What supplements do you consider either essential or worthy of using for either fat loss or muscle-building?
Matt: I’m a big believer in whey concentrate. Grass fed is even better. The concentrate version has everything in tact so the immune boosting properties as well as vitamins and minerals and even omega’s are in the grass-fed version. The more refined the whey, the higher the percentage of protein but it comes at the expense of the other health benefits. As far as a source of protein, nothing even comes close.
As far as a muscle-building protein source, you can’t find a better one. Your blood will be flooded with essential amino acids as well as a hefty dose of branched chain amino’s and then the level drops off significantly and goes back to baseline values three or four hours later. This is exactly what we want when we are building muscle. A spike in blood amino levels followed by a return to baseline levels and repeat. Eat your fiber and your carbs and your fats, but consider using whey as your meal time protein source for multiple meals, not just your pre and post workout shakes. At the very least make sure you get them in at those times. I consider whey a food more so than a supplement for the above reasons. It’s my number one, can’t live without food source.
Regarding fat loss, you can’t do better than caffeine. It makes more fat available for utilization due to it being an adenosine agonist. Because it is an adenosine agonist, the result is the pooling of adenosine in the blood which leads to the release of catecholamines which bind to G protein-coupled receptors that activate adenylate cyclase to produce cyclic AMP. As a consequence, cAMP activates protein kinase A, which phosphorylates and activates hormone-sensitive lipase. Hormone sensitive lipase initiates the release of free fatty acids from stored triglycerides (body fat) to be used as an energy source. It’s more complicated than that but that’s as deep as we need to get to see that caffeine is a very potent fat burning aid.
There’s also a lot of evidence pointing to caffeine being a very effective performance enhancer. It definitely ups my intensity in the gym and makes me feel stronger and have better endurance. The trick is to save your coffee drinking for when it’s gym time. If you are always drinking it then the effect won’t even be noticeable.
Other worthy additions are creatine, beta-alanine and fish oil. You can find all you need to know about those by entering those words into the search bar on this site. I also like AAKG, even though there isn’t a lot of evidence to support it. It just works for me on some level.
Colin: For muscle-building I’m a big believer in creatine, beta-alanine and whey protein. BCAA’s are important too but I don’t generally add any more than what I get out of whey. Sometimes I’ll take them before a fasted workout, but I don’t do flavored supplements and nothing tastes worse than unflavored BCAA’s! I may have to look into pill form. I’ve never broken whey down as far as you have about concentrate, though I did recently switch to a concentrate from an isolate since learning about post workout inflammation and waiting an hour to take down that shake.
I’m on the fence about glutamine and ZMA as well, but plan on doing some testing with both later this year. I’ve taken both before but that was a long time ago when I was taking practically anything anyone told me would help before doing my own research. Now I try each thing one at a time to know for sure if it’s doing anything or not. This has helped me cut back my supplements big time.
As far as fat loss supplements, I have to be honest. I don’t take any supplements for fat loss. Not even caffeine. I rarely drink caffeine. Some mornings I’ll brew a green tea, but that’s it. That’s probably in part because of the ectomorph in me. It’s way easier for me to lose fat than it is to build muscle, so I don’t look as hard for aiding fat loss. Perhaps if I ever decide to compete, that will change things. Although I really question the safety of most of the fat loss aids out there. I could never say for certain without doing the research first, just like with muscle-building aids.
Dara: I don’t do fat loss supplements, they either don’t work or are unsafe. I like taking a preworkout with caffeine to help give me an extra push in my workouts and I know there is research to support caffeine’s ability to improved performance by reducing your perceived exertion, which means you can work hard and longer, both important to seeing improved results. Interestingly the research shows that pure caffeine, either in pill form or as a preworkout drink, is more effective than the caffeine in coffee, so it might be worth trying it both ways and see what works best for you. I like my whey protein but prefer to get my protein from meat. I also find that BCAA’s are a must for me during workouts, I definitely notice the difference both in my workout and in my recovery. I definitely sleep better when I take ZMA, which I know will also aid in muscle recovery. And lastly I swear by glutamine. During heavy training I used to get sick often. Nothing too bad, but the kind of annoying cold that hangs on forever. Since I started taking glutamine I haven’t been sick once and I’ve been training just as hard as ever, if not harder, as I’m prepping for a show right now.
I know the research solidly supports creatine, I just don’t personally use it. That’s it for the supplements I use and support!
JC: It goes without saying that whey protein tops the list. In my mind this is for no other reason than fact that it is a good, reliable, quick protein fix. For the average bodybuilder, meeting daily protein requirements would be too difficult from food alone, and not to mention more costly. Whilst protein may seem expensive, the right brand in the right quantity will run you an average cost of about 50 cents per scoop. Anyway, for nothing else other than convenience, I rank whey protein number one.
Following very closely behind is creatine. There is no denying the science behind creatine so I won’t need to sell you on this one either. It works and it is inexpensive. Get yourself a micronized monohydrate from any reputable manufacturer and you are good to go.
If the budget allows after whey and creatine, the following are what I always like to see in my cabinet:
Beta-Alanine: Colin, you just did me great service by outlining this wonder sup in a previous article. For those of you that didn’t catch it, click here to read what beta-alanine can do for you. To summarize, beta-alanine is an endurance sup that will help you get that extra rep. Beta-alanine supplementation has been shown to increase endurance, delay fatigue, and build lean muscle mass.
HMB (Beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate): HMB supplementation was associated with greater increases in muscle mass, muscle strength and anaerobic properties. There is great science behind the muscle sparing properties of HMB. Not only does HMB help prevent muscle damage from hard workouts, but it also stimulates protein synthesis. This can be taken year round, but due to cost I only take it in contest preparation when calories are lower and the chance for muscle loss is greater.
For fat loss, I take a little bit of a different approach. I do not use (but have) fat burners. Fat burners are usually stim heavy and can contain harmful ingredients. If a diet is in check, a fat burner is not needed. I prefer to go with a good quality EFA supplement and a CLA supplement. Scivation makes a great EFA (Omega 3,6,9) pill and Top Secret also markets a fish oil and CLA pill. Fish oil is very common and possesses a number of beneficial properties. Most people already supplement with fish oil for a number of reasons, but not everybody is aware of the benefit of CLA. To begin, CLA does not even have to be supplemented. A well planned diet, especially one containing free range meat, will have high amounts of good quality CLA. With research showing great results of CLA on belly fat and weight management, why not include it?
I also make sure I am well stocked on coconut oil. Coconut oil is a medium-chain triglyceride and a saturated fat. Although saturated fats are advised against, being a medium-chain-triglyceride coconut oil does not function like other fats. When consumed it is actually burned up for energy very quickly, like a carbohydrate, instead of being circulated and stored. I choose coconut oil over straight MCT oil for the taste. Since it is stable at high temperatures, I can cook with it and still enjoy the benefits.