Every bodybuilder's list of favorite supplements for mass includes the usual suspects: creatine, whey protein, arginine, glutamine and branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). If you're more supplement savvy, your list may also include carnitine, beta-ecdysterone, tribulus terrestris and carnosine. But have you ever considered the B vitamin folate, which is important for fetal development in pregnant women? What about melatonin, the supplement that has helped millions of people sleep better? On the surface, these products don't seem to offer much in the mass-building department. Yet upon further investigation, you'd be surprised to learn how they can help you get closer to your muscle-building goals. Read on to learn about 10 supplements you should take that you probably never even thought could help you build muscle.
Maybe your mom takes Vitamin D for its bone-building benefits. After all, you probably know it helps increase calcium absorption from foods and supplements. But we bet you didn't know that muscle fibers actually have Vitamin D receptors and that the vitamin helps you grow bigger and stronger. Research shows that certain Vitamin D receptors are associated with greater leg strength and grip strength, and when Vitamin D interacts with these receptors, it activates genes that can increase muscle growth and strength.
Although there are two types of Vitamin D - D2 (ergocalciferol) and D3 (cholecalciferol) - and both are converted in the body to the active form of Vitamin D, or 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D, the more potent form of the vitamin has been shown to be D3.
>> How to take it: To maximize the interaction of Vitamin D with your muscle Vitamin D receptors, supplement with 1,000 IU of Vitamin D3 once or twice a day with food.
Whether you've been an expectant dad or not, you've likely heard that pregnant women need the B vitamin folate. But what does a prenatal vitamin have to do with bodybuilding? Plenty. Actually, it makes perfect sense that a supplement that supports normal fetal growth could also support growth of muscle fibers. Folate is critical for the production and maintenance of new cells. And wouldn't you know it, one of the ways muscles grow is by replacing damaged muscle cells with new muscle cells called satellite cells. Not only that, but these new cells grow larger and stronger than the old cells. Folate is also required to make DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) and RNA (ribonucleic acid), and lifting weights signals the DNA in muscle-cell nuclei to increase muscle protein synthesis via a special type of messenger RNA that sends the signal to produce more muscle protein. Folate also plays a role in converting arginine to nitric oxide (NO) in the body, which helps to further increase muscle strength and size. Folate is the natural form of this B vitamin found in foods, while folic acid is the synthetic form of folate that's added to numerous supplements and fortified foods. In the body, both forms get converted to the active form, L-methylfolate.
>> How to take it: Although it's best to take about 400-800 mcg of L-methylfolate 2-3 times a day, you can also obtain good results from the same dose of folic acid. If you take arginine or an NO-boosting supplement, take either form of folate at the same times as your arginine.
This extract from the French maritime pine tree is usually taken for heart health, but if you use NO products, you should be familiar with pycnogenol. In the body, arginine is converted to NO, which enhances muscle pumps, muscle strength and growth. But the reaction that converts arginine to NO requires the enzyme nitric oxide synthase (NOS). If not enough of the NOS enzyme is activated, then the amount of NO produced will be low. Human research has shown that pycnogenol can boost NOS activity, thus increasing NO levels.
>> How to take it: Take 50-100 mg along with an arginine supplement 30-60 minutes before workouts.
Theanine is the amino acid found in tea leaves that adds flavor and promotes mental and physical relaxation. A modified version of glutamine, it promotes relaxation by boosting levels of an inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain known as gamma-amino-butyric acid (GABA). Taking theanine at bedtime can enhance muscle growth by helping you get a better night's sleep and because GABA can increase growth hormone (GH) release from the pituitary gland, where GH is produced.
>> How to take it: Take about 50-200 mg of theanine about 30-60 minutes before bed to further spike GH levels during sleep for greater muscle gains.
VITEX AGNUS CASTUS
Also known as the chaste tree, this plant is used medicinally for its fruit, the chasteberry, a supplement that can ease your girlfriend's PMS symptoms. So how can a female product help a man? Pretty much the same way it helps women. Vitex agnus castus contains the active compounds known as agnosides that work to reduce estrogen levels and boost luteinizing hormone (LH) levels. In males, this can lead to a dramatic increase in testosterone.
>> How to take it: Supplement with about 200-400 mg of vitex agnus castus or chasteberry extract immediately before bed. Take it in 6-8-week cycles, then lay off for about four weeks before starting the next cycle.
Sure, you've heard of melatonin. You probably know it's a great sleep aid, and you may even know of its antioxidant properties. But this supplement can also help boost your GH levels. A recent study from Baylor University (Waco, Texas) found that trained males given 5 mg of melatonin one hour before a leg workout had higher GH levels just before and after they trained than those taking a placebo. Even test subjects who took just 0.5 mg of melatonin had higher GH levels postworkout. Taking melatonin one hour before training can boost your GH levels and provide antioxidant protection that can help your muscles recover. Worried that taking melatonin during the day will make you sleepy? You can rest easy (pun intended): Research conducted at Liverpool John Moores University shows that when melatonin was taken within 75 minutes before exercise, athletes exhibited neither increased sleepiness nor decreased levels of alertness.
