Supplements are used to enhance performance and intensity in the gym, recover faster, build more muscle, and burn more fat. There are many supplements that have been demonstrated through scientific research to enhance one or more of these objectives. Some supplements have more data and more rigorous testing than others. In addition, multiple studies show that the timing of taking supplements around your workout can be critical in maximizing their effect. This blog will review the supplements that I feel will help you attain the objectives of your training when included in your shake either before or after your workouts.
Milk Proteins: Casein and Whey
When in your life were you able to double your bodyweight in less than a year? When you were an infant! What made up the majority of your diet back then? MILK, and it does a body good.
Although it is a little unfair to attribute that rapid growth to milk alone, nature created milk to fuel this rapid development. Milk provides easily digested proteins that have the highest bioavailability and a complete amino acid profile providing the essential building blocks for lean mass. Milk protein is composed of rapidly digested whey protein and slowly digested casein.
Looking from an evolutionary perspective, it is quite interesting that breast milk contains a higher percentage of whey protein than casein versus cow’s milk. Human breast milk consists of 80% of nitrogen from whey/immunoglobulins and 20% from casein (1). To break this down further, 20% of breast milk nitrogen is casein, 50% is whey, and 30% is non-protein nitrogen like immunoglobulins and enzymes. In contrast, cow’s milk contains an inverse ratio of 20% whey to 80% casein (2). One might ascertain from this information that nature prefers whey protein as a building block for rapid growth. Lucky for us, we are able to concentrate the proteins found in milk and consume them in the quantities we desire, without the fat, cholesterol, and lactose we don’t.
A few studies have compared whey protein supplementation to casein (3,4). Consistently, whey protein out performs casein in improvements in muscle mass and strength development (5,6). However, recent studies suggest that a combination of whey and casein may be better than either alone (7). Casein appears to be beneficial in preventing muscle breakdown while whey with its high leucine content stimulates muscle growth. Whey provides rapid delivery of leucine, and casein helps to maintain blood amino acids for a longer time.
A study by Cribb and Hayes showed that athletes consuming whey protein with creatine around the time of their workouts showed improvements in muscle mass and strength (8). Additionally, they showed that consuming this supplement with carbohydrate improved restoration of muscle glycogen and creatine stores over use of the supplement in the morning and evening instead. This and other data support the use of whey +/- casein in your pre-post workout shake. I recommend using 30g of whey protein isolates and hydrolysates before your workout and another 30g shake after.
Leucine is one of the branched-chain amino acids that, in particular, has special properties. As mentioned above, whey protein delivers high amounts of leucine compared to other proteins. Multiple studies suggest that the power of whey to build muscle comes from its leucine content (9). Leucine is an amino acid that not only acts as a building block for muscle proteins, but it acts as a signal to turn on the muscle building machinery.
Studies show that at least 3-4g of leucine is required to maximize its effect on muscle protein synthesis (9). Whey protein contains ~11-12% leucine, thus 30g provides adequate leucine to maximize muscle growth. Casein has less leucine than whey and studies show that combining 2.5g of leucine to 20g of casein significantly increases insulin responses and muscle protein synthesis (13). However, recent studies also suggest that leucine plays a role in prevention of muscle protein breakdown much like its derivative HMB (10). If you are not taking my advice and using whey protein already, I believe it becomes essential that you augment your protein source with leucine. Leucine is not only valuable in the pre-post workout period, but enhances the efficacy of any meal to boost muscle development.
Creatine is undoubtedly on of the greatest discoveries in sports nutrition. Creatine monohydrate has the ability to boost performance through increasing strength, recovery, and lean muscle mass. If you haven’t tried it, you are way behind the curve. Creatine and whey protein are by far my favorite supplements.
Only creatine provides you with immediate and visible results. After you start taking creatine, you will notice an immediate improvement is strength in the gym. Furthermore, you may notice that the scale ticks up relatively quickly early on. Most of the increase at this point is from water retention in your muscle, but the stretch it causes gives an awesome pump and mechanically stimulates muscle growth.
Creatine has many ways in which it improves your muscle building capacity (11). Creatine supplementation boosts muscle creatine-phosphate storage. With more creatine-phosphate, your muscle has more of an immediate energy source to spare its muscle glycogen for further energy production. This usually translates to an extra rep to exhaustion performing a set of 10 reps in a given exercise.
There are a number of reasons to take your creatine around the time of your workout. Perhaps the most logical reason is that we don’t recommend consuming simple carbohydrates at any time of day other than immediately post-workout (put down that cookie). Studies show that creatine is better retained when consumed with protein and carbohydrate, so why not include it in your pre-post workout shake (12). Furthermore, the increased muscle blood flow that occurs with exercise would theoretically carry the creatine to the muscles and allow for better uptake into the cells. Creatine monohydrate is usually loaded for ~5-7 days at a divided dose of 20g per day and then maintained at ~5g per day thereafter.
As mentioned above, the increase in blood flow to your muscle during training is important in that it brings critical nutrients needed to fuel your workouts. Blood flow is regulated by nitric oxide (NO) production. Nitric oxide is produced from the amino acid arginine and results in opening up of blood vessels to improve blood flow.
