Supplement companies do a really good job of marketing their products to solve all your problems. A lot of men and women interested in burning fat and building muscle use some of these supplements. There are certainly good ones but there are also ones that are a complete waste of time. Branched Chain Amino Acids or BCAA’s fall into the latter category. Before I explain why let me go over a few protein and muscle basics first. This is what muscle is made of;
Protein and Muscle Tissue
Protein is made up of 20 amino acids, which appear in different combinations and concentrations throughout the food chain. Nine of those 20 are classified as “essential” because your body can’t make them from other amino acids. You have to get them from a food source. Three of the nine essential amino acids – leucine, isoleucine, and valine – are the BCAA’s.
Skeletal muscle tissue, like everything else in your body is constantly being remodeled. It’s being broken down and rebuilt all the time. To build muscle you need the building to outdo the breaking down. The BCAA’s are great for starting the muscle building process. However, the problem is the signal they send by themselves isn’t strong and doesn’t last a long time. In studies comparing BCAA’s to whey protein, which contains the three BCAA’s as well as all the other essential amino acids, whey had a 50% greater impact on muscle protein synthesis and lasted several hours longer.
If you’re choosing between a whey protein supplement or BCAA’s just go with whey. If you feel like using both would be more beneficial that just doesn’t work unfortunately. Overall protein intake will be a greater factor to spike muscle protein synthesis. A good figure to aim for is 0.8 – 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight. Even better if you can make that intake balanced throughout your meals and not all in one go at dinner.
Google ‘workout supplementation’ and you are bound to come across creatine or creatine monohydrate. It’s been used for a long time simply by adding it to a drink and is relatively inexpensive. Creatine is also one of the most widely studied supplements out there. It benefits so many things and processes in our bodies that it would take a long time to cover it all. Too much to stay within the 5 minute max read time I want for my posts. You want quick, actionable info and I’m here to deliver it. But if you’re interested in the research you’ll have no problem finding paper after paper on the subject.
How Does Creatine Work?
To put it simply, it helps you build strength and muscle. The main way scientists believe it does this is through forming more adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Adeno-WHAT!? Stay with me. Think of ATP as your body’s energy currency. There’s an adenosine molecule and three phosphate molecules like this;
Now for your muscle to contract it needs to take one of these phosphates away. A chemical reaction happens and allows you to lift a weight or sprint at a high intensity. That then leads to this;
The ATP becomes ADP (adenosine diphosphate). The problem is your muscles only have a limited amount of ATP and can’t use ADP for energy. To maintain your high intensity sprinting or if you want to lift a heavy weight for another rep or two you need to find another phosphate to link up and make more ATP. That’s where creatine comes in. When you consume creatine through animal protein or supplementation, the creatine molecules bond with phosphate molecules.
To form more ATP, the ADP takes the phosphate from the creatine molecule and you can keep on training hard.
With the ability to complete more reps or an added set of an exercise you then are able to do more work. Over time you become stronger and can gain more muscle.
Who Could Benefit From Creatine?
With all the research done on the supplement and its documented benefits it would help almost everyone. That includes people who don’t train. While someone who eats a lot of meat or fish will have more creatine stores already, they might see less of a performance bump. However, most people don’t even get close to enough protein intake so meat eaters will still benefit. Vegetarians would probably see a more dramatic improvement.
How To Take It
The loading protocol for creatine is to take 5 grams four times per day for 5-7 days. After that time you can then just take 5 grams once per day. Or you could just take 5 grams per day and your stores will slowly but surely ramp up after a few weeks.
While I can’t say “take this supplement” or “take that supplement” this is just another case of me giving you knowledge on the subject and you can make your mind up for yourself. I personally have been taking it for a long time, have never had any issues with it and will continue to take it as part of my supplementation regimen.
Yes, the “master mineral” is in fact magnesium. It has earned this title as it is used in hundreds of processes in our bodies. It was during the reading for my vitamin D post that I thought magnesium deserved its own and here we are. Vitamin D supplementation is good because most of us aren’t getting enough. But if we are also deficient in magnesium, the vitamin D we take doesn’t get used properly. Unfortunately we’re more than likely deficient in magnesium too.
Improves muscle function
Makes new proteins to build muscle
Boosts exercise performance
Promotes healthy blood pressure
Reduces insulin resistance
Prevents plaque formation in our blood vessels
Allows the body to maintain proper calcium levels
Is helpful in preventing migraine headaches
You can see why it’s called a master mineral with all of the things it does for us.
How Do I Know If I Need More Magnesium?
Common habits that lead to a magnesium deficiency include drinking carbonated drinks, high alcohol consumption, high coffee consumption, sugary diets, taking prescription medications and even having IBS can lead to it. You may exhibit excessive anxiety, suffer from muscle cramps and eye twitches. A deficiency has also been linked to a difficulty losing fat! It is likely that one or more of these things might relate to your lifestyle.
The recommended intake for magnesium is 400-420mg for men and 310-320mg for women. It is found in foods such as green leafy vegetables, spinach, beans, nuts, avocadoes, bananas and dark chocolate. The issue is that you may not eat or enjoy these foods. Even if you do, you might need to eat some of all of these to hit the recommended daily amounts. As this is a personal training website chances are that you exercise to some degree also. Sweating through exercise can deplete magnesium by up to 20% and so this is where a magnesium supplement can help.
A great benefit of magnesium supplementation has shown to be improving your sleep. It activates parts of our brain to help quiet the mind and calm us down. Added to the effects of improving mood and decreasing anxiety it might just help you get a better and more restful sleep. Most people who use magnesium take it 30 minutes to an hour before going to sleep. I hope it helps you if you decide to try it!
The majority of people could do with more vitamin D. That’s right, the vitamin you get from the sun. Your body makes vitamin D when it is exposed to sunlight. The problem for us here in Ireland is that the sun comes out for about 2 minutes in between bouts of rainfall. You can also get the vitamin from fatty fish or some fortified dairy products but it’s challenging to get enough from diet alone. Some people don’t even eat much of either of those. Added to the fact of not getting much sun exposure and this leads to a lot of people being deficient in vitamin D. While you can look up the many things that low vitamin D levels can lead to, I’ll list the ones that are most relevant to us.
Loss of strength and diminished athletic performance
Difficulty building muscle
Lower testosterone levels
Increased chance of Type 2 diabetes, cancer and heart disease
Low sex drive and function in women
If you don’t trust me on that last one see the following study;
Krysiak R, Szwajkosz A, Marek B, Okopień B. The effect of vitamin D supplementation on sexual functioning and depressive symptoms in young women with low vitamin D status. Endokrynol Pol. 2018;69(2):168-174. doi: 10.5603/EP.a2018.0013. Epub 2018 Feb 14. PMID: 29442353.
Looking at the above list I’d prefer to have more vitamin D wouldn’t you? It’s not my place to tell you how much to take should you decide to supplement with vitamin D however. The particular supplement that I take gives me 2500IU of vitamin D in one softgel. Most recommendations you’ll find in the training world will say take up to 5000IU per day. And just recently some studies administered up to 60,000IU of vitamin D to combat Covid-19. (See – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7761895/)
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