Let’s face it, maintaining a high caliber of fitness takes a lot of work and organization. When you consider how much time you spend preparing meals, training, eating and sleeping, it’s amazing that you have any time (or energy) left to get anything else done!
So how can you maximize your efforts to get the biggest gains?
The answer is simple: Take a systematic and coordinated approach to your daily supplementation regimen. If you are currently following a random schedule for supplementation, then you are not maximizing your fitness efforts; exercise biochemistry is not a random science, and your supplement regimen shouldn’t be either. We present a science-backed and affordable supplement strategy, coordinated with five key times of the day that are perfect for optimizing gains.
Morning: Wake Up, Shake Up!
After a solid eight- to 10-hour sleep, your body is in a fasted state and is breaking down your hard-earned muscles to be used as nourishment. Before you even wipe the sleep from your eyes, get some amino acids into your body to shut down catabolism and prime the day for growth.
Whey Protein Isolate: Whey protein isolate is one of the purest protein supplements available, it has high bioavailability, naturally contains the highest levels of branched-chain amino acids, and has a complete amino-acid profile.
Recommendation: Males and females, mix 0.2 grams of high-quality whey protein isolate per pound of bodyweight into 16 ounces of water (for example, if you weigh 175 pounds: 0.2 x 175 = 35 grams of whey isolate).
Branched-Chain Amino Acids: Named as such due to their unique branched-chain structure, the essential amino acids leucine, isoleucine and valine have been used in bodybuilding and power sports for decades. BCAAs turn on “molecular switches,” which increase protein synthesis and recovery, and boost the immune system.
Recommendation: Although whey protein contains a robust BCAA complement, we suggest adding 3-5 grams of BCAAs to your morning shake to ensure your BCAA reserves are topped up for the hard day ahead. Make sure the product you choose has at least twice the leucine as isoleucine and valine.
Mealtime: Absorb and Catalyze!
Multivitamin: Vitamins support overall health by catalyzing vital processes in the body. For example, vitamin C acts as a potent antioxidant, the B vitamins are essential for the energy-producing (metabolic) pathways and repair/regeneration of cells, and minerals maintain normal cellular function. Since athletes tend to follow strict diets, taking a daily multivitamin will make up for any lacking micronutrients. In addition, intense training calls for more vitamins and minerals to catalyze metabolic reactions. Be sure to buy a product that is formulated for athletes because it will contain all the necessary vitamins and minerals balanced for the stresses of training. Some vitamin requirements differ between the sexes, so buying a product specifically formulated for men or women may provide additional advantages.
Recommendation: Because formulations vary, take as directed with breakfast.
Vitamin D: Vitamin D increases the absorption of calcium in the body, keeping bones strong. It also helps reduce body fat, increases muscle strength and promotes muscular development. Vitamin D binds to receptors on muscle cells to enhance muscle contraction and promote increased protein synthesis. Recent studies suggest that vitamin D deficiency is common in North Americans, and exacerbated in athletes. The body can make vitamin D when the skin is exposed to sunlight (by converting cholesterol to vitamin D); however, this mechanism of vitamin D “intake” depends greatly on the season and your sun-worshiping habits.
Recommendation: Vitamin D is fat soluble, so you can choose to take your daily amount in one shot or split it up among the day’s meals. We suggest taking a total (including what is in your multivitamin) of 2,000 to 4,000 IU of vitamin D3 (the active form of vitamin D) daily.
Fish Oil: The omega-3 fatty acids found in cold-water fish have been shown to reduce inflammation, increase cardiovascular health, increase the efficiency of the heart during exercise, maintain healthy blood lipid profiles, and increase fat metabolism and lean mass gain.
Recommendation: Take 1 to 3 grams of fish oil high in eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid with breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Preworkout: Prime the Pump!
This is the optimal time to prime the body for performance. Taking the right supplements at the right time will ensure you have set up a perfect internal environment for an intense workout from start to finish; hence the longstanding success of preworkout formulations. In fact, the top preworkout formulations provide everything you need in one product.
If you are already using a preworkout formula, excellent! But be sure it contains most (if not all) of what we recommend in this section. The following supplements will provide an abundance of energy and metabolic support to fuel your workout.
Betaine (aka trimethylglycine) is a methylated derivative of the amino acid glycine and exists in foods such as wheat, beets, spinach and shellfish. In the body, it serves as a methyl donor. Studies simulating methyl-deficient diets report disorders in protein synthesis, as well as muscle disturbances. Overall, betaine has been shown to improve muscular endurance at high power output, hydrate cells, reduce inflammation, maintain intestinal function, protect DNA, and lower homocysteine levels (which promotes cardiovascular health). In a paper published in the Journal of the International Society for Sports Nutrition, resistance-trained men who received a betaine supplement for six weeks saw improved body composition, muscle size, work capacity and improved power versus placebo.
