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Muscle Gain

  • The Best Scientifically-Supported Mass Building Supplements

    When it comes to building a strong, powerful, and lean physique, the first step should always be building an appreciable amount of muscle.

    Having more muscle mass obviously makes you look stronger, but it also does so much more than that. Muscle is highly metabolic tissue meaning that it uses a lot of energy every single day to sustain its physiological processes.

    This means that having more muscle can actually make the fat loss process easier.

    Moreover, you know that “defined” look that people are always trying to achieve? Well, that comes from having a good amount of muscle and a relatively small amount of fat -- which means it simply cannot be achieved without a little mass building.

    The kicker?

    Gaining muscle can be a little easier said than done. It takes a lot of hard training, in conjunction with adequate protein and a solid diet to see any results -- and even then, things can be slow going.

    Which is why we wanted to outline some of the best scientifically supported mass building supplements on the market at the moment.

    Scientifically-supported mass building supplements

    There are a number of different mass building supplements that actually have quite a bit of evidence to support their use -- and these are the ones that we want to highlight today.

    While these compounds will definitely not do all the work for you, they can absolutely give you a little a boost.

    The caveat is that for these supplements to demonstrate their effectiveness, you still need to be doing the right things. This means training hard on the regular, implementing progressive overload on a weekly basis, and eating enough to fuel your body.

    In this manner you can think of these supplements as the cherry on top -- the final piece of the muscle building puzzle, if you will.

    So, without further ado, the best mass building supplements on the planet.

    1.   Creatine

    Creatine is a compound made by your body and stored in your muscle tissue. With this in mind, it is actually broken down and used for energy during intense or explosive exercise -- like lifting weights, for example…

    Taking creatine increases the amount of creatine stored in your muscle. This provides an extra ‘reserve’ of energy that you can draw on during exercise.

    This improves your gym performance in a couple of different ways.

    Firstly, it causes an immediate increase in strength, meaning you can load a little bit extra on the bar. Secondly, it can increase the number of repetitions you can do per set.

    For example, without creatine you might be able to bench press 80kg for 8 repetitions. But with creatine, you might be able to bench press the same weight for 10 repetitions, or even 85kg for 8 repetitions.

    Both of which would cause an increase in the amount of total volume you perform each training session, which can lead to greater improvements in muscle size over the duration of a long term block of training [1].

    2.   Protein Powder

    Protein is made up of “amino acids”, which are often referred to as the building blocks of the human body. The reason being is that they are used to create every single one of your cells -- including your muscle cells.

    Every time you lift weights, you place your body under stress. This stress tells your body to adapt, causing your muscle tissue to grow bigger and stronger. However, if you are not consuming enough protein, this growth cannot occur, and you leave a heap of gains on the table.

    With this in mind, protein powders increase your daily protein intake and contribute in a meaningful way to muscle growth.

    In fact, there is a large body of research demonstrating that undertaking a weight training program with the addition of a protein supplement will lead to much greater increases in muscle size than performing that same program without a protein supplement [2].

    And regarding type, it doesn't seem to matter -- you can go with whey, pea, soy, or even rice -- just make sure you get it in.

    3.   Carb Powders

    Next up we have carb powders.

    These types of supplements are generally made from simple sugar molecules that are easily digested. As such, their consumption causes a quick increase in blood sugar, which in turn, causes an increase in insulin secretion.

    Because insulin helps shuttle glucose and protein into your muscle cells, this can have a profound impact on muscle growth.

    In fact, simply consuming a simple carbohydrate powder after training has been shown to cause a notable increase in muscle protein synthesis, without the consumption of any extra protein [3].

    As a bonus, carbohydrate powders have been shown to become even more effective when combined with a fast digesting protein powder like whey -- making them both a great option in your post workout shake [4].

    Some great carbohydrate powders include dextrose, maltodextrin, sweet potato powder, rice powder, and waxy maize powder.

    4.   MCT oil powder

    MCT Oil powder is a supplement that is composed entirely of highly concentrated medium-chain triglycerides -- which are a specific type of fat metabolized for energy in your body.

    While MCT oil powder is not often considered in most mass gaining supplement regimes, we would argue that they should.

