- Listed: February 12, 2015 2:40 am
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The “OFF”-season is in full force! Best Supplements For Building Muscle Mass are here for you. With the holidays in the rear view mirror, it’s time to build as much muscle mass as possible. The contest-prep season is upon us, and your goals will soon shift from building muscle to maintaining muscle during cutting. Not that you can’t build muscle while cutting; I’ll leave this topic for my book, The G.A.I.N. Plan.
Although this article is intended to point out the best supplements for building mass, we can’t proceed without a little visit with Captain Obvious. Building muscle requires the right quantities of whole-food nutrition, eaten at regular intervals throughout the day. I will always recommend a minimum of a gram of protein per pound of body weight, plenty of complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats. The muscle growth machinery needs to be switched on every three hours with a meal or supplement. Adequate carbohydrate and fat calories will optimize the hormonal milieu with proper rest and recovery. Get your blood work, optimize your hormones, and train smart.
With all that being said, it is time to get to the topic at hand: supplements. When it comes to supplements for building muscle, we need to find combinations that work together. Why stack supplements that are counter productive? Why take a fat burner when you are trying to gain weight? Why take two supplements that do the same thing?
We also need to use high-quality supplements that actually work! Even if you choose a supplement that has great science behind it, if you choose a brand of it repute, you may end up with an under dosed or toxic supplement. Choose wisely and consider the following supplements to maximize muscle growth.
1. Whey Protein
Whey protein is the branched-chain amino acid-rich milk protein that is easily digested and rapidly absorbed. As we have discussed in previous columns, whey is particularly endowed with the amino acid leucine. Leucine is a very special branched-chain amino acid, thought to be the key that turns on muscle protein synthesis through the switch called mTOR. As you will soon learn, there are many ways to turn on mTOR, a critical step in building muscle.
Gram for gram, because of its high leucine concentration, whey is more adept at building muscle than soy, casein or wheat protein. It is thought that most bodybuilders will optimize muscle protein synthesis with approximately three to four grams of leucine per meal. That would suggest that consuming 30 to 40 grams of whey protein will help build mass. Combining whey protein with an equal amount of carbohydrate in a post-workout meal turns on mTOR through leucine and a concomitant boost in insulin. “Whey is the way” to build muscle.
To build muscle, not only do you need to turn on muscle growth, but you also need to prevent muscle breakdown. Intense over-reaching training is intended to break muscle down, with the hopes that proper recovery will build more muscle than when you started. HMB, or betahydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate, is a metabolite of the amino acid leucine that is particularly good at preventing muscle breakdown. At three grams per day, I believe it should be a part of any intense training program.
HMB can stimulate muscle protein synthesis by up to 70 percent (leucine can up to 110%) while also decreasing muscle breakdown by up to 57 percent.’ Recently, studies have suggested that HMB in its free acid form may be absorbed faster and may even be more effective than the calcium HMB form .2 Further marketing-biased rhetoric has produced a more recent study in rats looking at the absorption kinetics and bio-availability of HMB free acid versus calcium HMB. The study from Abbott Nutrition Research and Development suggests that their product, calcium HMB, reaches higher plasma concentrations and is cleared slower than HMB free acid. Whether one is more effective than the other in building muscle will take a placebo-controlled, head-to-head study by unbiased researchers.
3. Phosphatidic Acid
Phosphatidic acid (PA) is a component of your cell membranes. Mechanical contraction of muscle is thought to stimulate enzymes that cleave PA from phosphatidylcholine in muscle cell membranes, increasing its levels in the cell. PA is then able to turn on mTOR through a domain that is separate from growth factors like IGF-1 or the amino acidleucine. Therefore, it has been suggested that PA may act synergistically with leucine in boosting muscle growth.
In a recent study on muscle cells in laboratory cultures, a soy-derived PA was incredibly powerful at activating mTOR. Follow-up studies on ingestion of 750 milligrams of PA per day versus a placebo with eight weeks of resistanceexercise demonstrated significant improvements in the PA group. The subjects on PA gained more lean body mass, more muscle girth, and more strength. This is a supplement that needs to be studied in combination with whey protein and HMB.
Leucine, HMB and creatine are so powerful at building and maintaining muscle that a recent study explored their effects on muscle cells in culture. The scientists showed that these three compounds can prevent the actions of the muscle growth inhibitor that we all know very well: myostatin. Previous studies have also shown that creatine can reduce myostatin levels and even boost the conversion of testosterone to the more potent dihydrotestosterone (DHT). The elevation of DHT was almost 60 percent with the 25-gram-per-day loading phase at one week, and stayed 40 percent elevated for another seven days at a maintenance dose of five grams per day.
