Lifting weights is one of the best physical activities you can do for yourself. Sure, cardio has its place, but working out with weights can actually help you burn more calories over the course of the day than cardio.
With cardio, what you see is what you get. If you burn 500 calories while jogging you’re not going to magically increase that number. With weights it’s different. When you hit the weights hard you’ll burn calories during the workout.
You’ll also burn additional calories over the course of the next day or so as your body repairs the damaged muscle fibers. In the end, you’ll likely burn more calories lifting weights than any kind of cardio workout for the same duration of time.
With that said, how can you get the most out of your workout?
With supplementation. Supplements can’t do the work for you, but the supplements will help you squeeze off additional reps, recover from the workout faster, and build your muscles larger. You just need to know what the best weight lifting supplements are.
Here is our list of what supplements you absolutely need to add to your regimen.
If there is only one supplement you take from this list it is protein powder. Now, you should consider everything on this list, but you’ll get the most out of protein powder. It’s a great source of energy and an even better way to help you repair damaged muscle fibers.
The fact of the matter is you likely don’t consume enough protein over the course of a day to routinely build your muscles.
How much protein do you need to build muscle?
Well, that depends on a number of factors, including your metabolic rate. A higher metabolic rate is great for keeping off weight, but it also means you’re going to burn through added protein calories, which means you’ll need to consume more protein if you want to build muscle.
Generally speaking, you should focus on around a gram of protein per pound you weigh. You will need to tweak this as you go, and it will depend on your diet.
If you are on a very low carb diet you will need to increase your protein intake as your body will use the protein calories for energy instead of carbs, which in turn leaves less protein for you to use to build up the muscles.
With all of this in mind, which protein powder is right for you?
Well, whey protein is the least expensive and widest available. It also will typically give you more grams of protein per calorie intake. All of this is fantastic, as long as you’re able to consume dairy or you’re not a vegetarian/vegan. If you can’t consume dairy you might want to consider egg white protein or pea protein.
Vegetarian protein is a good option.
Now, it is missing some elements that you can only find in proteins that come from animals, but you can make up for this with other supplementation. So, in general, whey protein will be the way to go, but there isn’t anything wrong with a pea or vegetarian protein (The Journal Of American College Of Nutrition, 2005).
If protein powder is the best option for you to go with, creatine is the second best. Creatine is a substance your body produces naturally within the muscles. This is basically a quick-burst energy source. It’s used when you make a sudden stop-start move in basketball, or if you cut hard and suddenly in football.
It’s also used to explosively push up on a bench press. The only problem with it is your body produces a small amount, which means you will use up your creatine storage within the muscles quickly during a weight lifting session and it can only produce more creatine at certain levels.
To help your body out you will want to add a creatine supplement to your daily regimen. Most creatine powders are flavorless so you can easily add them into your protein powder or another pre-workout supplement (although there are some flavored variations, so make sure you know what you’re looking for when shopping around for creatine powder).
With the added creatine in your system, you will be able to potentially squeeze off a few more reps throughout your workout session. This will cause additional damage to your muscles, which in turn allows you to build up the muscles larger and make them stronger.
Now, with all of that said, creatine is only going to work if you push your muscles to failure. If you stop at a specific number of reps, even if you have more energy in the tank, creatine won’t do you any good. Push yourself and push yourself hard.
This way you will force your body to give it everything it has. This will ensure you’re getting everything you can not only from the creatine but from your workout (International Journal Of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 2007).
This might be one of the most underrated workouts and weight lifting supplements out there, but it is an absolute must.
First of all, it is excellent for your heart and, in reality, if there is a supplement out there that will help improve heart health you should be taking it. With fish oil, the omega-3 fatty acids will help your heart and cardiovascular system. It will also fight inflammation.
This means it will help your body repair the damaged muscle fibers faster. This will increase your potential results and help you get back in the gym quicker. One of the biggest issues with many who lift weights is they over train.
What is overtraining?
It’s when you continue to hit certain areas of your body even when they have not fully repaired. Take, for example, your biceps. You workout your biceps to failure on one day. But they you work your biceps again the next day, thinking it will help get you those muscle guns you’ve been wanting (The New England Journal Of Medicine).
It won’t. Why?
