6 Workout Supplements That Actually Work

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The workout supplement industry is a dirty business. Minimal federal regulation makes purity an issue – companies that lack scruples can short-change you by adding just enough of an ingredient that it can legally go on the label, but not enough that it’ll actually improve your performance.

The bigger supplement companies pay researchers to run studies on their own products, which makes navigating the science behind supplements a challenge. It’s the same deal with toothpaste (“9 out of 10 dentists prefer our brand! …Because we gave them $5,000 to say so!”).

On top of that, a lot of workout supplements hide behind “proprietary blends” that can include pretty much anything. A prime example: a couple years ago the FDA discovered that several leading supplements contained 1,3-dimethylamylamine (DMAA), a speed-like compound chemically related to amphetamine (in fact, DMAA is banned in professional athletics because it tests positive on an amphetamine drug test). Then there are the artificial sweeteners, colors, flavorings, and flow agents. Not Bulletproof.

Between shady labels and unfounded claims, it can be difficult to find supplements that really work. These 6 compounds have good science behind them and will actually help you take your athletic performance to the next level.

 

Creatine

Creatine has been a workout staple for decades. It’s stuck around for so long because it really works. Creatine increases ATP (energy) production in your muscles and recharges them while you rest [1], buying you a few extra precious seconds of explosive power before you slow down and switch to using oxygen for fuel.

Creatine also stimulates protein synthesis, which can make you build muscle much faster. People who paired creatine with resistance training put on lean muscle mass anywhere from 15%-200% faster than people who did the same workouts with placebo [1]. If that weren’t enough, creatine is also a nootropic. It enhances memory and delays mental fatigue [2].

You have a couple options when it comes to creatine. The original and best-studied form is creatine monohydrate. It’s very effective – after you get it to a high enough concentration in your muscles. To do that you have two options.

  • Take 5g/day and wait a month for it to kick in
  • Do a “loading phase” in which you take 20g/day (4 doses of 5g) for a week, then 5g/day to maintain after that

If you do the loading phase be sure to drink a LOT of water. Creatine increases muscle hydration, so you want to get much more water than you normally would. It’s not uncommon to get a mild dehydration headache and bloating during the creatine loading phase. It should go away when you finish loading and drop down to a normal dose.

There’s also creatine nitrate. It’s a newer, more expensive version of creatine. Companies claim it absorbs better and that the nitrate form doesn’t require a loading phase, but good research on creatine nitrate is scarce. You can try it and look for a difference or just stick with classic creatine monohydrate.

Creatine gets into your muscles more effectively if you pair it with a tiny amount of glucose [3]. You don’t need much. Try taking it with a quarter of a teaspoon of raw honey.

Creatine monohydrate recommended dose: 20g/day (5g 4 times daily) for one week, then 5g/day to maintain

Time taken: Morning (or throughout day for loading phase)

Recommended brand: Jarrow Formulas 100% pure creatine

 

D-ribose

D-ribose might be the most Bulletproof member of the sugar family. It has a maple-like sweetness to it, but because it contains 5 carbons instead of the 6 found in table sugar, ribose doesn’t raise your blood glucose.

It does, however, significantly improve your energy production by enhancing your mitochondria. Ribose is a critical component of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the molecule that stores energy in your cells. Exercise empties your ATP; ribose helps to fill them back up more quickly, decreasing muscle soreness and speeding up recovery time after you work out [4]. Ribose also enhances overall mitochondrial function [5], which can be great if you want an overall boost throughout the day. Try using it to sweeten your coffee.

A quick word of caution: unlike most sugars, ribose actually lowers your blood glucose. If you’re prone to hypoglycemia, take your ribose with meals to counter the effect, and don’t take more than 10g at a time.

Recommended dose: 5g/day

Time taken: 1 hour before you work out

Recommended brand: Jarrow Formulas D-ribose powder

 

Unfair Advantage

Another major mitochondrial optimizer is Unfair Advantage. It’s a blend of pyrroloquinoline quinine (PQQ) and coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10). Unfair Advantage has a powerful effect on your mitochondrial function, and through that your mental endurance and muscular energy.

  • In two small but thorough 2013 studies, PQQ significantly decreased inflammation after a single dose, and made mitochondria 15% more efficient after 3 doses (one dose per day) [6].
  • PQQ improves mitochondrial function in human skin cells, protecting skin from UV radiation and slowing down aging [7].
  • PQQ promotes the growth of new mitochondria in rodents [8,9].

Extra cellular energy can give you an edge in the gym. The struggle with PQQ is bioavailability. It’s difficult to get it through your digestion and bloodstream and into your mitochondria. Unfair Advantage uses a colloidal delivery system to shuttle PQQ to its destination unscathed. Taking a couple of these before you workout can drive you to push through an extra few seconds or reps.

