Have you noticed? Whether it was the shorter, colder days, the endless repeats of Christmas Vacation on TBS or the brain-numbing drone of Christmas carols being piped into every retail space in the nation, you’ve likely figured out that the holidays are here. And so, whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or Festivus, you must be under some pressure to find gifts for a few hundred of your closest friends, family members and business associates. Allow us to help. No, you won’t find the latest shiny pieces of technology or the fanciest, most expensive cars within these pages. Instead, you’ll find something much more useful and well-deserved: the perfect gift stacks for your favorite weightlifter, even if that weightlifter is you.
Protein Gift Stack
You may think that protein is protein is protein. Unfortunately, what worked for Gertrude Stein doesn’t quite work for you. Yes, whey is a high-quality protein that you should be taking, but other proteins, like casein and soy, have benefits that whey does not. Combining them gives you a supercharged protein powder.
Whey: This most critical protein powder is an extremely fast-digesting milk protein, which means it’s the perfect way to fast-track amino acids to your muscle fibers, where they’re needed to stimulate muscle growth. Although that’s particularly important before and after workouts, it’s also important when you wake up and for between-meal snacks. Also important? Whey is rich in the branched-chain amino acids, which just happen to be the most critical aminos for stimulating muscle growth.
Casein: Like whey, casein comes from milk, making up the majority of milk protein, (80 percent), while whey makes up the remaining 20 percent. Unlike whey, casein is a very slow-digesting protein. When it hits the stomach, it forms a gel that is extremely difficult for digestive enzymes to break down. Those enzymes end up slowly chipping away at the casein gel over many hours. This makes casein ideal for periods when you’re not eating, such as while you sleep, but it also can aid muscle growth around workouts. A study from Baylor University in Texas reported that trained men who took a postworkout shake that combined whey and casein gained significantly more muscle mass after 10 weeks than men who took a whey shake that lacked casein.
Soy: Relatively fast-digesting soy protein boasts several significant benefits. It’s rich in the nitric-oxide-boosting amino acid arginine. One of its phytonutrients, genistein, has been shown to directly increase NO levels by increasing levels of NO synthase, the enzyme that converts arginine into NO. Soy also provides antioxidants that have been shown to enhance muscle recovery following workouts. Plus, research indicates that taking soy increases growth-hormone levels by more than 200 percent. But if you’re still holding on to the fallacy that soy lowers testosterone and raises estrogen levels, you can give that up now. A review study published in a 2009 issue of the journal Fertility and Sterility analyzed all the studies on soy’s effects in men and confirmed that soy does not lower testosterone or raise estrogen levels in men.
Stacking Tip: One benefit that all three of these proteins share is that they outperform whole-food proteins when taken before and after workouts. Use equal amounts of each protein to get 20 grams total within 30 minutes before workouts and 40 grams within 30 minutes after. Also use 20 to 40 grams as a high-protein snack between meals.
Workout Gift Stack
In addition to protein before and after workouts, there are specific nutrients that enhance strength and energy levels during workouts and boost recovery and muscle growth after it’s over. Stacking these three supplements will make a major difference in workout performance and the results you can achieve.
Creatine: Hundreds of studies support creatine’s effectiveness at boosting muscle size and strength and have illuminated the various mechanisms by which it does so. Creatine increases energy levels in muscle cells, increases muscle-cell fluid levels, increases levels of insulin-like growth factor-1 and decreases myostatin (a protein that inhibits muscle growth). Research studies confirm that creatine can add a good 10 pounds of lean muscle and increase strength by more than 10 percent in just a few weeks.
Beta-Alanine: This amino acid combines with another amino, histidine, inside muscle cells to form the compound carnosine. Having higher levels of carnosine in muscles is linked to increased muscle strength and power, as well as greater muscle size. And creatine compounds the benefits. A 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. Numerous studies in athletes also confirm that beta-alanine boosts muscle power, strength and endurance.
