The first two rules to help you get the most from your supplements are to make sure your training and nutrition are on target:
1) You should weight train no more than four times a week for no longer than 75 minutes a session as a beginner. More than this and you’re overtraining, tearing your body down more (and faster) than it can recover between workouts.
2) For nutrition, you should consume several meals a day, up to six or seven, getting in plenty of protein (at least 20 grams) per meal, even on rest days.
Once you’re following these basic rules, you’re ready to make the most of beginning supplementation. Here’s what we recommend, ranked in order:
1) whey protein
Whey protein is one of the fastest-digesting protein sources. This means it’s readily absorbed by your body so that it can get to work promoting recovery and muscle-building from your training and providing amino acids during workouts to support training and physiological processes that support muscle-building (such as delivering oxygen and nutrients to hard training muscles). The good news is that whey protein products can be found in different price ranges, and you can use them as your budget allows to supplement your whole-food protein intake.
What you should take: A whey protein shake before and after workouts. You can take in up to about ¼ gram of protein per pound of bodyweight at each meal. This means a 200-pounder can take in 50 grams of whey protein before and 50 grams after weight-training sessions. A 160-pounder should target up to 40 grams before and after workouts.
2) fast-digesting carbs
One mistake many beginners make is to overemphasize protein at the expense of carbs, either dietary or supplemental. But carbs are essential to fueling muscle growth because they help promote recovery, driving nutrients to your muscles. Fast-digesting carbs such as sugar should be consumed before and after workouts. You can also take supplemental forms of carbs such as Vitargo, or a hardgainer shake that has carbs in it. As far as the type of sugar you should consume: dextrose is the best option (it’s a specific type of glucose), or sucrose, otherwise known as table sugar. Fructose, especially high-fructose corn syrup, is less desirable than other forms of sugar or carbs that are typically found in carb-based supplements.
What you should take: A good rule of thumb for beginners is to match the amount of protein and carbs you consume before and after workouts. That means getting in about 100 grams of carbs for a 200-pounder, split evenly before and after workouts. And don’t shy away from whole-food carbs such as starches (whole-grain breads and pasta), and slow-digesting carbs (oatmeal, yams and brown rice) at other times of day. The only exception is to cut back on carbs before bedtime as they’re more readily stored as body fat at this time of day.
You’ve probably heard about creatine, and you may have thought we’d rank it first. It is, after all, among the most popular sports supplements of all time. But you have to have your nutrition in good shape before other supplements can work their magic. So, taking in supplemental protein and carbs beats out creatine on that front.
But creatine is next on our list. This amino acid-compound is also a chemical that’s involved in boosting ATP (adenosine triphosphate) production. Having more creatine available helps make you stronger during sets, allowing you to lift heavier weights or completing more reps. You may notice these effects the first time you try creatine. In addition, getting in creatine after workouts helps your body replenish its natural levels, depleted by weight training. After workouts, muscle cells have a greater capacity for taking in nutrients, and creatine helps deliver these nutrients to where they’re needed to support recovery and muscle growth.
What you should take: 3-5 grams of creatine before and after workouts for a total of up to 10 grams per day.
4) Vitamin C
Vitamins and minerals are necessary for health, but they’re also a vital component of getting the greatest benefits from your workouts. Often, young bodybuilders underestimate the damage that weight training causes to their bodies. When you workout, your body creates free radicals, highly reactive molecules that damage your cells. Vitamin C is an antioxidant that neutralize these harmful molecules. Other antioxidants include vitamin E, Beta-carotene and selenium. Recent research demonstrates that vitamin C also provides energy, potentially beneficial for those who train hard, as well as the sedentary.
What you should take: Start slowly with vitamin C supplementation, taking in 500-1000 mg once or twice a day. You can slowly increase your dosage, adding 500 mg a day each week, until you’re taking in a total of 2000-4000 mg per day, in 2-4 doses of 500-1000 mg each.