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Everybody is looking for that edge which pumps up their workouts and makes them stronger faster, lose more weight quickly, or do whatever your goal is with less time investment.
Now, supplements aren’t a silver bullet.
There’s no powder you can take that will empower you to squat three plates when you can only squat one plate.
But some supplements can give you a little bit of an edge so you can work out a little bit more or recover a little bit more quickly.
Individually, that’s not much of a difference.
Fitness stacks upon itself and, before too long, you’re stronger or more attractive than you otherwise would’ve been.
But fitness folks love to throw around a bunch of confusing terms.
Creatine? BCAAs? Pre-workout?
What the heck are these supplements?
And are they things you should avoid taking together?
What is Creatine?
Creatine is a white, powdery chemical.
It’s one of the most common workout supplements, especially for people who want to grow huge muscles. (Though there are other benefits, too!)
There’s some mystique around this white powder. Some misinformation, too.
For one thing, it’s not a steroid.
For another, it’s a natural supplement. If you’re a meat-eater then you already consume some creatine incidentally.
That’s because creatine is an organic compound your body produces as part of the ATP cycle.
You know, your muscle’s fuel.
What Creatine is For
Creatine is used to supplement your body’s natural fueling process.
This white powder is instrumental in turning ADP (used-up ATP) back into ATP, which your body’s cells can use for energy.
Your body synthesizes creatine from glycine and arginine, which are both amino acids.
It’s only about 10%, but that’s enough to push a little bit further each set and, as I said before, that results in faster muscle growth!
You won’t get much benefit when it comes to aerobic exercise such as running but short bursts of aerobic exercise, such as HIIT, does benefit from creatine supplementation.
By the way, creatine also helps to boost the energy usable by your brain cells.
This gives it a nootropic effect, which is good for studying and test-taking!
How to Use Creatine
First of all, I recommend using creatine monohydrate.
There are many other forms but they’re mostly good for draining your wallet faster than the monohydrate form, not so much for increasing your performance.
Secondly, many creatine instructions recommend cycling on and off creatine over the course of weeks.
That’s old advice, though.
Take 1 to 5 grams of creatine a day and you’ll be fine.
You can do what’s called a “loading phase” where you start with 20 grams per day. This won’t benefit you unless you have huge muscles already, though.
Just mix it up in water or a protein shake and down it!
By the way, creatine can cause water retention, so don’t be alarmed if you’re slightly squishier when you’re on large amounts of creatine.
The muscular performance is worth it.
What are BCAAs?
“BCAA” is short for “branched-chain amino acid.”
These are leucine, isoleucine, and valine.
BCAAs are three of the nine essential amino acids, which means your body can’t synthesize them. You have to consume them.
Thankfully, plants synthesize them all the time, so it’s easy to get them whether you’re a carnivore or vegetarian.
What BCAAs are For
BCAAs aren’t just part of your muscles.
Supplementation also triggers more muscle growth.
But that’s not all!
BCAAs are also instrumental for brain function, glucose metabolism, fatty acid oxidation, and immune system function.
So, they’re not just a physical supplement, they’re a psychological and overall health supplement as well.
BCAAs can also help reduce fatigue by inhibiting tryptophan’s effects.
There are a couple more benefits too, which you can find here.
How to Use BCAAs
Like creatine, BCAAs often come in water-soluble powder form. You can find capsules, too.
However, taking BCAAs is a bit more complex than taking creatine.
First of all, there’s a limit on how much you should take in a day and it depends on your biological sex.
- Men – 20 grams
- Women – 10 grams
Generally, though, I recommend taking a maximum of 5 grams a day unless you’re particularly fit.
BCAAs hit your bloodstream fast and are metabolized quickly, so timing is important.
You should take BCAAs 30 minutes before your workout (whether that a physical workout at the gym or mental workout in the testing room).
You can take them mid-workout too, if it’s about an hour or so long.
Don’t forget to take some within half an hour of ending your workout, too.
You can also take BCAAs in the morning to help give your day a boost without using caffeine, albeit a small boost.
Just don’t take BCAAs right before bed if you want to get to sleep quickly!
Though, BCAAs won’t cause as big an anti-fatigue effect as…
What is Pre-Workout?
A pre-workout supplement is a big energy jolt to your system.
The number one ingredient in almost every pre-workout is caffeine. Sometimes multiple types!
Pre-workouts will also contain many additional performance-boosting ingredients.
For example, I’m currently trying out Body Fortress NOS Blast Pre-Workout Amplifier.
- Caffeine Anhydrous
- L-Citrulline Maleate
- Choline bitartrate
- Vitamins B6 and B12
What Pre-Workout is For
Those ingredients are all designed to increase your workout performance.
Energy is one benefit, obviously.
150 mg of caffeine per serving? That’ll get you moving!
But that’s not all.
For example, L-Arginine and L-Citrulline Maleate are to increase your blood flow, which helps your muscles work a little bit harder.
The beta-alanine and creatine are there to boost your body’s ATP cycle, again to boost muscle performance.
How to Use Pre-Workout
You take it before your workout!
It takes about 30 minutes for caffeine to take effect, so give it that much time before your workout.
These supplements tend to contain enough caffeine to disrupt your sleep when taken later in the day so don’t use a pre-workout for an evening gym visit.
You’ll also get some mental benefits with pre-workout powders so you can try taking some before studying or taking a test, too.
Pre-workouts are nearly always flavored water-soluble powders. Mix ’em up in your water and drink it down.
Should You Use Creatine, BCAAs, and Pre-Workout Together?
Creatine, branched-chain amino acids, and pre-workout supplements are all different supplements with different physiological pathways with the same goal:
To increase workout performance.
There are no negative interacts between creatine, BCAAs, and pre-workout powders. They’re not like protein powders and mass gainers, which should not be mixed. Feel free to use the three supplements discussed in this article together.
In fact, the pre-workout I’m using right now contains creatine already!
Just keep an eye on cross-supplementation like that and you’ll be fine using one, two, or all three of these supplements.
For example, I hold off on taking a creatine powder by itself on the days when I use NOS Blast.
Creatine helps your body perform its ATP cycle, which provides your brain and muscle cells with more energy.
Branched-chain amino acids promote muscle synthesis, are used in muscle synthesis, and help other metabolizations, too.
Pre-workout powders dump a lot of caffeine into your body and sometimes include other positive effects, such as increasing blood flow.
These three supplements all do something different but they all do something to help you kill your next tough workout.
Don’t be afraid to try all three of them. One might work better for you than another, but in the end, it’s safe to take them all together.
Creatine, BCAA, and pre-workout supplementation is more of an “ally” than a “versus” situation!