    Firstly, MCTs are used for energy by the body after consumption. This means that by taking an MCT oil based supplement your body will use that for energy while “saving” the carbohydrates and protein for recovery and muscle growth.

    Secondly, there is some evidence to suggest that MCT oil supplements can improve exercise performance [5]. This means that it can help you get more out of your workout, this increasing muscle growth.

    5.   Beta-Alanine

    Last but not least, we have beta-alanine.

    Beta-alanine is most well known for its application as a primary ingredient in pre-workout supplements, where it can often cause a slight tingling sensation in the skin of your face and hands.

    However, it should be better known for its capacity to increase muscle growth.

    Beta-alanine is another specific amino acid that is found naturally occurring in your muscle tissue. During exercise, beta-alanine combines with another specific compound called “histidine” to form something called “carnosine”.

    So, how is this relevant to you?

    Well, carnosine plays an important role in energy production, where it reduces the accumulation of lactic acid in your muscle tissue during exercise. This prevents the buildup of fatigue during exercise, which improves your exercise performance.

    Now, under “normal” circumstances, the volume of beta-alanine stored in your muscle tissue is much smaller than the amount of stored histidine. This quickly puts a ceiling in your capacity to produce carnosine, making you more susceptible to the fatigue related effects of lactic acid.

    With this in mind, the supplementation of beta-alanine increases your body's carnosine production, improving your fatigue resistance.

    In a very similar manner to creatine, beta-alanine supplements increase the number of reps you can perform per set, leading to an increase in training volume, which contributes to long term improvements in muscle growth [6, 7].

    As a bonus, while they do somewhat similar things, beta-alanine and creatine work via two completely different pathways. This means that their supplementation becomes complimentary with respect to gym performance and muscle growth.

    Summary

    If your goal is to put on some serious size, then you need to make sure your training and diet is on point. However, once you have got those covered, there is no reason you shouldn't look to supplements for a little boost.

    And the five great options listed in this article should be your first point of call.

     

    References

    1. Cooper R, Naclerio F, Allgrove J, Jimenez A. Creatine supplementation with specific view to exercise/sports performance: an update. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2012;9(1):33. Published 2012 Jul 20. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-9-33
    2. Morton, Robert W., et al. "A systematic review, meta-analysis and meta-regression of the effect of protein supplementation on resistance training-induced gains in muscle mass and strength in healthy adults." British journal of sports medicine 52.6 (2018): 376-384.
    3. Roy, B. D., et al. "Effect of glucose supplement timing on protein metabolism after resistance training." Journal of applied physiology (1997).
    4. Tang, Jason E., et al. "Minimal whey protein with carbohydrate stimulates muscle protein synthesis following resistance exercise in trained young men." Applied physiology, nutrition, and metabolism 32.6 (2007): 1132-1138.
    5. Gomes, Rodrigo Vitasovic, and Marcelo Saldanha Aoki. "Does medium chain triglyceride play an ergogenic role in endurance exercise performance?." Revista Brasileira de Medicina do Esporte 9.3 (2003): 162-168.
    6. Hobson, R. M., Saunders, B., Ball, G., Harris, R. C., & Sale, C. (2012). Effects of ?-alanine supplementation on exercise performance: a meta-analysis. Amino acids, 43(1), 25-37.
    7. Kern, B. D., & Robinson, T. L. (2011). Effects of ?-alanine supplementation on performance and body composition in collegiate wrestlers and football players. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 25(7), 1804-1815.
  • Why You Should be Taking Dextrose Post-Workout

    15As an avid disciple of the iron, you probably go the extra mile to ensure that your diet is spot on (right?). Or maybe even if you have the occasional cheat meal turned-cheat-day, there is probably one cardinal sin that you would never commit- consuming high glycaemic carbs.

    But what if you found out that dextrose; made from corn and chemically identically to glucose, could turn your post-workout protocol on its head, and in the process, enhance your recovery?

    You’d be very likely to take advantage of it, we’re sure, why is why in this article we’ll be addressing why you should be adding dextrose to your post-workout shake.

