The ultimate purpose of bodybuilding is to gain muscle and strength. One benefit of having a healthy amount of muscle is that you’ll be able to perform daily tasks better, as well as improving your gym performance.
To put on muscle you need to consume more protein than you break down and also undertake a fitness programme that really challenges your muscles.
There are quite a few supplements available to help you hit your muscle-building goals.
Reported Effects of Bodybuilding Supplements
They Can Help You Build Muscle
The goal in bodybuilding is to gain muscle. Supplements such as BCAAs, carnitine, creatine glutamine and ZMAs can help you do this by:
- Inhibiting the stress hormone, cortisol
- Boosting your growth hormone levels
- Increasing your essential amino acid levels
However, it’s also crucial to consume protein which you can get from supplements like whey.
They Can Help You Lose Fat
As you increase muscle mass you consequently lose fat. Most supplements in this article, either directly or indirectly, help you lose fat. However, you also need to stick to a sensible calorie-controlled diet.
They Can Help Boost Your Workout Performance
Supplements such as carnitine, creatine and nitric oxide (NO) boosters can improve your performance by:
- Increasing the amount of energy available to your muscles
- Dilating blood vessels, allowing more blood flow to your muscles
They Can Help You Recover
BCAAs can help you recover by preventing DOMS (delayed-onset muscle soreness). The blood vessel dilating properties of NO boosters also help you recover after exercise.
Common Ingredients Found in Bodybuilding Supplements
Beta-alanine is an amino acid that bonds with histidine, another amino acid, to form carnosine.
Clinical studies show that when you have higher levels of carnosine in your muscles you have improved strength and endurance. Carnosine improves muscle fibres’ ability to contract with more power and also to contract for longer without getting tired.
There have been several trials demonstrating that participants who took beta-alanine experienced increased muscle strength.
One such study showed that athletes who took beta-alanine together with creatine experienced higher increases in their muscle mass and greater decreases in body fat compared with athletes who only took creatine. (1)
Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)
The BCAAs are leucine, isoleucine, and valine. They’re known as the ‘essential’ amino acids and they are the most critical for repairing and building muscle.
Leucine is the most important. Researchers have shown that it can stimulate the synthesis of muscle protein by itself. (2)
Despite this however, it’s best to take all three BCAAs because they work together to deliver benefits such as enhanced muscle growth, increased energy during your workouts, and inhibiting the action of cortisol. Cortisol is the ‘stress hormone’ that slows your production of testosterone and causes your muscle tissue to break down.
BCAAs can also help you beat delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
Carnitine enhances your muscle growth and also helps you lose fat, research has shown. Clinical trials have shown that carnitine can also increase the blood flow to your muscles and elevate testosterone levels after your gym session.
Carnitine can also help to stimulate muscle growth by increasing the number of testosterone receptors inside your muscle cells.
Additionally, experts have demonstrated that carnitine can boost your levels of insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), which also helps you build muscle. (3)
Creatine is composed of three amino acids: arginine, glycine, and methionine. Research has shown that athletes who take creatine can put on up to 4.5kg of muscle and also substantially increase their strength.
Creatine helps to increase the amount of energy in your muscles, enabling you to execute more reps in the gym. Additionally, it enables your muscle cells to take in more water which helps to increase long-term muscle growth.
Furthermore, creatine assists in boosting the amount of IGF-1 in your muscles, which is crucial for growth. (4)
Glutamine is critical for your muscle performance. It’s also one of the most abundant amino acids in your body.
Glutamine can help you build muscle by boosting your levels of leucine. This helps block the breakdown of your muscle tissue and also to boost your immune system.
If you take glutamine before your session it can decrease muscle fatigue and boost your growth hormone levels.
Clinical studies have also demonstrated that glutamine may help you lose fat because it increases the calories that you burn both in the gym and at rest. (5)
Nitric Oxide Boosters
The nitric oxide (NO) boosters include citrulline malate, L-arginine, and arginine alpha-ketoglutarate.
NO helps to dilate your blood vessels. This enables more blood flow to your muscles which, in turn, stimulates transport of oxygen, nutrients, anabolic hormones and water to these muscles. Consequently, you’ll have more energy when you work out, with enhanced muscle growth and recovery afterwards.
Your body breaks down NO boosters to arginine, an amino acid which your body effectively metabolises to nitric oxide.
Clinical trials have demonstrated that subjects who took NO boosters experienced both enhanced muscle strength and growth, and even decreased their body fat. (6)
Whey Protein Powder
Whey protein is fundamentally the most important supplement to help you synthesise protein. It’s derived from milk and contains a large quantity of BCAAs, which are the essential amino acids.
Your body can digest whey protein quickly and transport it to your muscles to begin the muscle-building process. Also, the small proteins (peptides) in whey help to enhance blood flow to your muscles.
For this reason, it’s best to take whey soon after you’ve finished your workout. (7)
ZMA is a blend of zinc, magnesium aspartate and vitamin B6. Bodybuilders and elite athletes are often deficient in these minerals which are critical for healthy hormone levels and also help you to get enough quality sleep. Sleep is paramount for recovery.
When you train hard your levels of testosterone and IGF-1 can become diminished.
One clinical trial showed that participants who took ZMA experienced substantially elevated testosterone and IGF-1 levels over an eight-week training period. Participants that only took a placebo found their levels of these hormones were significantly reduced. (8)
Side-Effects of Using Bodybuilding Supplements
If you take them at the correct dosages, the supplements above shouldn’t cause any serious side-effects.
Bodybuilding Supplement Dosage
There are numerous supplements for bodybuilding and, consequently, they all have different doses.
So, the dose depends on which supplements you’re taking.
The best advice is to stick to the instructions on the container and, if you have any specific queries, consult a doctor before you take them.
- ‘Effect of creatine and beta-alanine supplementation on performance and endocrine responses in strength/power athletes’. Jay R Hoffman, Nicholas Ratamess, Jie Kang,Gerald T Mangine
- ‘Leucine: a nutrient ‘trigger’ for muscle anabolism, but what more?’. L Breen and T A Churchward-Venne
- ‘Supplementation of carnitine leads to an activation of the IGF-1/PI3K/Akt signalling pathway and down regulates the E3 ligase MuRF1 in skeletal muscle of rats ‘. Janine Keller, Aline Couturier, Melanie Haferkamp, Erika Most, and Klaus Eder
- ‘Increased IGF mRNA in human skeletal muscle after creatine supplementation’. Louise Deldicque, Magali Louis, Daniel Theisen, Henri Nielens, Mischaël Dehoux, Jean-Paul Thissen, Michael J Rennie, Marc Francaux
- ‘Glutamine supplementation favours weight loss in nondieting obese female patients. A pilot study’. A Laviano, A Molfino, M T Lacaria, A Canelli, S De Leo, I Preziosa, F Rossi Fanelli
- ‘Influence of nitric oxide in the improvement of muscle power’. Daniela Navarro D’Almeida Bernardo, Flávio Fernandes Bryk, and Patrícia Maria de Moraes Barros Fucs
- ‘The effects of protein supplements on muscle mass, strength, and aerobic and anaerobic power in healthy adults: a systematic review’. Stefan M Pasiakos 1, Tom M McLellan, Harris R Lieberman
- ‘Effects of a Novel Zinc-Magnesium Formulation on Hormones and Strength’. L.R. Brilla and Victor Conte