Here is my ultimate guide to all usable weight lifting supplements
What do I mean by usable weight lifting supplements? I do mean supplements which have science behind them to show they work to increase lean body mass. I don’t mean useless pills and powders many bodybuilders throw their money away on.
My definition of usable weight lifting supplements also exclude stimulants, used by some athletes for energy and “fat- burning.”
I describe the dangers of these things many times on this website. So, there is no need to discuss them in this article.
This article does not discuss hormones or hormone boosters, just real basic, useful weight lifting supplements.
Acetyl-l-carnitine plays a major role in the production of usable energy in the body. Its role is to be the carrier for long-chain fatty acids. It shuttles them to mitochondria, the energy factories within each of your cells. Mitochondria converts the fat into energy, called ATP. Acetyl l carnitine benefits include enhanced performance in many sports such as bodybuilding. One of the ways acetyl L-Carnitine helps is by reducing the levels of exercise damage. It reduces the presence of certain biomarkers that are indicative of tissue damage which occurs during the process of exercise. There are two ways this may happen.
ALC to burn fat:
Acetyl-l-carnitine helps to burn stored fat. This can certainly help bodybuilders, especially as they are ‘cutting up’ near contest times. It also forces additional fats and fatty acids into your mitochondria, which allows for even more fat burning. Additionally, it spares glycogen, which is the form of glucose which your liver and muscles store.
Acetyl- L- Carnitine to increase energy:
ALC also helps to increase energy production within the body. In fact, with enough ALC supplementation, muscles can burn fat and protein for energy instead of just glucose.
This is especially important during periods of intense dieting and exercising. This increased burning of alternate fuels will also delay muscle fatigue, allowing for longer workouts.
Taking acetyl-l-carnitine before weight training increases the concentration of oxygen in your muscle tissues, according to a small, double-blind trial in the “Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition” May 2010 issue.
It also helps to reduce the onset and accumulation of lactic acid (which is a by-product of glucose metabolism). These weight lifting supplements also double as supplements to help people lose weight. It is one of the healthy metabolism boosting supplements due to its effect on muscle mass. It is truly helpful when dealing with unexplained weight gain usually meaning menopause situations.
Dosage and timing:
There are good studies on dosage for energy and brain health, but less for bodybuilding. From what I glean from the literature, take 2000-3000 mg before a workout. IM “aminos” don’t confer more benefit; they just kick in faster. So, take an oral dose about 20-30 mins prior to a workout. From a food standpoint, you get this amino from beef, but you’d need to eat way too much, and you would get l-carnitine, not the “way more active,” acetyl form. As an aside, this amino is one of the best non-stimulant supplements for energy out there.
Branched chain amino acids:
Leucine, isoleucine, and valine are the three essential amino acids which make up our branched chain amino acids (BCAA’s). Branched chain amino acids make up about 40 percent of the daily requirement of all nine essential amino acids. BCAA’s are in foods containing protein, with the highest concentrations in eggs (specifically the whites) and whey protein.
Here are some great recipes in the egg white nutrition blog. Whey protein is so very important to bodybuilders that I’ll “cover it” separately. Chicken, beef, and salmon contain good amounts of BCAA’s also. However, most serious bodybuilders choose to supplement with BCAA’s.
Supplementation means faster pre-workout delivery of BCAA’s to the bloodstream. This occurs because BCAA powders bypass the liver and GI tract to go directly into the blood stream. They certainly rank as one of the most tried and true weight lifting supplements.
BCAA’s Enhance Muscle Protein Synthesis:
The three branched chain amino acids, along with other aminos l-glutamine and to a lesser extent l-alanine and l-aspartate, are all taken into muscle tissue for energy.
Muscles burn BCAA’s for energy during exercise. In addition, BCAA’s trigger protein synthesis. When you combine BCAA’s with resistance training you maximize protein synthesis.
The biochemical reason for this is by combining these two activities, they both trigger something called the mTORC1 signaling pathway that is needed to build muscle.
So, I believe, this is a huge benefit of BCAA’s-if you have to take time off from training, increasing your BCAA intake will minimize muscle loss.
Because BCAA’s actually trigger protein synthesis even without exercise, lean muscle tissue is preserved to keep up metabolism up and help prevent fat gain. I love BCAA’s as one of my favorite weight lifting supplements, and I’m just getting started here!
