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Training hard puts a tremendous amount of stress on your body, which is why the expected payoff for all those hours at the gym is a leaner, sleeker physique. But getting there takes more than just sweat. It also requires the right amount of nutrition, so your body can turn that hard work into lasting results. Still, sometimes you need more help, and that’s where supplements come in. Consider this your primer to finding the best ingredients so you can maximize your results.
A high-quality protein powder should be the first thing you reach for when trying to improve body composition. There are tons of options, but many use inferior forms of protein that are loaded with fillers. Find one with a high protein content per serving and choose from these types.
Whey is the opaque liquid left over from the milk used to make cheese. One of the cheapest forms of whey is concentrate, which is generally about 80% pure whey protein. Isolate whey protein has been further refined and is about 90% pure protein. The other main difference between the two: Concentrate also contains lactose, which can trigger allergies in some people. Isolate is also more expensive, but is absorbed faster. Hydrolysate has been further broken down, so it’s even more absorbable by the body, but it’s very expensive and the benefits are negligible.
If you’ve heard of “curds and whey,” casein is the curds, or the other milk protein left over in cheese making. Your body absorbs casein more slowly, which is why athletes like to take it an hour or two before bedtime, so their muscles have a sustained flow of protein.
For people with milk allergies or who are vegan, check out soy protein, made from soybean flour with protein concentrations of up to 97% and very little fat or carbs. Plant-based proteins such as hemp, pea, and brown rice (also available as blends) can also be an effective way to get the key amino acids that protein provides.
Another important ingredient to look for is branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). Three amino acids—leucine, isoleucine, and valine—have been shown to encourage muscle protein synthesis, increase muscle mass, lessen fatigue, and bolster recovery. Most quality powders contain BCAAs, but you can also get a separate product to add to your shake.
Pre-workout supps can help keep you motivated and strong through even the most hardcore workouts. They work by providing your body with ingredients that increase blood flow, focus, and heart rate. Pre-workout powders can also provide potent fat burners, including caffeine and other ingredients.
Creatine, which is naturally made by the body, is necessary for cellular energy and functioning. It’s one of the safest, most-researched supplements out there. Research agrees that creatine should be your go-to supp for increasing strength and lean mass and boosting cardiovascular capacity.
This common pre-workout supp ingredient is a nonessential amino acid. It’s been found to improve muscular endurance, reduce fatigue, and build lean muscle. Note that in some cases, beta-alanine may cause a mild tingling sensation called paresthesia. It’s generally harmless, but to prevent or reduce it, try taking lower doses through the day rather than all at once.
This amino acid enhances nitric oxide production in the body, which helps increase blood flow by allowing arteries to relax. L-citrulline can also boost endurance, leading to increased training volume and more time to exhaustion.
Tired muscles need protein and rest to grow after tough workouts. An efficient delivery
of the right amino acids at the right time will help your muscles become more solid. Look for high-performance protein supplements that contain BCAAs to build up muscle, carbohydrates to increase blood glucose and restore glycogen levels, vitamin C for protection against free radicals produced by stress, B vitamins to lessen inflammation, and vitamin E to reduce delayed muscle soreness.
TIP: Cycling your supplements can help make sure they are supporting your body when you need it most.
Thermogenics, or fat burners, stoke your metabolism, helping to torch fat and give you the edge you need to shred those last few layers of flab. They can also increase energy and focus, making workouts a no-nonsense event. Look for the following ingredients to help you target stubborn fat and finish reshaping your body to where you want it.
Studies have shown that people who regularly consume moderate amounts of caffeine will boost the rate at which their body creates heat and energy. Result? More calorie burn.
A potent and safe way to rev your metabolism, capsaicin kick-starts your flight-or-fight response, releasing hormones like adrenaline and dopamine, which prompts your body to move fat and glucose into your muscles for fuel.
Taken from green, or unroasted coffee beans, this extract has low levels of caffeine and high levels of chlorogenic acid, which has been found to help reduce body weight. Green coffee extract may also reduce the absorption of carbs in the digestive tract, helping to improve blood sugar levels.
Yohimbine comes from the bark of an African tree and has been shown in studies to help reduce body fat by inhibiting the mechanisms that suppress thermogenesis.
Intense workouts coupled with long workdays demand a high concentration of high-quality nutrients to keep our bodies working at an optimum level. A great multivitamin can provide a helping hand to maintain a healthy immune system and a strong body. Most multis made for women who make fitness a priority should include the following components:
Working out intensely amplifies your body’s need for B vitamins like riboflavin, B6, B12, and folic acid. They help to repair muscles and support your immune and nervous system.
Look for at least 600 IUs of vitamin D to support strong bones, a healthy immune system, improved mood, and more efficient weight loss.
Zinc plays a key role in building and maintaining lean muscle mass along with boosting bone health and the immune system.
This mineral makes sure your muscles contract properly and is also necessary for producing ATP, a molecule that transfers energy within cells, keeping metabolism optimal.
Tissue breakdown as we age is inevitable. We can’t escape it, but if you follow a healthy, active lifestyle, you can help stave off brittle bones, creaky joints, saggy skin, limp hair, and weak nails. Taking targeted supplements can also be a good way to keep the effects of aging at bay, helping to reduce fine lines and wrinkles, thicken and strengthen hair, toughen up nails, and encourage healthy bones and joints.
These ingredients can help:
This B complex vitamin is a popular ingredient in supplements aimed at keeping skin, hair, and nails healthy. Research is scarce, but it is thought to help improve keratin, a basic protein that makes up skin, hair, and fingernails.
Calcium is a big molecule, so it’s tough to get enough when taking a single multivitamin. Look for around 1,000mg of calcium and 2,000 IU of vitamin D in a bone-health supp, since the combo of the two works together (vitamin D helps calcium absorption in the gut) to make sure you have strong bones as you age.
Major components of our connective tissues, these two supplements support the structure and elasticity of joints and have been shown to reduce pain and increase joint mobility in those with osteoarthritis.
These supplements represent the best of what each category has to offer; find them all at GNC.com
Protein Powder: Get high-protein power while keeping your carb count low with Isopure Zero Carb protein powder. The 100% whey protein isolate offers up 50 grams of protein per serving, so you can make sure your muscles are fully fueled.
Pre-Workout: MuscleSport Rhino Revolution 2.0 features a blend of energy, pump, and focus ingredients, including beta-alanine to buffer hydrogen ion accumulation, caffeine to improve focus, and nitrosigine for longer-lasting vasodilation.
Post-Workout: Get your recovery going faster with CytoSport Monster Aminos 6:1:1, a branched-chain amino acid supplement mix that features BCAAs like leucine, isoleucine, and valine, which work together to promote muscle synthesis.
Fat Burner: Just one capsule of AllMax RapidCuts Femme rapid fat-burning catalyst is enough to help you lose inches and cut fat everywhere, thanks to its proprietary blend of metabolism-boosting ingredients.
Multivitamin: The AST Sports Science MultiPro 32x is a high-potency daily multivitamin high in antioxidants and key vitamins and minerals for anyone who trains regularly. Take it both morning and evenings for best results.