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Size. Speed. Performance. Improvements in each are the pathway to success in all forms of athletic endeavor. To get there, though, you need to maximize workout production. You need to do more work in the same time interval, add more volume, lift more weight. In short, you need to increase strength and power.
Before we get to the supplementation strategies for achieving that goal, it should be noted that there are numerous highly effective training, nutritional, and lifestyle adaptations that are central to optimization of strength and power. You should be making sure you're eating enough and implementing a balanced, healthy meal plan. You should be varying your workouts and emphasizing compound movements. You should be keeping a training journal and using visualization techniques. The list goes on.
Supplements, as we always say, are not magic bullets. You have to put in the work and make the correct choices to reap the rewards. Use supplements to support the efforts cited above and you will attain your strength and power objectives. Which supplements? Well, read on.
What is strength? Strength is the combined end result of a number of intramuscular outcomes involving muscle contractility, blood flow, nutrient delivery, hydration and waste removal, which when maximized lead to enhanced muscle power and endurance. Investigations into the cellular mechanics of hydration, waste removal and the postponement of fatigue have led researchers to betaine, also known as trimethylglycine, a nutrient that helps support cell hydration and volume during the dehydration, stress, and metabolite accumulation associated with high-intensity exercise.
Early evidence of positive outcomes of betaine supplementation collected from clinical studies has been encouraging. For instance, in a published College of New Jersey study, athletes supplementing with this osmolytic agent experienced an increase of 30% in squat repetitions after 7 days of supplementation and 60% after 14 days, as well as significant increases in the quality of repetitions performed. Betaine also works in combination with other strength and power-enhancing factors to support performance. In a recent study published in the journal Amino Acids, study participants supplemented with placebo, creatine, or a combination of betaine and creatine over a period of 10 days. The creatine/betaine supplemented subjects experienced significant increases in power output during squat exercises when compared to the placebo group. Creatine/betaine supplementation led to significantly greater increases in maximal upper-body and lower-body strength as well.
Which brings us to the big daddy of supplemental strength support. If we haven't laid out enough evidence to convince you to make creatine a regular part of your daily regimen by now, we just don't know what to say. Creatine, especially in its monohydrate form, has been associated with positive effects on strength and endurance increase, training capacity, muscle mass, and overall cell hydration and volumization in literally hundreds of clinically studies conducted all around the world.
In fact, a comprehensive review article published in 2015 in the journal Sports Medicine offered a meta-analysis of over 60 clinical studies devoted to creatine’s impact on physique and performance. It concluded that creatine not only increased strength across the board for test subjects receiving creatine, but it did so irrespective of training background, training protocol, dose taken or duration. Enough said? Yeah, we thought so.
Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP)
Supplement researchers have long been familiar with the central role ATP availability plays in muscle strength and performance. When energy is needed to facilitate muscle contraction, ATP is broken down in the cell, unleashing energy to transport protein and fats into and out of cells, support intercellular communication, facilitate DNA and RNA synthesis, and trigger muscular contraction. Since our bodies keep very little ATP in reserve, however, it was believed that little could be done to optimize its function. And then scientists began to look at the benefits to be accrued by increasing ATP availability outside the cell via precisely timed dosing of ATP before workouts.
Specifically, in In a 2012 double-blinded, placebo-controlled study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, sixteen participants received either supplemental ATP (400 mg/day) or a placebo for 15 days. The researchers found that subjects who supplemented with ATP for 15 days experienced reduced muscle fatigue and improved ability to maintain a higher force output at the end of an exhaustive exercise bout. The authors speculated that supplemental ATP may provide cumulative benefits in strenuous, repetitive, and exhaustive exercise activities, which could lead to improved strength and lean body mass gains.
In another study, conducted by researchers at the University of Tampa, twenty-one resistance trained males took either 400 mg of a patented form of ATP or placebo. Muscle mass, strength and power were measured at baseline and at weeks 4, 8, and 12. The results were dramatic. Test subjects who supplemented with Peak ATP® experienced an average of 147% increase in strength compared to placebo (55.3 kg vs. 22.4 kg), as well as a 30% increase in power (796 vs. 614 watts), a 100% increase in lean body mass (4.0 kg vs. 2.1 kg), and a 96% increase in muscle thickness (4.9 mm vs. 2.5 mm).
Research into the connection between ATP supplementation and strength increase is still in its infancy, and much more investigation needs to be done. However, given the promising early results and the appearance of patented nutraceutical sources of ATP such as Peak ATP®, which is identical in structure to actual human ATP, this area of supplemental science is certainly worth keeping an eye on.
Compared to the cutting-edge supplementation technologies cited above, Vitamin D might seem like a humble addition to this list. But Vitamin D has some surprising benefits to offer athletes looking for a strength and power advantage. In a study conducted in 2012 and published in the Journal of Sports Sciences, researchers recruited 14 footballers from a Premier League club academy and supplemented half with 5000IU of vitamin D per day for eight weeks, the other half a placebo. The players did a battery of physical tests before and after supplementation. The supplement group saw a significant improvement in their vertical jump and 10m sprint performance, compared to the placebo group, and there was a trend toward significance in improvements in 1-RM bench press and back squat as well.
For you men who are reading, a 2010 study published in the journal Hormone and Metabolic Research, featured healthy male subjects given 3332 iu of Vitamin D3 per day for a year. At the end of that year, those subjects ended up having 25.2% higher T-levels when compared to placebo. Vitamin D supplementation is also associated with better bone mass support and immune function.
The more scientists investigate leucine, the more they recognize that this essential amino acid is the key that cranks the engine of protein synthesis. Leucine is one the three branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) and the primary activator of the mTOR anabolic pathway that governs protein synthesis and consequent muscle repair and growth. In fact, without sufficient leucine present, muscle tissue will remain in a negative nitrogen balance post-exercise and protein synthesis will not initiate at all. So leucine not only provides the building blocks for protein synthesis, it also plays a critical role in up-regulating the process. Thus, adding additional leucine to your diet is an effective strategy to maximize muscle size, strength and power after resistance exercise. How much leucine? The general consensus based on clinical studies suggests that intake of about 2.5 grams of leucine (in a 2:1:1 ratio of leucine to isoleucine to valine, the other BCAAs) is sufficient to stimulate protein synthesis.
Will probiotics, on their own, make you stronger? Of course not. But they will help you assimilate and utilize the nutrients that support strength increase. The more we learn about our "gut biomes," the more we recognize just how varied and numerous the strains of microorganisms are that populate it and how specialized each one is. Unfortunately, when subjected to one-dimensional diets high in carbs and fats and low in other beneficial food sources like cruciferous greens, that diversity of bacteria dwindles and nutrient absorption is impaired. Supplementation with a high-quality probiotic formula that contains several strains of microbiota, combined with a healthy, well-balanced meal plan (so those new strains of bacteria have something to eat) can revitalize and re-energize you generally and provide your muscles with the nutrients they need to thrive, grow and perform maximally.
Baguet A. et al., 2009. Carnosine loading and washout in human skeletal muscles. J Appl Physiol, 106: 837-842. And Harris RC, et al., 2006. The absorption of orally supplied beta-alanine and its effect on muscle carnosine synthesis in human vastus lateralis. Amino Acids, 30(3): 279-289.
Stout JR, et al., 2006. Effects of twenty-eight days of beta-alanine and creatine monohydrate supplementation on the physical working capacity at the neuromuscular fatigue threshold. J Strngth & Cond. Rsrch, 20(4): 928-931.
Smith A E, et al., 2009. Effects of beta-alanine supplementation and high level intensity interval training on endurance performance and body composition in men—a double-blind trial. J Int Soc Sports Nutr., 6: 5.
Lanhers, C., B. Pereira, G. Naughton, M. Trousselard, F. X. Lesage, and F. Dutheil. 2015. "Creatine Supplementation and Lower Limb Strength Performance: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analyses." Sports Med 45 (9):1285-94. doi: 10.1007/s40279-015-0337-4.
Rathmacher, J. A., Fuller, J. C., Baier, S. M., Abumrad, N. N., Angus, H. F., & Sharp, R. L. (2012). Adenosine-5-triphosphate (ATP) supplementation improves low peak muscle torque and torque fatigue during repeated high intensity exercise sets. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 9(1), 48.
Lowery, RP, et. al. Oral ATP administration improves blood flow responses to both animal and human training models. Presnted at the 10th Annual ISSN Conference. Colorado Springs, CO. June, 2013.
Assessment of vitamin D concentration in non-supplemented professional athletes and healthy adults during the winter months in the UK: Implications for skeletal muscle function. Close, Graeme, Cobley, James, et al. Journal of Sports Sciences 31(4), October 2012.
Horm Metab Res. 2011 Mar;43(3):223-5. doi: 10.1055/s-0030-1269854. Epub 2010 Dec 10. Effect of vitamin D supplementation on testosterone levels in men.
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