BCAAs Increase Fat Burning:
People with a higher BCAA intake in their diets have less body fat, more muscle, and better body composition according to studies from surveys. In addition to this data, a large study of over 4000 people found those with higher BCAA intake had significantly lower BMI’s compared to those with lower BCAA intake. This is why branched chain amino acid weight loss powders are becoming hot hot hot not just in bodybuilding circles, but in weight loss circles as well.
In a review which looks closely at the role of all of the essential amino acids in body composition, researchers state BCAAs have unique obesity-reducing effects. The reason for this is because they increase the gene signaling of muscle building pathways. Translation: more muscle=higher metabolic rate=less fat and weight.
BCAAs Enhance Endurance:
Branched chain aminos can be burned as energy to maintain ATP energy levels during glycogen-depleting exercise. This will obviously enhance endurance. Branched chain amino acids probably also improve the body’s ability to burn fat as discussed above. By doing that, we increase the accessible energy pool.
BCAA’s mitigate fatigue:
BCAAs help to prevent brain fatigue. Tryptophan, the amino acid used to make the calming brain chemical serotonin, is blocked from entrance to the brain. Therefore, reducing “mental fatigue.” Many scientists who study the limits of human performance believe that the real limiting factor in the brain.
When the brain is done, you’re done. In one study, participants who took 300 mg/day of branched chain amino acids for 3 days and then competed in an exhausting exercise trial had 17 percent greater resistance to fatigue compared to a placebo.
BCAAs Decrease Muscle Soreness & DOMS:
The dosing protocol had trainees take BCCAs 7 days before and 2 days after this intense training as well as 20 grams before and after the workout for a total of 280 grams.
Researchers point to the steady stream of BCAA’s being delivered to the bloodstream as what made them so effective.
BCAAs preserve the integrity of muscle fibers and reduce post-workout soreness to enable you to train at a higher intensity more frequently.
BCAA’s May Improve Strength Development With Training:
A recent large-scale analysis of training studies shows protein supplementation leads to much greater increases in leg press strength. This review includes a variety of protein sources with high branched chain amino acid content.
In another study looking at leucine alone, the results were startling. Untrained young men took 4 grams per day of the “main” branched chain amino acid-leucine. After 3 months of weight training, the “leucine group” (compared to the placebo group) gained significantly more strength.
In fact, the leucine group increased strength by an average of 31 percent more on all exercises. This particular study hasn’t been duplicated with branched chain amino acid supplementation. However, in other studies, high BCAA-protein supplementation has indeed lead to greater strength development when paired with strength training.
BCAAs Support Hormone Balance:
Another well-done study looked at the effect of “BCAA loading.” Trained athletes were given 6 grams of BCCA’s daily for 3 weeks. This was followed by a week of high-intensity resistance training. Compared to a placebo group, the BCAA group had higher testosterone and lower cortisol. If you’re a bodybuilder, this is the zone to be in. Anabolic. Higher testosterone and lower cortisol.
The Many Benefits Of L-Glutamine:
L-glutamine is yet another amazing addition to “useable” weight lifting supplements. Glutamine is a nitrogen and a carbon donor. It helps restore glycogen which then, of course, restores energy. Glutamine is the primary component of muscular protein. It helps to repair and build muscle.
It prevents your muscle from being catabolized (eaten up) to provide glutamine for other cells in the body. Glutamine supplementation replenishes declining glutamine levels during intense workouts. Glutamine helps maintain cellular volume and hydration.
Although a comprehensive study has shown 2 grams of L-Glutamine increased human growth hormone levels by over 400%, this is just not “real.” HGH is short lived. To have a real impact on human growth hormone levels, you would need to supplement all day. Since 40 grams is the maximal daily dosage of l-glutamine, it would be possible but pretty difficult actually to affect HGH levels.
Glutamine may boost your immune system. For bodybuilders, this is important since heavy workouts tend to substantially deplete glutamine levels. (Glutamine is a primary energy source for your immune system).
Note for bodybuilders who have more “leaky gut” than the average person; glutamine is one of the most important nutrients for your intestines. It can help repair a leaky gut and restore GI function by maintaining the structural integrity of the lining of the bowels.
L-glutamine Assists Muscle Growth:
Research suggests that glutamine is likely the most important amino acid for bodybuilders. Supplementing our diet with l-glutamine when weight training can greatly assist with protein synthesis. When the body is depleted of this amino acid during intense workouts, cellular muscle wasting can occur.
Supplementation with l-glutamine allows the recovery period to be reduced. This will then enhance the athlete’s strength program by helping to repair the muscles more quickly thus augmenting muscular growth. It provides a unique component in muscle metabolism and cellular support not shared by any other single amino acid.
