Once seen as an activity exclusively for bodybuilders, weight training is now a standard part of many people’s fitness regime. Men and women of all ages and lifestyles can be found in the weights’ area of the gym, and the bench and squat rack are now everyday workout staples.
People lift weights for a number of reasons – they might be training for a competition, adding weights as a fat burning exercise, or simply lifting to feel stronger in day-to-day life. Whatever your personal reasons for weight training are, the chances are that you’ve heard about supplements.
These manufactured products are designed to add particular nutrients to your diet, and can take the form of pill, powder or liquid. But with so many on the market – and so many differing opinions on which, if any, are needed – how do you know where to begin?
Before deciding which supplements could help your weight training efforts, let’s first take a look at why you might want to take them.
Why do you need supplements when weight training?
Most health experts would agree that there’s no evidence to suggest that you absolutely need to take dietary supplements when weight training. However, many people believe that there are certain micronutrients and minerals that can maximise the impact of your training.
When it comes to gaining muscles in particular, there are a few things that need to happen, which supplements could help with. Nutritionists have identified three main things that are needed to increase muscle mass. These are:
- Eating more calories than you burn
- Consuming more protein than your body naturally breaks down
- Regularly challenging your muscles by lifting heavier, causing them to [tear and repair]
In theory, all of the above can be achieved without the need of supplements. However,
Supplements can be beneficial if:
- You follow a somewhat restricted diet – for example vegetarian or vegan – and so struggle to meet your calorie or protein goals, or
- You struggle to train as often as needed due to aches and pains post-workout (also known as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, or DOMS)
So which supplements can help you to achieve the above?
Protein supplements for weight training
Protein is one of the key macronutrients that we take in our diets, alongside fats and carbohydrates. It is also the one most commonly associated with building muscle, and is thought to be key for post-workout recovery.
For a long time, protein dominated the fitness world. Protein shakes, bars and even products such as pancake mixes became a key component of many gym-goers diets. In recent years, however, many nutritionists began to hit back at this trend, claiming that most people can actually hit their daily protein target through diet alone. With 31g of protein found in one chicken breast, it’s easy to see how this conclusion was reached.
When weight training, however, the recommended intake of protein can be much higher than average. Many nutritionists recommend aiming for 1.2 – 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, and so heavier people could benefit from taking a supplement.
Similarly, vegetarians or people on other restrictive diets can struggle to hit their recommended allowance if they’re not eating protein-rich foods such as chicken or eggs. In these cases, protein shakes or bars can be a useful supplement. The array of products on the market is enormous, and there are plenty of vegetarian- and vegan-friendly powders around.
Creatine and weight training
Another popular supplement in the weight training world is creatine. As with protein, creatine is also naturally found within our bodies. It is important for muscle growth as it:
- provides energy to our muscles and other tissue
- helps to decrease the breakdown of protein
- improves strength, meaning you may be able to push yourself further in your workouts
- increases hormones such as IGF-1, which are thought to support muscle growth
Creatine is naturally found in red meat and fish, which again means that some people may struggle to get the amount they need through their daily diet alone. For these people, creatine capsules or powders can be a beneficial addition on workout days.
CBD for weight training
A relative newcomer to the world of workout supplements, CBD oil has been attracting a lot of attention over the last year or so and has gained anecdotal support from a lot of people within the fitness industry.
CBD – or cannabidiol – is one of the main compounds found in cannabis. It’s not to be confused with THC, which is the cannabis compound that causes users to become ‘high’. Unlike THC, CBD is non-psychoactive, and is actually associated with a number of positive effects. The use of CBD-infused products is legal in the UK (as long as only trace levels of THC are present in any products) and is also allowed within the sporting world.
There are a number of reasons that many athletes, including weight-lifters, have started incorporating CBD oil into their diets.These include:
- Pain reduction – as mentioned, post-workout aches and soreness can be one of the barriers for people wanting to take their weight lifting to the next level. CBD has been shown to make pain more manageable, which could mean people can return to their workouts more quickly than before
- Inflammation – CBD is known for its anti-inflammatory properties. As a lot of post-workout pain is caused by muscle inflammation, taking a CBD supplement could help combat this
- Better sleep – most fitness experts agree on the importance of sleep for recovery and further muscle growth. CBD oil has been found to help people fall asleep more quickly, and also improve the quality of sleep
Unlike nutrients such as protein and creatine, CBD is not naturally found in any food. Instead, it needs to be added to the diet as a supplement. The Endo Sport drinks are the first sports drinks to be infused with CBD in the UK. This means that gym-goers can get the benefits of cannabidiol while also replacing lost electrolytes and staying hydrated.
Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) and weight training
Around 14% of the amino acids in our muscles are branched-chain amino acids (also known as BCAAs). These are thought to be important for muscle growth, and some research has shown that they can be effective at limiting muscle loss. In addition to this, BCAAS are thought to reduce both fatigue and the intensity of DOMS.
Branched-chain amino acids are commonly found in meat, dairy products and fish. This means that people with high-protein diets will likely get their recommended daily amount naturally, but people with more restrictive diets may struggle. Fortunately, BCAA supplements are easy to take for those who need them, commonly coming in powder or capsule form.
In addition to those listed here, other supplements advocated by weight lifters include caffeine, glutamine and Beta Alanine (among many others). It is recommended that you seek the advice of an expert before deciding which supplements to add to your diet, and always pay close attention to the ingredients and effects.