    Why Dextrose Is Important

    Under normal circumstances, the body’s primary source of energy is glucose, which also happens to be fast digesting and absorbed. The body uses this energy source in the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), otherwise known as your “energy currency”. But enough about what it does under normal circumstances. Time to see what is does when consumed post-workout.

    Dextrose Refuels Muscle

    Even though dextrose is essentially glucose, you may not have appreciated the fact that it does not necessarily stay elevated in the blood for hours on end. Rather, following consumption, the body immediately uses the free glucose it needs to meet its requirements, and subsequently proceeds to storing the extra as glycogen in muscle and liver cells.

    These muscle glycogen stores are paramount to exercise capacity[i]. During exercise, your muscles utilize these glycogen stores to liberate free glucose that in turn fuels your workout session. This is why it is critical to refuel with dextrose following your workout.

    Ensuring you restock muscle glycogen stores means that your next workout will not suffer because of impaired fuel tanks, and as a result you are rewarded with an enhanced capacity to lift before muscle failure ensues.

    Dextrose May Enhance Muscle Protein Synthesis

    Muscle protein synthesis (MPS), is the Holy Grail every bodybuilder or strength athlete is after. Essentially, this dictates whether you gain muscle over the long term, as an accrual of muscle mass occurs when the rate of protein synthesis exceeds that of protein breakdown.

    A study published in The American journal of physiology, regulatory, integrative and comparative physiology in 2010[ii] sought to investigate if the consumption of 20 g essential amino acids (EAAs) and either 30 g or 100 g dextrose would enhance protein synthesis.

    The findings confirmed that there was a significant increase in post-workout protein synthesis for both groups, along with a small degree of impaired muscle protein breakdown.

    It is also important to note that the combination was administered within 1 hour post workout to take advantage of the greatest rate of protein and glycogen synthesis during this time period.

    Dextrose Can Assist With Muscle Sparing

    Know what’s worse than keeping the muscle status quo? Losing muscle. But this is what inevitably occurs following intense exercise, and which is exacerbated if proper post workout nutrition is not employed.

    To confirm the fact that dextrose helped with protein sparing, a study was conducted which administered glucose at a rate of 0.88 g/ kg/hr, to adults using a treadmill over the course of 3+ hours.

    The findings confirmed that glucose impaired the rate of protein breakdown and nitrogen excretion[iii], both indicators of muscle loss and not conducive to athletic endeavours.

    Dextrose Stimulates Insulin Secretion

    It’s no secret that consuming carbohydrates of any sort elicits an insulin response, but the sheer speed of dextrose’s absorption sets it apart. During the post-workout period, timing is everything.

    Insulin is a highly anabolic hormone, and one that is rightfully referred to as a storage hormone. This is because many of its actions relate to storing nutrients- primarily carbohydrates, in suitable cellular space.

    Following your workout, nutrients, namely glucose and amino acids, are preferentially shuttled into hungry muscle cells to initiate recovery, as opposed to the liver or fat cells, two other sites insulin also sends nutrients to.

    Insulin also shuts down catabolic processes at this time, bringing protein degradation to a crawl and reducing energy expenditure.

    This is why adding dextrose to your post workout protein shake works so well. Not only is a greater magnitude of insulin secretion[iv] achieved, but also a faster onset of action and longer duration of activity.

    How Much Dextrose?

    While it may seem common sense to assume that a larger amount of dextrose consumed post workout would yield superior results, this is not necessarily true. In fact, unless you are a competitive super endurance athlete, the need for a massive amount of dextrose is not advised.

    Studies have been done comparing the consumption of amount between 30-100 g at the post interval window, and there are really no significant differences observed. Thus, it may serve you best (depending on your physique goals) to limit the consumption at this time to 30-60 g.

    Stacked with a protein powder, a ratio of 1.5-2:1 (dextrose to protein) works well, and is enough to not cause a significant calorie burden.

    In Summary

    Dextrose is cheap, sweet, and highly effective. There aren’t many post-workout supplements that deliver such a bang for your buck, and yet, it is often overlooked altogether.

    The next time you work out, add some dextrose to your post workout protein shake for a sure way to enhance your muscle gain and take performance to the next level.

