NUTRITION COUNTDOWN

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It’s 30 minutes until your next workout. Quick, what should you take to ensure high-performance energy levels, monstrous strength and ample supplies of nutrients to kick-start muscle growth processes?

We stumped some of you, didn’t we? Plenty of bodybuilders start bashing the weights after hitting a fast-food drive-through, after wolfing down a protein bar or even while running on empty. Most guys simply don’t give a lot of consideration to their nutritional attack — even guys who will spend hours meticulously planning out exercises, sets and reps are often guilty of putting zero thought into the food and supplements that will actually fuel their training session.

That’s a mistake, and one you can put an end to right here. We’ve mapped out the nine top supplements for bodybuilders in preworkout mode, along with the best carb foods for stoking your body’s growth and energy furnace. Use this as your guide, and you’ll have improved power, energy levels, endurance and focus next time you train.

#1 WHEY PROTEIN
First on your list is supplying your body with critical amino acids needed not only as building blocks for muscle growth, but for energy during training. If your body uses the amino acids from whey protein, it won’t have to break down existing muscle protein to get aminos for fuel, which obviously could compromise your muscle size.

THE RESEARCH SAYS Drinking a whey protein shake immediately before you lift is even better for stimulating muscle growth than waiting until after the workout is over. Taking in a small amount of whey protein (without carbs) before you do cardio may also help you burn more fat when you exercise.

TIMING AND DOSAGE Having a whey protein before exercise is your best bet, as it is a quick-digesting protein, which means your body will get the aminos it needs, fast. Go with 20 grams of whey protein isolate, hydrolysate or concentrate along with 30-50 g of carbs within 30 minutes of your workout.

#2 ARGININE
This amino acid is the main ingredient in almost every nitric oxide (NO) boosting product available. Arginine is readily converted in the body to NO.
THE RESEARCH SAYS Nitric oxide dilates blood vessels, which helps get more blood flow to working muscles. Enhancing blood flow to muscles right before a workout helps to deliver more nutrients, such as amino acids from whey protein, glucose and fats, and the anabolic hormones that rise during training, such as testosterone, growth hormone and insulinlike growth factor-I (IGF-I). Greater blood flow also means more water delivery to exercising muscles; since a muscle pump is essentially a result of muscle cells filling up with water from blood, more water supplied to the muscles results in a greater muscle pump.

TIMING AND DOSAGE No matter whether the product you take supplies L-arginine, arginine alpha-ketoglutarate, arginine ketoisocaproate, arginine malate or arginine ethyl ester, go with 3-5 g about 30-60 minutes before workouts. For maximal effect, on nontraining days take a dose in the morning and before bedtime.

#3 CARNOSINE
Carnosine is an amino acid supplement that is actually a dipeptide — two amino acids (beta-alanine and histidine) bound together. You can supplement with either carnosine or with beta-alanine and histidine for the same effects — greater muscle strength and endurance. That’s because, in muscle fibers, beta-alanine and histidine are combined to form carnosine.

THE RESEARCH SAYS Muscle fibers that have the highest levels of carnosine can produce the greatest amount of force and can contract for longer periods. Studies of athletes show that it is possible to increase muscle levels of carnosine by more than 80% with supplementation, but it can forestall fatigue. In the gym, this means you can get more reps with a given weight before reaching failure, or lift more weight for a certain amount of reps. Carnosine appears to work by buffering the byproducts that build up in muscles during exercise — those byproducts eventually cause muscles to fatigue. Carnosine also has been found to provide antioxidant properties, meaning it scavenges free radicals that could damage muscle cells; this protection helps muscle recovery.

TIMING AND DOSAGE Take 1-11?2 g of carnosine 30-60 minutes before workouts.

#4 CARNITINE
The supplement carnitine is considered an amino acid, but it’s not typical. It’s actually made from the amino acids lysine and methionine; vitamins C, B3 and B6; and iron. Carnitine is important for fat metabolism, as it is involved in carrying fat into the machinery in muscle, heart and brain cells, known as mitochondria, that burn it for fuel. Taking carnitine before workouts prompts your body to use more fat during the session.

THE RESEARCH SAYS University of Connecticut researchers have been integral in discovering carnitine’s importance to bodybuilders. One of their studies suggests that carnitine, like arginine, enhances blood flow to exercising muscles. However, the mechanism is likely different from arginine, which indicates that taking both supplements can offer additive benefits (i.e., it would be more valuable to take both of them rather than just one or the other). A more recent study from UConn suggests that carnitine enhances the number of androgen receptors in muscle cells responsible for binding testosterone in the muscle and initiating its effects on muscle growth and strength.

TIMING AND DOSAGE Although it generally doesn’t matter what type of carnitine you take — L-carnitine, acetyl-L-carnitine (ALC), L-carnitine tartrate or L-carnitine fumarate — to get the benefits mentioned, ALC does offer some advantages. Acetyl-L carnitine is found throughout the central nervous system, and studies show that it can enhance mental function, concentration and testosterone production, making it worth a little extra dough. Go with 1-2 g of ALC (or other forms of L-carnitine, if you choose) on an empty stomach about an hour before workouts. For maximal effect, on nontraining days take a dose in the morning and before bedtime.

#5 BRANCHED-CHAIN AMINO ACIDS (BCAAs)
Leucine, isoleucine and valine (BCAAs) stimulate protein synthesis, so most bodybuilders focus on getting a good dose of them after a workout — when synthesizing protein is critical for encouraging muscle growth. Taking a dose before training helps prevent muscle breakdown during a session and stimulate protein synthesis after.

