You can train, and you can optimize your diet, but unless you’re doing both in tandem, you won’t be getting the best results possible. And even then, when you have a solid training program and a smart diet all mapped out, you still need to consider a supplement plan.
Smart supplementation doesn’t just mean grabbing a jug of whey protein powder and a container of creatine, though both are critical for gym-goers. Instead, a supplement plan needs to be like an orchestra — each element works beautifully on its own, but together they create a symphony of size and strength.
Unfortunately, building a symphonic supplement plan requires a broad understanding of nutrition science. Fortunately, we have done all the studying and have composed six supplement stacks for six different goals. They’re not mutually exclusive — you can take one, two, three or more. Orchestrating them, then, is up to you.
Whether you go to the gym to get bigger or stronger or both, these five supplements should form the base of your stack.
Whey ProteinWhey is the fastest protein that you can consume and the richest source of the critical branched-chain amino acids. (See below for more on them.) The fast digestion rate of whey means it gets to your muscles in a hurry, providing energy for workouts and kick-starting muscle protein synthesis, which leads to muscle growth. Whey also has been shown to boost nitric-oxide levels, increasing blood flow to muscles. This aids energy levels for training — and recovery and growth afterward.
Casein Protein Unlike whey, casein is very slow digesting. This prolongs the boost in muscle protein synthesis that whey starts and decreases muscle protein breakdown for greater muscle growth. Research confirms that mixing whey and casein together leads to greater gains in muscle size.
Branched-Chain Amino Acids Leucine, isoleucine and valine are the three most critical amino acids for boosting muscle growth. Research shows that leucine acts as a key that turns on muscle protein synthesis in muscle cells, and all three are also an important energy source for muscles during workouts, so you need them both before and after workouts. Whey protein is rich in BCAAs, but not rich enough to provide all that you really need to boost energy and muscle growth around workouts.
Creatine Hundreds of studies support the effectiveness of creatine for boosting muscle size and strength. It does this through a number of mechanisms: increasing energy levels in muscle cells, increasing muscle cell water levels (which leads to long-term growth because of the stretch it creates on muscles), increasing levels of insulin-like growth factor-1 or by decreasing myostatin levels.
Beta-AlanineThis amino acid combines with the amino acid histidine inside muscle cells to form the compound carnosine. Higher levels of carnosine, studies show, lead to greater muscle strength and power, as well as muscle size, especially when beta-alanine is taken with creatine. One study from the College of New Jersey found that subjects who took beta-alanine along with creatine gained significantly more muscle mass than those taking creatine alone.
Stack Info: Take all supplements within 30 minutes before workouts and within 30 minutes after workouts.
Whey Protein: 10 to 20 grams before training and 20 to 30 grams after training
Casein Protein: 10 grams before training and 10 to 20 grams after training
BCAAs: 5 grams before and after workouts
Creatine:1 to 5 grams (depending on the form you use) with your preworkout and postworkout shakes
Beta-Alanine: 1.5 to 3 grams before and after workouts
It’s not surprising that fat burners are popular supplements, but with so many to choose from, it can be difficult to figure out which ones to stack. Crafting your own by combining these four ingredients or buying a fat burner that uses most of these will have you covered — allowing you to uncover your new abs.
Caffeine Sure, caffeine is a stimulant that makes you more alert, but it also helps dieters by boosting the number of calories the body burns and blunting hunger (which decreases the number of calories consumed). In addition, caffeine works directly on fat cells. It binds to them and increases the amount of fat leaving them while decreasing the amount stored in them.
Green-TeaExtract The active ingredients in green tea are catechins, particularly epigallocatechin gallate. EGCG increases levels of norepinephrine, which is a neurotransmitter and a hormone related to adrenaline that increases metabolic rate and fat burning.
Green-Coffee ExtractThe act of roasting coffee beans turns them brown, makes for a great cup of joe — and destroys chlorogenic acid, a critical component for fat loss. It works synergistically with the caffeine in the beans to burn the fat that caffeine releases from fat cells.
