Although you may not always realize it from the marketing campaigns, there’s more to a woman’s supplementation needs than a trusty thermogenic fat burner. Women don’t just want to lose weight — we want to shape our physiques and build a body we can be proud of.
To accelerate that effort, there’s a “secret” most women don’t realize. Some of those products you find in the kitchen cabinets of a typical bodybuilding-obsessed male can help you, too. A lot.
Sure, much of what he’s taking promotes “massive muscle growth,” but you don’t need to worry about suddenly expanding to inside-linebacker proportions when you take them. Physiologically speaking, as a woman, your body simply won’t respond in the same way … but it will respond, by helping you firm, shape, tone and, yes, build muscle right where you want it. Read on for five supps you may want to take — and if your significant other is lacking a little in the muscle department, feel free to share with him.
1. Whey Protein Powder
Whey forms the foundation of just about any sports supplementation program. It’s one of the two proteins found in milk, it digests quickly and it contains a lot of branched-chain amino acids (more on them below), which are critical to muscle growth.
Why He Takes It: We mentioned that whey digests quickly, but that means that once it hits your stomach, it starts releasing its amino acids into the bloodstream. This is beneficial because it provides not only fuel for those muscles during workouts but also ensures that necessary aminos are present during and after workouts to begin to repair the damage caused by training.
Why You Should Take It: Whether or not you’re interested in grooming your muscles (note that we didn’t say growing), whey is vital to your body’s recovery.
Try: one scoop (20 grams) of whey before and after workouts. You can also take one scoop first thing in the morning or between meals as a snack.
Your muscles contain creatine, as do the meats you eat for dinner. Its job is, via some chemical exchanges, to create quick energy in cells. Taking supplemental creatine provides more potential energy, making your muscles work better for longer.
Why He Takes It: A guy takes creatine to max out muscle size and get as big as possible. Creatine does this in a number of ways. It helps him work out harder and longer, it increases levels of certain hormones that are critical to gaining muscle mass, and it draws fluid into muscle cells, physically forcing those cells to stretch.
Why You Should Take It: There are so many reasons that it’s hard to know where to begin. First and foremost has to be the endurance factor. Whether you’re a runner, a cardio addict, a weightlifter … essentially no matter how you perform your workouts, creatine helps you perform them longer. The fact that you will be able to work out at an increased intensity also has implications for strength gains and fat burning. Oh, and creatine has been linked with improved brain function and a reduction in LDL, or bad cholesterol, levels and homocysteine, which is a marker of inflammation.
Try: 2 to 5 grams before and after workouts.
Arginine is a means to an end. By which we mean, no one takes arginine to raise arginine levels in the body, though that’s precisely what it does. People take arginine because in the body, arginine creates nitric oxide, a gas that is primarily a vasodilator, or blood-vessel expander.
Why He Takes It: In a phrase, for the insane muscle pump. Wider blood vessels allow for increased blood flow, which means more fluid, oxygen and nutrients are brought to muscle tissue. That creates a temporary “pump,” or swelling of that tissue, which our boys like to ogle in all those mirrors in the gym. But that temporary pump puts pressure on muscle cells that can influence them to grow … permanently.
Why You Should Take It: All that extra blood flow comes with benefits for those who aren’t particularly invested in muscle size. One is lowered blood pressure, but another is that all that extra oxygen flowing to muscle cells increases energy during workouts. That can assist with your physique goals, but studies show that just taking arginine can help. In one study, presented at the 2008 Annual Meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine, female athletes who supplemented with arginine experienced significant reductions in body-fat percentage and equally significant gains in lean mass.
Try: 3 to 5 grams of arginine before breakfast, 30 to 45 minutes before working out and before bed.
4. Branched-Chain Amino Acids
It may seem strange to take amino acids by themselves when you’re most likely already eating a protein-rich diet and are (or should be) taking whey protein powder (see No. 1 in this list). However, while just about all the essential amino acids have benefits when taken as stand-alone supplements. BCAAs, however, are particularly beneficial to athletes.
Why He Takes It: Not to sound like a broken record, but BCAAs build muscle. Leucine, which is one of the three BCAAs (along with isoleucine and valine), in particular is responsible for turning on muscle protein synthesis, which is the process by which muscle tissue grows.
Why You Should Take It: In addition to maintaining your existing muscle tissue, BCAAs are unique among aminos because they can be used as fuel by muscles. Via a mechanism too complicated to get into here but that has to do with levels of valine, taking BCAAs tricks the brain into preventing sensations of fatigue. That means you can work out longer before hitting exhaustion. Leucine also affects weight loss, in two ways. One, the more leucine in the body, the less hungry your brain perceives you to be, and two, leucine increases metabolism.
Try: 3 to 5 grams at breakfast, before and after workouts.
If you haven’t heard of beta-alanine, you certainly haven’t heard of carnosine. But just like arginine creates nitric oxide, which does all the work, beta-alanine helps create carnosine, which does all the work. However, the body can’t create its own supply of beta-alanine, so supplementing with it ensures that the body can make as much carnosine as possible.
Why He Takes It: Beta-alanine offers the workout hat trick: increased muscle mass, strength and endurance. In fact, it’s so powerful that one study has shown that subjects who take the supplement without changing anything about their sedentary ways still gain lean mass. Just think of what it can do when you work out while taking it.
Why You Should Take It: Obviously, women benefit from increased muscle mass, strength and endurance, too. But just to tip the scales in beta-alanine’s favor, one study showed that subjects who took beta-alanine along with creatine dropped more body fat than those who only took creatine.
Try: 2 to 3 grams before and after workouts.
Tseh, W., et al. “The Effects of Arginine Alpha-Ketoglutarate Supplementation on Endurance-Trained Females.” Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: May 2008, Volume 40, Issue 5, p. S401.
Smith, A.E., et al. “Effects of beta-alanine supplementation and high-intensity interval training on endurance performance and body composition in men; a double-blind trial.” J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2009 Feb 11;6:5.
Hoffman, J., et al. “Effect of creatine and beta-alanine supplementation on performance and endocrine responses in strength/power athletes.” Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2006 Aug;16(4):430-46.