Recommendation: Take 1.5 to 2.5 grams of betaine 30 to 60 minutes before training. If you plan on using a preworkout formulation, then be sure it contains at least 1.5 grams of betaine.
Although caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant, its effects on energy levels go far beyond its energetic buzz. Many studies show that preworkout caffeine supplementation dampens perceived exertion and muscle pain during exercise and into recovery. As such, many find that preworkout caffeine promotes higher workout intensity and volume, resulting in greater gains in a shorter time.
Recommendation: Take 200 to 400 milligrams of caffeine 30 to 60 minutes prior to training. Caffeine is a common ingredient in preworkout formulations.
Preworkout BCAA supplementation tops off blood amino acids, which will get consumed in your upcoming workout. Taking BCAAs before training also delays fatigue, so you can perform equally as hard at the end of your workout as the start.
Recommendation: Take 3 to 5 grams of BCAAs, 30 to 60 minutes before training. If you are using a preworkout formulation, confirm that it has at least 3 grams of BCAAs (containing approximately twice as much leucine as isoleucine and valine).
The research supporting creatine as a strength- and muscle-builder is indisputable. Creatine is rapidly taken up and stored in skeletal muscle where it provides much-needed high-energy creatine phosphate to supply muscles with the substrates to quickly make ATP (energy for contraction). In the end, having elevated creatine stores in muscle promotes dramatic increases in strength and power during explosive and extended performances with less time needed for rest.
Recommendation: Take 2 to 5 grams of creatine monohydrate 30 to 60 minutes prior to training.
Beta-alanine supplementation boosts muscle carnosine levels over several weeks. Elevated muscle carnosine levels increase muscle energy/endurance by buffering skeletal muscle acidity that accumulates during prolonged high-intensity exercise. This simply means that preworkout beta-alanine can help you push harder for longer during your workouts.
Recommendation: The research suggests that you can reap the benefits of beta-alanine with as little as 1.6 grams per day. However, it will take longer for muscle carnosine levels to peak. For optimal results, take 3 to 5 grams of beta-alanine, 30 minutes prior to training. If you are taking a preworkout formula, be sure it contains at least 1.6 grams of beta-alanine per serving.
Postworkout: Rest, Replenish, Recover!
You are exhausted, your muscles are screaming for nourishment and are primed for nutrient delivery and absorption. The postworkout period is one of the most crucial opportunities for maximizing growth and recovery.
Whey Protein Isolate
Whey is the ideal postworkout protein source because it absorbs at a moderate 8 to 10 grams per hour, so a 20- to 40-gram shake will raise amino acids quickly and keep them elevated for about two to four hours. Whey boosts anabolic insulin better than any other protein source, this enables greater shuttling of glycogen and nutrients into fatigued muscle, promoting faster and greater recovery.
Recommendation: Males and females, immediately postworkout, mix approximately 0.2 grams of high-quality whey protein isolate per pound of bodyweight into 16 ounces of water (for example, if you weigh 175 pounds: 0.2 x 175 = 35 grams of whey isolate).
When taken after exercise, creatine monohydrate can replenish and boost muscle creatine stores. 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, or IGF-1, and decreases myostatin levels (the “anabolic brakes”) during recovery from heavy training.
Recommendation: Mix 2 to 5 grams of creatine into your postworkout whey protein isolate shake.
Because beta-alanine supplementation builds muscle carnosine levels over time, then you must replenish beta-alanine postworkout. This strategy will ensure that your muscle carnosine levels remain topped up for the next workout.
Recommendation: For optimal results, mix 1.6 to 5 grams of beta-alanine in your postworkout whey protein isolate shake.
Because betaine is lost during sweating and it supports anabolism, it’s a good idea to replenish it after training.
Recommendation: Take 1.5 to 2.5 grams of betaine with your postworkout whey protein isolate shake.
Before bed: Nocturnal Nourishment!
Casein is the most abundant protein found in cow’s milk. Micellar casein has the unique ability to form a gel in the stomach, slowing absorption and making it a sustained supplier of amino acids. Past research illustrates that a single serving of micellar casein can sustain blood amino levels for up to seven hours. This unique feature of micellar casein makes it an excellent anti-catabolic supplement, which provides muscle-building amino acids, all night, while you sleep.
Recommendation: Mix 20 to 40 grams of micellar casein in 16 ounces of water and drink immediately before hitting the sack.