In the simplest sense, physical strength is the ability to exert force on physical objects using your muscles. And because of the body’s remarkable ability to adapt, repetitive feats of strength over time result in marked strength increases. It goes without saying that this adaptive process requires complex physiological and biochemical processing, and supplement research and development teams tirelessly strive to develop effective supplements to augment the body’s ability to adapt. As a result, several compounds have been discovered to increase the rate at which we develop strength. Yet with the endless number of products available, it can be difficult (and expensive) to sift through them all to find what works.
Here we focus on a few must-haves that are scientifically proven to improve strength in a short time.
It should come as no surprise that the most widely used strength supplement in the world is also one of the best researched. There are hundreds of studies that support caffeine as a safe stimulant that can boost cognition, release more fat during exercise, delay time to fatigue and blunt pain. In terms of its strength-boosting potential, caffeine is a rare supplement that can increase strength almost instantly.
A recent study published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research reported that ingesting a single dose of caffeine before training increases both upper- and lower-body maximum voluntary contraction strength better than a placebo. Notably, research indicates that caffeine’s effects on strength are most apparent in trained individuals.
Dosing: Take 200 to 400 milligrams one hour before training. If you have never consumed caffeine, start with the lowest dose and work up accordingly based on tolerance. If you exhibit symptoms such as shaking, nervousness, heart palpitations or anxiety, then you have taken too much. If you’re a coffee or tea drinker, you may want to delay this preworkout dose to about six hours after your last sip.
Several decades of peer-reviewed research unequivocally support the many performance-enhancing benefits of creatine. Although it’s a very potent strength booster, creatine doesn’t start working noticeably with the first dose. However, strength increases can be noted within four to six weeks of consistent supplementation. A recent systematic review and meta-analysis published in Sports Medicine concluded that creatine supplementation is effective in lower-limb strength performance for exercise of less than three minutes (like a few sets of squats). In a similar review published earlier in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, it was reported that creatine supplementation increases one-rep max (1RM) strength and max number of reps completed by an average of 10 and 15 percent, respectively.
Dosing: Although there are several different forms of creatine you can choose from, creatine monohydrate is the most studied form of creatine on the market. Take 3 to 5 grams of high-grade creatine monohydrate two times daily. On training days, take one dose 30 minutes before training and one dose immediately afterward.
This amino acid is the rate-limiting substrate in the formation of carnosine, so when it’s supplemented adequately it elevates the body’s muscle carnosine levels. Research shows that just four weeks of beta-alanine supplementation can increase muscle carnosine levels by more than 60 percent. Why is this important for strength? Because elevated muscle carnosine increases the body’s ability to buffer skeletal muscle pH (acidity) during prolonged high-intensity exercise. Since a primary cause of fatigue during heavy exercise is metabolically mediated by decreases in pH (or acidosis), it makes sense that increased intramuscular carnosine levels would be beneficial to bodybuilders and strength athletes.
Dosing: Take 2 to 3 grams of beta-alanine 30 minutes before and immediately after training. On rest days, take 2 to 3 grams with breakfast and 2 to 3 grams later in the day.