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Supplement Stacking For Power
How to use the science of supplementation to help jack up your mass with the power stack!
In this feature we take a look at the best supplements to stack for building power. Although physics majors technically define power as the product of strength times speed, we’ll use a slightly modified definition that includes the best supplements that could be used to increase explosiveness, strength, and muscular endurance.
The supplements in this article could benefit just about any type of athlete or bodybuilder. I’ve broken things down into an A-, B-, and C-lists. The A-list includes supplements that are essential for all goals, including power. The B-list supplements are what I consider the most effective power-boosting supplements, and you should add these to your stack after you have your A-list essentials covered. Lastly, the C-list supplements are those that I consider effective but would use only for specific situations and after you have your A- and B-list supplements covered.
A-LIST POWER STACK
The essential supplements are the foundation of your power-stacking supplement plan. A-list supplements should be prioritized over everything else. All of the essential supplements that I recommend should be the foundation for virtually all supplement stacking plans, no matter what your goal is. My A-list essentials include a multivitamin/mineral, greens powder, EFAs, and a fibre supplement. For optimal power and performance, I’d add a good whey protein powder and high-molecular-weight carbohydrate supplement too. Although most of these (aside from the carbs) aren’t directly going to affect power and performance, if you don’t have your nutritional foundation in order with these supplement essentials, you’ll never maximize your body’s potential to achieve any goal. Make sure you cover the basics before you get ahead of yourself and start adding the B- and C-list supplements to your power stack plan.
1. Multivitamins and Minerals
Athletes looking to maximize power and performance must ensure that their micronutrient needs are met. Often, during intense power- and strength-training phases, athletes deplete levels of micronutrients, especially certain vitamins and minerals. Supplementing with a high-quality multivitamin/mineral ensures that micronutrient stores are replenished to optimal levels on a daily basis.
2. Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) / Fish Oil
Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are extremely important to power and strength athletes for a few different reasons. First, EFAs are essential nutrients that play a key role in a countless number of biological processes in the body. They must be obtained from diet or supplementation as they can’t be made by the body. If an ample supply isn’t taken in on a daily basis, all aspects of physical and mental performance can be negatively affected. Fish oil is a great source of the popular omega-3 fats docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Hemp, safflower, and flax are other excellent healthy fat sources.
3. Greens Products
Daily use of a top-quality greens supplement can have several beneficial effects on power, strength, and performance. In fact, when it comes to performance, it’s probably the most important of all the essential supplements! Greens supplements are alkaline and help maintain acid-base balance in the body. During intense exercise and training, your body produces more acid, which is that burning feeling in your muscles. This buildup of acid and waste is what shuts your muscles down and causes failure and fatigue. Not a good thing, obviously! Because greens supplements have an alkalinizing effect on the body, they help prevent acid buildup and can support greater power and performance.
4. Fibre Supplements
An adequate amount of fibre in your diet will help ensure proper health of your digestive tract. A healthy digestive tract is important because it allows your body to more efficiently absorb the nutrients it needs for optimal performance. Some of you might already have enough fibre in your diet. If you do, it’s not essential to use a supplement. Just remember, it’s important to take in a balance of both types of fibre, soluble and insoluble.
5. Whey Protein Powder
Whey protein powder is considered an essential supplement for power and performance, mainly because of its ability to help improve recovery from intense power- and strength-training sessions. In fact, some clinical studies conducted on athletes show that whey protein supplementation (both acute and chronic) can enhance performance. The best time to take in whey protein is immediately after your workout.
6. High-Molecular-Weight Carbohydrates
Carb powders, especially high-molecular-weight carb powders, can dramatically affect power and performance. Waxy maize starch (WMS) is the most commonly used high-molecular-weight carb, and it’s much different than other types of carbs. WMS’s high molecular weight minimizes its osmolality, which means how much water it pulls around it. Its low osmolality allows it to rapidly move through the stomach and quickly get to muscle tissue, which not only improves performance but also speeds recovery. Just like whey protein, the best time to use a carb powder is immediately after your workout. Many athletes also like to sip on carb drinks during training and competition to help boost performance.
B-LIST POWER STACK
THE BEST PERFORMANCE ENHANCERS
The B-list supplements can almost be considered essential for optimal power, strength, and performance and can be added to your stack after your A-list essentials are covered! Creatine, BCAAs, caffeine, l-tyrosine, betaine and beta-alanine top my list. Many top-quality pre-, intra-, and post-workout powders could also fall into this category, but for the purposes of this article, I’ll highlight the ones I just mentioned.
Creatine is the most heavily studied sports supplement and could really be considered an essential supplement for max power. Creatine plays a key role in the body’s immediate (ATP) energy system and helps recycle ATP faster for greater power, strength, and recovery. After ingestion, creatine acts as an energy and pH buffer during intense exercise. Creatine kinase catalyzes a reaction between free creatine and phosphate ions (from the breakdown of ATP to ADP), resulting in phosphocreatine (PCr), which is then locked into the muscle cell due to its strong negative charge. PCr then reacts with ADP to form more ATP during exercise. All of this results in more energy and faster recovery between bouts of high-intensity exercise!
