This is the second part in our series about workout supplements. If you haven’t read Part 1 yet, I strongly suggest you do that before continuing with this article, as I explain my general approach to supplements in Part 1 and review some of the most common supplements on the market.
In this article, I will continue where I left off in Part 1 and review BCAAs, glutamine and pre-workouts (energy boosters)
BCAAs (Branched Chain Amino Acids)
Amino Acids are the building blocks of protein and essential for muscle growth and maintenance (branched chain just refers to their chemical structure). Your body doesn’t produce BCAAs by itself, so you need to get them from you diet. The main sources of BCAAs are the high-protein foods that are typically part of a healthy fitness diet anyway (chicken, lean beef, eggs, legumes, protein powder etc.).
Because BCAA are effective in stimulating protein synthesis in muscles and preventing muscle breakdown, they are used to treat a number of medical conditions related to protein deficiency or muscle and brain failure. They are also given to people who are confined to their bed for extended periods of time to prevent muscle wasting. Athletes typically use BCAA supplements to increase muscle growth or to maintain muscle mass when dieting to lose weight.
While BCAAs are one of the most popular fitness supplements, there is no scientific consensus that they actually have an effect on healthy people who eat a normal or high-protein diet. In general, it seems like you get enough BCAA through your diet that supplementing has a very limited effect at best.
The strongest (but not conclusive) evidence of a positive effect from BCAA supplements is on people who want to have a very low body fat percentage while retaining large amounts of muscle. It appears likely that supplementing BCAAs may help prevent muscle loss while dieting.
Who can benefit from BCAAs: While the effect of supplementing BCAAs has not been proven conclusively, they are generally safe to take and may have a positive effect. If you are trying to gain muscle mass or retain it while dieting, supplementing your diet with BCAAs is an option. If you are on a budget, skip the BCAAs and buy protein powder and perhaps Creatine instead.
Are there any side effects: The only know (rare) side effect is a slight loss of coordination. Don’t take BCAAs if they make you feel dizzy.
What brand do you recommend: I use Bodytech.
Glutamine is another amino acid (like the BCAAs) involved in regulating protein synthesis and breakdown. It affects a lot of different functions in your body, including your immune system, metabolism, and water transportation.
While your body produces sufficient glutamine naturally, high-intensity training and weightlifting, combined with a high-protein diet, can lower your glutamine levels. This is why many athletes and bodybuilders take glutamine supplements.
Based on research studies, there is little to suggest that taking glutamine has any effect on muscle gain or weight loss in normal, healthy people. However, there are indicators that athletes and others with very intense workout routines may benefit from supplementing with glutamine, simply because their bodies cannot produce glutamine as quickly as they use it.
Who can benefit from glutamine: Most people don’t benefit from taking glutamine, but if you are a bodybuilder, athlete or hardcore fitness freak, it may be worth considering.
Are there any side effects: There are no known side effects.
What brand do you recommend: I don’t use glutamine, but I would get Bodytech if I did.
Pre-workouts is the common term for anything you take just before your workout to boost your energy and stimulate muscle growth. There are a lot of different pre-workouts on the market, with hundreds of different active ingredients, but they are all designed to make you feel awake and full of energy so you can work out harder.
If that sounds familiar, it’s because the most common ingredient in pre-workouts is a very large dose of caffeine or similar stimulants. Some pre-workouts also contain one or several of the other supplements mentioned in this series (BCAAS, creatine, etc.) in an attempt to provide a total supplement package. Many pre-workouts also include Beta Alanine, an amino acid that has the side effect of making your skin tingle so you really “feel the pre-workout working”.
There is no denying that pre-workouts can be effective in providing an energy boost and improving workout performance. In fact, the recommended doses of many products will make many people so jumpy that just sitting down or having a conversation becomes hard. The downside is that consuming large doses of caffeine or other stimulants can have serious side effects.
The most common side effects are high blood pressure (both immediate and long-term), dangerously increased heart rate and insomnia. It’s also not uncommon to develop a mild addiction to pre-workouts, where it becomes difficult to work out or even just feel good without using them.
If you decide to use a pre-workout, you NEED to see your doctor first for a health check. There have been well-documented cases where people have died from heart failure after taking pre-workouts, so get your heart checked first. You should also start with a very small dose (less than half of the recommended dose) the first time to see what happens.
Who can benefit from pre-workouts: Anyone who wants more energy for their workouts, but I DON”T recommend pre-workouts for anyone, due to the side effects. If you need an energy boost, have a strong cup of coffee before your workout.
Are there any side effects: Yes. See above.
What brand do you recommend: I don’t recommend pre-workouts.
There are a lot of other supplements on the market, but the ones I have covered in this series are the ones I most often get questions about. If I haven’t included a supplement, it’s a good bet that I wouldn’t recommend you using it 😀
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