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“Hey bro, what supplements you take?” If this is the first question someone asks me or one of my teammates, I’ll usually just let out a sigh and proceed to give a brief plug about the primary importance of quality nutrition. When I fail to disclose any “secrets” about some magic powder or pill, I can see their interest quickly fade. Disappointed, they might walk away before I can even finish answering their initial question! No one wants to hear that persistence in the gym is best complimented by quality calories, rather than some quick fix potion. This is the truth, but it isn’t the whole truth.
They should have stuck around, because I would tell them that dietary supplements are in fact a critical component in building muscle, losing fat, improving focus, performance, and eventually producing a physique worthy of competition. It’s no secret that whether you’re a bodybuilder, professionally football player, or “weekend” warrior… we’re all looking for that edge in our respective area of competition.
Since the 1970’s, bodybuilders and fitness enthusiast have always carried a lot of muscle. These guys would head over to Gold’s Gym in Venice, California or some other dungeon-like gym filled with barbells and heavy dumbbells. They would train with maximum intensity day in and day out while performing set after set of heavy squats, deadlifts, and bench presses. Today, most successful lifters would also recognize that these movements are superior. Invariably, they would place them as primary exercises in their routines since they obviously worked better than anything else.
Old school lifters also understood that nutrition was the prime catalyst for muscle growth and fat loss. They placed protein at the forefront of their diet plans, and ate adequate carbohydrates and fats to fill in the remaining calories they needed for building muscle. Just like today, bodybuilders and athletes are manipulating their diet regimens to lose fat at an optimal rate while simultaneously trying to minimize muscle wasting. All in all, it seems that not much has changed if we look at basic philosophies regarding training and nutrition. However it is quite obvious that modern athletes and bodybuilders of all ages and competition levels are progressing at a rate much faster than any other time in human history. Where are the discrepancies?
One of the major differences lies in the modern development of various dietary supplements. Back in the old days, there were few products on the market that were used as additions to an athlete’s diet. Natural bodybuilders would have to rely solely on incredibly precise nutrition and training designs to try and minimize the amount of muscle they would sacrifice while desperately working to get in contest condition. The same holds true today, but there’s no doubt that the standards have been raised on the stage, court, and field. Whether you want to cut body fat for health reasons, cosmetic purposes, increased performance, or all of the above… you have to :
There have been many companies that invent new products and instantly attach inflated claims and promises to them. There is usually minimal research to back up these statements, and it seems as though their agenda is only about making that sale… not helping you get into shape. We know now that supplements are just that… supplements to your diet and training program. However all that work to put on muscle in the gym and kitchen should not be drained the minute you decide to strip off the body fat. Make sure you make the smart move, and take advantage of some of the following products to help you keep the muscle you earned. Each one of these compounds has substantial and convincing scientific research behind it. Don’t waste your money on any kind of hype; go for what’s been proven to work for many serious athletes all around the world!
BCAA’s - Branched Chain amino acids are three essential amino acids (leucine, isoleucine and valine) which means they must be obtained through quality protein in the diet. These amino acids are instantly metabolized in the muscle and should be used as a dietary supplement before, during, and after training in order to maximize recovery while creating an anabolic environment in the muscle tissue.
It would be extremely difficult to initiate protein synthesis with whole food sources during training, which can be an effective strategy when trying to strip body fat. BCAA’s are extremely conducive to helping bodybuilders and athletes cut body fat while maintaining their muscle mass.
Additionally, the insulinogenic effects of Branched chain amino acids aren’t significant enough to halt fat-burning, yet they do provide the necessary materials for the muscle to use when glucose is low. Therefore, when your goal is to get as lean as possible while keeping training intensity at peak levels, branched chain amino acids will serve to be the perfect addition to your diet and training efforts.
I noticed a considerable change in my energy levels and muscle fullness in the gym. They also seem to function as a potent appetite suppressant for myself, which is perfect when I’m trying to cut down. My favorite pick is Xtend from Scivation. The refreshing flavors will help curb your cravings, and allow you to ultimately dip into more fat burning potential.
