Aug 092013
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I know the importance of eating whole foods and you can’t deny the great results you can get while eating a well balanced diet.  But then there is this whole other world out there: supplements.

gym bag supplements

Being a former athlete, and a strength and conditioning coach, I deal mostly with athletes.  One of the biggest conversations that always comes up is about supplements.

I believe if you are serious about weight training and exercise, supplements can assist you in achieving your goals.  I’m not saying supplements are the key to all things.  Hell no.  I’m saying supplements are just what they are – they supplement your diet and training.

Don’t think that if you just drink protein shakes you’ll build a chest like Arnold or trap like The Hulk.  It doesn’t work that way.  You have to make sure you have the correct training and diet on top of the supplements.

There are several supplements that I think you should have in your gym bag.  Many people are uninformed about supplements and are in the mindset that all supplements are evil.  That’s a bit extreme, but if you do feel that way, I’m not here to tell you that you’re wrong.  Everyone has a right to their own opinion.

But if you are curious about which supplements are essential, then check out the following list.  I’ve had great results by just focusing on whole foods as well as great results using supplements.  It’s all about what you prefer.

In this list I’m not going to talk about multivitamins or fish oil, but I do think they are very important to have and everyone should be taking them whether you workout or not.  The following supplements are actual supplements I’ve tried.  I haven’t tried them all because there are thousands, but out of the ones I did, the following products make the list.



benefits of protein shakes

I love protein powder.  In order to build muscle, you need to consume protein.  From experience, I found that many people have ahard time eating large amounts of protein.  I recommend people taking in 1-1.5 g of protein per lean body mass (LBM).  If you train with weights, play a sport, take part in manual labor, and have a hard time taking in enough protein from whole food sources, then protein powder will help you reach you protein intake.

Don’t worry about the absorption rate and make things more confusing than they really are.  There are a ton of protein powders out there; whey, casein, soy, egg, beef, and hemp to name a few.

Personally I’m a big fan of whey protein and have only used whey.  I’ve dabbed into casein a few times but found that it was too much to stomach.  Actually, I may have to write about the differences between the two or maybe about all of the different protein powders.

But for this article, I like Whey Protein best because you can find some that taste great, is a complete amino acid source, is categorized as being a “fast absorbing”, and you can come across some great deals on them online and nutrition stores.

What is whey from? If you like cheese or have ever been to Canada and enjoyed some poutine, you’ll know what I mean by cheese curds.  Basically, during cheese making, the milk coagulates which causes there to be a separation of solid and liquid.  The solid comes out to be the cheese and the left over liquid is the whey which is turned into powder (in the culinary world this is called ‘separating the curds and the wheys’…ah-hah!)


1.  MTS Nutrition Whey Protein

2.  Cytosport Muscle Milk (This is what I’m using now because Costco has it, and everyone loves Costco!)

3.  Gaspari Nutrition Myofusion Probiotic

4.  Optimum 100% Whey Protein 

5.  Muscle Pharm Combat Powder


I think creatine gets a bad rap.  For many of the strength and power athletes I train, I do recommend they supplement with Creatine Monohydrate.  I actually came across a great study by Jose Antonio, a sports nutrition expert, said, “Chronic supplementation with creatine monohydrate has been shown to promote increases in total intramuscular creatine, phosphocreatine, skeletal muscle mass, lean body mass and muscle fiber size.” To me, that says it’s – AWESOME.

NOTE: The recommended amount of creatine monohydrate is 5 grams.  That comes out to be a teaspoon.  That’s it.  So all that talk about how you get bloated, gain water weight, and all that other crap are from people who feel like the more they take the faster the gains and from supplement companies telling you take scoops of creatine before and after workouts.  Do you feel a rant coming?


So when do you take it? Many labels say to do a loading period, then to take it before and after, along with all these other ideas.  But the same study by Jose Antonio found “it appears that consuming creatine immediately post-workout is superior to pre-workout vis a vis body composition and strength.”

Now I’ve become loyal consumer of only 3 creatine products.  Plus if you stick to the 5 grams per serving, you’ll find that the container can last you a super long time.


1.  GAT Creatine 1000g (This is what I presently use, 200 servings per container!)

2.  PrimaForce CreaForm 1000 grams

3.  Optimum Micronized Creatine 1200 grams


I became a huge fan of BCAAs while I was preparing for my first bodybuilding competition.  When preparing for a bodybuilding competition, I came across studies and personal experiences showing how BCAAs helps maintain as much muscles mass while in a caloric deficit.  After the bodybuilding competition I was back in the gym trying to gain more muscle and it only seemed obvious to me to continue using BCAAs.

