You walk into the gym, ready for the greatest workout of your life—but will you have enough in the tank to finish what you start? The right food will provide most of the raw energy you need to lift, but that’s only one piece of the puzzle. Whole food won’t prime your central nervous system, increase nitric oxide, or help muscle fibers contract harder.
You need supplements that can do these things, and help you sustain high intensity levels. Here are six categories of energy supplements you should consider adding to your regimen before you head to the gym.
If you don’t take in calories before you train, then your body is like a hybrid vehicle without gas: No matter how much you charge it with other forms of energy, you aren’t going to go very far. Here’s what you need before workouts.
• Protein Eat a whole-food meal about 60–90 minutes before training, then drink a pre-workout shake as you head to the gym. The shake should have about 25–50 grams of protein, depending on how much you weigh. Research shows a mix of whey and casein is one of the best choices at this time.
• Carbs Fast-digesting carbs release insulin, driving the delivery of nutrients to muscle tissue. Take carbs in a 1:1 ratio with protein in your pre-workout shake.
Boosting strength in the short term is possible with these three supplements. Consider them as standalones or look for products that blend them.
• Creatine Creatine drives fluid into your muscle cells, blunting soreness and allowing you to lift heavier for longer. Look for creatine monohydrate, the gold standard of creatines.
• Beta-Alanine This amino acid boosts muscular strength and endurance by increasing your body’s levels of carnosine, a small peptide formed of beta-alanine and histidine.
• Betaine Betaine is an amino acid that works to boost protein synthesis in the body. Also known as trimethylglycine or TMG, betaine is found in many healthful foods, such as whole grains, spinach and beets.
• Cordyceps This Tibetan fungus helps boost immediate strength by contributing to your ATP (adenosine tri-phosphate) cycle. Combine creatine and Cordyceps for greater immediate strength.
Energy boosters work in a wide variety of ways—some stimulate your central nervous system (CNS), while others increase brain activity. Each of these forms of energy allows you to train harder for longer.
• Caffeine Anhydrous Research demonstrates that this dry form of the stimulant is the best for increasing energy and strength. Taking caffeine helps reduce the perceived pain of lifting weights.
• BCAAs This group of amino acids includes leucine, isoleucine and valine. BCAAs are absorbed more readily into your system, bypassing your liver to go directly to working muscles, delivering fast energy.
• Yohimbe As with caffeine, this extract from bark helps drive up energy levels by reducing stored body fat you can use as energy.
Muscle pumps provide more than an aesthetic improvement. A good pump delivers blood and nutrients to muscle tissue, helping it recover and grow.
• Arginine This amino acid converts in your body to nitric oxide (NO), a gas molecule that allows your blood vessels to expand so that more blood, oxygen and nutrients reach your working muscles.
• Citrulline or Citrulline Malate Research shows that citrulline may convert to arginine more effectively than supplemental arginine. Additional research shows that taking a combo of citrulline and arginine may be more effective for increasing NO production than taking either alone. Citrulline malate helps increase blood flow by converting it into L-arginine and then into nitric oxide.
• Agmatine Sulfate This relatively new supplement supports nitric oxide synthase, the enzyme that helps produce NO from arginine.
• Adenosine-5’-triphosphate Disodium (Peak ATP) This ingredient, shown to be effective after a single dose, increases the rate of ATP production in your muscles, the source of energy for muscle contractions. Improved vasodilation and blood flow also help fight off muscle fatigue.
Excess body fat isn’t good for much except this: It’s a great source of workout fuel. The key is to get your body to let go of this stored energy pre- and post-workout. These supps provide a two-for-one, helping fuel workouts with your own fat.
• Green Coffee Bean Extract This fat burner contains a higher concentration of chlorogenic acid than do roasted beans. This is the chemical that works with caffeine to release and burn body fat.
• Raspberry Ketones Rising in popularity, raspberry ketones can increase metabolic rate and release fat from storage.
• Capsicum Sometimes listed as capsaicin, this supplement from chili peppers helps drive up your metabolic rate so you naturally burn more calories.
Increased brain activity means increased focus—and that means more intense workouts.
• Tyrosine This amino acid elevates mood, enhances focus and even boosts sex drive. In your body, tyrosine is used to support production of hormones and neurotransmitters that include dopamine, epinephrine, norepinephrine and thyroid hormone.
• Phenylethylamine (PEA) A metabolite of the amino acid phenylalanine, PEA helps boost brain chemicals including serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine.
• Choline This nutrient is a precursor to acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that’s responsible for signaling muscle contractions and other brain activity. In addition, choline helps improve memory.
BY M&F EDITORS