Whey protein - When trying to cut fat and improve body composition, a high quality protein supplement can become a key ingredient in your success. Whey protein specifically has a uniquely high amount of the amino acid L-leucine which has been shown to signal the transcription pathway to quickly trigger the initiation of protein synthesis. Protein is the paramount nutrient for any bodybuilder and competitive athlete.
During a cutting phase, it is even more crucial to take in enough protein to support the muscle you already have. Sure we’ve all heard that whey protein is digested rapidly and is best consumed right after training, but it also functions as a high-quality meal replacement when combined with other macronutrients (depending on your individual calorie allowance). Missing a meal can hurt your fat-burning goals more than you could imagine! When your body isn’t in a positive nitrogen balance, you run the risk of sacrificing muscle tissue and slowing down your metabolic rate.
Your body will compensate by becoming more apt to store nutrients as body fat just in case you don’t make it to the next meal! I usually take whey protein two times per day on average. Once in the morning with breakfast (I like to mix it with oatmeal and a banana) and once after training. If you’re serious about shedding body fat and sparing muscle tissue, then make sure you have some whey protein on-hand to guarantee you will have a high quality meal… and always skip the drive-thru! I’ve had great results with Optimum Nutrition, Scivation, and Jay Robb, to name a few.
Creatine monohydrate - Creatine is a substance naturally developed in the kidneys, liver, and pancreas. It is eventually displaced in the muscle tissue and converted into creatine phosphate (ATP is produced) which yields creatine as an energy supplier to the muscle. Although you could get plenty of creatine from beef, you would have to eat pounds of it in order to obtain the desired effects.
However this is NOT conducive to someone who wants to get shredded, so supplemental creatine is a useful alternative. You may notice a full, hard appearance to the muscle tissue upon consumption. Even though most of this will be “water weight” don’t let that phrase fool you. The water will stay intramuscularly, rather than under the skin, on top of the muscle. Creatine can yield incredible benefits when trying to cut body fat because it allows you to maintain strength, even when glucose levels are extremely low. There have been numerous types of creatine to hit the shelves in the recent years. You may have heard of kre-alkalyn creatine, creatine phosphate, creatine citrate, creatine esters, and more.
Each of these claims to help you build lean muscle and increase your strength in the gym. Everyone responds differently to these various forms, but in my experience… the most enduring type has been regular creatine monohydrate. I have personally used the micronized version from Biochem. This creatine comes in an ultra-fine consistency that will have minimal stress on the kidneys and cause the least amount of potential bloating. Don’t be afraid to take creatine monohydrate when dieting, it will not make you like your “holding water” but it will help you maintain your strength and keep you from looking flat and stringy while trying to lose body fat.
Joint Support - When it comes to choosing joint supplements there are numerous options available. Just like with any supplements, you must be wary of the initial claims being made about the specific products since there are so many choices at hand. There are a few types of joint support products that can be a big-time aid in your fat-loss and training regimen. When you are consistent with your nutrition and you start to reap the benefits of BCAA’s, whey protein, and creatine, you will see your body fat start to melt away.
There’s never a more applicable time than this to start taking those joint protectors! Glucosamine is an amino acid that is naturally produced in the body. It is also a precursor to a molecule used in the construction of cartilage. When you use this supplement, the substance will expand the rate of repair of the new cartilage by providing the raw materials for regeneration.
I’ve noticed that NOW glucosamine has provided the relief I need when the body fat drops and the weights stay heavy! Cissus is another reputable type of joint support. Cissus can help support optimal joint health, enhance recovery at the conclusion of intense training, support healthy weight management, and it’s also a powerful anti-oxidant. This added pillar that cissus provides can deliver powerful relief to joints and help you get leaner at the same time! Don’t lower your intensity just to be “safe”. Instead, up your doses of glucosamine and cissus and you should be ready to go. I’ve had outstanding workouts long into fat-burning mode with Scivation cissus, and USP Labs Super Cissus Rx.
