6 Workout Supplements That Actually Work
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 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 , 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 . If that weren’t enough, creatine is also a nootropic. It enhances memory and delays mental fatigue .
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 . 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 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 . Ribose also enhances overall mitochondrial function , 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
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) .
- PQQ improves mitochondrial function in human skin cells, protecting skin from UV radiation and slowing down aging .
- 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 
Recommended brands: Physique Formula Xylitol-sweetened BCAAs
Whey Protein + colostrum
Whey is the king of post-exercise proteins. It increases muscle synthesis more than soy or casein protein  and it promotes extra muscle growth even when you get plenty of other protein in your diet . It decreases muscle soreness after you exercise, too . 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 . 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
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!
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