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5 Scientifically Proven Ingredients to Enhance Gym Performance

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Despite there being 100s of supplements and ingredients on the market, only a handful have been repeatedly shown to enhance exercise performance.

While it is true most supplement blends are a waste of time, there are a few well-formulated mixes that combine many of these benefits to quickly enhance performance.

Although they may not be drastically important for a beginner who needs to master the basics and remain consistent, for the Biolayne members, these supplements could quickly help you break PRs or take your training to the next level.

Here’s an overview of 5 scientifically proven supplements, along with the mechanisms explaining how they could help you achieve your goals and enhance gym performance.

 

Creatine

No supplement list would be complete without creatine, which is probably the world’s leading supplement for adding muscle mass and increasing short duration, high-intensity exercise [1].

It has over 500 clinical studies repeatedly demonstrating its effectiveness in a wide variety of scenarios, including power lifting, bodybuilder workouts, sprint performance, mixed team sport and in a health / medical setting [2][3].

There are several impressive mechanisms that support the use of creatine, including:

  • Increases ATP energy production [4]
  • Increases Cell Volume Size [5]
  • Increases IGF-1 Hormone levels – [6]
  • Activates Biological Muscle Building Pathways [7][8]
  • Increases Muscle fiber size and type 2 muscle fibers [9]
  • Increases strength, power and high rep muscle endurance [10][11][12]
  • Increases peak power, anaerobic performance [13]
  • Increases aerobic capacity [14]

Despite common myths, it’s also been proven to be extremely safe for your health. Additionally, many of the reported side effects, such as bloat or dehydration, have not been supported in research [15]

Two of the most common issues are cramps/dehydration and bloat or gastrointestinal issues. However, several studies have found no issues of dehydration; in fact, research when exercising in the heat (where dehydration is accelerated) found creatine provided benefits to the athlete and reduced the incidence of cramp [16][17]

In terms of bloating or GI issues, this only occurs in participants who take excessive doses (10 grams or per in 1 serving) above the recommended range. This often occurs when loading, as 20 grams per day is recommended. To perform this without issues, spread the 20 grams into 4 doses, for example:

AM: 5 grams
Lunch: 5 grams
Post Workout: 5 grams
Evening: 5 grams.

It is also incredibly safe and even used to treat brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s. There has been research over a 10 year period, along with several 100 medical studies showing its impressive safety profile. As with a high protein intake, the only issue may occur in individuals with kidney or liver disease [18][19].

 

Beta Alanine

Closely following creatine is beta alanine, which has some very supportive research in high intensity exercise lasting from around 30/60 seconds all the way up to 10 minutes.

It works by increasing muscle carnosine stores, which can increase by more than double after 2 weeks of supplementation. This increase elicits several benefits for your gym performance, playing a key role in the buffering of hydrogen ions and other metabolites that lead to the “burn” and muscular fatigue [20].

Along with helping to reduce fatigue, carnosine also plays a lesser known and smaller role in breaking down and utilizing blood glucose during glycolysis for energy production during high intensity exercise [21].

For exercise performance, several studies have shown beta alanine can improve higher rep work, increase total training (a factor in muscle hypertrophy) and reduce fatigue.

In athletes, the use of BA for 10 weeks caused a very significant 16% improvement in high intensity cycling sprints when measuring time to fatigue [22].

Another study was performed in well-trained college football players and wrestlers. After 8 weeks of BA supplementation (4 grams per day), participants found significant improvements in 300 yard sprint time, bicep curl strength and blood lactate response to exercise [23].

For weight training, another study monitored the amount of reps performed on a series of exercises such as squats and bench press along with a biking sprint. They too found that 30 days post, the BA group significantly improved the amount of reps performed and total training volume [24].

Along with boosting exercise performance, some more recent animal research has shown potential health benefits from boosting muscle Carnosine levels. Primarily, they found that increased carnosine levels may play an important role in antioxidant production, which can scavenge harmful substances such as reactive oxygen species (ROS) which are linked to cell damage and diseases such as cancer [25].

 

Caffeine

Caffeine is another potent and often under appreciated supplement. Plenty of research has shown amazing benefits for caffeine and unlike most supplements, it also works via several mechanisms to elicit its benefits.

Here’s an overview of the benefits that caffeine can provide:

Fuel Utilization: Caffeine can enhance fat oxidation which may also spare muscle glycogen. This may be beneficial during prolonged workouts, when performing lower-carb diets or for endurance exercise [26].

Nervous System Stimulation: Caffeine excites the nervous system and brain which can boost your energy levels and reduce tiredness [27][28].

Increases Endorphins: Known as your ‘happy hormones’, caffeine can increase β-endorphins which improve feelings of happiness and mood [29][30].

Increased Body Temperature: For fat loss, one of the ways that caffeine may provide a small boost is by increasing your core body temperature and metabolism [31].

Muscle Stimulus: Animal research has also demonstrated Caffeine’s effects on the motor neurons and peripheral stimulation. This could help explain its benefits in weight lifting and high intensity exercise [32].

Unlike most other performance enhancing natural supplements, caffeine can provide benefits for both endurance and strength athletes. In other words, its benefits extend across a wide spectrum of sports and activities, from marathon running to a 10 second sprint, along with everything else in between.

