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Weightlifting and Fitness Supplements: What to Take and Why

Updated on September 26, 2012
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We all see advertisements for fitness supplements on a regular basis and frankly, discerning between quality products and absolute malarkey can often be challenging. So, here are some thoughts on supplements in general, and my opinion on a few products in particular.

The purpose for supplements goes without saying; they’re supposed to be supplemental. The design of everything from protein powders and amino acids to stimulants, weight-gainers, fat-burners and beyond is not to illicit an isolated affect that will turn any person into a muscular, lean, physiological power house (despite what the advertisements might elude to). No, these products (and many more I did not list) are only effective when they coincide with the proper diet and exercise practices. Do not buy into the philosophy that all you need is the right supplementation to get you where you need to be fitness-wise. This is a marketing method employed by supplement companies designed to increase sales. This does not necessarily mean that the supplement in question is a scam; it simply means that you should not confuse sales tricks with science. Below are my thoughts on some of the most common supplements utilized by weightlifters and fitness enthusiasts.

Whey

Whey is an excellent source of protein that is absorbed quickly and used by muscle tissue rapidly, making it a great supplement to consume right after working out to prevent muscle wasting. However, simply consuming whey will not produce gains in muscle size or strength. You must lift, too! I know of several lifters that slack off of their workout routines when they start taking a protein powder thinking that they don’t need to workout as hard since the supplement is “doing a lot of the work for them” when in fact, the harder you lift, the more the powder can actually accomplish.

Casein

Casein accomplishes what whey cannot: feeding amino acids to muscle tissue over a long period of time. Casein is not necessarily the best post-workout supplement, but it can't be matched when it comes to bed-time nutrition. You see, after several hours without food, the body gradually shifts into a catabolic state, or an energy deficit. It doesn't take long before muscle tissue begins wasting away, since muscle tissue requires energy just to maintain itself. Taking casein won't keep you out of a catabolic state while you sleep, but it will minimize or eliminate muscle loss due to a catabolic state (carbohydrates prevent a catabolic state becaue they are so readily converted into energy).

Glutamine

Glutamine is the most prominent amino acid in the body, comprising over 60% of skeletal muscle tissue. Glutamine is important for several reasons some of which are protein metabolism and hormone regulation (human growth hormone). But, if you had to sum up why lifters need glutamine, it is simply because glutamine stores are depleted when you workout, and your ability to recover and continue making gains in strength and size are largely dependent on your ability to keep glutamine in your system around the clock everyday. LIfters are advised to take about 15 grams of glutamine daily in 3 5-gram doses. However, remember that since glutamine is very prominent in muscle tissue, you consume it whenever you eat animal muscle, such as chicken, beef, or fish. Eggs also contain glutamine. A healthy diet will constitute a good amount of this important amino acid.

Creatine

Creatine helps provide your muscles with energy and can make a big difference in your ability to hit the gym long and hard. Creatine is present in meats, but only 1 to 2 grams is in each pound of raw meat. Also, cooking can cause even less of the creatine in meats to be usable by the body. Because insulin is needed for creatine to enter muscles, taking creatine with a carbohydrate can increase its effectiveness. I recommend a small dose of creatine daily some time before you lift. Heavy creatine consumption can put alot of stress on the kidneys and is not recommended for anyone.

BCAA

BCAA stands for branch chain amino acid. These are amino acids that are essential to the function of your muscle tissue and therefore obviously vital for muscle growth. Once again, these amino acids are found in meats and eggs, and the proper diet will provide much of what your body demands. However, serious lifters are well advised to include bcaa suppliments in their diet to ensure that their muscles are recovering properly and that maximum gains are achieved.


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