Bodybuilding is a sport consisting of several crucial parts that, when combined properly, ensure a balanced and successful result in a ripped and well defined physique. If any one of these parts is lacking, the result will suffer. The bodybuilder’s diet is one of these critical elements, perhaps the most critical. All the exercise in the world will only produce marginal, if any, results if the athlete’s diet is not properly structured to maximise the benefits of the physical input. In this article we take a brief look at bodybuilding diet supplements and the role they play in bodybuilding nutrition.
As with non-bodybuilding related nutritional issues, supplements can be hugely beneficial to the bodybuilder. They offer specific, focused nutritional benefits in quick, ready to use forms that are both convenient and efficient. One point that needs to be made at this point, however, is that no dietary supplement, sport related or not, can ever replace a conventional diet. The name says it all. These products are supplements not replacements. This cannot be stressed strongly enough. Trying to live on supplements alone is a fast track to disaster health wise.
Bodybuilding supplements are not a new science and they have been around, in one form or another, for a long time. Many of the prime ingredients in modern formulations have histories as muscle “tonics” and growth enhancers that stretch back a hundred years or more. The exponential advancements that have been made in the last couple of decades in both science and technology and our understanding of human nutritional needs have, however, refined the supplement industry to a fine art.
As mentioned previously, today’s dietary supplements offer levels of convenience and finely focused nutritional input not previously possible. To take in a quick energy booster prior to a work out or a high protein after-exercise fix is an easy as pulling the pop-top on a ready made shake. This convenience is also great as it offers bodybuilders the opportunity to maintain their short interval diets in the workplace without having to go out or “snack” at their desks.
So, which supplements should you be using?As with most general dietary supplements, bodybuilding related product ranges are huge and impossible to cover in anything short of an epic. The easiest way to approach the subject is to break the supplements down into essential “families” and then do a little legwork to establish which particular products offer the best quality, potency and pricing. A general breakdown of the most common of these families follows:
Multi-vitamin and mineral supplements
These basic supplements are essential for all round good health and facilitate hormone production, aid in the process of tissue growth, are an important part of the energy production process in our bodies, are essential for correct neurotransmitter function, ensure correct fluid balance and muscular contraction and aid in the growth of muscle and bone mass.
These are one of the more popular, and many say the most important, types of bodybuilding supplements. High quality protein is the basic building block of muscle growth and protein supplements are perennial gym bag favourites. The quality mentioned here is expressed as a BV (Biological Value) rating. This benchmark indicates how quickly and efficiently the protein is assimilated by our bodies. Listed here in descending order of “quality” are some of the more common protein sources and their associated BV ratings.
Whey protein – 104
Egg protein – 100
Milk protein – 91
Beef protein – 80
Soy protein – 74
Legume proteins – 50
Considering this list it becomes clear that products formulated from whey are by far the most potent or valuable sources of protein. This is not to say, however, that the other sources should be neglected.
Essential Fatty Acids (EFA’s)
EFA’s are a critical part of a balanced diet as they are not naturally produced by the body. EFA’s are essential for a host of critical body functions such as fat metabolism, energy production, red blood cell production and brain and nerve development. They have also been conclusively linked to good cardiac health.
EFA’s consist of Omega 3 (alpha linoleic acid) and Omega 6 (linoleic acid). Omega 6 EFA is fairly abundant in many foods such as grains, eggs and poultry and is seldom found to be deficient. The Omega 3 EFA’s, however, are often lacking and particular attention should be paid to them when considering bodybuilding supplements. Abundant natural sources are flax seed and cold water oily fish such as salmon, pilchards, herring and sardines.
This mineral is believed to enhance insulin efficacy which would make it beneficial in promoting stable blood sugar levels, energy production and fat metabolism. Insulin is the trigger mechanism that allows the cells in our bodies to absorb sugar from our bloodstreams. When this process is not functioning at optimal levels our bodies don’t receive the necessary fuel to grow and produce energy and the resultant excess of unused sugar in the blood is stored as fat.
Glutamine is an amino acid found in our muscles and is a crucial link in the muscle growth process. Studies would suggest that glutamine levels tend to be depleted during strenuous exercise and should be included as a bodybuilding supplement.
This organic acid is found naturally in our bodies and facilitates short, intense bursts of energy. In addition Creatine as a supplement (Creatine monohydrate) reduces muscle recovery times, improves strength and aids in building muscle mass. Natural sources include offal, particularly kidney and red meats.
These supplements are somewhat contentious due to the side effects they may cause. However, the boosting of testosterone levels has been shown to be greatly beneficial in promoting muscle growth. The use of these bodybuilding supplements should always be accompanied by vigilance and the advice of a medical professional should be sought prior to taking them.
These are products that are believed to increase metabolic rate and body temperature which results in an elevated rate of fat burning. These products usually contain the popular “ECA stack” or combination of synephrine, aspirin and caffeine. The synephrine component now replaces the ephedrine ingredient previously banned by the FDA for use in supplements and weight loss products.
To summarise, bodybuilding supplements offer specific, refined benefits with fast food convenience. They should, however, only be used as supplements as they cannot replace a good whole food diet. The quality of the supplements you consider can be controlled by consulting many of the websites dedicated to testing the contents of these products. Their use should also be closely monitored for side effects and discontinued immediately if any doubts exist.