Branched-Chain Amino Acids: The BCAAs are leucine, isoleucine and valine, the three most critical aminos for boosting muscle growth. Research shows that leucine acts as a key that ignites muscle protein synthesis in muscle cells. These amino acids are also an important energy source for muscles during workouts, and they have been shown to reduce fatigue during exercise.
Stacking Tip: Add 2 to 5 grams of creatine, 2 to 3 grams of beta-alanine and 5 to 10 grams of BCAAs to your preworkout and postworkout shakes.
Get-Lean Gift Stack
It may be too cold out to be thinking about removing enough clothing to show off any muscularity, but spring will soon be right around the corner. Which means that it’s never too late to get a head start on dropping body fat. These three supplements help shed the fat and offer numerous other benefits.
Caffeine: The world’s most popular drug is not just a stimulant, it’s also an effective fat burner. Caffeine boosts thermogenesis and increases the release of fat from fat cells. Because caffeine revs up the body’s ability to burn up more calories, that freed-up fat gets burned away by the body for fuel, leaving you leaner. Plus, caffeine can keep your appetite muted and your mood elevated when dieting, and it also can boost your intensity and strength during workouts, which can help you train harder and — you guessed it — burn off more body fat.
Green-Tea Extract: Green-tea extract is a no-brainer supplement to add to a fat-burning stack. Clinical research studies and anecdotal reports confirm that it works well for fat loss. The active ingredients in green tea responsible for the majority of its fat-burning effects are catechins, specifically one known as epigallocatechin gallate. EGCG blocks the activity of an enzyme that breaks down norepinephrine, a neurohormone that increases fat burning and your metabolic rate. Higher norepinephrine levels mean greater calorie and fat burning.
Yohimbine: Once known as merely a sexual-performance aid, this active ingredient from the bark of the West African tree Pausinystalia yohimbe, is now known primarily for its fat-burning effects. Like caffeine, it aids fat loss by increasing the amount of fat that gets released from fat cells, but it does so via a different mechanism. That means that when you take it with caffeine, the amount of fat released is increased. The freed-up fat can then be burned away for good. One study presented at the 2006 annual meeting of the International Society of Sports Nutrition reported that yohimbine significantly reduced body fat in athletes after just three weeks.
Stacking Tip: Take 200 to 400 milligrams of caffeine, 500 milligrams of green-tea extract standardized for at least 30 percent EGCG, and 5 to 20 milligrams of yohimbine two to three times per day between meals. Take the first dose in the morning, and on workout days, take one dose 30 to 60 minutes before workouts.
Healthy Gift Stack
The best gift you can give someone is the gift of health. These three supplements provide many health and wellness benefits and should be taken by everyone, from your training partner to your grandmother.
Fish Oil: By now, you should be well aware that the omega-3 fats found in fish oil can provide vast improvements to health and physique, such as reduced risk of heart disease and cancer, enhanced brain function, better mood, improved muscle and joint recovery, and increased fat loss. These benefits are all thanks to the functions that the omega-3 fats, eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid, perform in the body. For example, these special fats are converted in the body to beneficial prostaglandins. And they can even turn on and turn off certain genes, such as those that increase fat burning and decrease fat storage.
Vitamin D: Recent research shows that vitamin D is required for so much more than just bone health. It has been shown to improve mood, aid immune function, fight off cancers and other chronic diseases, and keep fat off. Plus, it’s now known to be critical for muscle strength and growth, as well as increasing testosterone levels in males. Be sure to take vitamin D-3 (or cholecalciferol), the more potent form of the vitamin.
Probiotics: According to the World Health Organization, probiotics are live microorganisms that when administered in adequate amounts, they confer a health benefit to the host. When it comes to supplements, probiotics are typically beneficial bacteria that live in the digestive tract. The three most advantageous (and most commonly found in probiotic supplements) are Lactobaccilus acidophilus, Lactobaccilus bulgaricus, and Bifidobacterium bifidum. These bacteria help to maintain or restore the normal balance of beneficial bacteria in the body and minimize the number of harmful bacteria. Having the proper balance of bacteria in the gut is not only critical for digestive health, but it also promotes better immune function, aids fat loss and may even help boost athletic performance.