Got strength goals? Then some these supplements may need to be in your arsenal. Protein, creatine and caffeine may be the game changers you need in your nutrition plan. You put in a ton of time, effort and sweat into your grind, and you want to get the most out of it. To build strength, we need a combination of training and proper nutrition to gain muscle and tissues that support your goals. Adequate carbohydrates, proteins, fats and nutrients are the base of a solid nutrition plan to get you results. While your foundation nutrition and balanced meals are key, these three may take your training from just good to great.
1. Protein Supplements: When it comes to protein and strength supplements, whey protein isolate is the gold standard. Compared to plant based proteins, whey protein is higher in leucine, a protein needed to stimulate muscle synthesis (aka building muscle). It should be on all athletes and strength trainers shelves. Countless studies show its efficacy on increasing strength and muscle mass gains.1 Currently, total daily protein recommendations for strength training athletes span from 1.6-2.8 grams per kilogram per day. 2 Generally, I recommend people who strength train for health and leisure to consume the lower end of 1.6 grams per kilogram per day and more serious athletes at around 2.0 grams per kilogram. (To get kilograms, take your weight in pounds and divide it by 2.2)
If this sounds high, then a protein supplement is a simple way to get in 20-40 grams of extra protein per day in a single drink. It is recommended to consume a protein supplement right after a workout to maximize protein synthesis. A great option for whey is Thorne’s Whey Protein Isolate. While whey protein isolate is queen, a sport formulated plant based protein can be an option for those who prefer non-animal based sources. Orgain’s Sports Plant Based Protein is a reputable vegan option.*
2. Creatine: Creatine is one of the most studied supplements for strength and muscle growth, and it’s results show it’s worth. Creatine is a naturally occurring compound in muscles, available through consumption of animal based foods like milk, meat, fish and seafood. Muscles with high energy demand use creatine in the form of phosphocreatine to create energy. Explosive movements, like a powerful swing, jump, sprint, or clean will use phosphocreatine to create energy in a short amount of time.
Studies have proven that athletes and strength trainers supplementing with creatine have seen greater increases in strength, muscle mass, and power. 4 I recommend Thorne’s Creatine supplement, taken pre or post workout. A loading phase of 20-25 g per day to increase creatine stores for 5-7 days and 5 g per day to maintain stores. 4 How long you take creatine for will depend on your goal, sport, and phase of training. Studies have shown it can be safe to take for up to five years. 4 Creatine supplementation would be best served to athletes in a performance driven sport. Recreational exercisers would gain benefit from creatine, especially if you have a performance driven goal. If you are interested in including creatine in your nutrition plan, it is important to consult with a Sports Dietitian on appropriate dosage and usage.
3. Caffeine: Who doesn’t love coffee? Of course there are some who don’t, but the caffeine in coffee can help your training take off. Caffeine has ben shown to be a powerful aid in strength, endurance and power exercise performance.5 It provides alertness, focus and energy to tap into your strength while lifting. Caffeine appears in the blood stream 15 minutes after ingestion and peaks at about an hour after intake.6 Current general guidelines recommend 3-9 mg of caffeine per kilogram of bodyweight 60 minutes before exercise.6 For perspective, an average 8 oz hot coffee from Starbucks has between 130-180 mg caffeine. For a 65 kg person, this would translate to 195-585 mg of caffeine 60 minute prior to exercise.
Individual responses to caffeine and its impact on performance may be genetically predetermined. Those with genes which make them fast metabolizers of caffeine have shown in studies to exhibit a greater effect of caffeine on performance versus genetically slow metabolizers.6 Other factors such as habitual caffeine intake, training status, nutrient intake, menstrual cycle stage and source of caffeine may also impact its efficacy.6 Therefore, caffeine dosage and response has many factors that will impact it’s effect on your training performance.
Should you take a supplement with caffeine? Caffeine is available in various forms from coffee to energy drinks to caffeine pills. Most people can reach their caffeine needs through coffee or adding a hydration supplement like Nuun Hydration + Caffeine. Energy drinks often have other compounds in them such as taurine. Studies have shown there is a potential cardiovascular risk taking energy drinks with various compounds that can increase heart rate and blood pressue.7 Highly caffeinated drinks and supplements may pose a risk, so monitor your totally daily caffeine intake and response. Please note that college athletes that fall under NCAA regulations are prohibited from taking caffeine supplements to enhance performance.
The main factors in making strength gains are a training stimulus, nutrition and recovery. Having a balance of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, fruits and vegetables with various vitamins and minerals is key first. If you are new to supplements or just a recreational exerciser, starting with a protein supplement would be suffice to get started and maintain training. Enhancing your training and athletic abilities with creatine can helpful additive to an already solid nutrition foundation. Caffeine has its advantages. When choosing a source, be mindful of other ingredients that can interact.
As always, when beginning any supplement or nutrition plan, it is important to speak with a Sports Dietitian to get started. There are many factors to consider when taking supplements such as training status, goals, nutrition, health status and current medications that can interact. Strength training should be a fun, transformative process to makes you better at what you do each day. Enjoy the process and fuel for your intention.
Please note this blog is intended for educational purposes and is not to be used to treat or diagnose. These are general guidelines and may not be applicable to you. Nutrition is not innocuous so please contact me to set up a consult if you are interested in personal recommendations.
- Morton RW, Murphy KT, McKellar SR, et al. A systematic review, meta-analysis and meta-regression of the effect of protein supplementation on resistance training-induced gains in muscle mass and strength in healthy adults. Br J Sports Med. 2018;52(6):376-384. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2017-097608
- Szedlak, Christoph MSc1; Robins, Anna PhD2 Protein Requirements for Strength Training, Strength and Conditioning Journal: October 2012 – Volume 34 – Issue 5 – p 85-91 doi: 10.1519/SSC.0b013e31826dc3c4
- Valenzuela, P.L., Morales, J.S., Emanuele, E. et al. Supplements with purported effects on muscle mass and strength. Eur J Nutr 58, 2983–3008 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00394-018-1882-z
- Butts, Jessica et al. “Creatine Use in Sports.” Sports health vol. 10,1 (2018): 31-34. doi:10.1177/1941738117737248
- Grgic, Jozo et al. “Effects of caffeine intake on muscle strength and power: a systematic review and meta-analysis.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition vol. 15 11. 5 Mar. 2018, doi:10.1186/s12970-018-0216-0
- Pickering, Craig, and John Kiely. “Are the Current Guidelines on Caffeine Use in Sport Optimal for Everyone? Inter-individual Variation in Caffeine Ergogenicity, and a Move Towards Personalised Sports Nutrition.” Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.) vol. 48,1 (2018): 7-16. doi:10.1007/s40279-017-0776-1
- Grasser EK, Miles-Chan JL, Charrière N, Loonam CR, Dulloo AG, Montani JP. Energy Drinks and Their Impact on the Cardiovascular System: Potential Mechanisms. Adv Nutr. 2016;7(5):950-960. Published 2016 Sep 15. doi:10.3945/an.116.012526
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** Disclosure: I do receive a small commission as a result of sale of certain items from Orgain and Thorne.