What do BCAAs do?

Many studies have shown that BCAAs increase protein synthesis, and could possible do so greater than other protein sources.  BCAAs are also known to increase the capacity of protein synthesis in a cell as well as reduce the breakdown of protein.  So let’s get to the point, by increasing protein synthesis and decreasing breakdown it sets up a perfect environment of muscle mass gain/maintenance.

I recommend to ingest BCAAs during workouts.  You are tearing down muscle while working out so it only makes sense to take in BCAAs to create an environment geared for protein synthesis.  I like to sip on my BCAA drink throughout my workout on top of drinking water.

BCAAs is another supplement that I’ve found that I always grab the same ones.  For me, it always depends on which one has the better deal.


1.  USPLabs Modern BCAA

2.  Cytosport Monster Amino

3.  MusclePharm BCAA 3:1:2

best pre workout4. PRE-WORKOUT


There has been recent news out there about pre-workout and fat loss supplements have become illegal because some could contain a stimulant called dimethylamylamine, or DMAA.  The FDA actually came out and announced in the NY Times that “the stimulant did not qualify as a legal dietary supplement ingredient and that it could raise blood pressure, potentially causing heart attacks and other health problems.”

So now that I put out the risks behind this supplement, just make sure you check the label so it doesn’t have DMAA.  They are actually trying to clear these supplements off the shelves but they are more than likely going to still be on many.

Aside from that – I like a good pre-workout drink.  Okay, maybe I’m slightly a stimulant junkie.  I’d have to thank my old powerlifting crew back in Redlands, CA for that.

What are pre-workout supplements for?

To feel frickin’ invincible.  The best way to think of a pre-workout supplement for those who are unexperienced with them or don’t know what they are – it’s basically a cup of coffee – but The Incredible Hulk style.  It’s an intense “pick-me-upper”.

There are many to chose from and they are known to: increase the pump, increase energy, increase intensity during the workout, improve focus, increase nutrient delivery, decrease muscle breakdown, reduce the amount of lactic acid build up, and a few other things.

I enjoy a pre-workout supplement especially on days where I’m feeling a bit lazy or if it’s leg day.  Leg day is the hardest and takes a lot out of you.  A little extra oomph will always help you.

There are hundred of pre-workout supplements out there to choose from and some even have some ridiculous claims such as gain 10 lbs in 4 weeks.  Don’t buy that sort of crap.  I’ve tried a good handful of pre workouts and many of the guys I know who train have shared their thoughts with me as well.


1.  USPLabs Jack3D Micro (new formula without DMAA)

2.  1MR “The Original” New Formula

3.  MuscleTech Neurocore

4.  iForce Hemavol (Non-Stimulant Cell Volumizer)

Marc Lobliner who is someone I follow and trust when it comes to supplements because let’s just say he knows what he’s talking about.  But he gave a suggestion of using iForce Hemavol since it’s a non-stimulant combined with another pre-workout with a stimulant.  Now, if you want to feel like smashing like The Hulk or going crazy like Wolverine in the gym – that’s the potion right there.


Remember, before taking any supplements, make sure to consult with your physician. Like I mentioned at the beginning of this article.  Supplements are not the key nor is it a must to build lean muscle.  The must is to have good nutrition and epic training consistency and discipline.  None of these supplements will get you ripped to shreds or huge gunz in a month.  I’m not going to blow smoke up your ass and tell you that it will.  Nothing can beat determination, dedication, and discipline.

*NOTE: There are thousands of supplements out there online and in stores. I listed products that I’ve actually used before and have recommended to others before.


  • Antonie, Jose and Victoria Ciccone. “The effects of pre versus post workout supplementation of creatine monohydrate on body composition and strength” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 2013,10:36
  • Singer, Natasha and Peter Lattman. “F.D.A Issues Warning on Workout Supplement” NY Times. Apr. 12, 2013
  • Int J Sports Med. 2007 Jun;28(6):531-8. Epub 2007 May 11

  2 Responses to “4 Essential Supplements for Building Lean Muscle”

  1. Hey Aipa, I really enjoyed this article, I just had a question about the creatine. When you say only 5g is recommended is that for a 24 hr. period or do you take in more than that in one day? Thanks, hope to keep in touch with you.
    Take care,


  2. Howzit Ronnie. It’s within a 24 hour period. For people who train really hard and consistently I would recommend 5-10 grams within a day on weight training days, and on your off days just take 5 grams. Hope all is going well in Redlands.

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