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Muscle Growth Supplements: Do Pre and Post-Workout Supplements Actually Work?

Are Muscle Growth Supplements The Answer?

Bigger, faster, leaner, stronger. We’re always looking to squeeze out an edge. So if muscle growth supplements present a better way to achieve that goal, why not take them?

That’s the very premise of nearly every supplement on the market. Purportedly, they provide an advantage; accelerated weight loss and bigger gains. They’re here to make things easy.

Naturally, it’s not surprising that most will wholeheartedly buy into the promises. Unfortunately, a lot of people do so without getting to know the product or how and if it actually works.

After all, the supplement industry is notoriously unregulated. As a result, the FDA doesn’t test or verify any of the purported benefits.

Fortunately, even though there’s no federal regulation and claim checking, there is some research to guide us. Specifically, there is enough data to determine whether some of these supplements actually deliver on their promises.

The Research

We know the claims; pre and post workout supplements are supposedly filled with every kind of beneficial nutrient. But before determining if they really do, it’s worth finding out if those nutrients really are beneficial.

The crux of the pro-supplement argument is that we need more. That doesn’t only pertain to supplementation, but to the way we consume as a whole. We’re always looking for more, and when it’s packaged and relatively inexpensive, we subscribe wholeheartedly.

So look at it this way, do you really need more? Or are you wasting money and potentially harming your health for something totally superfluous?

Carbs & Co.

A study1 published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine tackled that subject head on. The researchers determined whether post-exercise consumption of protein and leucine in addition to a high-glycemic carb would “augment insulin secretion,” thus inducing “net protein deposition in muscle.”

Their findings reflected the consensus. Specifically, the authors noted that consuming leucine and protein along with carbohydrates after a workout “increases skeletal muscle hypertrophy and strength.”

The study even acknowledged – although tacitly – that “post-exercise recovery drinks containing these nutrients in conjunction with appropriate exercise training” will lead to the aforementioned results.

Hence, the researchers went beyond recommending a combination of essential amino acids and protein on top of carbohydrates. They suggested that pre-bottled supplemental drinks are an adequate way of getting those nutrients.

Method of Delivery

Making things easier is the name of the game. If we know that a cocktail of nutrients is better than carbohydrates alone, would a supplement that conveniently puts it all into a bottle really be best the mode of delivery?

After all, the aforementioned study suggested concentrated on the ideal nutrient mix. The researchers only mentioned bottled drinks as an afterthought.

Fortunately, a 2011 study2 published in Nutrition & Metabolism examined the effects of “28 days of heavy resistance exercise while consuming commercially available pre and post-workouts’ supplements.”

The researchers measured various body composition markers; “muscle strength, mass, and protein synthesis markers” to gauge the pre and post-workout supplements’ effects.

Their findings encouraged pre and post-workout drink supplements, to say the least.

The authors stated that “heavy resistance training with NO-Shotgun® and NO-Synthesize® ingested before and after exercise, respectively, significantly improved body composition and increased muscle mass and performance without abnormally impacting any of the clinical chemistry markers.”

That kind of appraisal borders on an endorsement. The NO marketing team missed a golden opportunity if it didn’t copy the words verbatim and plaster them over every product label.

There are two ways to interpret the study. On the surface, pre-bottled muscle growth supplements are a miracle. But looking deeper, their only benefit over whole foods is convenience.

Muscle Growth Supplements and CrossFit

Verging beyond resistance training, University of Mary Hardin-Baylor researchers explored whether supplements had a positive effect on other athletes. Specifically, the study3 examined the link between supplements and subjects participating in CrossFit.

The results were unsurprisingly positive. After all, CrossFit incorporates facets of resistance training while compounding elevated heart rates.

During the study, researchers administered “19 g of a pre-workout 30 minutes before a workout and protein (females: 20 g; males: 40 g) and carbohydrate (females: 40 g; males: 80 g) immediately after each workout.”

Meanwhile, the control group “consumed only water one hour before or after workouts.”

At the study’s conclusion, the authors noted that “the combination of proprietary supplements taken for 6 weeks may provide benefits during certain sport-specific performance in trained CrossFit athletes but not others.”

So Where Does That Leave Us

If the convenience is unquestionable, and the research is conclusive, why not take pre-mixed muscle growth supplements?

The crux isn’t on whether they work. The aforementioned research clearly shows they do. It’s rather; are they necessary?

The problem is, almost all pre and post-workout supplements embellish their formulas with a “proprietary blend” label, so you really don’t know what you’re putting into your body.

Hence, you don’t even know if you’re getting sufficient quantities of the beneficial stuff, like essential amino acids and protein.

Worse, there’s zero disclosure as to other additives. What else did the manufacturer add? Nature doesn’t produce blue raspberries, and even if it did, it’s unlikely that the developer didn’t employ a more cost-effective method to sweeten up your drink than extracting sugar from the plant.

What the Studies Actually Say  

The research shows that supplements are conducive to optimal recovery. But if we go further, we can see the bigger picture.

It’s not the pre-mixed muscle growth supplements that are beneficial, but the nutrients they contain and you can get those same nutrients from whole foods while skipping all the additives and proprietary blends.    

To exemplify the point; a Baylor University study4 concluded that “whey protein and amino acid supplementation aided 10 weeks worth of heavy resistance training by resulting in greater increases of fat-free mass compared to carbohydrates alone.”

Hence, the nutrients deliver the benefits. How you consume them is a matter of convenience. But, if the results are the same, why load up on artificial sugars, additives, and proprietary blends?

If you’re really in a rush, drink a chocolate milk.

Homemade Pre-Workout 

If a chocolate fat-free chocolate milk doesn’t sound appealing, you can always make your own pre-workout at home. Here are a couple recommendations off a classic Reddit threat;

Caffeine 200mg Caffeine is a powerful stimulant, and it can be used to improve physical strength and endurance. It is classified as a Nootropic because it sensitizes neurons and provides mental stimulation. (Examine.com)
Beta Alanine 3 grams Beta-alanine has been shown to enhance muscular endurance. Many people report being able to perform one or two additional reps in the gym when training in sets of 8-15 repetitions. Beta-alanine supplementation can also improve moderate to high intensity cardiovascular exercise performance, like rowing or sprinting. (Examine.com)
Creatine 5 grams Creatine’s main action in the body is storing high-energy phosphate groups in the form of phosphocreatine. During periods of stress, phosphocreatine releases energy to aid cellular function. This is what causes strength increases after creatine supplementation, but this action can also aid the brain, bones, muscles and liver. Most of the benefits of creatine are provided through this mechanism. (Examine.com)
(Optional) Citrulline 5-10 grams L-Citrulline is used as a sports performance and cardiovascular health supplement. L-Citrulline supplementation results in reduced fatigue and improved endurance for both aerobic and anaerobic prolonged exercise. There is not enough evidence to support the claim that L-citrulline supplementation improves power output during exercise. (Examine.com)
(Optional) BCAAs 5-10 grams BCAA supplementation, for people with low dietary protein intake, can promote muscle protein synthesis and increase muscle growth over time. It can also be used to prevent fatigue in novice athletes. (Examine.com)

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