We at earnyourstrength.com are big believers in the whole-food approach. With that said, some elite-level athletes may see great benefits through strength training supplements.
Understand that nutrition is your most valuable tool for strength promotion, but strength training supplements can take you one step further – accelerating recovery and boosting anabolic strength.
There is a reason why elite level athletes use strength training supplements. When you want to perform at a high level there will always be a place for concentrated forms of nutrition – after all, that’s what a supplement is.
Finding the best strength training supplement to help you push your limits starts at understanding how your body responds to fitness and strength training.
In my mind, the foundation of any good athlete should always be the knowledge and basic understanding of their sport or activity from the perspective of exercise physiology.
What is Strength Training?
Strength training is the practice of improving body composition through heavier lifts and more complex movements. Strength training is not necessarily concerned with how you look, but rather, how much you can lift in a set number of exercises.
The goals are similar to powerlifting or strongman in the sense that strength training requires you to lift heavier objects in a progressive routine in order to create more stressful and adaptive scenarios.
Unfortunately, strength training is not as simple as lifting more and more weight each week.
It is complex and in some cases can even be a very finite science. If you are interested in getting into the strength game I would suggest you do your homework and learn everything you can about how your body reacts to fitness before you jump under a barbell. Let’s start by discussing the physical demands of strength training and why strength training supplements can help.
Why The Body Requires Strength Training Supplements
All forms of fitness require your body to handle stress. I am not talking stress like the stress you have at work (cognitive stress) – here we are talking about physical stress.
Strength training, like many other forms of fitness, works off a stress/adapt cycle.
You use resistance (in the form of weight) to put stress on the muscles, creating small tears and abrasions on the muscle and then you rest, provide nutrition to recover in the hopes that your body adapts to that stress.
When your body adapts to the stress the muscles will grow larger and become more effective at that particular pattern or movement.
This is a very basic level of understanding of how the body adapts. For those beginners, you may realize that after a few weeks of doing the same exercises in the same rep/set range that your body begins to adapt quicker and sometimes does not grow larger.
When you see a plateau point (hopefully ou are recording your workouts in a log-book) you need to create a more stressful environment or change the stimulus that is stressing the body.
This is one of the main reasons why CrossFit will always see very rapid results – the stimuli (training protocols) are constantly changing and your body has to go into overdrive mode to either adapt or fail.
In the realm of strength training, there are three very important concepts you need to keep in mind.
These concepts rule how your body deals with adaption towards strength and size.
1. More Glycogen = More Power
You may have heard this word before. Glycogen is a metabolite of carbohydrates. It is the lifeblood of human performance – especially in the world of strength training.
Muscle glycogen and ATP are the primary fuel reserves for strength training and high-intensity exercise.
Ensuring that your body has enough glycogen will come down to your diet. Glycogen comes from carbohydrates and this means you need to be sure you are getting enough carbs. There are decades of concrete science that shows why you need carbs in your diet and the importance of them for strength.
Want to learn more about carbohydrates? Check out our past article on carbohydrates and exercise.
The important takehome here is that your body uses glycogen to power muscle contractions. You cannot be a strength athlete without a sufficient amount of clean and accessible carbohydrates in your diet.
2. ATP is King
Adenosine triphosphate or ATP is an energy molecule for exercise.
ATP is the true energy compound that allows you to create short-duration powerful movements.
When your muscle contracts (especially under great resistance) you lose a phosphate – leaving you with ADP (adenosine diphosphate) which cannot be used as a fuel source.
This is where phosphocreatine come into play. See my video on ATP as it relates to creatine supplementation here.
In order for your body to resynthesize ATP as use it as a fuel source for more contractions, your body must draw phosphocreatine from the cell. When you have more phosphocreatine you can resynthesize faster – which is the main argument for creatine supplementation.
3. Recovery Through Protein Synthesis
The last aspect to consider is how your muscles recover. There is a strange idea that protein helps fuel you for exercise – which is just simply incorrect.
Protein in your diet helps to form connective tissue. It is the brick and mortar that holds everything together and is important for recovery – but not fuel.
Protein in your diet should be based on how hard you exercise and how much you weigh. If you are heavy and exercise frequently than your body will have a higher demand for protein.
The most simple way to calculate your protein demands is to use 1.2g/kg of body weight.
Example: A heavy lifter who weighs 220 pounds (100kg, 2.2lbp in a kg.) would consume about 120g of protein daily.
100kg x 1.2g of protein = 120g a day.
3 Best Strength Training Supplements
1. Creatine Monohydrate
The bread and butter of any strength athlete. Creatine monohydrate will help your body to have a greater supply of phosphocreatine to draw from for recovery and power.
Decades of research have shown the importance of creatine monohydrate and creatine HCL. Both are effective, but creatine monohydrate has been around for much longer and in my mind is the more effective source of supplemental creatine.
Creatine dosage will differ from person to person (depending on their training) but do your best to take 5-7g a day after a workout – or before if you are not drinking caffeine.
Check out my favourite creatine supplement here.
Perhaps not completely essential to a strength athlete but beta-alanine can be a very effective supplement for those who are overloading on weeks with higher rep schemes (popular for hypertrophy).
Beta-alanine has been shown to help limit and reduce the onset of lactic acid. This can help you to train longer without feeling the effects of fatigue.
If this sounds like something that could help your training I’d urge you to check out my personal favourite beta-alanine supplement with this link.
Commonly known as a ZMA supplement, the combination of these three ingredients has been shown to help improve athletic performance, increase sleep and have an overall positive effect on the balance or hormones.
Using this supplement will have a huge dependence on how effective your diet already is. For those who have a clean and well-balanced diet – it may not be important. For those engaged in strenuous strength training with a sub-optimal diet (traditional American diet), this should be something on your watch list.
4. Pumpkin Seed Protein
We cannot forget the importance of having a wholesome source of protein in our diet.
The manufacturing process is much more simple than what you get from whey/casein or even pea proteins and the price reflects that.
Using pumpkin seed protein after a workout and before you go to sleep can help to provide your muscles with a good supply of dietary protein for recovery and strength.
VegaSPORT is by far my favourite pumpkin seed protein. You can find more information about it here.
Bottom Line: Strength Takes Time and Dedication
Look – it really doesn’t matter how hard you train – if your diet is bad you will never see the results you are looking for.
Dedicated to your training program and want to dominate your competition? Check out our nutrition guides and strength training programs. Use the link below!