Bodybuilding supplements are often too complicated and expensive to be cost-effective. Scientific research shows clinical dosages of the best three ingredients. It is a simple matter of mixing them into your own formula.
Top Ingredients for Bodybuilding Supplements
Here is the list of the most important ingredients that I have discovered from digging into the published medical research literature at the National Institutes of Health (PubMed):
This is the classic amino acid that bodybuilders start with for amino acid stacking. Its effects are primarily to induce the release of growth hormone (hGH), thereby enhancing strength and recovery from muscle building exercises. By itself, L-arginine offers benefits in doses from 2 to 10 grams daily. The drawback is that at higher dosages it tends to have a laxative effect.
These two posts provide more detail on this ingredient.
The dose-response curve for L-arginine appears to be age-related. Higher doses are required for older adults. The limit is unknown. However, regardless of dosage, the benefits of L-arginine as a stand-alone supplement for boosting hGH levels apparently do not accrue beyond a certain age. This discovery, of course, came as a big disappointment for me, which I posted on here:
When Arginine Fails As A Growth Hormone Releaser
The good news for me and other ‘mature’ fitness nuts is that L-arginine can still be beneficial when combined with creatine and HMB (see below).
Creatine is the classic ingredient for bodybuilding supplements because it goes directly into muscle tissue and serves as a source of phosphate for boosting ATP levels (i.e., the primary energy molecule in all cells). Research shows that the benefits of creatine supplementation can be hastened with a 5-6 day loading phase of 20 grams per day, followed by 3-5 grams per day thereafter. The loading phase is not necessary, though.
Further explanation on the dosages and the research on creatine were the subject of an earlier post here:
The missing ingredient regarding the use of creatine is often absent from commercial products. This ingredient is ordinary glucose (dextrose), which stimulates the anabolic effects of insulin, thereby driving the uptake of creatine into muscle cells. Research shows that adding glucose to the creatine formula, in a ratio of 5 grams of glucose to every gram of creatine, can lead to a 60 percent increase in phosphocreatine levels in muscle.
I presented summaries of the basic research on the boosting effects of glucose with creatine here:
The challenge for me was finding purified glucose. It is not available as a supplement, and no other carbohydrate is as good as glucose for boosting creatine. I finally got the bright idea to look for it at a local brewing supply store, where I found it to be only 7 dollars for five pounds. No supplements are that cheap!
HMB (beta-hydroxy-beta-methylglutarate – quite a mouthful, huh?) is the relative new kid on the block. However, it seems to provide the best overall benefits for increasing lean body mass. In a review of published research on several of the top bodybuilding supplements, HMB was the best, followed by creatine. No other supplement had statistically significant effects over placebo.
This is fascinating research, which I encourage you to at least take a look at in this post:
BONUS! Finding out about HMB turned out to be very exciting for me. That’s because, not only does HMB have an excellent track record in the research literature, its benefits are also independent of age. Indeed, supplementing with HMB and a short amino acid stack of L-arginine and L-lysine has significant positive effects on strength, fat free mass, and protein synthesis in elderly women, even in the absence of exercise.
Hey…if this formula works that well in elderly women who don’t even work out, then it will be at least that good for me. Probably better. In case you are curious about the research on this formula, I’ve posted a summary of it here:
An Example Formula
Taking all the research into consideration, I decided that the most effective dosages for me are the following:
Twice per day, preferably on an empty stomach. Ideal times are an hour before a workout, an hour before a meal, or at bedtime.
3 capsules of HMB Plus by Pure Encapsulations
(1500 mg calcium-HMB, 500 mg Kre-Alkyn creatine, 50 mg alpha lipoic acid)
1/2 scoop of Creatine Monohydrate powder (i.e., 2 grams)
5 capsules of Growth Hormone Support by Pure Encapsulations
(2500 mg L-arginine-HCl, 1250 mg ornithine alpha-ketoglutarate [OKG])
1 gram of L-lysine-HCl*
1-2 tsp. glucose powder (5-10 grams)
(Get it super inexpensively at any brewmaker’s supply store)
*I take extra lysine because in the past an imbalance in my arginine/lysine ratio has led to an outbreak of shingles. Not fun. That’s another story.
I like the addition of OKG in Growth Hormone Support, because it further boosts the effectiveness that I expect from L-arginine. Here is a little explanation of why:
All of these ingredients are commonly available in nutrition stores, with the exception of glucose that I mentioned above. You can get powders of pure L-arginine-HCl and pure creatine monohydrate inexpensively. I prefer Pure Encapsulations products because I can get them easily, although these are made for health practitioners and are not routinely available in nutrition stores.
The rub regarding expense is HMB. It is a patented and licensed ingredient in a handful of products. The supply is controlled to keep the prices up, so I know of no inexpensive source. You can probably find calcium HMB at around $55 for 180 capsules. The product that I use, HMB Plus by Pure Encapsulations, currently retails for $63.80. This company controls their prices online, so you should not be able to get discounted HMB Plus at the usual online discount stores.
Where to Get HMB
The manufacturers that make HMB formulas offer various mixtures, some including creatine and other ingredients to boost results. The best online supplier with a wide variety of products, routinely offering the best prices and even coupons, is SupplementsToGo.com. For your convenience, I have listed links to all of their HMB products, along with a link to HMB Plus, at this page: Top Bodybuilding Supplements.
Enjoying my own bodybuilding supplements formula,