Article written by Matt Mills
I want to start this by saying this is not your typical supplement list that is going to try to get you a bunch of useless supplements that you really don’t need. Also keep in mind that supplements are meant to be just that, only a supplement to your diet. I get numerous questions about what the best supplement is to get bigger, leaner, stronger, etc. My favorite is when I am asked why someone isn’t getting the results they are looking for, despite being on everything the weak and out of shape salesmen at (insert any supplement store here) told them to buy. Real food should always be a top priority and is what will give you the greatest results. If you talk to anyone that has been in the iron game for a long time and has the results to show for it, they hardly talk about the newest supplement out, but they do talk about how much real food they eat. With that all being said, supplements can help. However, most are a complete waste of money, so I would like to give my top 5 supplements that I have seen the best results using.
Recovery is one of the most overlooked aspects of training, no matter what your goals are. ZMA is a combination of Zinc, Magnesium Aspartate, and B6. Most hard training athletes are deficient in these vitamins and minerals, so they are important to replenish to ensure proper recovery. A nice side effect of taking ZMA is that it produces a very deep sleep, not to mention some really crazy dreams. Being in deeper sleep means you have reached stage 4 of Non Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) sleep. I intend on writing a whole article on proper sleep. But to keep things short, there are 4 stages of sleep, and it is very important for recovery to reach stage 4. For those of you with sleep apnea from having an enlarged neck, you know how much of a difference this can make. You want to take ZMA about 30 minutes before bed, preferably on an empty stomach. Personally, unless I am cutting weight for a contest I am never on an empty stomach. However, I have not seen much of difference when I take this shortly after my last meal.
It’s no surprise that whey protein is on this list. Whey protein is the perfect protein to have directly after a hard training session. Some people might be against me here, but I am a firm believer in nutrient timing. Having fast acting protein with some simple carbs is the perfect recovery meal. Whether I am training to put size on or to strip body fat, whey protein is always after my training sessions. Here at Lift Big Eat Big, we have designed a great whey protein supplement you can find here. It has the highest quality grass fed whey, with waxy maize, and maltodextrin for the perfect combination for post workout recovery. Also, a great side effect of using whey protein is that it has been shown to boost the immune system. After a hard training session, the immune system can drop as your body starts the recovery process, leaving you more susceptible to sickness. Whey protein can combat this.
Creatine is something that every strength athlete, body builder, gym rat should be taking because it has been proven time and time again to be effective. There are a lot of misconceptions about creatine, and I never understood where they came from. First creatine is not a steroid, not even close. Creatine is something we all have naturally in our muscles. When our creatine levels are higher, our body can produce more energy at a faster pace, allowing you to do more reps, or sprint a little longer. For us meat heads, this can impact out training a lot. If we can normally squat 315 for 3, and now we can get an extra rep out each set, that will add to a lot more volume over a training session. More training volume will equal more muscle flat out. There is little evidence to show that creatine can improve endurance training but I feel it would still be worth taking.
The nice thing is creatine is relatively cheap and one of the most effective supplements out there. Stay away from the overpriced ones with all kinds of cheap sugars added. TrueNutrion.com has a great creatine monhydrate available here. There is no real evidence to support sugar increasing the effectiveness of creatine. A simple 5 grams of creatine monohydrate added to your workout drink will do the trick. Also, skip the “loading phase”; this is just a way for you to use more so you then have to buy more. I will say for some people, supplementing with creatine will do absolutely nothing, but these individuals will already have high creatine levels so adding more will do nothing. One “side effect” of creatine is that it will cause some initial weight gain from the creatine drawing more water in the muscles. If you have to make weight for a contest I wouldn’t recommend starting creatine shortly before. The weight gain is generally between 2-4lbs which if you’re trying to put good weight on creatine is your friend.
I’m sure all of you are familiar with caffeine, as most people don’t even use it as a training stimulant. A couple interesting facts about caffeine is that it raises your blood pressure, but coffee drinkers are 50% less likely to die from heart failure then non coffee drinkers. Caffeine can also spike blood sugar, yet coffee drinkers are more likely to avoid diabetes. Without getting into too much science, caffeine simply allows your central nervous system to run faster. Adenosine is a compound in our bodies that basically makes us slow down when we are tired, and in need of sleep. Caffeine of course inhibits Adenosine, and the more caffeine we have in our system the more it can block adenosine speeding us up even more. Some more benefits of caffeine are that it can prevent both Parkinson’s diseases, and Alzheimer’s. Since caffeine boosts your CNS, it will also increase your heart rate and breathing rate preparing you for a heavy deadlift session. One effect of blocking adenosine to your muscles, is your muscles can now make bigger contractions, allowing you to lift bigger weights. Now this all sounds pretty awesome, which is why most of us use caffeine on a regular basis. I recently started having a small cup of coffee every morning just for the health benefits. However I feel many lifters become addicted to pre workouts which can in the long run really hurt your results.
How much caffeine we need really depends on the individual. Personally, I’m very sensitive to caffeine so 150mg is more than enough for me, but if I have a bad night’s sleep I might bump it to 300mg at the most. Even at these doses, I only will use a pre workout supplement when I feel I need to avoid relying on them. I know it’s some kind of test to see who can take the most pre workout and go the craziest, but you are asking for trouble in the long run. I don’t think I have to explain that the more you use caffeine the more you will have to increase the dose to get the same effect. Also you will begin to be extremely tired when caffeine is not in you, and this is where your body now relies on it. Without going into too much detail this will fry your CNS, and kill your recovery if you are constantly burned out. Also, continually pushing yourself past your limits with excessive amounts of caffeine will only lead to injury. With that being said caffeine is your friend but don’t abuse it. For those of you that don’t like coffee, or fancy pre workouts you can pick up some purely caffeine pills from www.TrueNutrition.com right here.
The list of benefits of taking omega 3 fatty acids has become very extensive in the last few years, and this is another supplement I really feel anyone should be taking if they are concerned with their health. To show the importance of omega 3’s they are virtually in every cell of the body, as well as the building blocks of our hormones. Fish oil has not only been shown to lower the risk of heart disease, but it also can lower the risk of deadly prostate cancer by 25%. A couple other big benefits are that fish oil can lower the risk of colon cancer, stroke, asthma, arthritis, and even improve brain function. So what does this all mean for the lifter just trying to get bigger, stronger, and leaner? Well, it helps in every aspect of your goals. First, as it being a building block to hormones as a straight muscle builder, as our hormones determine whether we can build muscle, or burn fat. Second, fish oil has been shown to increase insulin sensitivity. In my last article I explained how insulin sensitivity is important to put muscle on while keeping body fat down, so if you didn’t read it check it out here. Finally, fish oil can reduce inflammation in your muscle and within your joints. Less inflammation can lead to faster recovery, and LESS JOINT PAIN. As a pro strongman, my joints take a beating from carrying such heavy weights on a regular basis, and taking a greater dose of fish oil has helped. Personally I take 9 grams a day spaced out with food. One thing to avoid is the dreaded fish burps. This comes from low quality fish oil, but also make sure you take them while you are eating. You can get a high quality fish oil from the Lift Big Eat Big store here.
These are the 5 supplements that I have seen the most results from, and I can honestly say I have tried everything in the last 15 years. I look back at all the useless shit I bought, and think about all the money I have wasted. So, be smart and realize there is no magic supplement that’s going to put on 20lbs of muscle in a month, or increase your strength by 100%. If you feel there is something I missed then drop a comment below or on the Lift Big Eat Big Facebook page and let us know what you think.