Supplement companies put a lot of work into creating their products. Think of all that research and development, making sure the ingredients are sourced from the best possible manufacturers, and ensuring the compound tastes great and behaves in the body the way it’s supposed to. Some products spend years in development before they’re finally released into the market.
But if there’s a weak link in that chain, it’s you, the consumer. You may not have a degree in sports nutrition, and you may not have the time — or the inclination — to do all the research necessary to ensure you’re taking the exact dose at the exact time so that supplement does its best for your body. But how and when you take your supplements can determine their overall effectiveness. So whether you’re looking to add some lean beef to your bones or simply get a little leaner, use our clock-guided outline to start seeing results faster.
It’s morning. You’ve just cursed your alarm clock and grudgingly thrown your comforter aside, but before you go scrub the stink off your teeth, you’ll want to knock down some protein and glutamine. When you wake up, your body has effectively been fasting for hours, running on stored sugars to, you know, keep you alive and stuff. Unfortunately, after a while, all that fasting puts lean muscle tissue at risk. Because you don’t want to waste any more time waiting for your body to digest whole-food sources of protein, down 40 grams of whey protein to prevent any further muscle wasting. Adding 5 to 10 grams of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) will help stop catabolism and turn on muscle protein synthesis to switch your muscles over to an anabolic state.
Also consider eating 20 to 40 grams of whole-food carbs at this time. Fruit is a good option because it will get to the liver and essentially tell the body that it no longer needs to burn up protein for fuel. Males should add 2 grams of carnitine, which has been found to boost the number of testosterone receptors in muscles. Because your test levels are maxed when you wake up, this ensures that testosterone will go to muscle building while you also have ample aminos going to your muscles. And regardless of gender, carnitine can help encourage fat burning. If your primary goal is fat loss, you can reduce the whey to 20 grams and add 500 milligrams of green tea extract and 200 milligrams of caffeine to further boost fat loss. Also consider adding 2 to 10 milligrams of yohimbine at this time.
After getting yourself ready to start your day, it’s time to chow down on some whole foods: protein, slow-digesting carbs and healthy fats. But this is also the time you’ll want to knock back all your vitamins, which are better absorbed when taken with food and are crucial for improving overall health and keeping you in the gym. Tossing in 10 grams of glutamine helps increase your body’s ability to preserve muscle while also giving you a top-o’-the-morning immunity boost. If fat loss is your major goal, add CLA at this time to further enhance muscle and strength gains.
If you’re trying to add mass or burn more body fat, you need a small, protein-rich meal at this time to keep your growth (or fat loss) on track. Protein consumption also increases satiety, keeping you full enough to ignore the vending machine and break-room doughnut cache.
Your supplements can boost the effectiveness of your workouts, so taking them at the right time and in the right quantities can absolutely have an impact on how good you can look. Whey, creatine, citrulline, beta-alanine and caffeine are must-haves before hitting the gym because they collectively affect your strength, stamina, energy levels and fat-burning capacity. But timing is everything here, and you need to know what to take and when. Essentially, you want two preworkout meals.
Preworkout 1 should be taken 45 to 60 minutes before you start training and should include citrulline — or another nitric-oxide booster like arginine — as well as caffeine. Citrulline converts to arginine in the body and is better absorbed by the intestines, which makes it a better first option. Caffeine peaks about an hour after it’s taken, so working out too soon after ingesting it will limit its ability to boost strength and endurance as you train. While caffeine will also enhance fat burning during the workout, add a dose of green tea and yohimbine to seriously turn up the burn.
Preworkout 2 should come about 30 minutes after Preworkout 1 and 30 minutes or less before you start training, and the prescription is the same for both camps. Here is where you want 20 grams of whey, which will be used by muscles as an energy source during the workout and will start you on the road to recovery early. Add 5 to 10 grams of BCAAs to aid muscle recovery, prevent muscle breakdown, provide more energy to muscles and prevent fatigue. Those looking to get lean get an extra benefit from carnitine at this time because it helps to shuttle fat into mitochondria, where it can be burned as fuel. Beta-alanine, known mainly for its ability to help boost muscle strength and power, also aids in fat burning by delaying fatigue, allowing you to get more calorie-scorching reps per workout.
Growth is essentially a side effect of recovery, which happens while you’re at home resting, eating and sleeping. Customarily, recovery begins with whey protein. Right after a workout, protein synthesis (read: muscle growth and repair) is at its highest. Fast-digesting whey supplies your muscles with all the amino acids they need to rebuild. And even though casein digests slowly, research has found that adding it to whey after workouts further promotes muscle growth.