Creatine is clearly a strong performance-enhancing supplement, and is one of the most well researched of all sports nutrition products. There are many other versions of creatine, but creatine monohydrate (CM) appears to be the most consistent and effective. CM is most often loaded at five grams, four times per day for seven days, and then maintained at five grams per day. Contrary to broscience, one does not need to take a “creatine holiday” unless of course you get explosive bowel habits. In that case, your significant other may force you to take a break.
Intense training builds muscle. Therefore, there are a lot of supplements out there to help improve your ability to push muscle to new limits. Beta-alanine is a supplement that helps you to train harder in the gym, especially in combination with creatine. Beta-alanine supplementation is a more efficient way to build up muscle carnosine itself. Carnosine buffers acid in muscle, improving contractile force and limiting fatigue.
Moderate– to high-quality evidence suggests that beta-alanine supplementation increases total work done, power output, physical working capacity and fatigue threshold. Four moderate- to high-quality studies demonstrated an increase in lean mass in beta-alanine-treated groups compared to placebo groups. A recent dosing study published in the scientific journal of the American College of Sports Medicine suggested that -1.2 grams of beta-alanine per day was optimal for maintaining up to 50 percent more muscle carnosine over baseline, after a six-week loading phase of 3.2 grams per day (four x 800 mg doses).
Citrulline can be produced in the gastrointestinal tract from glutamine or from the release of nitric oxide (NO) from arginine. When citrulline is absorbed, it clears ammonium and lactate from the blood via conversion to arginine in the kidneys. In this way, citrulline actually augments arginine levels in the blood. Presumably, this augments your ability to produce NO. The malate in “citrulline malate” supplements is also an energy intermediate that may augment ATP energy production.
Studies have shown that citrulline malate can increase the amount of work performed during strength training, and mitigate delayed onset muscle soreness. In a study of experienced weightlifters, eight grams of citrulline malate given 60 minutes prior to training led to significant improvement in the number of repetitions performed on the hack squat, leg press and leg extension to failure. Citrulline malate at the same dose also improved upper body performance and recovery in another study. Don’t forget: your green leafy veggies and beetroots are your best sources of dietary nitrates for NO production!
The next two supplements are actually hormones. Melatonin is a hormone secreted by the pineal gland in circadian rhythm to elicit sleep physiology. Supplementation with melatonin has the ability to improve deep sleep onset. It is during this deep sleep that your body undergoes reparative processes to recover from your training , in addition to releasing growth hormone.
Research has demonstrated that five milligrams of metatonin supplementation can improve growth hormone levels. In addition to many other antioxidant and metabolic effects, melatonin, when given in the evening, may be beneficial to the muscle-building bodybuilder. Don’t neglect your sleep for optimal recovery from your training to build muscle.
8. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is a hormone made from cholesterol, just as testosterone. Vitamin D also turns on a nuclear receptor just like the anabolic steroids. You must think of this “vitamin” as a vital hormone. Its function goes way beyond simply improving calcium absorption for healthy bones.
Multiple studies have shown how important vitamin D supplementation is for improving muscle strength, especially in vitamin D deficient older individuals. Vitamin D levels in the blood have been correlated to muscle cell contractually, strength, and postural stability. Supplementation with vitamin D3 at 1,000 to 2,000 lUs per day may improve the actions of leucine and insulin in boosting muscle protein synthesis.
9. Anabolic Fats
Despite the belief that fats are bad for us, science is finally starting to accept the concept that fats are an essential macronutrient. Limiting fats in our diets for fear of heart disease has led to a vilification of any fat that is not from fish. The fact of the matter is that fats come in all shapes and sizes with different effects on our metabolism. Granted, trans fats, or hydrogenated vegetable oils, are quite metabolically toxic and should be avoided.
It has previously been suggested that arachidonic acid may be a pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acid that could be harmful to your health. In reality, arachidonic acid has important metabolic functions such as producing endogenous mediators of muscle growth. Arachidonic acid derivatives can turn on mTOR much the way that leucine does. Furthermore, the essential fatty acids, including omega-3 fish oils, are important mediators of repair and recovery from exercise. Don’t believe the “low-fat” diet lie; consume plenty of healthy fats from dairy, fish and grass-fed meats.
Caffeine is the quintessential component of all pre-workout supplements. Many designer stimulants have come and gone, but caffeine is here to stay. A grande cup of Starbucks coffee is loaded with plenty of caffeine (330 mg) and antioxidants to boost your training in the gym. Studies suggest that caffeine limits perceived exertion, improves focus, and helps with muscle recovery.
By: Victor R. Prisk, M.D.
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