Best Workout Supplements to Supercharge Your Training
Whether you’re just starting a new workout routine or adjusting to working out at home, you might be wondering whether workout supplements actually work. So many different products on the market promise miracles. What are the best workout supplements to hit your goals, and which ones are a total waste?
These six science-backed supplements will actually help you take your athletic performance to the next level.
Best Workout Supplements for Next-Level Training
1. CreatineCreatine has been a workout staple for decades. It’s stuck around for so long because it really works. Creatine increases ATP (energy) production in your muscles and recharges them while you rest. This buys you a few extra precious seconds of explosive power before you slow down and switch to using oxygen for fuel.
Creatine also stimulates protein synthesis, which can make you build muscle much faster. People who paired creatine with resistance training put on lean muscle mass anywhere from 15-200% faster than people who did the same workouts with a placebo. If that wasn’t enough, creatine is also a nootropic. It enhances memory and delays mental fatigue.
You have a couple options when it comes to creatine. The original and best-studied form is creatine monohydrate. It’s very effective — after you get it to a high enough concentration in your muscles. To do that, you have two options.
- Take 5g/day and wait a month for it to kick in
- Do a “loading phase” in which you take 20g/day (4 doses of 5g) for a week, then 5g/day to maintain after that
If you do the loading phase, be sure to drink a LOT of water. Creatine increases muscle hydration, so you want to get much more water than you normally would. It’s not uncommon to get a mild dehydration headache and bloating during the creatine loading phase. It should go away when you finish loading and drop down to a normal dose.
There’s also creatine nitrate. It’s a newer, more expensive version of creatine. Companies claim it absorbs better and that the nitrate form doesn’t require a loading phase, but good research on creatine nitrate is scarce.
You can try it and look for a difference or just stick with classic creatine monohydrate. Creatine gets into your muscles more effectively if you pair it with a tiny amount of glucose. You don’t need much. Try taking it with a quarter of a teaspoon of raw honey.
- Creatine monohydrate suggested dose: 20g/day (5g 4 times daily) for one week, then 5g/day to maintain
- When to take it: Morning (or throughout day for loading phase)
2. Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) for faster recovery
BCAA supplements contain the amino acids isoleucine, leucine, and valine. BCAAs:
Boost testosterone and mTOR, creating a better environment for your body to both burn fat and build muscle. Suppress cortisol and increase protein synthesis, which helps your body repair muscles more quickly after an intense workout
BCAA powder is one of the most commonly adulterated supplements. It tastes horrifyingly bitter and doesn’t mix well with water, so many manufacturers add artificial sweeteners and dissolving agents to it. Stay away from products that contain artificial sweeteners like aspartame, acesulfame potassium (ace-K), and sucralose.
Here’s a rundown of the best sweetener options, and sunflower/soy lecithin are by far the best dissolving agents. If you don’t like sweeteners or you’re a masochist, drink unflavored BCAAs. Or, you can take it in capsule form and avoid the nasty taste altogether.
Suggested dose: 5g
When to take it: One dose before you work out, one dose after
Favorite brand: Alliance Labz: BCAA+EAA Complex
3. Whey protein and colostrum to build muscle
Whey is the king of post-exercise proteins. It increases muscle synthesis more than soy or casein protein. It also promotes extra muscle growth even when you get plenty of other protein in your diet. It decreases muscle soreness after you exercise, too. It’s the gold standard.
Like BCAAs, commercial whey is often full of nasty fillers and sweeteners. Look for whey from 100% grass-fed, grass-finished cows that have never been exposed to hormones, antibiotics, or pesticides.
You can also boost the effects of whey using grass-fed colostrum, the nutrient cows feed their newborns in the four to five days post-birth. Colostrum on its own increases lean body mass and performance, as well as recovery. Plus, it improves gut health and your immune system, which can counter the dip in immune function you get with heavy exercise. Whey and colostrum together are a powerful step up from standard commercial protein powders.
- Suggested dose: 10-15g
- When to take it: Within an hour after exercise
Favorite brand: ISO Whey Protein