THE RESEARCH SAYS The body uses BCAAs for fuel, scavenging them from muscle fibers — that means the body breaks down muscle fibers during intense workouts. By taking a BCAA supplement before training, you supply your body with a source of BCAAs to use as fuel, thus preventing that unwanted breakdown.

TIMING AND DOSAGE Go with 5-10 g of BCAAs 30-60 minutes before workouts. Also consider taking a dose after the workout, as well as in the morning and at night. For maximal effect, on nontraining days take a dose in the morning and before bedtime.

#6 CREATINE
Creatine used to be taken only postworkout for the reason that, after a brutal training session, muscle cells are primed to suck up nutrients. Today, science has shown that in addition to a postworkout creatine dose, you should take one preworkout, as well.

THE RESEARCH SAYS Taking creatine before you work out ensures that your levels of it are maximally topped off. In muscle, creatine gets converted to creatine phosphate, which produces most of the energy for contractions during weightlifting. Maximal levels of creatine phosphate will help you power through more reps, especially during later sets. It will also help pull more water into muscle cells, as creatine has strong muscle-volumizing effects that can enhance a pump.

TIMING AND DOSAGE Take 3-5 g of creatine within 30 minutes of training, and also take a second dose immediately after the workout.

#7 CITRULLINE MALATE If you like NO products, you’ll love citrulline malate. This supplement is made of the amino acid citrulline bound to a molecule of malic acid (malate) — hence the extremely clever name. In the body, citrulline is readily converted to arginine, which then gets converted to NO. So, by taking a citrulline-containing supplement, you can further boost NO levels and blood flow to muscles.

THE RESEARCH SAYS Citrulline is involved in removing ammonia from the body. Ammonia, which induces fatigue, is a toxic compound produced when amino acids are metabolized for fuel during exercise. Since citrulline helps remove ammonia from the body, it can help to significantly delay fatigue during workouts. Malic acid aids in converting lactic acid, produced during a workout, to energy. Studies in humans confirm that citrulline malate supplements reduce fatigue, increase adenosine triphosphate (ATP) production during exercise and quicken the rate of creatine phosphate recovery following exercise — all factors that can lead to more reps per set.

TIMING AND DOSAGE Take 2-3 g of citrulline malate about 30-60 minutes before workouts.

#8 CAFFEINE
Remember the days when caffeine was supposedly bad for us? Now we know that caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant that helps to energize all-out hardcore workouts. It also aids the ability to focus in the gym, boosts strength and muscle endurance, and enhances fat burning during exercise.

THE RESEARCH SAYS In the brain, caffeine competes with the compound adenosine for receptors — adenosine slows down brain activity and makes you feel tired. When caffeine does its thing by blocking adenosine receptors, it leads to a significant increase in energy, drive, focus and concentration. Caffeine also increases muscle strength by positively affecting the molecules inside muscle fibers that cause muscles to contract, and enhances muscle endurance by blunting muscle pain during exercise and encouraging the burning of bodyfat for fuel. TIMING AND DOSAGE Although you can reach for a cup of coffee to get a caffeine dose, before workouts you should go with a caffeine supplement; studies show the form of caffeine used in supplements tends to produce greater performance benefits than coffee. Take 200-400 milligrams (mg) about 1-2 hours before workouts.

#9 TRIBULUS TERRESTRIS
This herb grows in the United States and is often referred to as puncture vine. That’s the boring news. The not-so-boring news? Tribulus is a proven testosterone booster. Getting an extra surge of testosterone before workouts can immediately increase your strength and power, pump up aggression and help enhance muscle growth afterward.

THE RESEARCH SAYS One of the main active ingredients in Tribulus is protodioscin, which stimulates the release of luteinizing hormone (LH). LH enters the blood and influences specialized cells in the testicles to increase testosterone production from cholesterol. Testosterone works to increase muscle growth by boosting the amount of protein muscles make. It also immediately spikes muscle strength and power by enhancing the firing of the nerves that stimulate the muscles. In other words, it’s good stuff if your goal is getting bigger.

TIMING AND DOSAGE Take 250-500 mg 60 minutes prior to workouts.

JUST THE STACKS, MAN
Regardless of your goal, we have the perfect preworkout supplement stacks for you.

GOAL SUPPLEMENT — DOSE, TIME
PREWORKOUT
Maximize mass Whey — 20 g, 0-30 minutes
Creatine — 3-5 g, 0-30 minutes
Arginine — 3-5 g, 30-60 minutes
BCAAs — 5-10 g, 30-60 minutes
Carnitine — 1-2 g, 60 minutes
Tribulus — 250-500 mg, 60 minutes
Maximize strength Whey — 20 g, 0-30 minutes
Creatine — 3-5 g, 0-30 minutes
Carnosine — 1-1.5 g, 30-60 minutes
Caffeine — 200-400 mg, 1-2 hours
Tribulus — 250-500 mg, 60 minutes
Maximize muscle endurance Whey — 20 g, 0-30 minutes
Citrulline malate — 2-3 g, 30-60 minutes
BCAAs — 5-10 g, 30-60 minutes
Caffeine — 200-400 mg, 1-2 hours
Maximize focus and drive Caffeine — 200-400 mg, 1-2 hours
Acetyl-L-carnitine — 1-2 g, 60 minutes
Caffeine — 200-400 mg, 1-2 hours
Tribulus — 250-500 mg, 60 minutes
Maximize fat burning Whey — 10 g, 0-30 minutes
during cardio Carnitine — 1-2 g, 60 minutes
Caffeine — 200-400 mg, 1-2 hours

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