When it comes to preparing for a workout, what you consume in the hour beforehand can make all the difference between a so-so effort and an awesome, plateau-crushing training session. For totally mind-blowing workouts and major muscle growth, every bodybuilder should provide his body with three things in his preworkout nutrition regimen: a fast-acting supply of amino acids, an energy boost and a strength accelerator. Many guys get these essentials by downing a whey shake and an energy drink such as Red Bull.

For your convenience, however, a number of supplement manufacturers have started supplying ready-to-drink protein/energy drinks, with the added benefit of carefully calculated ingredients so you can be sure you’re getting exactly what you need. Look for one that supplies these three items and you’ll be good to grow.

Whey is the preworkout protein of choice for most bodybuilders because it’s the fastest-digesting protein you can get. This pushes amino acids into your circulation fast, so they can stop muscle breakdown during the workout and quickly kick-start muscle growth when the workout is over.

In addition to rapid digestibility, whey has a superior amino acid profile, with the highest concentration of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs — leucine, isoleucine and valine) of any protein powder. The BCAAs, leucine in particular, stimulate biochemical processes within muscle cells that result in growth and spike levels of insulin (an anabolic hormone that drives glucose and amino acids into muscle cells). Whey also contains small protein fragments called peptides that can help enhance blood vessel dilation — meaning you get a bigger pump during your workout as well as enhanced delivery of nutrients, oxygen and hormones to the muscles.

One supplement everyone’s familiar with but few actually think of as a supplement is caffeine. While this stimulant can help energize you for the boost you need before training, research shows that caffeine offers bodybuilders more than just an energy jolt. A study from the University of Nebraska (Lincoln) found that when subjects took caffeine before testing their strength on the bench press they were stronger by an average of 5 pounds than when they benchpressed without first taking caffeine. In addition, researchers discovered that caffeine blunts muscle discomfort during exercise, so not only will caffeine help you lift more weight in the gym, but it can help you get more reps withmore weight. On top of all that, caffeine also helps encourage fat-burning during workouts.

Researchers now know that taurine levels in muscle cells are critical for muscle force. It appears that by enhancing the ability of muscles to contract faster and with greater force, taurine increases strength. In other words, keeping your taurine levels high in the gym is essential for maintaining strength as you train.

Numerous studies indicate that taurine also helps to maintain endurance. In fact, some show taurine can increase exercise time to exhaustion by up to 50%. You don’t plan on running a marathon any day soon, you say? Bodybuilding is not all strength — it’s also about muscle endurance. Less fatigue means more reps, and more reps mean more muscle. Taurine’s positive effects on fatigue may be due to its antioxidant properties, which can prevent muscle fatigue during exercise and aid recovery. In addition, taurine draws more fluid into muscle cells in a similar fashion to creatine. Taurine levels usually drop during exercise, meaning your strength and endurance will follow suit. But supplementing before workouts will help to maintain muscle levels of taurine throughout your gym session. Put whey, caffeine and taurine together, and you have our Stack of the Month — use it, and you’ll be stronger and have energy to spare, from your first rep to your last. M&F