Recommended dose: 2-4 ampules

Time taken: 1 hour before you work out

Recommended Brand: Bulletproof, of course 😉

 

Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs)

BCAA supplements contain the amino acids isoleucine, leucine, and valine. BCAAs:

  • Boost testosterone and mTOR, creating a better environment for your body to both burn fat and build muscle [10,11].
  • Suppress cortisol and increase protein synthesis, which helps your body repair muscles more quickly after an intense workout [10,12].

BCAA powder is one of the most commonly adulterated supplements. It tastes horrifyingly bitter and doesn’t mix well with water, so many manufacturers add artificial sweeteners and dissolving agents to it. Stay away from products that contain the artificial sweeteners aspartame, acesulfame potassium (ace-K), and/or sucralose.

Xylitol and stevia are the best sweetener options, and sunflower/soy lecithin are the best dissolving agents. If you don’t like sweeteners or you’re a masochist you can drink unflavored BCAAs.

Recommended dose: 5g

Time taken: one dose before you work out, one dose after [12]

Recommended brands:  Physique Formula Xylitol-sweetened BCAAs or Powder City BCAAs (unflavored)

 

Whey Protein + colostrum

Whey is the king of post-exercise proteins. It increases muscle synthesis more than soy or casein protein [13] and it promotes extra muscle growth even when you get plenty of other protein in your diet [14]. It decreases muscle soreness after you exercise, too [14]. It’s the gold standard.

Like BCAAs, commercial whey is often full of nasty fillers and sweeteners. Bulletproof Upgraded Whey comes from 100% grass-fed, grass-finished cows never administered hormones or antibiotics and never exposed to pesticides.

It also includes grass-fed colostrum, the nutrient cows feed their newborns in the 4-5 days post-birth. Colostrum on its own increases lean body mass and performance, as well as recovery [15,16], and it improves gut health and your immune system, which can counter the dip in immune function you get with heavy exercise [17]. Whey and colostrum together are a powerful step up from standard commercial protein powders.

Recommended dose: 10-15g

Time taken: Within an hour after exercise

Recommended brand: Bulletproof Upgraded Whey Protein

 

Anabolic Steroids

Just kidding. There are much better ways to get your testosterone up, both natural and pharmaceutical.

These supplements can truly enhance your athletic performance. Give them a try (and please, report back in the comments!). Thanks for reading and don’t forget to subscribe below!

 

Click to read the complete list of references.

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By Bulletproof Staff

  • Cool. I didn’t know about the D-ribose.

    One question though, what if you work out in a fasted state? Does D-ribose break the fast?

    Thanks.

    • Laura Conley

      I would assume yes, because you’re supplying your body with an external sugar source….

      • Thanks. Yes, I’d assume the same. 🙂

        • Health Mercenary

          Curiosity: It lowers your blood glucose. So I wonder if that action would outweigh the increase in blood glucose, so you’d actually get a net drop O.o You should test it and let us know! 🙂

  • Leonardo Prellwitz

    Depends if you wanna do Hypertrophy or relative strength. HCL is always better than monohydrate.

    • jvesik

      This is a puzzling statement. Like Dave saying ribose doesn’t effect blood glucose in the 1st paragraph. Then cautioning it lowers blood glucose in the last paragraph.

      • Damon Lenahan

        it was fixed. The meaning was pretty explicit to me… Doesn’t negatively impact blood sugar in context of BP diet protocol. Immediately people hear “sugar” they think “pancreatic response”, typically.

  • Alexis

    Sorry my ignorance. I heard there are some glucose power gels that you can take to boost your energy while doing exercise. Anyone knows what they are? or where to get them?

    • Tamsin Lewis

      Dont do it! Not bulletproof!

      • Alexis

        Good to know. But Why?

        • Damon Lenahan

          raises blood sugar too quickly. This immediately shuts down fat for cellular power. Once your cells have “reworked” the fuel source it is supremely stubborn at switching back over. It takes most people from 12 to 72 hours for their cells to “get the message” that they will indeed be expected to go back to fat as fuel. If you are trying to gain massive amounts of muscle there is a place for glucose dependence. If you are wanting to burn or maintain your weight….these “liquid sugar cubes” should be avoided. In truth, a sip of sprite with some cornstarch is about the ingredients in these things….. just make your own. lol

    • Dr Tamsin Lewis

      Read about fat adaptation – every time you take a glucose gel you shift away from fat burning to carbohydrate burning. For. A more complex explanation read Ben Greenfield’s post on carbohydrate gels.

  • Bradley Watson

    Hi – are there are any commonly used over the counter supplements that are harmful or should not be taken with others? E.g. I read 5HTP should not be taken with B vitamins – if so, how far apart? And D-Aspartic Acid should be cycled off for 1 week every 3 weeks?

  • Emanuel Stamathis

    Wow, I take all them, even D-Ribose which most people don’t know about. I’m also a big fan of Glutamine and pre workout drinks with Betaine(trimethlyglycine), Agmatine and citruline maleate.

