We all know there’s no secret formula for gaining strength and muscle mass. It’s all about putting our time in at the gym and eating healthy outside of it. However, sometimes we can be doing everything right – lifting weights, consuming a healthy diet, staying hydrated, recovering properly – and the gains that we’re expecting just aren’t matching the effort that we’re putting in. When that happens, it’s time to take a step back and look at the bigger picture.
The first question that we should be asking ourselves is: Are we giving our bodies all the nutrients that it requires? If we’re not bulking up the way that we think we should be, chances are that our muscles aren’t getting the specific amino acids and macronutrients that they need to properly repair, and come back bigger. That’s when we should consider taking supplements to help us achieve peak physical performance, or tweak the supplements that we’ve already been taking.
While protein is often the first thing that comes to mind when we think about building muscle, there are many other supplements and molecules that we should be taking to build muscle, as well. There are also supplements to help our muscles fight fatigue, allowing us to power through our workouts. But with so many supplements available out there, how do we know the ones that we should be taking in order to achieve peak performance? And how do we know if the nutrients we’re taking will interfere with one another or not? That’s where supplement stacking comes into the mix.
What Is A Supplement Stack?
A ‘supplement stack’ is the name given to a group of supplements that we take in order to support our health needs and fitness goals. In other words, it’s a combination of supplements that we take every day to improve our performance.
Why Is It Important To Stack Supplements?
In order to achieve peak physical production, we need to tend to our entire body. By strategically combining our nutrients, we can enhance our physical performance, stamina, or recovery. That’s why our goal for supplement stacking should always be to stack supplements that work in tandem with each other (and food) to create the best nutrient delivery possible. By being mindful about the supplements in our stack, we’ll be able to avoid taking compounds that cancel each other out.
Stacking supplements can also save us money, while ensuring that we’re actually getting all of the scientifically proven supplementation that we need. By formulating our own pre-workout, intra-workout, and post-workout supplement stacks, we can gain control of our supplementation and get more out of our workouts.
What Are Some Examples of Supplement Stacks?
Muscle Building Stack
When stacking supplements, it’s important for us to focus on one goal at a time. By doing this, we’ll be able to avoid taking multiple compounds that have opposing effects, which will then cancel each out. So, here’s a look at supplements that you may wish to include in a muscle building stack, as well as the reasons why stacking these products will optimize results.
Protein (Whey and Casein): We all know that protein is the building block of all the cells in our body, and that its primary function is to build and repair muscle cells. While we can get protein from the foods that we eat like meat, beans, and eggs, a protein supplement can help us achieve our workout goals. That’s because one of the things that most young athletes and bodybuilders need is more protein to help build muscle mass and support recovery for training. Whey protein is considered the best protein to take before and after workouts as it digests quickly, is rich in branched-chain amino acids, and its peptides boost blood flow. The other major milk protein is casein, which, when taken after workouts, increases protein synthesis (the process that leads to muscle growth), as well as whey. Since whey and casein work better together than either works alone, you should add them to your stack, consuming equal amounts of both.
Creatine: Studies have shown that creatine can enhance lean body mass, increase strength, enhance energy levels, increase muscle size, and help with fat loss (allowing us to show off our muscles better). Taken pre-workout, creatine provides energy (ATP). When taken post-workout, creatine monohydrate can replenish and boost muscle creatine stores. Most guys can expect to gain around 10 pounds of muscle, and see a 10% strength increase when taking creatine.
Beta-Alanine: Beta-alanine is an amino acid that can boost the muscle building effects of creatine. Research has shown that stacking beta-alanine with creatine can significantly improve exercise endurance performance.
Branched-Chain Amino Acids: Leucine, isoleucine, and valine are the three branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), which are considered ‘essential’ amino acids because our bodies can’t manufacture them. Similar to protein, we can only get BCAAs through food sources like red meat, dairy, chicken, fish, and eggs. Taking BCAAs pre-workout and intra-workout conserves our muscle BCCA stores, increases fatigue resistance, protects our body from catabolism (breaking down large molecules into smaller units), and decreases recovery time.
Citrulline: Citrulline is an amino acid that helps to prevent muscle fatigue. A single pre-workout dose of citrulline has been shown to combat exercise-induced fatigue, increase time to exhaustion, and decrease muscle soreness. Once L-citrulline is in circulation, it is converted to L-arginine by the kidneys, leading to increases in blood levels of L-arginine and nitric oxide.
Fish Oil: Not only is fish oil a great supplement for us to take for our general health because it helps lower inflammation, it also helps us with our workouts since less inflammation means faster muscle recovery. The Omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil also help our muscles synthesize bulk-building protein better, according to a study.
Energy and strength go hand in hand. Therefore, a stack that enhances energy levels will also help us with our overall strength. Here are some supplements to consider for our energy stack.
Caffeine: A central nervous system stimulant, caffeine has the ability to pump us up whenever we need a much-needed jolt. Caffeine has also been found to enhance muscle strength on its own when taken an hour before workouts.
L-Theanine: Combining L-theanine, which is a naturally occurring amino acid in tea, with caffeine may help increase energy and cognitive performance. A study, which looked at the effects of L-theanine and L-theanine with caffeine on attention levels in healthy males, found that high doses of L-theanine with caffeine improved attention levels the most.
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10): CoQ10 is an antioxidant that improves energy and strengthens the immune system. Researchers in a review found a consistent link between low levels of CoQ10 and fatigue. Those of us who aren’t getting enough CoQ10 through our diet (eating foods like oily fish, whole grains, and liver) should consider adding it to our energy stack.
Henry Cavill’s Supplement Stack
Another way to learn about supplement stacks is to take a closer look at the nutrition strategies of top fitness professionals, athletes, and people who have to constantly train for their profession. Henry Cavill, an actor, fitness enthusiast, and MuscleTech’s new Chief Creative Director, happens to be someone who is constantly training for his roles. He recently took us behind the curtain and shared his supplement stack with the MuscleTech community. Henry Cavill’s supplement stack includes:
MuscleTech Grass-Fed 100% Whey Protein: In order to get his workout sessions in on days when he’s filming, Cavill wakes up between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. Then he has a protein shake with oatmeal for breakfast. Cavill uses MuscleTech’s Grass-Fed 100% Whey Protein, which contains 20 grams of protein and just 140 calories per 35 grams. Consuming protein before exercise has been shown to reduce muscle soreness after it, thus improving recovery.
MuscleTech Shatter Elite Pre-Workout: Before Cavill has soft tissue work from his physiotherapist, Freddie Murray of Remedy, he takes MuscleTech’s Shatter Elite Pre-Workout. It incorporates an array of active ingredients like caffeine, which is proven to extend endurance and fight fatigue. A single scoop of Shatter Elite delivers 350 milligrams of caffeine, which is about the same amount as five espressos. “This stuff is fantastic,” says Cavill. “It is absolutely what I need to get through my workout in the morning. Especially considering it is so early.”
MuscleTech Amino Build Elite: The final supplement in Cavill’s stack is MuscleTech Amino Build Elite. Cavill says he takes it, “Just to make sure that I am maximizing the potential of my workout.” Amino Build Elite provides 12.7 grams of amino acids, including 8 grams of BCAAs, and is formulated with ingredients that drive peak performance.