaptation (training) while also providing the necessary material for growth and repair. That material is protein. The building blocks of protein are amino acids, and like a fingerprint, each protein has its own unique amino acid profile. This is why experts encourage trainees to eat a variety of proteins and not just subsist on whey or chicken or, God forbid, soy.
To address this need, Nitrean+ uses a protein matrix that combines three different fractions of whey (isolate, concentrate, and hydrolyzed), casein, and egg proteins. This matrix promotes superior net retention on a gram-for-gram basis, which means that your body retains and uses more Nitrean+ for every gram you ingest as compared to a simple whey-only supplement.
The Nitrean+ blend also supports a more anabolic state by addressing both sides of the anabolism/catabolism equation. The high-quality whey fractions in Nitrean+ are rapidly absorbed “fast proteins” that promote protein synthesis, especially when consumed in the post-workout period, while the “slower” casein effectively blunts catabolism, or muscle breakdown. A protein supplement that addresses both anabolism and catabolism with one formula is the equivalent to a boxer with a devastating set of hands and a rock-hard chin…it’s tough to beat. Throw in some egg albumin (the old-school staple with the extremely high biological value that single-handedly built many of bodybuilding’s greatest physiques) and you have the most anabolic protein supplement on the market!
But what takes Nitrean+ over the top is the addition of branched-chain leucine. As one of the coveted branched-chain amino acids, leucine has been demonstrated to stimulate protein synthesis to a degree equivalent to whole proteins. In other words, the additional leucine in Nitrean+ acts as an anabolic supercharger that aids in optimizing the body’s response to intense training.
Creatine monohydrate is the most rigorously studied and scientifically proven lean tissue and strength-building supplement on the market. Scores of unbiased studies have shown that creatine monohydrate increases both lean muscle size and strength while maintaining an exemplary safety profile, and AtLarge’s creatine monohydrate is made of the purest, finest quality creatine monohydrate available.
Creatine was reportedly used by Olympic athletes as far back as 1982, and has been tested extensively both in the lab and in the gym over the past 30 years. The truth is that it’s safe and it works. Creatine is a naturally occurring substance found predominantly in meats. If you follow a Fred Flintstone-like meat diet you might consume amounts of creatine sufficient to achieve an ergogenic effect, but it’s very unlikely. To do this, the average man would need to consume three pounds of beef, three pounds of salmon, or three pounds of tuna every day! That’s enough meat for Fred, Barney, Wilma, and Betty put together.
Another reason that creatine is so effective is that it isn’t merely an athletic supplement. Recent studies have indicated that it may also be a potent antioxidant, which protect the body’s cells from damage by free radicals. Creatine has also been shown to improve the functioning of patients suffering from various neuromuscular disorders. It truly is a wonder supplement!
Creatine’s proven ability to increase strength and lean muscle mass also makes it an effective body fat-reduction supplement. Lean muscle mass is a physiologically “expensive” tissue, requiring considerable calories to maintain. Those aiming to decrease their body fat levels would be well advised to increase their lean muscle mass because more muscle equates to a greater metabolic rate. In other words, you burn more calories, even at rest. Burn fat while you sleep? Sign me up!
Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA’s)
BCAAs are something that every lifter should be taking, if not daily, then at least during training cycles when maximum muscle mass is the goal. If you spend enough time in this business, you start to notice a few patterns. Training programs with squats and deadlifts tend to build more muscle than workouts featuring endless sets of arm curls and pressdowns. Diets heavier in protein and lighter in carbs tend to yield leaner athletes, and supplement protocols with ample amounts of BCAAs usually lead to better gains.
The branched chain amino acids are leucine, isoleucine, and valine. What sets these three apart from the other essential and nonessential aminos acids is that they have some very specific, very special properties. BCAA’s promote protein synthesis in muscle, and, when consumed during training, have been shown to increase both growth hormone and insulin (thus increasing anabolism and anti-catabolism) while increasing post-workout testosterone levels. That’s a lot of heavy hormonal support from just three little amino acids!
On the subject of results Joe Sixpack can actually feel, regular BCAA users usually report remarkably decreased soreness, even after grueling high-volume workouts. This means that the muscles are recuperating faster, which, when added up over weeks and months, can mean bigger and stronger muscles.
AtLarge Nutrition’s BCAA+ also contains the amino acid glutamine, which on its own has a myriad of performance and recovery supporting effects. During inflammatory states (such as those that might be occur due to a heavy training cycle), intramuscular stores of glutamine are reduced, leading to increased rates of protein breakdown. This negative effect can be significantly mitigated through oral glutamine supplementation.
Of even more importance, however, is glutamine’s other role. Glutamine also helps bolster the immune system by serving as a ‘fuel’ for many immune cells, and thus helps to protect the body from the extreme stress of intense training. Much of the immune suppression that occurs during overtraining is due to glutamine use outstripping the body’s production. Supplementing with glutamine may help prevent this by providing support during especially heavy training periods. So while BCAA’s help repair the muscles from killer workouts, glutamine helps prevent all that hard training from leaving you sick in bed with the flu, sucking on chicken soup, and watching endless hours of reality TV.
When the rubber hits the road, supplements are just that: additional assists in your efforts to build a leaner, stronger body. They aren’t intended to replace a nutritious diet, but rather to plug whatever holes your diet might have left behind. Some may even taste great and make your life a lot easier, but that’s just the icing on the proverbial cake.
However, take heed – any time the angry bodybuilder in the 26-page ad report makes it seem like supplements are responsible for their accomplishments, run. Run fast. Define your own goals and what you need to do to get there. Then, fill in the gaps with supplements that can assist you in your endeavors, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised.