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To build muscle, you need to lift weights. With hard gym work and an appropriate sports diet eaten at the right times, you can feel good about enhancing your musculature the natural way. If, however, you decide to

seek out muscle building supplements, here is some information on the most common types:

Creatine. A naturally occurring compound found in muscles (meat), creatine is an important source of fuel for sprints and bouts of high-intensity exercise lasting up to 10 seconds. This includes weightlifting; interval or sprint training with repeated short bouts of explosive efforts; and team or racket sports with intermittent work patterns, such as soccer, football, basketball, tennis, and squash. The typical diet of meat eaters contains about 2 grams of creatine per day; vegetarians have lower body stores of creatine.

Many athletes who take creatine report increases in lean body mass, perhaps because they are better able to recover during strength training; this allows more weightlifting repetitions. A study with 31 experienced bodybuilders who took a protein-carbohydrate supplement with or without creatine at midmorning, after their afternoon workout, and before bed (for a total of about 450 calories) suggests the protein-carbohydrate-creatine group gained more muscle mass and strength than those who consumed just protein and carbohydrate (Cribb, Williams, and Hayes 2007).

Not all athletes experience enhanced performance with creatine, however. The response is variable, with 20 to 30 percent of athletes failing to see any changes in performance. In a study with 21 subjects, 4 were classified as nonresponders (Kilduff et al. 2002).

In research studies, the subjects commonly take 3 grams of creatine per day, or they consume 20 grams of creatine in a loading dose for three to five days, then take 3 grams per day. Creatine holds water, so loading the body with creatine results in gaining water weight. This added weight might be counterproductive for weight-conscious athletes, such as sprinters.

Many health professionals agree that only fully developed athletes should take creatine. Young athletes need to learn to improve performance by training hard and developing sports skills. Although creatine is unlikely to cause medical problems, it might influence the mental desire to look for shortcuts to success.

DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone). A precursor to testosterone, DHEA is considered a prohormone and touted to be a "fountain of youth" because it diminishes with age. Yet, there is no evidence that DHEA increases muscle mass or performance. In 1998, a small study of DHEA suggested that men (not women) experienced greater muscle strength (Morales et al. 1998). But seven studies later, DHEA has come up empty; a recent two-year study showed no benefits in men or women in their 60s and 70s (Nair et al. 2006).

HGH (human growth hormone). HGH regulates growth during childhood and metabolism during adulthood. The rumor is that HGH helps slow the aging process. The reality is that HGH can cause adverse side effects, such as swelling, painful joints, and, in men, enlarged breasts (Liu et al. 2007).

HMB (beta-hydroxy beta-methylbutyrate). HMB is a by-product of the essential amino acid leucine. HMB has been shown to quickly reverse muscle damage in rats, and it improves performance in race horses. In chronically ill, hospitalized patients, HMB helps prevent muscle wasting. In athletes, HMB is claimed to reduce muscle protein breakdown and improve recovery.

To date, the research is inconclusive, with only possible benefits for untrained people who start a weightlifting program. HMB had only possible minor effects on strength in well-trained athletes (Burke 2007). A small study from Poland indicated some gain when HMB was used alone and better results when it was combined with creatine (Jowko et al. 2001). Stay tuned.

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