But first things first: building muscle requires the right quantities of whole-food nutrition, eaten at regular intervals throughout the day. I will always recommend a minimum of a gram of protein per pound of bodyweight, plenty of complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats. The muscle growth machinery needs to be switched on every three hours with a meal or supplement. Adequate carbohydrate and fat calories will optimize the hormonal milieu with proper rest and recovery. Get your blood work, optimize your hormones and train smart.
Dr. Prisk’s Top Picks
With all of the above being said, it is time to get to the topic at hand: supplements. When it comes to supplements for building muscle, we need to find combinations that work together. Why stack supplements that are counterproductive? Why take a fat burner when you are trying to gain weight? Why take two supplements that do the same thing?
We also need to use high-quality supplements that actually work! Even if you choose a supplement that has great science behind it, if you choose a brand of ill repute, you may end up with an underdosed or toxic supplement. Choose wisely and consider the following supplements to maximize muscle growth.
1. Whey protein is the branched-chain amino acid-rich milk protein that is easily digested and rapidly absorbed. Whey is particularly endowed with the amino acid leucine. Leucine is a very special branched-chain amino acid, thought to be the key that turns on muscle protein synthesis through the switch called mTOR. As you will soon learn, there are many ways to turn on mTOR, a critical step in building muscle.
Gram for gram, because of its high leucine concentration, whey is more adept at building muscle than soy, casein or wheat protein. It is thought that most bodybuilders will optimize muscle protein synthesis with approximately three to four grams of leucine per meal. That would suggest that consuming 30 to 40 grams of whey protein will help build mass. Combining whey protein with an equal amount of carbohydrate in a post-workout meal turns on mTOR through leucine and a concomitant boost in insulin. “Whey is the way” to build muscle.
2. HMB. To build muscle, not only do you need to turn on muscle growth, but you also need to prevent muscle breakdown. Intense over-reaching training is intended to break muscle down, with the hopes that proper recovery will build more muscle than when you started. HMB, or beta-hydroxybeta-methylbutyrate, is a metabolite of the amino acid leucine that is particularly good at preventing muscle breakdown. At three grams per day, I believe it should be a part of any intense training program.
HMB can stimulate muscle protein synthesis by up to 70 percent (leucine can up to 110%) while also decreasing muscle breakdown by up to 57 percent.1 Studies have suggested that HMB in its free acid form may be absorbed faster and may even be more effective than the calcium HMB form.2 Further marketing-biased rhetoric produced another recent study in rats looking at the absorption kinetics and bioavailability of HMB free acid versus calcium HMB (sold by Abbott).3 The study from AbbottNutrition Research and Development suggests that their product, calcium HMB, reaches higher plasma concentrations and is cleared slower than HMB free acid. Whether one is more effective than the other in building muscle will take a placebo-controlled, head-to-head study by unbiased researchers.
3. Phosphatidic acid (PA) is a component of your cell membranes. Mechanical contraction of muscle is thought to stimulate enzymes that cleave PA from phosphatidylcholine in muscle cell membranes, increasing its levels in the cell. PA is then able to turn on mTOR through a domain that is separate from growth factors like IGF-1 or the amino acid leucine. Therefore, it has been suggested that PA may act synergistically with leucine in boosting muscle growth.4
In a study on muscle cells in laboratory cultures, a soy-derived PA was incredibly powerful at activating mTOR.5 Follow-up studies on ingestion of 750 milligrams of PA per day versus placebo with eight weeks of resistance exercise demonstrated significant improvements in the PA group.5 The subjects on PA gained more lean body mass, more muscle girth and more strength. This is a supplement that needs to be studied in combination with whey protein and HMB.
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