Glutamine augments this process by reducing the total amount of muscle breakdown and increasing blood levels of growth hormone, while creatine replenishes explosive energy stores. Citrulline boosts blood flow — thereby assisting in the delivery of nutrients, oxygen and hormones to starving muscles — and BCAAs promote protein synthesis and can decrease delayed-onset muscle soreness. Each of these supps has its place postworkout, whether you’re looking to beef up or lean down.
It may seem that you have enough nutrients sitting on your plate to keep your body changing for the better, but there are a few things you can add to boost health and recovery. Ideally, you should take a hit of vitamin C with 2 to 3 grams of fish oil, both of which are better absorbed with food. Vitamin C helps with the synthesis of hormones, while fish oil further reduces muscle breakdown and supports the joints that you just put through the wringer at the gym. Those who want to aid fat loss while promoting gains in muscle and strength should also take a dose of CLA.
30 To 60 Minutes Before Bed
The evening hours are meant for couching, which should be a word, and DVRing, which in our opinion is a way of life. But the job of building a better physique doesn’t end when you clear the dinner table. As those looking to add mass prepare for bed, it’s a good time to boost blood flow with an additional 3 to 6 grams of citrulline. This helps further increase growth-hormone levels, which are naturally higher as you sleep. Just make sure you take a dose that’s free of stimulants so as not to interfere with your z’s. Taking ZMA at this time can also boost your overnight hormone parade.
This is your final act. As you reach to the nightstand to turn off the light, make a pit stop at your shaker. By having a serving of micellar casein (the slowest-digesting type) before you hit the pillow, you stave off the breakdown of muscle for fuel as you sleep. If you’re trying to gain size, aim for 40 grams. If you’re just looking to lean up a bit, 20 grams will suffice. Also consider a dose of fish oil and, for those trying to get lean, another dose of CLA, which has been shown to enhance fat burning and better preserve muscle while you sleep.
Supplement Quick Facts
Here's your quick-consult guide to the benefits of key supplements
• High in BCAAs, high biological value and very fast digesting
• Provides muscles with a quick, readily available source of amino acids
• Hydrolysate is faster digesting than whey concentrate or isolate
• Ideal for early morning, preworkout and postworkout
• Digests slowly to provide muscles with a slow trickle of amino acids
• Micellar casein digests slower than caseinates (sodium caseinate, calcium caseinate)
• Ideal for postworkout, bedtime or long gaps between meals
• Composed of leucine, isoleucine and valine
• Aids in the manufacture, mainte-nance and repair of muscle tissue
• Stimulates protein synthesis
• Provides energy during workouts
• Blunts cortisol and reduces muscle soreness
• Blunts fatigue during workouts
• Increases the release of fat for fuel during exercise
• Boosts strength instantly
• Delays time to fatigue
• Improves mental focus
• Aids the transport of fats into mitochondria where it can be burned as fuel
• Improves fat loss with exercise and low-carb dieting
• Can contribute to muscle growth by boosting NO levels and the level of androgen receptors in muscle
• Boosts strength by supplying muscles with more explosive energy taken postworkout, increases insu- linlike growth factor-1 (IGF-1)
• Provides antioxidant benefits, reduces chronic fatigue, boosts brain and heart health
Green Tea Extract
• Contains EGCG, or epigallocatechin gallate, which inhibits an enzyme that breaks down norepinephrine, the neurotransmitter involved in regulating metabolism and fat burning
• Reduces the risk of some cancers and aids in joint health
• Aids muscle growth by increasing levels of leucine
• Decreases muscle breakdown
• Boosts immune function
• Increases growth-hormone levels
• Can increase calories and fat burned during exercise
• Enhances nitric-oxide production in the body
• Boosts blood flow to muscles to optimize delivery of nutrients, hormones and oxygen
• Can significantly raise growth-hormone levels
• Promotes greater fat loss and gains in muscle
• Forms carnosine in the body
• Delays time to exhaustion by buffering hydrogen ions during exercise
• Boosts strength and endurance
• Paired with creatine supplementation, can increase lean mass and reduce body fat
• Converts into arginine in the body, which then converts to nitric oxide
• Boosts blood flow and therefore nutrient delivery to muscles and organs
• Can aid in energy levels and force production
Reduces possibility of nutritional deficiencies that can arise from hard training
• Contains omega-3 fatty acids
• Helps prevent muscle breakdown
• Encourages fat loss
• Reduces risk of heart disease and stroke
• Boosts immune and brain function
CoQ10 (Coenzyme Q10)
• Neutralizes free radicals created during exercise
• Helps convert carbs and fat into energy
• increases endurance
• Aids in metabolism
• Helps produce energy
• Improves the synthesis of hormones like GH
• Fights free radicals created during exercise
• Can enhance nitric-oxide levels and enhance fat loss
• Combines zinc, magnesium aspartate and vitamin B6
• Increases testosterone and IGF-1
• Enhances sleep quality