In the last 25 years, the number of women who go to the gym to pump iron has consistently increased — and with good reason. Experts say that even two strength-training workouts weekly can improve your body composition, boost your mood, burn fat and even fight against aging. For instance, noted exercise researcher William Kraemer, Ph.D., points out that women who lift weights possess better muscle tone and can turn back the clock by reducing the 5 to 10 percent of muscle strength that untrained individuals lose each decade after age 30.
Resistance training also promotes bone density, increases your caloric-burning metabolism (which helps you stay leaner), and has a dramatic effect on body shape and appearance.
But just committing to pumping iron isn’t enough. Even the best training program will not achieve the greatest results without the right fuel for your muscles. This starts, obviously, with the basic macronutrients: carbs, protein and fats. You need a good balance of these in order to get the vitamins, minerals, enzymes and other nutrients necessary for health and recovery. But there are specific performance-enhancing supplements you should be using to get the absolute most out of your time in the gym. Check out the following list.
Protein provides the building blocks (amino acids) of muscle tissue. The best choice immediately postworkout is whey, which digests quickly. A combination protein containing whey, casein and soy is even better because it digests slower and provides amino acids for an extended time. (Whey digests within two hours of ingestion, while soy breaks down within two to four hours and casein within four to six.) Casein is great taken at night to help you avoid catabolizing your muscle tissue as you sleep. Your daily protein intake should be between 1 to 1.5 grams per pound of bodyweight daily, divided so that you don’t consume more than 25 grams at any one sitting (for greatest absorption). About 20 percent of this could be taken immediately postworkout.
Vitamins are the catalysts for all the processes in your body, including anabolic muscle building. For instance, B complex helps derive energy from food, which helps you stay energized. Vitamin C is critical for immune function and antioxidant muscle protection while sparing nitric oxide from free radicals so it’s available for muscular endurance. Vitamin D boosts gene activation for improved muscle strength and recovery, plus it is essential for calcium absorption, which promotes bone remodeling and better muscle contractions. This is only the tip of the iceberg. Find a performance multi for athletes and take it daily.
This amino acid–like compound helps extend the ATP-PC cycle that fuels all activity. Its use improves muscular endurance and strength while drawing water into muscle tissue to promote increased size, fullness and growth. Don’t worry about stomach bloating, either — after about 30 minutes following ingestion, fluid follows creatine into the muscles and makes you look better. For best results, take 2 to 5 grams of creatine monohydrate postworkout.
These three amino acids (leucine, isoleucine and valine) are unique from other aminos because they can be burned as fuel within muscle tissue, allowing for increased muscular endurance and faster recovery. Leucine is the anabolic trigger for growth, so it helps build new muscle tissue. Plus, it also may increase growth hormone and reduce cortisol. When supplementing, use a branched-chain amino acid with at least 5:1:1 ratio (leucine to isoleucine and valine) and take 5 to 10 grams before training.
Nitric oxide is a signaling molecule that stimulates vasodilation (opening blood vessels). By increasing blood flow, you get better amino-acid and other nutrient delivery to muscles, which signals cells to grow bigger. NO also may promote lipolysis, which releases fat from fat cells so it is burned for energy. The best NO supplements include arginine, citrulline, GlycoCarn or Nitrosigine. Choose one and take 30 minutes before exercise.
This nonessential amino combines with histidine in the body to form carnosine, which is shown to increase muscle strength, endurance and size. Beta-alanine is the limiting factor in this equation, so supplementation is critical for improved performance. You can find this amino in preworkout supplements or take it on its own. Ingest 1 to 3 grams before and after workouts.