L-Glutamine and Muscle Repair:
Injured muscles need large amounts of glutamine to repair them. Growing muscles need glutamine bodybuilding power or capsules to build new fibers to give the muscle greater strength and bulk. Bodybuilding causes a series of micro-injured muscles which then repair and grow bigger. If you work out only occasionally, you don’t need l-glutamine supplementation.
However since bodybuilders are often “pushing to the limit” and don’t give their muscles the “full recovery time,” they do. If they did, even they likely wouldn’t need l-glutamine supplementation. But since the “nature of the sport” is such that recovery time is incomplete, this population of athletes should indeed supplement with l-glutamine. It’s a must on my list of weight lifting supplements for this reason alone.
L-Glutamine and Overtraining:
Over-training syndrome is a condition that results from exercising more intensely and frequently than your body is capable of handling. Bodybuilders may be more susceptible to over-training than other athletes. When there is not enough glutamine in the bloodstream to repair injured muscles, the body shifts glutamine from the production of white blood cells (the cells that fight infection) to injured muscle. This is one of the main reasons these athletes in intense competitions or training tend to get colds and flu. Glutamine supplementation may reduce the effects of over-training syndrome by increasing the rate of muscle recovery following exercise.
Many supplement powders already have some L-Glutamine mixed into it, so read the labels.
A great combo is a BCAA and l-glutamine powder which is what we offer.
The optimal times to take L-Glutamine is in the morning, after a workout, and at night before bed time.
Benefits Of Creatine Monohydrate:
Creatine phosphate supplies the type 11b (fast-twitch) muscle fibers with immediate energy, to ensure these muscles do not prematurely fatigue. This strengthens muscular contraction of these fibers and helps the bodybuilder crank out more reps. How does this happen? Whenever the body uses energy, recall that a molecule called ATP is used as an energy source. Creatine supplements allow the muscles to store more ATP to provide greater strength and size gains. It’s a staple for most bodybuilders in their weight lifting supplements stacks.
Creatine Enhances Recovery:
Creatine has been studied enough for its post-exercise muscle regeneration properties to cause many Exercise physiologists to recommend it. In one particular study of endurance runners, it was found that 20 grams per day of creatine monohydrate per day for five days pre-race mitigated the levels of several markers of cellular damage in 20 subjects as compared to “control runners.”
Creatine Enhances Muscle Volumization:
An important benefit of creatine for bodybuilders is its’ muscle volumizing effect. Creatine causes muscle cells to inflate which is not just fluid retention as was initially thought. It produces a more heavily muscled appearance which also serves as a stimulus for protein synthesis.
L-Carnosine for Endurance:
L- carnosine significantly increases chemical buffering in exercising skeletal muscles. Buffering is a process whereby the acid-base balance of the muscles is maintained. This is important during exercise due to the production of lactic acid which, without buffering, would make the muscles more acidic. If the muscles get too acidic, they don’t work.
During intense physical activity, hydrogen ions release as by-products of energy metabolism. When hydrogen ions build up in muscle tissue, the muscles begin to “burn.” Many believe lactic acid accumulation causes muscle burning. It is actually H+ ions accumulating. The buffering is addressing the H+ ion build-up. Increasing carnosine levels inside fast twitch (type 2) muscle fibers reduces fatigue and improves athletic performance. These results are particularly notable in the 60-240 second range. That’s not all!
There is an enormous amount of oxygen going through the body during exercise which causes damage to cellular structures by a process called lipid peroxidation. This creates toxic aldehydes. These, along with free radicals derived from oxygen, attack the cell membranes of the muscles. When this happens, the calcium channels in the muscle unit’s cells become damaged and decrease muscular contraction. Carbonylation is another type of molecular damage occurring during exercise.
This is caused by a reaction of these toxic aldehydes with proteins, instead of the fatty substances in the cell membrane. Glycation is a process mentioned in numerous places on this blog. All cell structures, including muscle proteins, are irreversibly damaged by joining with glucose, which increases during exercise.
L-carnosine reduces the levels of these types of toxic material and molecular damage. It even reduces glucose levels. It, therefore, reduces cellular damage during exercise. I feel it should be a weight lifting supplements “staple” but am intrigued by the data about beta alanine-coming up next.
