You’ve been putting your body through hell with your daily training schedule. If you want to recover properly, you need to match the intensity and commitment you have in the weight room and use it in the kitchen. It’s essential to remember that a well-balanced diet is going to be a foundational part to being successful in powerlifting.
Whole, natural foods should always be your first choice; however, supplements can also play a key role in achieving new levels of strength, avoiding injury, and pushing you to bigger and better personal bests.
ROLE OF SUPPLEMENTS IN POWERLIFTING
Before we jump into the benefits of supplements for powerlifting, let’s destroy a common myth right now:
Despite what you may have heard, you cannot take supplements to compensate for a bad diet. No matter how many supplements you take, if you are eating nothing but junk food, that’s the type of results you’ll see: junk.
A junk diet can also be when you aren’t eating enough on a consistent basis. If you’re putting yourself through intense workouts almost every day, but you don’t have the caloric intake to match, there is no magic supplement that provides six or seven complete meals in a capsule. Not yet anyway.
Supplements are for supplementing your diet and workout program. They should never be at the center of your attention. The first thing you should do as a powerlifter is have a rock-solid diet with proper portion control and meal timing.
Not sure how many calories you need to eat each day? Check out our article on how to calculate your calories based on what your body needs to excel at powerlifting.
After you’re a pro at those things then we would say that it’s safe to begin adding supplements into your diet. Always remember: Food first, supplements second.
BEST SUPPLEMENTS FOR POWERLIFTING
There are many supplements for recovery and results on the market but there are only a few that you really need to see results. Don’t fall into the hype that you must buy the latest and greatest brands. The classics are still around for a reason: they work. The most commonly-used supplements are effective, inexpensive, and easily obtainable, especially in the United States and Australia where ordering online is a breeze.
When in doubt, always follow the science. There are recovery and powerlifting supplements out there that have been proven by research and studies to be safe and effective. Here are the top five most studied and used supplements for recovery:
We would argue that whey protein is the most popular supplement in the industry. It’s become a household name in the last ten years as studies have revealed its benefits are applicable for the athlete as much as the average Joe.
Strength and Performance:Numerous studies have found that supplementing with whey protein on a consistent basis can help to increase strength gains and overall performance. This is going to be key for powerlifters as all-out strength is what is required to set new personal bests. (1)
Protein Synthesis:This bodily process is essential for repairing muscle tissue and protecting it from breakdown. Whey protein has been famously shown to increase protein synthesis levels resulting in more strength and more muscle. (2)
Immune Response:Furthering this idea of recovery, whey protein has been shown to strengthen the body’s immune response, resulting in a stronger central nervous system and better recovery. (3)
BEST TIME TO TAKE WHEY PROTEIN?
Based on the studies above, we highly recommend a whey protein blend that features whey concentrate, whey isolate or hydrolysate, and casein. This will ensure an immediate shot of nutrients followed by a few hours of steadily-released amino acids, the building blocks of muscle tissue.
To amplify recovery, the best time to take whey protein is right after a workout. We recommend a second serving before bed as it will support growth hormone release, which will further improve recovery and results.
BRANCHED-CHAIN AMINO ACIDS (BCCAS)
Branched-Chain Amino Acids are the key building blocks of muscle tissue. Commonly known as BCAAs, leucine, isoleucine, and valine are a few of the essential amino acids that the body cannot create on its own and it needs to ingest these nutrients through food or supplements. These three in particular have been shown to be the most useful for fitness and recovery.
Protein Synthesis:Just like whey protein, BCAAs have been shown to promote protein synthesis. Leucine, in particular, is amazing at promoting protein synthesis, which in turn helps with recovery and protecting that hard-earned muscle tissue. (4)
Strength Boost:Studies show that BCAAs can effectively increase overall strength. One study in particular found that BCAAs dramatically increased the grip strength of patients suffering from liver cirrhosis. (5)
Intra-Workout Energy:As mentioned above, BCAAs are also a great way to increase intra-workout energy. Isoleucine and valine are the superstar nutrients that support energy levels.
BEST TIME TO TAKE WHEY PROTEIN?
We recommend using BCAAs as a pre- and intra-workout supplement with an emphasis on the latter. Since BCAAs can help to support energy levels, you’ll want them when lifting. You can also use BCAAs throughout the day as they can help you meet your daily water intake recommendations.
Creatine is important for muscle performance during a workout. Creatine converts into the compound called adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is the preferred fuel source for muscle tissue.
Workout Performance:Given its role as a quick-supply source of fuel, creatine has been shown to support overall workout performance. Some studies cite an improvement of up to 15% in work performed during repetitive sprint performance. (6)
Strength Gains:Even more studies have found that creatine can directly improve strength with some researchers finding an improvement in maximal power and strength by up to 15%. (6)
Better Recovery: Perhaps the most useful benefit of creatine is its ability to promote recovery. One study found that subjects with muscle damage in their knee flexor experienced a dramatic improvement when supplementing with creatine, making it a cost-effective method for sports injury prevention. (7)
BEST TIME TO TAKE CREATINE?
Creatine is best used by performing a loading phase to saturate the muscles followed by a maintenance dose. When you first start using creatine, take 20 grams per day. We recommend spacing it throughout the day. After a week, you can take one 5-gram serving per day. Studies suggest there isn’t an ideal time to take creatine. For convenience purposes, you can do so before a workout.
