Learn how each of the ingredients in our “Supps on a Budget” article does its dirty work

May 25, 2009


>> For supplement stacks to fit every budget, check out the July issue of FLEX, on newsstands now.

Bodybuilders know this better than anyone – supplements cost money. And these days, with everyone pinching pennies, you may not be able to get all the same powders and pills that you’re accustomed to. In this month’s issue of FLEX, you get nine different supplement stacks to help you weather the economic downturn. Here, you learn exactly how each product helps your physique.

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This amino acid is the main ingredient in almost every nitric oxide (NO) supplement. It dilates blood vessels and is readily converted in the body to NO, which regulates muscle growth. It helps to increase blood flow to muscles, which results in the delivery of more blood, oxygen, nutrients and anabolic hormones to the muscles, as well as greater muscle pumps, making it a great pre-workout supplement. Arginine is also effective in boosting growth hormone (GH) levels, which makes it great for both before workouts and before bed. Research shows that supplementing with arginine also boosts muscle strength.

In the body, this amino acid forms carnosine by binding with the amino acid, histadine. Research shows that athletes who supplement with beta-alanine have more strength and muscle endurance. That means you can lift more total weight and lift a given weight for more reps with regular supplementation.

Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs)
These amino acids – leucine, valine and isoleucine – are all essential amino acids, which means they are “essential” for muscle growth. They also stimulate protein synthesis and therefore drive muscle growth. In addition, they help boost insulin release, which creates an idea post-workout environment for muscle growth.

This central nervous system stimulant is considered the most popular drug in the world. It should also be considered the most popular bodybuilding supplement as it enhances fat loss, aids focus and drive and can immediately boost strength. That makes it great as a morning pick-me-up or a pre-workout boost to muster through a tough workout.

This amino acid-like compound transports fat into the mitochondria of cells (such as muscle cells) where they are burned for fuel. Research shows that carnitine taken before exercise helps the body burn more fat and decreases fatigue. Carnitine has recently been found to also enhance blood flow to muscle, aid muscle recovery and increase the amount of androgen receptors (which testosterone binds to in muscle to stimulate muscle growth).

This slow-digesting protein, which clots in your stomach, will last in your system longer, providing your muscles aminos for up to seven hours. This decreases protein breakdown, which actually results in muscle growth over the long run. The slow digestion makes it perfect to take before bed or any time you have several hours to go without food. The slow digestion means casein acts as though you were eating a couple grams of it every 30 minutes or so, despite not eating for several hours, as it provides a slow and steady trickle of amino acids into the blood stream. Be sure you grab a casein that lists micellar casein on the ingredient list, as this is the slowest digesting of the casein proteins.

Commercial fat burner
Today, fat-burner products stack some of the most effective and synergistic ingredients in one bottle, helping to maximize all areas that enhance fat loss, such as raising metabolic rate, enhancing the release of fat from fat cells, increasing the burning of fat and decreasing hunger. Look for products that contain caffeine and green tea in their stack.

Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA)
This healthy fat can help you drop body fat and add muscle mass, as well as help to boost strength. This is critical when dieting as you want to always keep adding mass and strength, whether in a mass phase or a get lean phase. CLA inhibits the fat storing enzyme lipoprotein lipase (LPL), which picks up fat from the circulation and stores it as body. That encourages the burning of fat as fuel and spares muscle protein.

This old standby isn’t going anywhere. Creatine, which can be found cheaply, enhances muscle mass by increasing muscle cell volume and aiding molecular pathways that stimulate muscle growth. It boosts muscle strength by increasing the level of creatine phosphate in muscle cells, which is used to supply a quick source of ATP (the energy source muscles use to contract).

Green Tea Extract
Uber-affordable green tea extract is the perfect fat burning supplement. It contains the active compound epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which inhibits the enzyme that normally breaks down norepinephrine (a nuerohormone that raises metabolic rate and enhances the release of fat from fat cells). Preventing the breakdown of norepinephrine means enhanced metabolic rate and fat burning.

Mixed Protein
Mixed protein that contains whey and casein is a convenient way to get the advantage of both of these high quality proteins. Some also contain other proteins to boot, such as egg white or soy. Mix proteins are perfect to take any time of day.

This amino acid is critical for maintaining strength and endurance of muscle fibers. It enhances the muscles ability to contract, which means more strength and it prevents fatigue so you can get more reps with a given weight.

Tribulus Terrestris
This herb increases testosterone by influencing the brain to release more luteinizing hormone (LH). LH travels in the blood from the brain to the testicles, where it influences the production of testosterone. Testosterone immediately increases strength by enhancing the firing of the motor nerves. So boosting it right before workouts can be critical for maximal strength gains. Taking it just before workouts means you don’t have to cycle it, as you do if you take it regularly every day.

Whey is the most popular, and usually most affordable, protein powder on the market. It is rapidly digested and utilized, which increases protein synthesis better than any other protein out there. That’s one reason why it is critical to take before and after workouts, as well as upon waking. It also enhances blood flow to muscles, which is yet another reason it is ideal to take before workouts. In addition to helping add mass, whey protein can help with fat loss, as it increases the release of hunger-blunting hormones and results in less food intake throughout the day.

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