2. Caffeine and Other Stimulants
Caffeine is one of the most popular performance enhancers because it works so well. It’s especially popular with power and strength athletes because of its ability to improve mental alertness, cognition, physical endurance, and even max strength. Caffeine might be an old ingredient, but it’s still one of the most effective. Other stimulants such as ephedrine and dendrobium are also popular with athletes, especially those who’ve already built up a tolerance to caffeine. These stims can also be used to effectively improve performance, but use a bit of caution when stacking and dosing them together.
3. Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)
BCAAs can improve power and performance in two different ways. First, they have a glycogen sparing effect during exercise. Glycogen is the form of carbohydrates that are stored in muscle and what is used to fuel your workouts. Research show that BCAAs spare muscle and liver glycogen stores and increase fuel supply to working muscles during exercise. The other way that BCAA supplementation can improve performance is by preventing central nervous system (CNS) fatigue during intense exercise. As you increase your activity and intensity level, your serotonin levels increase, and this can cause mental fatigue or feelings of sluggishness. BCAAs share the same transporter system with tryptophan. BCAA supplementation causes competitive inhibition of tryptophan transport to the brain, and in turn, this reduces serotonin. This reduction in serotonin allows you to train with greater intensity and mental focus, which will contribute to greater power and performance!
Tyrosine is an amino acid involved in the production of neurotransmitters in the brain. More specifically, tyrosine is a precursor to norepinephrine, an excitatory neurotransmitter that has a major effect on mental focus and energy production. Research shows that tyrosine supplementation can help improve strength and endurance when combined with compounds such as caffeine. Just make sure you take at least a couple grams of the stuff to fully reap its performance-enhancing benefits!
Betaine is a derivative of the amino acid glycine and is found in foods such as spinach and beets. One physiological function attributed to betaine is an ability to protect muscle cells against dehydration by acting as an osmolyte, thereby increasing water retention within cells. Research also shows that betaine can lower homocysteine levels and reduce inflammation. This results in greater blood flow and nutrient delivery to muscle tissue. Finally, betaine also acts as a methyl donor by providing a methyl group to guanidinoacetate via methionine that can synthesize creatine in skeletal muscle. Sorry, I know that was a bit technical, but I think you get the point: This stuff works! A lot of new research is now coming out proving betaine’s performance-enhancing abilities. Several studies show it improves, power, strength, and even endurance! Look for this ingredient to gain even more popularity over the next few years.
Beta-alanine is a very popular supplement with many athletes because of its ability to buffer acidic waste product in muscle during intense exercise. When beta-alanine is used as a supplement, it’s taken up by your muscles, and together with histidine, is resynthesized into carnosine by an enzyme called carnosine synthetase. An increase in intramuscular carnosine levels can increase the buffering capacity of a muscle by up to 20 percent. By increasing the buffering capacity of muscle, beta-alanine supplementation can result in a dramatic delay in muscle fatigue and failure, and considerable improvements in muscular strength and endurance. Though beta-alanine has solid research backing its effectiveness, it’s never been one of my favorite supplements because of the tingling effect it has on the skin (which I find too uncomfortable). I’ve tried the time-released versions of beta-alanine but didn’t find they worked quite as well. That said, many others get great results from beta-alanine.
C-LIST POWER STACK
ADDITIONAL RECOVERY AND SUPPORT SUPPLEMENTS
If you have the A-list and B-list supplements covered and find your body still isn’t recovering fast enough from your training, consider adding glutamine and carnitine to your power stack. In addition, a joint-support supplement can be extremely valuable if joint issues are holding back your progress.
Research shows that intense exercise causes a decrease in plasma glutamine levels. In fact, one study examined the glutamine levels in various types of athletes and found that powerlifters have predominantly low plasma glutamine levels. Overtraining is another factor that can affect glutamine levels in the body. A decline in glutamine levels can negatively affect both performance and recovery. Thankfully, this can easily be corrected with glutamine supplementation.
Although carnitine is most well known for its fat-burning properties, it can also improve performance and recovery from intense exercise. In fact, carnitine plays a key role in muscle glycogen metabolism. Carnitine supplementation increases
muscle glycogen storage and improves ATP production, which improves strength and delays fatigue. From a recovery standpoint, carnitine decreases production of free radicals and reduces muscle tissue damage and soreness from exercise via improvements in muscle cell biomechanics.
3. Joint-Support Supplements
Joint-support supplements could be considered an essential supplement for those with moderate or serious joint issues. If joint function is hampered by injury or inflammation, power and performance will undoubtedly suffer. Glucosamine sulfate, rose hip, and anti-inflammatory agents such as Boswellia serrata and turmeric/curcumin are my favorite joint-support supplements.
Put Your Power Plan Together and Get Started!
Now that you have a good understanding of the A-, B-, and C-list power stacking supplements, get to work and create your personalized stack! Power and strength are almost
always generated from a solid base, and the same goes for your supplement stack. So always make sure you create your stack with the essentials at the top of your list!
Photos: Dave Laus and Getty Images