Beta alanine (BA) is a beta amino acid which binds with histidine to form carnosine within muscle tissues. Although there aren’t great studies to support use of beta alanine over l-carnosine, many bodybuilders swear by it. That’s the beauty of all weight lifting supplements; each athlete is unique and what works really well for one may only work moderately well for another.
That’s why serious bodybuilders listen to their own bodies and figure out what their routine of weight lifting supplements should be. Rumor has it quite strongly that taking beta-alanine will boost carnosine levels more effectively than if you were to consume L-carnosine supplements or powders. Similar to the results with l-carnosine supplements, increasing stamina could indeed increase muscle gains. With l-carnosine, this supplement is purported to be one of the best natural metabolism boosters due to its muscle building capabilities.
So far the research on this substance and its effects on strength, energy and lean body mass are somewhat conflicting. Most of the studies that have reported positive benefits from supplementation were conducted on individuals suffering from conditions that prevent them from synthesizing enough of their own d-ribose.
Several studies based on males receiving 5 grams of supplemental powder both before and after performing a bench press or other equivalent exercise did show a measurable increase in strength as compared to a placebo group. However, the majority of other studies conducted on athletes have shown mediocre effects.
When you carefully review the literature of well-done studies, more are in favor of ribose supplementation. A literature review yields that about 60% of study subjects reported more energy and the ability to train harder and longer.
The most compelling evidence from studies is the ability to recover from strenuous workouts more quickly. Many studies show D-ribose specifically shortens the recovery period following an exercise by improving energy metabolism.
It’s another one of those weight lifting supplements where individual response is key.
The concept of using d-ribose powder is that increasing the consumption of this sugar will ultimately lead to a greater synthesis of ATP.
The argument is a greater amount of readily available ATP will increase energy and strength during workouts and enhance recovery following exercise.
In theory, you would be able to train for longer periods of time, lift greater amounts of weight and recover at a faster rate in between training sessions. D-ribose augments energy levels in those with mitochondrial dysfunction so that’s another thing to consider.
Dosage and Timing:
Bodybuilding sources recommend starting with about 5 grams 3x/daily. That is one heaping teaspoon or a scoop of our D-ribose powder. After 1 month, decrease the dose to a minimum dosage that maintains the same benefit. That is usually 5 grams 2x/daily. It generally takes about 3 to 4 days to feel the effects.
The research suggests the benefits will be felt if individuals exercise hard enough to deplete ATP supplies. You might not feel it, but d-ribose-powder actually does work to enhance the body’s energy and cellular recovery. The biochemistry about this process is quite clear, even if the clinical usage results are questionable. In all strenuous bodybuilding activities, all adenine nucleotides will decrease.
Studies show that for maximal effect, the best time to take it is before and during exercise. This is when your body responds actively to cellular changes. The substance is easily absorbed with a healthy and hopefully anti-inflammatory diet and has a sweet taste. In fact, it can be put in iced tea and coffee as a natural sweetener. I would add this to (at minimum) pre-competition stacks for one of the weight lifting supplements to take me “the distance.”
The arginine-nitric oxide–citrulline loop can lose efficiency during strenuous workouts due to depletion mainly of l-arginine. This causes decreased nitric oxide levels and higher lactic acid and H+ acid levels. Supplements can help restore this loop allowing for better workouts and faster recovery from workouts. This is well documented. I give a firm thumbs up recommendation for a NO supplement to be in a bodybuilder’s daily stack of weight lifting supplements.
Increased Recovery Rates:
If you’re putting in a fantastic workout at the gym, but then you need a few days to recover, nitric oxide supplementation can help, and there are a lot of studies to support its use. Nitric oxide increases the amount of blood flow to the tissues by encouraging the smooth muscles in the body to relax, therefore allowing more oxygen delivery to the working muscles.
Since one of the primary factors in a speedy post-workout recovery is to deliver nutrients to muscles, blood flow obviously makes a big difference.
Reduced Fatigue Levels During High Rep Protocols:
As you lift weights, your muscles rapidly begin to run out of oxygen, as we have discussed above. And of course, you know that when they do, you’ll start to get lactic acid and H+ acid build-up which then makes you fatigued. If you’re going for a higher rep protocol, this build up of acids will be quite limiting.
By delivering more oxygen to the tissues via vasodilation from NO, you’ll reduce the amount of acid build-up. Naturally, you can work out longer with less fatigue.