>> How to take it: To boost GH levels during training sessions and aid recovery, take 0.5-5 mg of melatonin 30-60 minutes before your workouts.
This Indian plant and its tuberous roots have been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine, an ancient Hindu science, to treat such conditions as high cholesterol, diabetes and arthritis. Recent discovery of its effects on testosterone via the saponins it contains - stigmasterol and hecogenin - has made it a must-have ingredient in bodybuilding supplements. Stigmasterol is very similar in structure to testosterone and is believed to attach to the specific receptors in the body that testosterone binds to, thereby causing an effect like that of testosterone. Hecogenin can be converted to compounds whose structures resemble that of testosterone and also have similar effects in the body.
>> How to take it: Take 200-400 mg of safed musli extract 2-3 times per day with food, with one dose about 30-60 minutes before workouts. Cycle safed musli for 6-8 weeks and take about four weeks off before cycling it again.
STINGING NETTLE ROOT
Also known as urtica dioica, stinging nettle root is a type of nettle that predominantly grows in South America. Your dad or grandfather may take it to relieve symptoms of his enlarged prostate and to reduce his blood pressure. But even young guys can benefit from using this supplement - stinging nettle root can help to naturally boost testosterone levels by keeping the testosterone molecule free from a carrier protein known as sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG). While SHBG helps testosterone stay in the blood longer, it also prevents it from binding with its specific receptors in muscle cells. By freeing up testosterone from SHBG, you'll experience higher levels of free testosterone in the body, which can induce muscle growth. Stinging nettle root also helps boost T levels by preventing its conversion to dihydrotestosterone. While testosterone has anabolic effects in muscle cells, dihydrotestosterone has negative effects such as prostate growth. Preventing this conversion by adding stinging nettle root to your supplement regimen means you'll have more anabolic testosterone available.
>> How to take it: Go with 100-500 mg of stinging nettle root extract 2-3 times per day on an empty stomach.
It may sound like the name of a fancy herb, but avena sativa is simply the scientific term for oats. Taking an avena sativa extract, however, isn't at all like enjoying a hot bowl of oatmeal. Avenocosides, the active components in oats that are similar to the testosterone-boosting saponins in the herb tribulus terrestris, help increase the release of LH from the pituitary gland in the brain, which in turn influences the testicles to produce more testosterone.
>> How to take it: Look for products that supply about 100-300 mg of a 10:1 avena sativa extract. Take one dose of this extract 2-3 times per day with one of those doses about 30-60 minutes before workouts. As with vitex agnus castus, take avena sativa products in 6-8-week cycles with four weeks of downtime between each cycle.
Produced by glands in the heads of worker bees, royal jelly is fed to larvae and the queen bee. We know what you're thinking: a) that sounds pretty nasty, and b) what can bee food do for bodybuilders? While we can't debate you on the first one, there's plenty that royal jelly can do for you. It's very high in protein and other nutrients, including the B vitamins and vitamins A, C, D and E, as well as 10-HDA (10-hydroxy-2-decenoic acid), a special unsaturated fatty acid. Although little human research has been done, anecdotal reports suggest royal jelly is effective at increasing energy and reducing fatigue. To support this, a 2001 animal study published in the Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology found that royal jelly supplementation prevented fatigue during intense exercise by decreasing the accumulation of lactic acid. This has great implications for bodybuilders, as lactic acid buildup results in the burning you feel at the end of a tough set and is one of the reasons you fatigue. Your best bet is to go with freeze-dried royal jelly products due to the high percentage of water in royal jelly.
>> How to take it: Take about 1,000 mg of royal jelly about 30 minutes before workouts to reduce lactic-acid levels and fatigue, allowing you to pump out more reps on more sets for greater muscle growth. M&F
>> To boost testosterone levels, try taking the following stack for eight weeks followed by a four-week break:
|Vitex agnus castus or chasteberry extract||200-400 mg immediately before bed|
|Safed musli||200-400 mg with breakfast and dinner, plus one dose with your preworkout shake|
|Stinging nettle root||100-500 mg 2-3 times per day on an empty stomach|
|Avena sativa||100-300 mg with breakfast and dinner, plus one dose with your preworkout shake|
>> Try taking the following supplements as prescribed to boost muscle growth, strength and energy levels:
|Vitamin D3||1,000 IU with breakfast and dinner|
|L-methylfolate or folic acid||400-800 mcg with breakfast and dinner, or with arginine or other NO booster 30-60 minutes preworkout|
|Pycnogenol||50-100 mg with arginine or other NO booster 30-60 minutes preworkout|
|Theanine||50-200 mg 30-60 minutes before bed|
|Melatonin||0.5-5 mg 30-60 minutes preworkout|
|Royal jelly||1,000 mg 30 minutes preworkout|