Learn exactly when to take your favourite supplements, and you’ll see tangible gains in no time
By Jenevieve Roper, PHD, CSCS
If you’ve been reading our magazine even with relative consistency over the past 10 years, then you’re no rookie when it comes to supplements. But even still, with new research surfacing on a regular basis, the rules of what to take and when to take it can get confusing at times.
You see, our bodies react to certain nutrients and supplements at more ideal times than others. This means we’ll be able to absorb and metabolize them better at different times, so you can potentially reach your goals faster by maximizing the window in which your body is running most efficiently.
If there’s one supplement that almost all athletes take, it’s protein. Protein has the ability to increase our amino acid pools. By increasing amino acid availability, our bodies can potentially activate muscle hypertrophy and see strength increases — especially after training. Since we have increased protein breakdown during training, our bodies need the extra amino acids as we begin our recovery process. This is why consuming protein immediately post-exercise is basically common knowledge. But not so fast.
In 2013, a study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition collectively examined numerous studies to determine if protein intake centred around training was actually necessary to augment protein synthesis. Their results indicated that consuming protein pre- and/or post-exercise is not a critical factor in muscle hypertrophy. So when should you take your protein? Well, as long as you are consuming adequate amounts of protein spread evenly throughout the day in combination with resistance exercise, you’ll reach those muscle hypertrophy goals.
Fat burners typically come in handy when you’re trying to lean out and get shredded. In theory, they give your metabolism an extra boost (stimulatory) and/or aid in increasing fat mobilization and utilization (non-stimulatory). Many people use them when their diet just isn’t cutting it anymore. Now, there is no hard and fast rule on taking fat burners, but there are some recommendations you can follow.
If you’re using a stimulatory fat burner, you typically want to take one dose in the morning within an hour of waking up. This helps give your metabolism a boost immediately after it has been reduced during sleep. You then want to take another about mid-day or during lunch to help keep that boost going all day long. But try not to take any fat-burning supps within three or four hours of bedtime, or you may end up with insomnia.
If you’re using a non-stimulatory fat burner (i.e. CLA), you can actually take them anytime throughout the day. Although, if you’re able, you should try to consume them at each meal (or at least at breakfast and dinner). This helps keep the supplement in your system throughout the whole day so you get continued fat-burning benefits.
Creatine is by far the second-most popular supplement among gym-goers. Numerous studies have backed its effectiveness as a dietary aid to increase muscular strength and power. Essentially, creatine consumption increases free creatine and phosphocreatine, which are needed to facilitate recovery because they are necessary for our anaerobic power systems to create energy. Typical creatine consumption depends on the supplementation model you choose, so dosage will often vary person-to-person. Regardless, the question often asked is “before or after exercise?”
Well, this is where the water gets a little murky. Some studies claim you’re better off taking it before physical activity, some claim you should take it after, while others say it may turn out to be fairly equal. So the takeaway is as long as you are supplementing with creatine pre- or post-exercise, you should be able to see some benefits. Just don’t take it with caffeine, as this causes creatine to become fairly ineffective.
Pre-workouts are gaining in popularity as people continue to be busier than ever. With so many different things on our plates, sometimes the thought of a workout is as exhausting as actually getting our butts to the gym to do one. So pre-workouts give us that mental and sometimes physical boost we need for working out.
Yes, as the name suggests, pre-workouts should be taken before a workout. But since the main active ingredient in most pre-workouts is caffeine, you need to abide by caffeine timing rules. It usually takes about 15 to 45 minutes to kick in, but this depends on the dose and if you regularly consume caffeine or not. But when it comes to athletic performance, do we need to abide by the same rules? Not necessarily. A study in the Journal of Applied Physiology determined that total exercise time was increased when users consumed caffeine up to three hours prior to exercise. That said, however, since caffeine does have a short half-life, it could potentially leave your system fairly quickly. The closer to your workout you are able to consume it, the better chance you have of receiving all of the benefits that your pre-workout has to offer.