    References:

    [i] W J Evans, V A Hughes, Dietary carbohydrates and endurance exercise, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 41, Issue 5, May 1985, Pages 1146–1154, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/41.5.1146

    [ii] Glynn EL, Fry CS, Drummond MJ, et al. Muscle protein breakdown has a minor role in the protein anabolic response to essential amino acid and carbohydrate intake following resistance exercise. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2010;299(2):R533–R540. doi:10.1152/ajpregu.00077.2010

    [iii] Millward, D.J., Davies, C.T., Halliday, D., Wolman, S.L., Matthews, D., & Rennie, M.C. (1982). Effect of exercise on protein metabolism in humans as explored with stable isotopes. Federation proceedings, 41 10, 2686-91 .

    [iv] Komatsu M, Takei M, Ishii H, Sato Y. Glucose-stimulated insulin secretion: A newer perspective. J Diabetes Investig. 2013;4(6):511–516. doi:10.1111/jdi.12094

  • Tribulus terrestris truth or hype

    Tribulus terrestris (tribulus) is a dicotyledonous herbal plant of the Zygophyllaceae family. The plant is widely naturalised and extracts of its fruits and aerial parts have been used in ancient medicine for its diuretic, tonic and aphrodisiac properties. It was also claimed that the use of tribulus could increase the body's natural testosterone levels, and hence can improve male sexual performance and enhance muscle building potential. Here we review the scientific evidence available about the effects of tribulus on human sexual performance, testosterone levels and exercise performance.

    Tribulus extracts has been shown to possess aphrodisiac effects on rats (Gauthaman et al 2002, Life Sciences). Supplementation of tribulus has been shown to significantly increase serum testosterone levels in a limited number of animal studies (Qureshi et al 2014, Journal of Dietary Supplements). One recent study found that tribulus supplementation can improve desire in women with hypoactive (not active) sexual desire disorder and may be used as a form of treatment in the future for such disorders (Raisi et al 2014, Daru). However, the use of tribulus did not appear to have any effects on male erectile dysfunction in a recent randomise, double-blind study (Santos et al 2014, Actas Urologicas Espanolas).

    The effect of tribulus on testosterone levels has been debated. Even though some claimed that tribulus supplementation could increase serum testosterone levels in some animals, such effect has not been observed in humans. Evidence to date suggests that tribulus is ineffective for increasing testosterone levels in human (Qureshi et al 2014, Journal of Dietary Supplements).

    Supplementation of tribulus extracts also showed no significant effects on the body composition and exercise performance in resistance-trained males compared to the placebo (Antonio et al 2000, International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism). Supplementation of tribulus over a 5-week period did not increase strength and lean muscle mass in twenty-two Australian male rugby league players (Rogerson et al 2007, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research).

    The existing scientific literature on the effects of tribulus on humans is still quite limited. Nevertheless, the data available to date indicates that the hype surrounding tribulus extracts is not warranted. To date, there is insufficient evidence to suggest that tribulus increases testosterone levels in humans. Furthermore, there is a lack of scientific evidence to suggest that it helps to improve athletic performance or to increase muscle mass. The best way to improve your performance is to through proper training, good rest and proper nutrition, there are no shorts-cuts or quick fixes.

  • Creatine use, safe or not?

    Many of my articles intended to debunk common myths surrounding the perceived effectiveness of certain supplements in the world of fitness. On the other hand, although sometimes the effects can be inconsistent, creatine generally works, there's no question about that and with the currently available scientific data to back this up, I am in no position to criticize its efficacy. However, the increase in strength and energy comes at a cost, kidney damage, liver problems, muscle camping, diarrhea, impaired thermoregulation and death just for starters. Or is it really?

    The well-publicized side effects of creatine are generally hypothesised theories based on how the supplement works inside the body under extreme doses. Creatine is an organic acid that is synthesized by the kidney, pancreas and liver to help to supply energy to the body by increasing the formation of ATP. Theoretically, creatine uptake in muscle can result in an increase in fluid retention hence may affect the body's fluid balance and ability to dissipate heat. On the other hand, the body needs to get rid of and compensate for the extra creatine consumed, which puts extra strain on the kidneys and liver. The association between creatine use and liver and kidney damage was thus made based on a few case reports and small changes in organ function indicators.