Increased Utilization of Glucose:
The American Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism looked at the impact (during exercise) of the NO precursor L-arginine. Now, just to emphasize this point right now, I do NOT recommend supplementing with “just” l-arginine as studies have shown that doing so likely causes damage to vascular endothelium (lining). Back to the study, nine endurance trained males cycled for 120 minutes which was then followed by a 15-minute maximum effort cycling period.
During this time glucose levels were measured. The cyclists who had taken the L-arginine had a significantly higher rate of glucose clearance.
This demonstrates that these athletes were taking up the glucose faster into their muscle cells during exercise.
We can extrapolate this data to all sorts of high-intensity workouts such as bodybuilding.
The bottom line is that perhaps you will get into the fat burning phase of exercise more quickly with NO supplementation. One of the great weight lifting supplements? I think so.
Nitric oxide benefits include increasing blood flow which then allows you to better maintain your core temperature.
When you work out, your body temperature rises, and your central thermostat works hard to cool you down. With good blood flow, this process is made easier, so less energy is used for “cooling.”
This means more energy or ATP is left to continue your work out. To me, good weight lifting supplements “do something” to allow for a continuation of a work-out that could have ended. This supplement, in my “world,” proves itself over and over.
Increased Muscle Pump
The last benefit of using nitric oxide supplements is an amazing muscle pump after a workout. The post workout pump is more intense and lasts longer per personal surveys.
Supplements must contain the right ratio of l-arginine and l-citrulline along with other co-factors to amp up NO to the max.
Bodybuilders know what others don’t, and that is whey protein, ounce for ounce, calorie for calorie is the BEST form of protein for the human body. It is not only a weight lifting supplement but a form of protein needed to get and stay lean and get enough BCAA’s.
It happens to be high in branched chain amino acids, and you have read about the vast benefits of bcaa’s above. The leucine, isoleucine, and valine amino acid components are in the “correct ratio” in a good whey protein concentrate to shift the body into muscle and away from fat.
You want whey protein that helps, not hurts your immune system and provides you with the precursors for the major intra-cellular antioxidant called glutathione. Whey concentrates, NOT isolates, are what you want. There is so much research on this I cannot fathom why some bodybuilders still purchase whey isolates.
High-quality whey protein concentrates contain glutamylcysteine, the major precursor to glutathione.
You want concentrates (not isolates) that are cold pressed, with minimal processing. It must be from unpasteurized (raw) milk from grass fed cows. This will ensure it is water soluble and highly digestible. Also, look for medium chain fatty acids (MCTs), not long chain fatty acids.
It needs to be certified organic with a creamy flavor. It must exclude all hormones, chemicals, sugar or sugar substitutes. Pure stevia leaf extract is totally fine. I love our whey protein shakes. They are tasty, creamy, filling and healthy. Try one; you’ll love it. The chocolate one tastes amazing. It doesn’t feel like you are drinking a fat loss supplement or any type of weight lifting supplements. It’s SO filling it is unreal. I would say our product can act as a natural appetite suppressant due to the taste and volume per serving.
Alpha GPC for Focus, Memory, and Cognitive Ability:
Alpha GPC (L-alpha-glycerylphosphorylcholine), has been proven to boost attention, mental focus, memory, and cognitive ability. It’s an excellent adjunct to the necessary brain vitamins for brain health. Alpha GPC works by increasing brain levels and activity of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine.
It increases the synthesis of acetylcholine, which increases the speed at which synapses (neural connections) occur. This serves to increase the speed at which many thought processes are carried out. The long-term benefit of increasing the number of neurological connections, and the speed at which they occur, may actually make you smarter. This plus the brain vitamins and other supplements discussed in the brain health article will reverse short term memory loss and other symptoms of mild cognitive impairment. Just ask me if you have questions.
Acetylcholine enhancement in healthy study participants resulted in improved performance on tasks requiring memory skills.
It is being studied as a “nootropic” (cognitive enhancer) in those with and without brain issues.
In two controlled trials, daily doses of 1200 mg of GPC improved the immediate recall and attention in a group of young adult males (ages 19-38) compared to a placebo.
In middle-aged and elderly subjects, GPC supplementation improved reaction time.
It absorbs easily into the blood and will pass the blood-brain barrier.
This is what makes oral Alpha GPC fast-acting and potent.
Combine with green tea supplements and phosphatidyl serine, to improve not only memory but concentration too. This increase in focus gives many bodybuilders just the edge they need. More studies about the use of nootropics in sports are in progress. I personally love this supplement. Is it one of our weight lifting supplements? No, not exclusively. But, it should be a part of a serious bodybuilders’ supplement stash IMHO.