Essential Fatty Acids (EFA): Essential fatty acids found in fish oils have been recently called “the miracle supplements of the 21st century.” Studies show that eating fish high in essential fatty acids can potentially help to prevent many different kinds of ailments including heart disease, obesity, joint pain, headaches, depression, and help maintain blood pressure. There is also research that has been implicated Omega 3 in helping people improve memory functioning and increase brain development.
These are all added bonuses to the fact that fish oils can keep your skin, hair, nails, and mood in top form. I’ve noticed that I get leaner… and stay leaner when I am supplementing with EFA’s. There have been improvements shown in blood flow and nutrient transport in the presence of adequate essential fats, which can be especially beneficial when dieting. This allows your metabolic rate to run at optimal efficiency while providing an adequate environment for using stored fat as energy during exercise. The addition of essential fatty acids to any supplement stack is a functional way to amplify your body’s capacity to burn fat! I have found success with brands such as HFS total EFA.
Alpha Lipoic Acid - Alpha lipoic acid is a fatty acid found naturally inside every cell in the human body. Its main function in the system is to create the energy for all the things we do day in and day out. I use Alpha lipoic acid two or three times per day with my high carbohydrate meals since it is also responsible for converting glucose into energy during exercise. When you’re aiming to get as lean as possible, you will want to make sure your body is efficiently converting that limited glucose into fuel for your workouts. As an added benefit, alpha lipoic acid is also an anti-oxidant that can help rid the body of potentially harmful chemicals called free radicals.
In the presence of too many harmful wastes, the fat-burning process can become an even larger burden on the system. Alpha lipoic acid will help neutralize these waste products and help the body systems run more efficiently. Alpha lipoic acid can also do its job in both water and fat, therefore making it a water and fat soluble substance. Other anti-oxidants such as vitamin C and E are only water OR fat soluble, thus making them less resilient in the presence of destructive free radicals.
The addition of alpha lipoic acid as a means to use the food you eat efficiently and lose body fat is a no-brainer. Don’t shortchange yourself, you can start taking it once a day with your post-workout meal and reap the benefits! I have found PrimaForce Pure ALA to be a very reliable and well-made product I can trust.
Thermogenic - As with any type of supplement, be sure to carefully read the entire label before you consume it. I have found that this is especially critical for thermogenics. When your body is in a depleted, fat burning state… it will naturally become ultra sensitive to anything you put in your system. Check the ingredients and make sure there isn’t too much niacin for you to handle as this can produce an uncomfortable flushing sensation that can last a few minutes. Although this isn’t harmful, it may be fairly uncomfortable and alarming at first. One of the supreme ingredients in most thermogenic fat burners is the addition of caffeine. Most people underestimate the potent effects of the drug, which can leave them feeling overly anxious, irritable, and restless if they take too much right away. Just make sure to know your tolerance, and remember that more is not always better!
I have found thermogenic fat burners to be an instrumental addition to my supplement stack for getting lean, but only when I really need them. I would not advise you to start popping capsule after capsule if you still have a ton of weight to lose. In the beginning, spend the majority of your time mastering your nutrition and supplementation with the six types of products listed above. Then, when the time is right and you really want to get in contest condition cut, try out these excellent products like Dialene-4 by Scivation or Hydroxycut Hardcore by MuscleTech, both are reputable companies with a solid product behind them.
Once you start to master your training and learn about the importance of quality nutrition, the next step should be to try out some of these quality products to help you reach your fat loss goals a little bit faster. We live in a time with so much information and sophisticated technology to create a multitude of different types of compounds and formulas, but sometimes it’s best to stick to what has been proven to work. It’s also crucial to pay attention to how your body responds to anything you feed it. Make sure you’re feeling good and healthy along the way as this will increase your chances of remaining consistent and thus, successful with your weight-loss goals!
Written By Connor LaVallie
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