    The theorized side effects have their scientific merits. However, if used properly, hardly any of the proposed side effects of creatine have been confirmed in well-controlled, randomized studies conducted on healthy subjects. Of course, you should not use creatine if you have an underlining health condition, especially kidney or liver problems, and you should not overdose, which may result in unwanted side effects. But if you are perfectly healthy, not allergic to any of the contents in the supplement that you ingest, and follow the proper guideline of oral creatine supplementation, it is very safe.

    How much creatine should I use then? One should always strive to achieve the best results with the lowest dose possible. According to the Mayo Clinic, a typical loading dose could be anywhere around 9-25 grams daily (depends on body weight) with good fluid intake for 4-7 days and a typical maintenance dose would be 2-20 grams daily for 5 days up to 12 weeks depends on body weight. This is just a general guideline and you should always tailor your regime based on your own circumstances. But remember, the effect of creatine can be inconsistent between different people and if you feel that the creatine you are taking does not give the expected result, it may not be the problem of dosage but the efficacy of the supplement itself.

    All in all creatine is safe supplement to use when taken properly.

  • Mass Gainers: What They Are & When to Use Them

    There is often debate about whether it is harder to gain muscle or lose fat. This isn't due to the actual physiological needs, but due to other individual factors, such as consistency, mental commitment, etc. When building muscle, however, people need to add some extra calories to their daily intake, and mass gainers are an excellent tool for this.

    When it comes to building muscle, one of these big difficulties is trying to consume enough calories. By providing your body with more calories than you burn every day, your body will use that excess energy to either build muscle, or gain fat. By consuming weight gainer shakes, you make this goal much more attainable.

    What Are Weight Gainers?

    Weight gainers are shakes that are loaded with calories and have been formulated for a nice balance in macronutrient ratios. Not every shake is the same, however, so it is important to understand that you need to choose one that fits your goals.

    For example, some weight gainer shakes are designed specifically with the macro split that is best suited for post-workout. This is because the body is in more of an anabolic state during that time, and these mass gainer shakes are formulated in order to give your body the best nutrients after your workout.

    Other varieties include mass gainer shakes that are more of a meal replacement, as well as others that just provide a solid, dense addition in calories to your daily nutrition plan you already have in place.

    Post-Workout Weight Gainers

    Post-workout weight gainer shakes will have little amounts of fats, and high amounts of carbohydrates. This is because your body needs to be fed fast acting carbohydrates post-workout, since your muscles are in need of fuel after being broken down during the course of your training session. These shakes often include creatine as well, which has been shown to have benefits in your fat free mass, and even 1-rep max1.

    Since you can take in more calories post-workout, these shakes will contain higher amounts of calories than you would see in other shakes, such as protein powder supplements. If you are looking for a boost that will help you with both your overall calorie needs, and your post-workout nutrition, then look for weight gainer shakes that contain higher calories.

    Meal Replacement Weight Gainers

    These weight gainers will hold less calories, but a more balance macronutrient ratio. While post-workouts really put emphasis on high amounts of carbohydrates, you will find that these types of shakes contain around the same amount of protein, but will hold more of a balance between fat and carbohydrate content.

    These shakes are beneficial if you feel that you just struggle to get your calories in from solid foods, but don't feel that you have a flaw in your post-workout nutrition. While these shakes will be lower in total calories, they will still provide a high volume of calories that can be downed much easier, allowing you a quick boost to your total calorie needs.

    Conclusion

    Weight gainers are an excellent addition to your arsenal if you really struggle with getting your calorie needs in. They provide a quick boost, and do have multiple macro ratio formulas to choose from, allowing you to choose the one that best fits your situation. Keep in mind, however, that these should only be added when your nutrition is already dialled in. If you are struggling on the basics, don't try to add in supplements.

    1. Antonio, J., & Ciccone, V. (2013). The effects of pre versus post workout supplementation of creatine monohydrate on body composition and strength. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition.
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