Synephrine The main active ingredient in the Citrus aurantium plant, synephrine has been shown by research to boost metabolic rate without significantly elevating heart rate or blood pressure. It also helps to enhance fat loss by stimulating receptors on fat cells to release more fat and by blunting appetite so that you eat fewer calories than you burn each day.
Stack Info: Take them together two or three times per day between meals, with the first dose in the morning before breakfast. On workout days, take one dose 30 to 60 minutes before workouts.
Caffeine: 100 to 400 milligrams
Green-Tea Extract: About 500 milligrams standardized for EGCG
Green-Coffee Extract: 200 to 400 milligrams standardized for about 50 percent chlorogenic acid
Synephrine: 5 to 20 milligrams (from a standardizedCitrus aurantium extract)
Energy- and Endurance-Building Stack
The word “energy” makes many people think of the jolt that they get from a preworkout product or a stimulant like caffeine. However, the type of energy we’re talking about here is the long-lasting, calm energy that doesn’t cause you to get jittery or to crash later on. Using the right supplements can keep you alert and focused but calm and cool at the same time. Plus, they can help you work out longer.
Citrulline Malate Clinical studies show that subjects taking this combination of the amino acid citrulline and malic acid report less fatigue and experience a 35 percent increase in energy production in the body. In the body, citrulline is converted to arginine and then to nitric oxide, which enhances blood flow and the removal of ammonia, which can cause fatigue when levels build up.
Coenzyme Q10Having ample amounts of this enzyme in the body is critical for maintaining energy levels. After age 20, levels of CoQ10 in the body start to decline, so supplementing with it daily can make a big difference. Japanese researchers found that subjects supplementing with 300 milligrams of CoQ10 per day for eight days experienced less fatigue during exercise and recovered faster between bouts of exercise.
Rhodiola Rosea Considered a stimulatory adaptogen because it increases the body’s resistance to a variety of stressors, Rhodiola rosea can increase energy levels in muscle cells, as well as increase the amount of oxygen carried by the blood to exercising muscles and allow for greater amounts of fat to be burned as fuel. All these benefits have been shown to result in improved exercise endurance.
ResveratrolThis potent antioxidant found in grape skins and seeds provides a multitude of benefits that include reduced risk of cancer, better heart health, protection from diabetes, enhanced fat loss, higher and increased energy levels and endurance. Resveratrol increases the number of mitochondria (which produce the majority of the body’s energy) in cells, including muscle cells. Resveratrol also may help increase life span and has been shown to enhance insulin sensitivity.
Stack Info: Take them together 30 to 60 minutes before workouts for an endurance boost or any time during the day for a long-lasting energy boost.
Citrulline Malate: 1 to 3 grams
CoQ10: 200 to 300 milligrams
Rhodiola Rosea: 300 to 1,800 milligrams
Resveratrol:50 to 500 milligrams
Ready for the understatement of the year? Testosterone is important for men. The hormone is critical for muscle growth, keeping fat off and, of course, maintaining sex drive and performance. Once you’ve seen the end of your 20s, your years of maximal testosterone levels are behind you. If this is you, consider stacking the following ingredients or looking for a commercially made test booster that includes most of them.
D-Aspartic AcidAlso known as D-aspartate, this amino acid is found naturally in nerves and organs in the body. It’s produced in the pituitary gland, where it stimulates the release of luteinizing hormone, which travels via the bloodstream to the testicles, where it causes a boost in testosterone production. D-aspartate is also produced inside the testicles and acts on Leydig cells (special cells in the testicles that produce testosterone) to increase testosterone production. An Italian study reported that subjects taking D-aspartate increased their testosterone levels by more than 40 percent in less than two weeks.
Ashwagandha Also known as Withania somnifera, this plant is best-known for its adaptogenic effects, much like Rhodiola. Indian researchers recently found that it also works well to boost testosterone levels. They gave men ashwagandha and reported that the subjects with normal testosterone levels at the start of the study experienced a 15 percent increase in testosterone levels by the end of the three-month trial and that testosterone levels rose by 40 percent in subjects who began with low levels.
