By itself, a high-quality protein supplement is a potent ergogenic aid that can assist with muscle growth and recovery. However, when protein is stacked with other performance enhancing ingredients, training efforts and gains may be amplified to a greater degree. Some of these ingredients work in synergy with protein by promoting lean mass development and repair while others can significantly improve strength, power, endurance, and time to fatigue. What’s more, most pre-workouts will combine 3-4 of these ingredients which makes it easy to get all the benefits of each in one convenient scoop. Listed below are five research validated supplements that will help potentiate protein’s anabolic effects.
Creatine is one of the most studied and important sport supplements today. It has become a must for athletes wanting to increase workout intensity while delaying the onset of fatigue. Research has shown that supplementing with creatine can boost muscle size, strength, and endurance, improve athletic performance, and speed muscle recovery. Saturating muscles with creatine improves the body’s ability to quickly replenish and recycle ATP, which increases muscle energy and delays muscle fatigue.
Over 500 studies exist on the ergogenic benefits of creatine supplementation with over 70% of these studies producing significant improvements in size, strength, power, and lean muscle growth without any detrimental side effects.
Best time to take: Immediately post-workout
The essential amino acids Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine collectively form what are referred to as the Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs). These amino acids are essential because they cannot be produced in the body and must be provided through supplementation or diet. BCAAs comprise approximately 30% of the total muscle protein pool and are the primary amino acids oxidized in the muscle during exercise and catabolic stress. For these reasons, athletes supplement with BCAAs for the purpose of increasing muscle mass, reducing muscle damage, blunting fatigue, and increasing energy during exercise.
Hundreds of studies exist on the ergogenic benefits of BCAAs. The majority of them show that BCAAs, whether consumed throughout the day or pre, during, or post-exercise; can decrease protein catabolism (breakdown) and support muscle protein synthesis, a physiological process responsible for muscle growth and repair. Furthermore, BCAAs are essential to glucose (energy) production; contributing to greater than 40% of glucose production during sustained endurance exercise.
Best time to take: In between meals with a snack
HMB’s primary physiological functions are its capacity to stabilize the cell membrane of muscles, stimulate protein synthesis, and decrease protein breakdown. The mechanism is related to HMB’s role as an alternative substrate for cholesterol synthesis. The inhibition of cholesterol synthesis results in impaired muscle functions, increased muscular damage, and finally, muscular necrosis. To maintain membrane integrity, muscle cells rely on cholesterol synthesis. Increased intramuscular HMB may provide a readily available substrate for the synthesis of cholesterol needed to form and stabilize the muscle cell membrane. HMB has been shown to up-regulate muscle protein synthesis by the activation of the mTOR pathway and to decrease muscle protein breakdown by influencing the ubiquitin-proteasome-dependent pathways of protein degradation. Simply put, HMB shifts the balance of protein synthesis, tipping the scale in muscle’s favor. When protein synthesis equals protein breakdown, there is no net gain of muscle protein. This is important in maintaining/increasing strength. Therefore, the increase in protein synthesis and decrease in protein breakdown achieved through HMB supplementation results in greater strength gains and faster recovery via net gains in muscle protein.
Best time to take: One hour before exercise and a second serving before bed.
Beta-Alanine is a hydrogen ion buffer that increases training capacity giving you the ability to go harder and longer. High-intensity weight training and athletic activities can lead to muscle acidity. This causes muscle pH to drop due to the large amount of hydrogen ions produced. As muscle pH drops, your muscle’s ability to perform at peak levels decreases. Beta-alanine works by increasing muscle carnosine levels, which in turn, works as a muscle buffer by combatting hydrogen ion buildup. In scientific studies, beta-alanine has been shown to increase strength, power output, endurance, exercise capacity, muscle mass, and delay the onset of neuromuscular fatigue.
A recent meta-analysis confirmed the ergogenic effect of beta-alanine, showing a 2.85% increase in exercise performance compared to placebo when dosed at ~2/grams daily.
Best time to take: 30 minutes before exercise
EPA and DHA are the two main omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil. While it is well known these two omegas play a vital role in the health of the brain, eyes, and nervous system; the performance benefits are lesser known. Research has shown that fish oil may amplify muscle protein synthesis to a greater degree when a high protein meal is eaten. It may also inhibit the genes that promote fat storage and activate the ones that burn adipose tissue. Emerging research suggests EPA and DHA may improve strength when combined with weight training although additional studies need to be conducted to support this.
Best time to take: Take with any meal of the day (breakfast, lunch, or dinner).