The Best Supplements for Cutting Up

Contrary to what bodybuilding supplement advertisements may have you believe, you cannot attain a ripped physique without putting in some hard work. Building muscle mass requires regular resistance exercise. However, certain dietary supplements, when used in conjunction with resistance training, may help you achieve your muscle-building goals by improving performance or aiding muscle recovery. As dietary sports supplements are not monitored by the FDA and may be unsafe for people with certain health conditions, it is important to check with your doctor first before taking a bodybuilding supplement.

Male body builder. (Image: Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Creatine

Whey protein and Creatine. (Image: Volumetric/iStock/Getty Images)

Creatine monohydrate is a highly popular sports supplement among athletes, particularly weightlifters, who take it to improve their resistance-training performance. Creatine is a chemical, produced by the body and present in certain foods and dietary supplements, that helps the muscles release energy. According to MedlinePlus, taking creatine supplements may improve athletic performance in young, healthy people for short-duration, high-intensity activities, like weightlifting or sprinting. Typical dosage of creatine to improve resistance training performance includes a loading dose of 20 grams daily for five days, followed by a maintenance dose of 2 grams, or more, daily. Stomach upset and water-weight gain are common side effects of creatine supplementation, and taking creatine at high doses may damage the liver or kidneys.

Protein Powders

Protein powder. (Image: kjekol/iStock/Getty Images)

It is important for highly physically active people including weightlifters to get adequate protein in their diets to rebuild muscle tissue that is broken down during strenuous exercise. Taking protein supplements, typically sold in powders or shakes, can help you meet these needs, as they provide concentrated protein in easy-to-digest formulations. Whey protein supplements, in particular, may support muscle weight gain with resistance training. In a study published by "International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism" in 2006, males who took whey protein supplements during a 10-week resistance training program experienced significant gains in lean muscle mass compared to those who took casein, another kind of supplemental protein. Getting too much dietary protein, however, can put dangerous strain on the internal organs. According to Sharon Howard, R.D., M.S., strength athletes should aim to get 1.4 to 1.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day.

Branched-Chain Amino Acids

High protein diets may not need amino acids. (Image: Sophie James/iStock/Getty Images)

Supplements containing branched-chain amino acids may also help repair and rebuild muscle tissue in athletes. A study published in "Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research" in 2010 found that male athletes who took BCAAs in conjunction with a resistance-training program experienced significantly increased blood levels of the anabolic, or muscle-building, hormone testosterone during and after training, compared to men who took a placebo with resistance training. Researchers concluded that short-term amino acid supplementation in resistance athletes may produce a hormonal environment conducive to muscle growth. "Flex" magazine recommends strength athletes take approximately 5 grams daily of a BCAA product; however, people with high-protein diets may already get enough dietary BCAAs.

Sports Drinks

Sports drinks. (Image: David Lentz/iStock/Getty Images)

Sports drinks are another type of dietary supplement which may provide ergogenic benefits. Some varieties of sports drinks contain both carbohydrates and protein, a combination that has proven to help aid muscle recovery and attenuate muscle damage. Ingredients like caffeine and creatine present in certain sports drinks may also improve resistance training performance. A study published in "Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research" in 2008 concluded that resistance-trained men who, 10 minutes prior to performing resistance exercise, took an energy sports drink supplement containing creatine, taurine, caffeine and glucuronolactone, performed better and had higher circulating blood levels of anabolic hormones after exercising compared to men who took a placebo drink. Another study published in the same journal in 2011 concluded that caffeine, an active ingredient in many energy sports drinks, enhances performance in short-term, resistance exercise to failure in terms of both total number of repetitions performed and total weight lifted.

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