Forskolin The active compound in the herb Coleus forskohlii, which is a member of the mint family, forskolin is known for its fat-burning properties and is also recognized as an effective testosterone booster. Forskolin activates an enzyme in Leydig cells, causing them to produce more testosterone. University of Kansas researchers found that men taking forskolin for 12 weeks ended up with significantly higher testosterone levels and less body fat than men taking a placebo.
Stack Info: Take these three supplements to get your testosterone climbing.
D-Aspartic Acid: About 3 grams with your first meal of the day
Ashwagandha: 1,500 to 2,000 milligrams three times per day with food (On workout days, take one of those doses with your preworkout shake.)
Forskolin: 20 to 50 milligrams two or three times per day before meals (On workout days, take one dose about an hour before workouts.)
Boosting nitric-oxide levels before workouts helps to deliver more nutrient-rich blood to the muscle fibers, which leads to greater energy and less fatigue for a more intense workout that can produce better results. NO also can increase the volume of the muscle pump you get, which can lead to long-term muscle growth. You can either stack these ingredients yourself before workouts or look for an NO booster that includes most of them.
Arginine With the help of the enzyme nitric oxide synthase, this amino acid is readily converted to NO in the body. A recent study found that subjects taking arginine before a biceps workout experienced a 100 percent increase in biceps blood volume during the workout. Arginine also bumps up growth-hormone levels, which may help boost muscle growth. And it can aid fat burning during workouts.
Pycnogenol This trademarked extract of the French maritime pine tree is a potent antioxidant that helps convert arginine into NO. Research shows that Pycnogenol increases NO levels by activating nitric oxide synthase, which catalyzes the conversion of arginine to NO. Plus, its antioxidant properties may help decrease the breakdown of the NO produced so that levels stay higher for longer.
Horny Goat Weed Also known as Epimedium, this is essentially an herbal form of Viagra. Research conducted by Italian scientists showed that horny goat weed inhibits the enzyme phosphodiesterase-5, which normally breaks down NO. Block PDE5 from breaking down NO, and you’ll have more NO for longer.
Stack Info: Take these three supplements together 30 to 60 minutes before workouts.
Arginine: 3 to 5 grams
Pycnogenol: 50 to 100 milligrams
Horny Goat Weed: 500 milligrams
Health and Healing Stack
All the exercise you do can put real stress on the body, especially if you don’t allow yourself to recover properly. The ingredients outlined in the Muscle-Building Stack above will aid recovery right after workouts, but there are other factors — your nervous system, your immune system, your endocrine system and your joints, just to name a few — that are impacted by workouts. Using these four supplements can help your body attain full healing and recovery.
Multivitamin/Mineral Even the most well-balanced diet lacks some micronutrients, and bodies that work out intensely regularly lose critical vitamins and minerals. Fortunately, taking a multivitamin/mineral supplement can replace what’s lacking, enhancing health but also helping to ensure that all the body’s biochemical processes function properly, which in turn enhances recovery for greater gains in muscle mass, strength and endurance, and can even keep fat gain at bay.
Fish Oil Fish oil contains the essential omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid, which reduce inflammation in the body and provide a laundry list of benefits. This is one of the most critical supplements because it can reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, as well as certain cancers and diabetes. In addition, it may boost brain function and aid fat loss, joint recovery and muscle growth.
Choline An essential nutrient, choline’s main role in the body is the production of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Acetylcholine is an important chemical for nerve signals, including those that occur in your brain, as well as those that signal your muscles to contract. Intense training can deplete acetylcholine levels, leaving you fatigued physically and mentally. Supplementing with choline can recharge your nervous system and your life.
Vitamin C This antioxidant vitamin is essential for proper healing and recovery because it’s involved in so many processes in the body. It’s a cofactor in the production of enzymes that enhance collagen synthesis. The same family of enzymes that increase collagen production also help to stop tumor growth, infection and inflammation. Vitamin C even plays a role in maintaining blood-vessel elasticity. And it has also been found to boost immune function. <
Stack Info: Take these ingredients with major meals once or twice a day.
Fish Oil: 2 to 3 grams
Choline: 500 to 1,500 milligrams from sources such as choline bitartrate, choline chloride or choline dihydrogen citrate
Vitamin C: 1,000 milligrams