  • pixelzombie

    I’m curious to try D-ribose for my fast bike rides. It’ll be interesting to see what effect they have on my performance.

  • Looking to start taking Creatine, I am on a ketogenic Diet.. but also had heart attack with 2 stents… Would the creatine cause any conflicts…

    • Tamsin Lewis

      It can theoretically raise blood pressure, but its effect on fluid retention. But very much dependent on how cardiovascularly fit you are now. If not kidney concerns – i would say try it – but ask yourself what i your goal of trialling this.

      • Hi Tamsin, thanks for the information… I think… after so much research and in regards to the blood pressure, thinking of staying off of it…

        cheers

  • Amrit

    Nice. Didn’t know about D-ribose. Thanks. 🙂

    But, why eat whey within 1 hour of exercise? Our body can’t break down the proteins that fast and utilize it so it is better to eat it 5-6 hours prior to exercise in order to have those proteins ready for assimilation. Also, eating a good dose of potent protease enzymes will help break down the proteins without taking away from the body’s enzyme storage and thus it won’t deplete the body’s enzymes…

    • Health Mercenary

      Agreed Amrit. Its better to wait a little while after eating, and even then to eat an actual meal, not just whey protein.

    • As an athlete, I’ve tested a lot of different strategies for eating to perform. I train fasted, eating only BP coffee before the gym but I need to eat immediately after for recovery or I feel like garbage. It’s not strictly necessary to use shakes and you’re right in that but after training hard I can barely get a shake down, let alone a meal. It all depends on your goals. There is also an anabolic window that takes place after exercise, hence the reason most people take whey.

  • Reilly

    Good article! I take D-ribose for chronic fatigue/recovery from exercise/blood count issues, and have used creatine monohydrate with it a while back. Wanted to share that both of these can cause serious mood swing issues, along with dehydration, requiring quickly drinking A LOT OF WATER. Everyone is different- I am hypersensitive to the dosage of these. I suggest starting with conservative dosages. IMHO, if you are healthy and following bulletproof/paleo/anti-inflammation diet choices, you are ahead of the game, doing great, and should not play around with these. That said, micro dosing d-ribose allows me to hold a job and engage in light exercise (with lots of rest days).
    I have to wonder if the morons in gyms dropping free weights and machine plates (!) and grunting at high volume (this at the Y) lose real world perspective dumping sugar shakes with lots of these and other chemicals into their systems.

  • You owe me a new shirt Dave. I was taking a drink of coffee (BP of course) when I got to the end of the article and saw Anabolic Steroids. I choked on my coffee and got it all over my shirt! LOL

    What do you think of Black Ant Extract for a workout supplement? Is it Bulletproof? As long as the ants are from a good clean source of course.

    • Kevin Blasko

      Just make sure they’re pasture-raised ants. My eight year old cousin has an ant farm, and the conditions are absolutely horrendous…

  • Arjun

    Thanks for the tip.. good read.. and the humour haha…all of a sudden STEROIDS.. jus kidding!

    • I lol’ed too 🙂

  • Health Mercenary

    Dave, you have a mistake in the article: In the first paragraph of the “D-Ribose” section, you wrote: “ribose doesn’t affect your blood glucose levels.” Then, in the 3rd paragraph, you wrote: “A quick word of caution: unlike most sugars, ribose actually lowers your blood glucose.” I think in the first paragraph you meant to say, “ribose doesn’t raise your blood glucose levels…”

  • Harry Steelman

    Is creatine a problem for people with kidney disease.

  • Scott Ward

    Great article. I’m curious about BCAA’s. I am taking Essential Amino Acids instead from Thorne. Is one better than the other? Also, if you take Aminos after your workout, do you still need to do Whey Protein since both increase muscle synthesis?

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  • Joshua Holder

    Not technically a workout supplement, but i have heard alot of people use kratom or mytragyna speciosa to boost their workout! In case you dont know kratom is a tree Uncle southeast asia, and a relative to the coffe plant. Traditionally the leaves are chewed or brewed into a tea. Places where the tree dont grow like in the US, it is cosumed in a crushed or powdered form, in capsules, and tea aswell! Recently Kratom has been under fire from the DEA who wants to ban two alkaloids in the plant, effectivly banning the whole plant! Kratom has been said to be effective in boosting energy, like coffe! It has also been used by some for pain, and as a stepdown tool to get off opiates, as it has been shown to reduce if not completly relieve withdrawl from opiods!

    • Stacy J Bosarge

      Unfortunately Alabama made it illegal. I loved it. More energy, less pain, much much better sleep. Now I’m back to my says of insomnia, fatigue and untreated chronic pain

  • Yogesh Riyat

    Does creatine upset anyone else’s stomach? solutions? thanks!

  • Reza Andrew Kharrazi

    Hey Dave,

    The link to the Physique Formaula Xylitol sweetened BCAA seems to be invalid!

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  • Lauri Michelle Preston

    Would the doses be different for women?