Because your body needs time to fully repair. You can’t build a third floor onto your home until the second floor is done. If you keep trying to add more onto the construction without the previous floor being complete you’ll never get the results you want. The same is true with muscle growth.
If you hit a muscle group before it has finished recovering you’ll just cause additional muscle damage to fiber that hasn’t repaired itself yet.
Fish oil will help your muscles recover faster, which will allow you to hit similar muscle groups in shorter periods of time, but you do need to give the muscle groups, in general, at least 48 hours of recovery time for maximum results.
Branch Chain Amino Acids
You’ll see this as BCAA for short. With the BCAA you’re receiving three essential amino acids. What does this mean?
It means the body does not naturally produce them. Instead, the only way you can get the essential amino acids is if you consume them through food. BCAAs will help with the recovery process.
What these essential amino acids do is they will help with the breakdown of nutrients after you consume them and aid in the delivery of these nutrients to areas of your body that need them.
In short, following a workout, BCAAs will help take protein and other nutrients you have consumed and transport them to the damaged areas of your body. This not only helps with the recovery of your muscles but it also helps with building stronger, larger muscles.
When looking at BCAAs in supplements though you need to be aware of the product.
For example, you will often see pre-workout supplements and energy drinks boasting of included BCAAs. Consuming these supplements before your workout will do absolutely nothing. It won’t affect your workout, but it also won’t help. This is a post-workout supplement. You can’t deliver nutrients to damaged muscle fibers if the muscle fibers aren’t damaged yet.
Sure, there might be some of the BCAAs left in your system following the workout, but you’ll do yourself a solid by waiting until after the workout to consume your BCAAs.
That way the essential amino acids will be in your system around the same time you consume post-workout protein drinks. The BCAAs will then be able to work with the nutrients that are readily available and begin delivering the protein to where it needs to go.
So, when you’re shopping for the supplement you’ll want to either purchase it separately so you can directly control the intake and when you consume it, or you will want to purchase it in a post-workout supplement.
We like to buy it separately as then we have more specific control over it, but whatever works for you. Just make sure to take it after the workout, not before (The Journal Of Nutrition, 2006).
Sometimes when you make it to the gym you’re body is just dragging. We totally get it and we’ve all been there. Trying to push through a workout when your body doesn’t have the energy always results in a less than desirable workout. The best way to nip that in the bud is to turn to your old friend, caffeine.
Caffeine as a supplement can help give you that needed boost to get you in the workout mood. It also helps elevate your heart rate so you’ll pump more blood through your body. This, in turn, will help with your performance while lifting weights.
What kinds of caffeine work best for this?
Well never underestimate what a quality cup of black coffee can do. And yes, we do mean black coffee. Don’t be pouring copious amounts of cream and sugar into it. It’s not going to do your workout and exercise any good if you’re adding 200 calories to your beverage before the workout. So if you’re going to drink coffee for your caffeine source, go with black coffee.
You may want to go for an energy drink. These can be ways of getting more caffeine into your system, although we’d recommend going with a sugar-free variety.
Some energy drinks also come with added creatine, which is a nice way to go if you’re in a pinch and you don’t have all your supplements with you. Now, you’ll want to actually check as to what creatine levels there are (usually it’s not as much as you might like mixed in with your own protein powder pre-workout drinks), but it can be better than nothing when you don’t have any alternatives (European Journal Of Clinical Nutrition).
There are also pre-workout drinks. Pre-workouts, depending on the brand, can either be nothing but an energy drink, or it might come with added supplements that will help get you through your workout. If you decide to go the route of a pre-workout you will want to check the labeling to see what all is inside of it.
You don’t want to add additional creatine or other supplements into the mix if you’re already consuming it with the pre-workout. But you should be checking the labeling with all of your supplements when you purchase them just to be safe.
And, if you have any health concerns or you’re on other medications, make sure to talk with your doctor to ensure the weight lifting supplements don’t interact with your medication.
Supplementation is not something that will make up for a less than stellar workout. You won’t magically increase your muscle size if you don’t put in the work.
If, however, you’re willing to do the work and dedicate yourself to lifting weights while at the gym, the supplements will absolutely help you improve your performance and, in turn, increase your muscle size and recovery time.
You might need to do some experimentation with how much of each supplement you take and the brands you like, but once you have all of that ironed out you will absolutely be able to maximize your potential. All with the added support of supplements.