- Whether you’re just starting, returning from a hiatus, or if you’re deep into a workout routine, you might be wondering whether workout supplements actually work.
- This article explains which supplements work: creatine, PQQ+ coQ10, D-ribose, BCAAs, and whey protein
- These 6 compounds have good science behind them and will actually help you take your athletic performance to the next level.
Whether you’re just starting, returning from a hiatus, or if you’re deep into a workout routine, you might be wondering whether workout supplements actually work. With so many different products on the market promising miracles, you’ll find yourself wondering which ones will help you push a little further than you did yesterday, which ones are easy to use, and which ones are a total waste.
Workout supplements are minimally regulated, and it can be difficult to find supplements that really work. These 5 compounds have good science behind them and will actually help you take your athletic performance to the next level.
Instantly download the Bulletproof Exercise Roadmap and zero in on a workout routine to get you to your goals fast.
Creatine for cell power
Creatine 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, buying 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 placebo. If that weren’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)
Favorite brand: Jarrow Formulas 100% pure creatine
D-ribose for energy production
D-ribose might be the most Bulletproof member of the sugar family. It has a maple-like sweetness to it, but because it contains 5 carbons instead of the 6 found in table sugar, ribose doesn’t raise your blood glucose.
It does, however, significantly improve your energy production by enhancing your mitochondria. Ribose is a critical component of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the molecule that stores energy in your cells. Exercise empties your ATP; ribose helps to fill them back up more quickly, decreasing muscle soreness and speeding up recovery time after you work out. Ribose also enhances overall mitochondrial function, which can be great if you want an overall boost throughout the day. Try using it to sweeten your coffee.
A quick word of caution: unlike most sugars, ribose actually lowers your blood glucose. If you’re prone to hypoglycemia, take your ribose with meals to counter the effect, and don’t take more than 10g at a time.
Suggested dose: 5g/day
When to take it: 1 hour before you work out
Favorite brand: Bulletproof MitoSweet
PQQ + CoQ10 for an energetic edge
When you combine pyrroloquinoline quinine (PQQ) and coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), you end up with turbocharged mitochondria, which means more energy for every cell in your body. When your mitochondria are pumping out extra energy, you feel it in your mental endurance and muscular energy.
- In two small but thorough 2013 studies, PQQ significantly decreased inflammation after a single dose, and made mitochondria 15% more efficient after 3 doses (one dose per day)
- PQQ improves mitochondrial function in human skin cells, protecting skin from UV radiation and slowing down aging
- PQQ promotes the growth of new mitochondria in rodents
Extra cellular energy can give you an edge in the gym. The struggle with PQQ is bioavailability. It’s difficult to get it through your digestion and bloodstream and into your mitochondria. Bulletproof Unfair Advantage uses a colloidal delivery system to shuttle PQQ to its destination unscathed. Taking a couple of these before you workout can drive you to push through an extra few seconds or reps.
Suggested dose: 2-4 ampules
When to take it: 1 hour before you work out
Favorite brand: Bulletproof Unfair Advantage
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 you can 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: Physique Formula Xylitol-sweetened BCAAs
Whey Protein + colostrum to build muscle
Whey is the king of post-exercise proteins. It increases muscle synthesis more than soy or casein protein and it 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 4-5 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: Naked Whey
Just kidding. There are much better ways to get your testosterone up, both natural and pharmaceutical.
Seriously, don’t do steroids. The acne, man boobs, “small ball syndrome” (yes, that’s a thing), and ‘roid rage aren’t worth it.
These supplements can truly enhance your athletic performance. When choosing a workout supplement, it’s crucial to do some digging and find a brand you can trust. Give them a try and let us know what you think after a few weeks.
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