So the other day one of my friends, let’s call him Moe, sent me this:
“A guy who’s fit but doesn’t do much gym, told me a “trick” he used to pump his body. He takes a protein shake after training, but right before he downs it, he eats a gummy bear. According to him, having so much sugar after training puts your body in a specific state, in which you tend to absorb everything you eat immediately after, in this case the protein shake. So for him this is a great way to force the body to absorb all the protein. I wonder what you think about it”
As a note: Moe is trying to recomposition his body (think: losing extra flab of fat and increasing lean mass). He wants to get visible abs and look attractive. Maybe you can relate? Regardless…
His friend isn’t wrong, but he’s not doing it right either. A simple insulin-boosting dose of sugar won’t help you gain more muscle. Eating a gummy bear after a workout will flush the nutrients back into your muscle cells, it will also make you store fat or convert extra carbohydrates into fat. That’s just how the body works.
You might be thinking:
So what should you actually do and eat to help you lose weight, while maintaining or building lean mass?
I’ll answer that in this article, which will be a quick beginner’s guide to supplements for weight loss and lean mass building. To help you apply the advice, I’m splitting the guide into 3 sections: what to take before, during and after your workouts.
Let’s dig in.
Gotta love the acronyms. Branch chain amino acids or essential amino acids are just what your body needs to prevent muscle catabolism and muscle loss while exercising. They also aid recovery and usually come in purer form than crappy protein shakes. The best bit: you’ll need much less for the same or better effects than those nasty protein powders.
- Go for unflavoured powder option. It won’t taste great but it’s better than the usual crap stuffed with artificial flavourings.
- Which one: BCAAs or EAAs? While EAAs are much more expensive, they offer a full suite of essential amino acids. BCAA contain only 3 amino acids (Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine), meanwhile EAAs contain 8 (the 3 from BCAAs as well as Methonine, Phenylalanine, Threonine, Tryptophan and Lysine). If you can afford it, get EAAs to cover all of your body’s needs.
Creatine is by far the most researched performance enhancing supplement in the market. It’s safe, it’s effective, it’s magic.
While you can get plenty of creatine by eating red meat, if you train often or eat a vegetarian diet, then supplementing is wise. Creatine has profound nootropic effects, converts to ATP required for sudden, yet short energy bursts, boosts blood and fluid flow, allows for quicker recovery and generally aids muscle growth.
- Go for the powdered option. Pills come in handy when travelling, but they also run out very quickly, as you need to consume multiple tabs every time.
- Creatine is a supplement that needs plenty of water to aid absorption so drink up!
Now, If your workout is based on prolonged endurance efforts, e.g. running, cycling, swimming then you’d benefit from topping up the mineral reserves. As you workout you excrete huge amounts of minerals with sweat – it’s why you sometimes feel weak and lightheaded long after a workout. Supplementing electrolytes (magnesium, potassium, calcium, sodium) will allow you to store water and get less dehydrated.
How to take your pre-workout
Shake the ingredients up with some water (500ml is plenty) in a bottle as follows:
- 20g BCAA or 10g EAAs
- 5-10g Creatine Monohydrate
- 1 electrolyte tab
Sip it and hit the gym.
You might expect something funky and advanced. No way, Jose – water will do just fine.
That said, if you’re a crazy runner or a cyclist doing 1-2 hour training sessions, you might benefit from adding some electrolytes during your workout as well.
Firstly, what not to take…
Protein shakes and bars
With exception of okay-ish products such as Quest bars, every protein bar is as dirty as a ‘food’ item can get. My issues with protein powders, shake mixes, mass gainers, bars etc. are summed up as:
- Processed carbohydrates, high fructose syrup and other BS these bars are filled with. They not only wreak havoc on your system, but increase inflammation! After a workout, your body is already dealing with free radicals inducing inflammation across your body. Adding more crap to the equation will increase time needed to recover.
- Preservatives and binding agents.
- Food colouring (think E’s…)
- Incomplete amino acid profiles aka crappy protein – soy, peanuts etc.
- Dog food-like texture and dry taste
You get the point…
Gummy bears, chocolate milk, dextrose mix and other ‘hacks’
They all mean one thing – ‘sugar’. While eating any of these will spike your insulin levels to flush nutrients into muscle cells, it will also shut down utilisation (burning) of stored fat. In the gym culture, this is known as the dirty bulking method. You gain muscle, but you’ll also pack plenty of fat alongside.
Personally, I’d advise to steer away from this type of body recomposition and use cleaner methods, such as a proper, nutrient-rich meal.
What to consume instead
A nutrient-rich meal
Nutrient-rich means that the meal contains a good amount of healthy, dietary fats, a quality protein source and quality carbohydrates (when necessary). For example, you could have a salmon fillet with a plate of spinach, some pine nuts and olives.
Beginners to building lean mass tend to focus on eating highly processed, carbohydrate-rich foods. These do restore glycogen stores after a workout, however the rest of the meal converts to fat, causes inflammation and insulin resistance. If you wonder what sort of carbohydrate sources you should include in your recovery meals, here are a few examples:
- Sweet potatoes and yams
- Vegetables (cruciferous, leafy… you name it)
Recovery boosting minerals, antioxidants and natural anti-inflammatories
- Turmeric (curcumin) pills with bioperine. Bioperine is critical element as without it you won’t absorb much of the curcumin.
- Ginger pills
- Fish or krill oil pills
- Good ol’ vitamin C. Physical stress and adrenal flushes can compromise your immune system. I see too many novice athletes and gym goers who get ill after just a week of working out.
Check out my earlier article for the top 5 supplements every person should be taking daily, whether they train or not.
Now, you should have a rough idea of what to take next time you’re about to hit the gym. There are tons of other supplements that can be applied to a specific area, however for the majority of people who just want to get in shape and build lean mass this set is more than effective.