Studies suggest that supplementation with arginine can improve muscle NO production and thus improve blood flow and adaptive responses to exercise. However, much (up to 60%) of the arginine that you consume via supplementation is almost immediately eliminated into your urine via conversion to urea in the liver (14). Recent studies suggest that the precursor to arginine, citrulline, may be a better route for supplementation to boost nitric oxide levels. Science shows that citrulline supplementation is a better way to deliver arginine than arginine itself (15). Citrulline gets into circulation for conversion to arginine without the high conversion to the toxin urea as occurs with arginine. Furthermore, citrulline is better suited for production of nitric oxide and improving blood flow than arginine (16). Thus citrulline can act as either a means to deliver arginine into the blood or as protein anabolic agent.
Animal studies confirm the ability of citrulline to limit fatigue and improve exercise performance. Moreover, arginine has the ability to improve tolerance to exercise in untrained or moderately healthy test subjects (17). By delivering more citrulline through supplementation, you will increase circulating arginine for production of nitric oxide to open up blood flow to your muscles. This provides more anabolic nutrients, oxygen, and skin stretching pumps to your workouts. It is recommended to take up to 3g-5g of additional arginine or citrulline to improve performance and pumps in your workouts.
More recently, data suggests that nitrate rich veggies like beetroot juice can enhance performance. Spinach and other green leafy veggies can supply great amounts of nitrate. EAT YOUR VEGGIES!
There are many pre-workout supplements out there that are loaded with all sorts of stimulants to improve your workout. When it comes down to it, the most common active ingredient in all of those supplements is caffeine. Caffeine is undoubtedly the most used and often abused drug in the world. I will abuse caffeine tomorrow morning after going to bed late after writing this blog.
Besides helping you get through your day, caffeine has been shown to be an essential component of your pre-workout regimen. Caffeine improves your focus and limits your perceived exertion. This allows you to train harder before feeling exhausted. However, it is a little known fact that caffeine can improve your recovery from high-intensity training when taken POST-workout.
Scientists from the UK demonstrated that adding 8mg per kg bodyweight of caffeine to a carbohydrate recovery drink improved subsequent high-intensity training capacity (18). Combining whey protein, carbohydrate, and caffeine in your post-workout shake will help restore muscle glycogen and thus energy for future training and recovery.
I split the following shake Pre/post-workout: ½ GNC Amplified Wheybolic Extreme 60 Ripped (caffeinated) shake with added 5g creatine, 5g leucine, and 3g citrulline. Drink the second half post-workout with a banana.
1) Lönnerdal B, Forsum E. Casein content of human milk. Am J Clin Nutr. January 1985; 41(1):113-120.
2) Hoffman J, Falvo M. Protein - Which is best? Journal of Sports Science and Medicine 2004; (3): 118–130.
3) Cribb PJ, et al. The effect of whey isolate and resistance training on strength, body composition, and plasma glutamine. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2006 Oct;16(5):494-509.
4) Burke DG, et al. The effect of whey protein supplementation with and without creatine monohydrate combined with resistance training on lean tissue mass and muscle strength. Int. J. Sport Nutr. Exerc. Metab. 11:349-364, 2001.
5) Tang JE, et al. Ingestion of whey hydrolysate, casein, or soy protein isolate: effects on mixed muscle protein synthesis at rest and following resistance exercise in young men. J Appl Physiol. 2009 Sep;107(3):987-92
6) Burd NA, et al. Greater stimulation of myofibrillar protein synthesis with ingestion of whey protein isolate v. micellar casein at rest and after resistance exercise in elderly men. Br J Nutr. 2012 Sep 28;108(6):958-62
7) Reldy P, et al. Protein blend ingestion following resistance exercise promotes human muscle protein synthesis. J Nutr April 1, 2013; 143(4)410-416
8) Cribb PJ, Hayes A. Effects of supplement timing and resistance exercise on skeletal muscle hypertrophy. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2006;38(11): 1918-1925
9) Stark M, et al. Protein timing and its effects on muscular hypertrophy and strength in individuals engaged in weight-training. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2012 Dec 14;9(1):54.
10) Boutry C, et al. Leucine Pulses Enhance Skeletal Muscle Protein Synthesis during Continuous Feeding in Neonatal Pigs. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2013 Jul 9. [Epub ahead of print]
11) Cooper R, et al. Creatine supplementation with specific view to exercise/sports performance: an updateJ Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2012; 9:33
12) Steenge G, et al. Protein- and carbohydrate-induced augmentation of whole body creatine retention in humans. J Appl Physiol 2000; 89:1165–1171.
13) Wall BT, et al. Leucine co-ingestion improves post-prandial muscle protein accretion in elderly men. Clinical Nutrition. 2013; 32:412-419
14) Mariotti F, et al. Kinetics of utilization of dietary arginine for nitric oxide and urea synthesis: insight into the arginine-nitric oxide metabolic system in humans. Am J Clin Nutr. 2013; 97:972-979
15) Rougé C, et al. Manipulation of citrulline availability in humans. Am J Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol. 2007 Nov; 293(5):G1061-7.
16) Wijnands KA, et al. Citrulline a more suitable substrate than arginine to restore NO production and the microcirculation during endotoxemia. PLoS One. 2012;7(5):e37439.
17) Sureda A, Pons A. Arginine and citrulline supplementation in sports and exercise: ergogenic nutrients? Med Sport Sci. 2012;59:18-28
18) Taylor C, et al. The effect of adding caffeine to postexercise carbohydrate feeding on subsequent high-intensity interval-running capacity compared with carbohydrate alone. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2011 Oct;21(5):410-6.