10 of the most powerful allies you must use for maximum muscle growth!
By Andrew Carruthers, Editor-In-Chief. Athlete Awonke Ngoma. Photography by Slade Mansfield (www.purephotography.co.za)
The sport of bodybuilding is constantly evolving and so are the supplements available to us on an annual basis. Formulas, recipes, concoctions of this and that are adapting to new scientific findings and before you know it, the supplements you used a year ago are now obsolete (well some of them anyway). Be that as it may, the human body hasn’t changed and there are still some basic foundation laws that always need to be constantly reinforced. Some of the best physiques of all time come out of an age when hard training and good solid nutrition were of paramount importance and supplementation wasn’t even a “thing”. So what’s changed and why should now be any different?
BCAA’s (Branch Chain Amino Acids) & EAA’s (Essential Amino Acids)
EAA’s vs BCAA’s is a whole other article for a different time which I will be jumping into head first in the near future. But for the purposes of this article, if you’re not sure what these are by now, then I am slightly concerned. To put it plainly, they are the reason why we consume protein, except that these are available in their already broken down states so that the body can absorb them fast and effectively. It doesn’t matter what your choice of lean protein source is, you eat it so that your body can extract a full spectrum of amino acids from it in order to build and maintain muscle. Luckily for us, you can also purchase amino acids in their raw form. BCAA’s and EAA’s create anabolism in 2 specific ways: by releasing insulin – the anabolic hormone and by stimulating the release of growth hormone. The most important amino acid is leucine as it is the precursor to both ketoisocaproate (KIC) and HMB, both have been shown to increase muscle whilst decreasing body fat when added to weight training and nutritional programs. Whey protein is naturally high in BCAA’s but purchasing BCAA’s and consuming them before training allows a faster absorption rate into the bloodstream, whereas whey protein is required to be absorbed into the body first, then has to travel to the liver where it has to be broken down into amino acids and then transported to the relevant muscles in the body requiring repair. There is nothing wrong with either, but purchasing amino acids in their raw form allows you to be able to time things better just before a workout.
As I mentioned above, only protein can become a part of new growing muscle, and in order to facilitate this much needed growth, your body needs to be in a state of positive nitrogen balance. How we make sure that is achieved is by making sure we take in sufficient servings of protein throughout the day. It’s a simple rule of thumb that the bigger you are, the more protein your body will require daily (around 2.5g per kg of lean muscle). If you’re completely set on eating whole food sources alone, then a good whey protein can only benefit your nutritional intake by adding more protein to your eating plan. If you rely on supplementation to provide your protein needs then protein powders should ideally comprise of 3 of your six daily meals. Powders are quick to mix, easy to absorb and time effective. Eating an endless array of chicken breasts also doesn’t give your body variety when consuming protein. Some nutritional purists will also tell you that consuming the same protein source day in and day out is not as effective as varying your protein sources. Some have even written articles on how the body starts to build up resistance to the same protein sources that are consumed day in and day out. When consuming protein powders, shoot for a product that contains both ion-exchange whey and whey-protein hydrolysates. The former is easy to absorb as it doesn’t contain lactose. The latter is pre-digested and rapidly enters the bloodstream in the form of amino acids. Always keep one thing in mind – the sooner you can pull protein into the blood stream, the sooner you can suspend the catabolic effects brought on by weight training.
“Always keep one thing in mind – the sooner you can pull protein into the blood stream, the sooner you can suspend the catabolic effects brought on by weight training.”
If you’re looking for an explosive fuel source that’ll take your training to an entirely different level both in strength, power and recovery between sets, then look no further than creatine. Easily one of the most tested and somewhat controversial supplements available today, Creatine has stood the test of time and comes out on top of the lab reports every time. Creatine enhances mass by enhancing strength and replenishing ATP (Adenosine triphosphate) which is stored in your muscles and is your immediate source of fuel for hardcore training. For best results, men should be taking in at least 7-10 grams daily. Women can take in 5 grams each day. Hydration is of paramount importance when taking creatine, so be sure to keep a close eye on how much water you consume a day.
Bodybuilders are usually so focussed trying to get their protein and carbohydrates in throughout the space of a day that they forget another miraculous and incredibly important ingredient. Fish oils are imperative in the battle against muscle loss and breakdown. Stress created through the breaking down of muscle tissue whilst training can be slowed down and prevented through the intake of fish oils. When we train intensely a catabolic hormone called E2 promotes the breakdown of protein in our bodies. E2 is derived from our combined consumption of saturated fat and simple sugars. Fish oils inhibit the destructive properties of E2 by producing E1, also a prostaglandin, which supports the creation of growth hormone. It also helps to fight off inflammation and also assists with the body’s ability to process insulin more efficiently. Four to six capsules (4-6 grams) per day is the the right amount to be consumed.
Known as a “conditionally essential amino acid” this incredible amino acid is needed when the body is placed under physical stress, like that brought upon the body through intense weight training. Glutamine helps fuel our immune system, something that hard training is constantly trying to minimise during training. If we allow this to happen then muscle growth becomes impossible. Taking 7-15 grams each and every day after training will offset this catabolic effect.
As I just mentioned about Glutamine, Arginine is also only required when the body is under intense physical stress. When you’re a bodybuilder this is pretty common daily practice so a daily intake of 10-20 grams before bed can increase growth hormone levels.
Earlier we mentioned that ATP (Adenosine triphosphate) is stored in your muscle and is used for fuel by muscles to create explosive movements. Well magnesium is the micronutrient that is required to make ATP, the chemical fuel source derived from carbs (simple sugars) and dietary fats. But it doesn’t end there for magnesium. Magnesium is also involved in muscle contraction and it also improves our tolerance to glucose. Studies have shown again and again that magnesium is linked to supporting and further increasing strength in athletes who weight train. Suggested daily dose is 400-600mg.
You might wonder what this is doing in a bodybuilding top ten list, well if you are then you’re completely underestimating its power. This water-soluble vitamin is a powerful antioxidant with a spongelike absorbing effect that takes in inflammatory free radicals in the blood. 2000mg of Vitamin C each day with 1000mg being taken immediately after training to stave off cortisol and catabolic hormones is highly recommended.
Another one for the category of antioxidants, Vitamin E enhances the muscle’s ability to use insulin and protects the cell membranes from oxidative damage – the area where the receptor for insulin is located. Suggested daily dose is around 200-400iu daily.
Zinc assists in the synthesis of protein and a deficiency in zinc means that your body isn’t able to absorb as much protein as is needed to enhance muscle growth. In other words you can take in as much protein as you like thinking you’re building muscle but in actual fact your absorption rate is somewhat lessened to a degree if you’re not taking in sufficient zinc. 20mg daily is sufficient to ensure optimal protein synthesis.
As I said in my intro statement, don’t get too consumed by technology and new things that are always being introduced into the market. Your body is not suddenly going to change it’s preferred methods of absorbing macro-nutrients and there won’t be a miracle drug, supplement or food entering the market any time soon either. Just stick to the basics, do your homework, train hard, take the supplements that are proven to work (including those above) and give yourself time to grow. Nothing will ever replace hard work, patience and consistency.