In fact, it’s become so powerful that most large sporting organizations such as the NCAA have banned the use of caffeine at the efficacious high doses.

For all types of activities, numerous studies have demonstrated improvements in [33][34][35][36][37][38]:

  • Time to fatigue.
  • Increased time trial performance.
  • Reduced perception of effort and fatigue.
  • Increased peak power and strength (1 / 10 rep max etc.).
  • Increased sprint and explosive ability (i.e. jumping).

On average, performance increases tend to sit around 2-7%; however, some studies have seen improvements extending above 10%.

Remember 5% improvements may take an elite athlete years or even decades to achieve. In many cases, it is also the difference between first and last place in high level sport.

As with all supplements and techniques, including diet and exercise, there will be responders and non-responders. On average, around 70% of people see improvements from caffeine, which is fairly high for a supplement. Of course, those who take caffeine on a daily basis may start to witness less of a benefit, or, need higher doses. This is why people will cycle off caffeine before a race / event and then re-start just a week or so before [39].

On average, the efficacious dose will start at around 150mg to 400mg. However, high doses such as 600 and even up to 900mg have been used in the literature. Start low (around 200mg) and build up to high doses only if needed [40].

 

Betaine & Citrulline

Betaine and Citrulline tend to follow what some would argue are the top 3 performance-enhancing supplements discussed above.

While there is less research on these 2 supplements, initial trials over the last decade has been mixed with some promising data beginning to emerge.

Betaine is a derivative of the amino acid glycine and most commonly associated with the food Beetroot. It has several health and performance benefits, including improvements in endurance and weight lifting performance, while also possibly lowering inflammation and cellular hydration which could aid in cardiovascular disease risk [41][42][43].

In one well-known weight lifting study, 24 male subjects performed 2 weeks of weight training and were provided with either betaine or placebo. After the study, they found significant improvements in bench press AMRAP at 75% 1RM. However, they did not find improvements in bench press performance [44].

In addition to betaine, Citrulline is another cost effective ingredient that could enhance workout performance. It works via a similar mechanism, boosting Nitric Oxide production and blood flow around the body. Although the supplement arginine is best known for this mechanism, it is actually a poor supplement choice as up to 99% of the ingested arginine is broken down during absorption [45].

Like all supplements, citrulline also has some mixed research with more positive studies starting to emerge. In one cycling study, 22 cyclists received L-Citrulline (around 4.5 grams of Citrulline malate) for 7 days. On the 8th day, they performed a short 4KM time trial.

In those taking the L-Citrulline supplementation they found a 1.5% reduced completion time, which is fairly significant considering the short duration of the event. In addition, the L-citrulline group improved subjective feelings of muscle fatigue and concentration levels [46].

For weight lifting, one study tested 8 grams of Citrulline Malate (CM) on 8 sets of bench press at 75% 1RM. For CM, there was a significant increase in the number or reps, with participants achieving 52.92% more repetitions and a significant decrease in muscle soreness at 24 hours and 48 hours after the training session (40% placebo vs 90% for supplement) [47].

Doses tend to vary, with around 3 – 6 grams of citrulline or 6-8 grams of citrulline malate being tested in research. For Betaine, doses tend to vary from 1.5 – 3 grams.

 

Trust the Science

Rather than jumping onto the next ‘sexy’ pre-workout, advertised by fitness models and clever marketing schemes, stick with the research-proven ingredients and supplements that have stood the test of time and research.

For workout performance, this list right here provides 3-5 of the go-to supplements that can elicit the greatest effects on your performance and physique, while also causing the least damage to your bank balance.

 

References

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12433852
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12433852
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2048496/
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10919967
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8098459
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18708688
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17652429
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11715023
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10449017
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20847704
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12433852
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11828245
  13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11581550
  14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11581550
  15. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2048496/
  16. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1023/A:1022413202549
  17. http://bjsm.bmj.com/content/early/2008/01/09/bjsm.2007.042473.short
  18. http://www.neurology.org/content/54/9/1848.short
  19. http://pharmrev.aspetjournals.org/content/53/2/161.short
  20. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23535873
  21. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23535873
  22. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16868650
  23. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21659893
  24. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19083385
  25. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19881293
  26. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10852448
  27. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10049999
  28. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1356551
  29. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15892913
  30. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10852448
  31. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2333832
  32. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16331138
  33. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9729561
  34. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18981939
  35. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18708685
  36. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11079528
  37. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20019636
  38. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20019636
  39. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7775331
  40. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7775331
  41. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15720203
  42. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18258634
  43. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2651845
  44. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19250531?dopt=Abstract&holding=f1000,f1000m,isrctn
  45. https://www.karger.com/Article/Abstract/341937
  46. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4759860/
  47. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20386132

About the author

About Rudy Mawer
Rudy Mawer

Rudy Mawer is human performance researcher and a certified Sports Nutritionist from the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN). He has a first class bachelor's degree in Exercise, Nutrition and Health and a Master's degree in Exercise and Nutrition Science. Rudy has worked as a sports nutritionist and trainer for 7 years, and has helped...[Continue]

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