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Sports Performance

High-Octane Training Fuel

Some athletes take preworkout products for the rush. Some take them for the pump. And some take them because they create the perfect anabolic environment in the body.

The third and final installment of our preworkout-ingredient series hones in on the top muscle-building ingredients. Products in this category range from ingredients that provide preworkout nutrition to those that naturally increase anabolism via molecular signaling or by altering hormonal balance. 


What is it? Protein powder blends are supplements that incorporate proteins from a variety of sources, each with a different absorption rate. Simply put, these products aim to raise amino-acid levels quickly and keep them elevated over extended periods (i.e., several hours). The best protein blends contain fast-digesting whey protein hydrolysates and isolates as well as slower-digesting milk protein isolates and micellar casein. Beyond milk proteins, some of the top brands also include high-biological-value egg proteins. 

How does it build muscle? Proteins are chains of amino acids needed to build muscle and support metabolism. In order to maximize protein synthesis and minimize catabolism, bodybuilders require at least twice as much protein as sedentary Joes, making protein supplementation necessary to achieve significant lean mass gains. Taking a protein supplement before training raises amino-acid levels during workouts, which ensures that the body won’t pull aminos from muscles. A recent article published in The Journal of Nutrition reported that a blended protein supplement raised and sustained amino-acid levels and protein synthesis (the process by which muscle is built) better than whey protein isolate alone. 

Dosing: Take one to two scoops (20 to 40 grams of protein) of a protein blend mixed in water 30 minutes before training.


What are they?BCAAs (leucine, isoleucine and valine) are “essential” amino acids because the body cannot create them; they must be acquired via diet or supplementation. 

How do they build muscle? BCAAs comprise a large proportion of the total amino-acid content in skeletal muscle. They are readily broken down into their basic components during exercise and are eventually used as fuel for energy. Taking BCAAs after training ensures that the body has an abundance of these amino acids for recovery. This protects the body from catabolism and decreases recovery time. The BCAA leucine also boosts the release of the anabolic hormone insulin. Insulin levels need to be elevated rapidly after workouts because this hormone carries nutrients such as glucose and amino acids into muscle cells, which promotes greater protein synthesis and muscle gains during recovery. 

In fact, leucine is so critical to protein synthesis that a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2011 showed that taking leucine-enriched amino-acid supplements during exercise enhances the process by more than 30 percent. 

Taking BCAAs preworkout prevents their breakdown during exercise, reduces muscle soreness and protects muscle from catabolism. BCAAs also have been shown to decrease perceived exertion and fatigue during heavy training by balancing the brain’s tryptophan levels. Finally, supplementing with BCAAs has been shown to support the immune system, which could keep you from getting sick and missing workouts.

Dosing: Choose a product that contains at least twice as much leucine as the other aminos. Take 5 to 10 grams of BCAAs 30 minutes preworkout. For additional anabolic drive and to protect from catabolism, take another dose immediately after training. 


What is it? Creatine is synthesized by the body from arginine, methionine and glycine and is stored in skeletal muscle. It plays a fundamental role in energy production during exercise by forming the ATP needed for muscle contractions.

How does it build muscle? The bulk of positive research on creatine has been conducted using creatine monohydrate. When taken after exercise, it can replenish and significantly boost creatine stores in muscle. Having extra creatine around after training not only provides energy substrates for future exercise bouts but also promotes greater protein synthesis in recovery by physical and hormonal mechanisms. First, it increases the amount of water taken up by muscle cells, which swells the muscle and signals for increased repair. (It also makes your muscles look bigger.) Second, it increases the release of the anabolic hormone insulin-like growth factor-1 and decreases myostatin levels (the “anabolic brakes”) during recovery from heavy training.

Dosing: Although creatine monohydrate dosing is bodyweight and tolerance dependent, a good starting point is to first complete a loading phase of 5 grams four to six times per day for one week. After that week, take 5 grams 30 minutes before and immediately after training. On rest days, take 5 grams with breakfast and 5 grams later in the day. 


What is it? Carnitine is a compound synthesized in the body from the amino acids methionine and lysine.

How does it build muscle? LCLT works by up-regulating the testosterone-mediated “anabolic system” in skeletal muscle, resulting in enhanced recovery and greater gains. The proof comes from a study that concluded that 21 days of LCLT supplementation increased the number of testosterone receptors in skeletal muscle (meaning they could take in more testosterone) and augmented secretion of luteinizing hormone (which tells the body to ramp up testosterone production) in resistance-trained men. A complementary study showed that LCLT supplementation reduced exercise-induced muscle-tissue damage after heavy squatting.Carnitine also increases nitric-oxide production and increases fat loss by transporting more fat to the mitochondria, where it is oxidized and turned into energy. 

Dosing: Take 2 grams of LCLT with your preworkout meal. On non-training days, take 2 grams of LCLT with a meal containing carbohydrates.