OMEGA 3 FATTY ACIDS
Remember when fat was said to be the enemy? Studies over the last 20 years have found that dietary fat is essential for overall health, especially for athletes. Within omega-3 fatty acids, you’ll find several nutrients such as EPA and DHA that are key to providing the benefits ascribed to it.
Anti-Inflammatory:The muscle soreness you feel post-workout is inflammation. Omega-3 fatty acids are a natural anti-inflammatory that can help to reduce inflammation. (8)
Supports Recovery:Continuing with the point above, researchers found that supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids was helpful in reducing muscle soreness and promoting overall post-workout recovery. (9)
BEST TIME TO TAKE OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS?
The best time to take omega-3 fatty acids is with breakfast and lunch as it’s best absorbed with other foods. If you take one serving per day, split it up between the two meals. If you take two servings per day, take the first one in the morning and the second in the afternoon.
This is a vitamin that most people don’t realize they aren’t getting enough of, especially during the winter months. For example, low levels of vitamin D are associated with depression and low testosterone.
Hormone Health:Vitamin D is a precursor to testosterone, which is essential for healthy levels of testosterone, a growth hormone in the human body that is essential for recovery. (10)
Muscle Strength:This one surprised us: Studies suggest that vitamin D can promote higher levels of muscular strength. While there aren’t as many studies focusing on younger, well-trained subjects, the fact that higher vitamin D levels were associated with higher levels of strength in older adults is very promising. (11)
BEST TIME TO TAKE VITAMIN D?
You wouldn’t want to take more than a serving per day of vitamin D, so you can choose to take it with the meal that best suits you. We recommend taking it with breakfast or lunch, especially if you’re taking omega-3 fatty acids with it as this has been shown to increase bioavailability of both.
WHICH SUPPLEMENTS DO YOU USE FOR POWERLIFTING?
Do you use supplements to support your gains in powerlifting? If so, which ones do you use? Any of the supplements we discussed above? Do you have your own supplement routine? Let us know on our Facebook.
- Cintineo HP, Arent MA, Antonio J, Arent SM. Effects of Protein Supplementation on Performance and Recovery in Resistance and Endurance Training. Front Nutr. 2018;5:83. Published 2018 Sep 11. doi:10.3389/fnut.2018.00083.
- Dreyer HC, Fujita S, Cadenas JG, Chinkes DL, Volpi E, Rasmussen BB. Resistance exercise increases AMPK activity and reduces 4E-BP1 phosphorylation and protein synthesis in human skeletal muscle. J Physiol.(2006) 576:613–24. 10.1113/jphysiol.2006.113175.
- Kephart WC, Wachs TD, Mac Thompson R, Brooks Mobley C, Fox CD, McDonald JR, et al. . Ten weeks of branched-chain amino acid supplementation improves select performance and immunological variables in trained cyclists. Amino Acids(2016) 48:779–89. 10.1007/s00726-015-2125-8.
- Jackman SR, Witard OC, Philp A, Wallis GA, Baar K, Tipton KD. Branched-Chain Amino Acid Ingestion Stimulates Muscle Myofibrillar Protein Synthesis following Resistance Exercise in Humans. Front Physiol. 2017;8:390. Published 2017 Jun 7. doi:10.3389/fphys.2017.00390.
- Uojima H, Sakurai S, Hidaka H, Kinbara T, Sung JH, Ichita C, Tokoro S, Masuda S, Sasaki A, Koizumi K, Egashira H, Kako M, Kobayashi S. Effect of branched-chain amino acid supplements on muscle strength and muscle mass in patients with liver cirrhosis. Eur J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2017 Dec;29(12):1402-1407. doi: 10.1097/MEG.0000000000000968.
- Kreider RB. Effects of creatine supplementation on performance and training adaptations. Mol Cell Biochem. 2003 Feb;244(1-2):89-94.
- Cooke MB, Rybalka E, Williams AD, Cribb PJ, Hayes A. Creatine supplementation enhances muscle force recovery after eccentrically-induced muscle damage in healthy individuals. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2009;6:13. Published 2009 Jun 2. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-6-13.
- Calder PC. Omega-3 fatty acids and inflammatory processes: from molecules to man. Biochem Soc Trans. 2017 Oct 15;45(5):1105-1115. doi: 10.1042/BST20160474. Epub 2017 Sep 12.
- Jouris KB, McDaniel JL, Weiss EP. The Effect of Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplementation on the Inflammatory Response to eccentric strength exercise. J Sports Sci Med. 2011;10(3):432-8. Published 2011 Sep 1.
- Pilz S, Frisch S, Koertke H, Kuhn J, Dreier J, Obermayer-Pietsch B, Wehr E, Zittermann A. Effect of vitamin D supplementation on testosterone levels in men. Horm Metab Res. 2011 Mar;43(3):223-5. doi: 10.1055/s-0030-1269854. Epub 2010 Dec 10.
- Rejnmark L. Effects of vitamin d on muscle function and performance: a review of evidence from randomized controlled trials. Ther Adv Chronic Dis. 2011;2(1):25-37.