[This post is for those who have little to no experience in muscle-building, which is complex once you go into the details, but i’ll just keep it basic. I am just a fitness enthusiast, not a certified fitness instructor. What works for me may not work for others. My apology if there is some bro-science, but rest assured common sense and well-researched facts are also included.]
Do you really need protein supplements to gain muscle?
Not really, you should be able to see gains from the healthy food that you are supposed to be eating on daily basis. However, it’s also impractical for an average person to prepare and eat their meals a few times a day, and that’s where these supplements come to play. I’m gonna introduce some basic supplements that are usually recommended for starters and novice.
Whey protein is usually the very first thing that people will buy. It is actually a by-product of cheese making (milk protein consist of 20% whey and 80% casein). Whey protein is known to be the fast-absorbing, whereas casein is significantly slower.
Whey protein + resistance exercise can help improve muscle protein synthesis and promote the growth of lean muscle tissue. There are also some research that show some potential health benefits from consuming whey protein eg. fat loss, lowered cholesterol, lowered blood pressure and risk of heart disease and stroke.
However, there are some potential side effects that may arise from whey consumption (especially if taken in large amount).
1. stomach pains
Personally, I’ve never had any of these side effects. But there is one thing that is inevitable if you consume large amount of whey – SMELLY FARTS.
2 main causes:
1. Too much whey -> your body can only absorb a certain amount of protein in one sitting. Excess lactose that is undigested will undergo fermentation in your intestine. Fermentation produces methane, hydrogen and carbon dioxide – thus causing flatulence
2. Lactose intolerance -> the explanation is pretty similar to the previous reason. Except that the effect can be much worse for this case, depending on the degree of intolerance.
There are 3 types of whey protein: whey protein concentrate, whey protein isolate, and whey protein hydrolysate (if you see other names, it’s very likely to be some gimmicky terms that companies use mark-up their products).
I won’t bore you with the details of these 3. You can read it here though 🙂 But hydrolysate is the most pure amongst the 3 (in terms of protein content), and with high purity comes high price tag. Other than having less cholesterol, fat, and carbohydrates, the isolate and hydrolysate also have less lactose content. Thus, these are recommended for those who are lactose intolerant as well as those who are very strict with their carbs-protein-fat intake ratio.
I’m currently taking both of these 🙂 gold standard in the morning, platinum hydrowhey post-workout
EGG and SOY PROTEIN
These 2 are great alternatives if whey protein is not stomach-friendly for you.
The digestion rate is different from that of whey protein, but it is unlikely to affect your progress. There is still an ongoing debate on the correlation between rate of digestion of protein and it’s effect on muscle-building.
Also, while egg protein has often been held in high regard as an alternative to whey protein, the same can’t be said for soy protein. Soy protein is often labelled as a “feminine” protein due to it’s phytoestrogens, which are thought to cause hormone imbalance that results in lowered testosterone and elevated oestrogen. While recent studies have challenged this idea, much still need to be done for a more definite conclusion.
Beyond Protein Shakes
There are a lot of pre-workout out there in the market. Some of the common forms include:
1. Caffeine-based , which is easily substituted with 1-2 shots of espresso.
2. Nitric Oxide, usually for achieving ‘muscle pump’. thought to help deliver more O2 into the muscles, accelerating recovery between sets
3. Beta Alanine, help to delay lactic acid build-up, reducing muscle fatigue so you can train harder.
Whichever pre-workout you choose, try to ‘cycle’ them. After some time, take a few days off it so that your body does not become addicted to/fully dependent on them.
O.N. Amino Energy (caffeine-based) + Glutamine (I add 5 gram of this to my post-workout shake)
BCAA/Silk Amino Acids
While most whey protein come with BCAAs included, you may still want to increase your intake – especially if you’re training harder and having problems with muscle fatigue and soreness.
Silk Amino Acids (SAA) are just another form of BCAAs, but only 5 ‘specially sequenced’ amino acids. The most famous SAA products comes from BPI, who initially made outrageous claims about the benefits of this product (Up to 600% increase in strength! WHAT THE?! – well it is real, but only for laboratory mice LOL)
BPI BLOX – just think of this as an expensive alter ego of Kool-Aid, lemonade flavour is fantastic but I can do without it. Buy this if you have spare $
This is one of the the most heavily-researched supplements. Creatine itself is actually a metabolite that’s produced naturally by your body. It’s found mainly in the red muscle tissue, heart and brain. You can consume it through eating meat and fish, but the concentration is too low for you to see any noticeable benefits.
Creatine is most effective in high-intensity training, mainly weight training or sports that require short bursts of effort (sprinting, soccer, football, baseball, etc). This substance is also “osmotically active”, pulling water into your muscle cells. Protein synthesis will increase, but so will your water weight. If you care about your aesthetics, I recommend you to lose as much fat as possible before taking this – other wise there’s a high chance that you’ll look like a water balloon.
This is also an abundant subtance in your body and is considered as a non-essential amino acid. However, it is involved in various metabolic processes and is the principal carrier of nitrogen in the body.
Although the body synthesises it’s own glutamine, it’ll still be depleted fast if you train hard very often. Glutamine deficiency is linked to inflammation and infection, making you feel run down or sick.
I personally add 5 gram of this to my protein shake after working out. I don’t know if it is just a placebo effect but it really helped me with my recovery. It has been more than 30 days since I took a break from gymming and I can almost swear that this thing has somehow helped me not to fall sick ( I usually burn out after training non-stop for 14-16 days)
In a nutshell, supplements are still supplements. The most important things that you need is to have proper diet, lots of water, enough sleep/rest, as well as the right state of mind.
Consistent training is also important, remember to work them muscles and not just drink your protein shakes 🙂
I hope that this article is useful for those who are planning to buy their first supplements. I’m also still in the process of learning and would greatly appreciate any form of constructive discussion at the comment section below 🙂