An Introduction to Supplements in Bodybuilding and Fitness

Performance Meals produces quality food in order to help consumers get optimum nutrition to meet their goals faster. However, people continually ask on internet message boards “which supplement can I take to get big quick?” whereas in reality, they are missing the point completely. You can only improve your physique by eating good quality food regularly accompanied with intense and correct training with plenty of rest. Period. Nutritional supplements do just what they say, i.e. they supplement an already good diet. It is worth bearing in mind, though that there are a few supplements which are very useful to include alongside a good quality food intake.

There are, as you’ll have noticed, a huge array of nutritional supplements and ergogenic aids on the market, so it is no wonder that even many experienced bodybuilders and athletes are baffled as to which are effective. Remember though you do not need supplements to build a great physique, but they can be an extremely useful and effective way of improving your gains.

Some of the more common ones are discussed briefly here, but it’s always useful to read more about each one and you can then make your own informed decision. This article includes a menu showing options of how you can incorporate supplements into your Performance Meals meal plan.


Protein Powders

There are a number of different types of protein powder, based on different sources of protein, the most popular being whey protein (e.g. PhD Pharma Whey). Whey protein has a high biological value and similar amino acid profile to that of human muscle tissue, as well as being digested, absorbed and taken up by muscles quickly.

There are different production processes for whey protein producing different quality formulas. These include whey concentrate, whey isolate and whey hydrolysates. Although quality does differ, in practice as a protein source, whey concentrate does the job very well and it’s questionable if having the protein being absorbed very slightly quicker or having a few mg more of one amino acid really make that much different compared to having a balanced, healthy diet and putting a lot of effort in the right places in your workout?

Other quality protein powders are often made up of a combination of two or more sources of protein. These may include whey, but other sources as well, so there is a more staged digestion of the protein. Popular ingredients are whey, soya isolate, wheat, egg white or casein (the slowest digested protein). The formulas may be drunk mixed with skimmed milk last thing at night when it will be many hours before you can consume more protein, or if you are a shift-worker and have long periods of work without a tea-break.

Other useful protein formulas available are those based on casein alone (for night time shakes) and soya isolate or pea protein for the vegan bodybuilder.

Quality protein powders are the most fundamental of all supplements to the bodybuilder, as it is often impractical to eat the amount of high protein food required for optimal gains.

Meal Replacement Powders (MRPs)

These are 'complete' nutrition formulas containing high protein, moderate carbohydrate, essential fatty acids and all essential vitamins and minerals. MRPs can be an invaluable aid to the bodybuilder as they can be used to substitute one or more of the many meals he/she has to consume in a day. MRPs fist appeared quite a few years ago and since then, many companies have improved on the original idea. Some now include other beneficial ingredients like pre- and probiotics, but many additions are simply added merely to help market a brand.

Although these formulas are called 'meal replacements' they are not a substitute for all food, and I would suggest a maximum of one or two per day replacing smaller meals, rather than main meals. Most come in portion sachets, but some are available in tubs. However, sachets make up to a large volume which can be hard to consume in one go, and they can be an expensive meal substitute.

Weight Gain Formulas

Weight gain powders will always have their place in the bodybuilding market, although I do not mean the ridiculously high calorie crash weight gain formulas full of simple carbohydrate and fats; but the moderately high calorie, high protein formulas available. Typically these latter products are 600 or so calories, 50g protein per serving, high carb and can be mixed with water or skimmed milk. Weight gain formulas are definitely not necessary per se, but can be useful for the skinny newcomer who struggles to eat enough food to put on quality weight. Again though, weight gain formulas are not a substitute for good food, and are there purely to add in extra quality calories.

Maltodextrin

Maltodextrin, also known as multidextrose or glucose polymer powder, is a synthetic polysaccharide, i.e. a complex carbohydrate. It is used by a range of sports people to help meet the high-energy demands of intense exercise, especially by tri-athletes. Although structurally it is a complex carbohydrate the chemical structure is such that it is open to rapid enzymatic degradation, i.e. it is digested and absorbed very rapidly, infact faster than sugar, so it scores high on the glyceamic index. For this reason many people are worried it will put on fat, so is avoided by many. However this product can be really useful to the lean hard gainer who struggles to eat enough carbohydrate each day. By adding the powder to drinks intake can be increased by 6-800kcals a day. It is also useful for post workout replenishment of carbohydrate stores. Maltodextrin powders are cheap, and useful for bulking up on.

Nutrition Bars

Nutrition bars are quite varied and can be classified under a number of different headings based on their make up and general nutrition they provide. They can be labelled as meal replacement, protein, energy, low carb or flapjack bars. Nutrition Bars can be useful supplements for health and sports enthusiasts, especially bodybuilders who struggle to consume enough food to meet their requirements. They are a convenient way of adding extra nutrition to a food and supplement plan as they are easily transported and eaten on the go. Nutrition bars should not replace any of the main meals of a diet, but are useful replacements for ‘snack’ meals, especially for people with busy lifestyles.

Pre-Workout Drinks

Energy drinks come in a vast array of different concoctions, some just sugar-based and some containing a range of stimulants like caffeine, guarana and taurine. Again very expensive, but nice tasting and they can be a useful pick-me-up to train on after a hard day at work.

Thermogenics

The thermogenic or ‘fat burner’ market is big business and there are 100s of compounds and formulas on the market which contain different combinations of a huge range of ingredients marketed to help speed up weight loss. In reality there are only a few compounds which are actually effective and, although it is beyond the remit of this article to detail all, there are a few ingredients which are useful for mobilising fat through thermogenesis, acting as a stimulant to help you train harder or by curbing your appetite.

Most people agree that a thermogenic aid based on the herb ephedra (from the ma huang plant) is the most effective. Ephedra is even more effective when combined into ECA stack with caffeine and aspirin. These three ingredients are synergistic, though may be labelled as ma huang, guarana and white willow bark respectively.

Creatine Monohydrate

Probably the most scientifically researched supplement ever, results of which are conclusive in that creatine does help improve performance. There are different types and many different ways to take it. In short creatine will help you replenish energy and ‘volumise’ muscle cells. You will see a number of formulas but the ones based on creatine monohydrate or creatine ethyl ester are the more effective.

Amino Acids

Amino acid supplementation has been touted as ‘necessary’ for decades. However, amino acids are the simplest units of protein, so we should be getting more than enough from food and supplements. There are a few amino acids which some trainers like to supplement individually, the main ones being glutamine and the branched chain amino acids. With both of these you’ll hear a number of advocators, but in reality whey is high in all, and on the whole I see no need for additional individual supplementation. Glutamine is the preferred source of fuel for intestinal cells, so there may be a possible benefit from a small glutamine supplement, but this is debatable.
An Introduction to Supplements in Bodybuilding and Fitness An Introduction to Supplements in Bodybuilding and Fitness Reviewed by Performance Meals on March 21, 2019 Rating: 5

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