Some supplements are okay. Some are very good. And there are a few you just don't want to live without. We asked our pros and experts about their favorites.
What's the one supplement you just can't live without?
Amit Sapir – IFBB Pro, World Record Holder Powerlifter
Plazma™ has completely changed my training.
It's gotten me better recovery, longer workouts, more intensity, and I can literally use it as food if I have a busy day and need quality carbs and protein.
I've been preaching about this supplement for years. I honestly can't remember how I trained without it. I use 3-6 scoops per workout, more if I train twice a day. It's excellent for gaining if you need extra calories, and awesome for dieting when you want to limit catabolism during and after training. (More info on Plazma™.)
Chris Shugart – T Nation CCO
Indigo-3G®, hands down. Because carbs are awesome and delicious.
Here's the deal. Back in my early 20's I got fat. Really fat. So I stopped shoving garbage down my throat and starting working out again. It worked. Shocker, I know. But there was a problem.
Keeping the fat off was a struggle. Maybe it was metabolic damage. Maybe I had fat-guy genetics. But for whatever reason, I couldn't look at a carb without getting fat. I'd gain three pounds if someone sat beside me and ate a sandwich.
The only solution I could think of was, well, "dieting" 365 days a year. Basically, I had to live on low carbs. Even "good" carbs would trigger my old leftover, dysfunctional fat cells and the flab would pile back on. I stuck to under 100 grams of carbs per day, and most of those came from my workout drink.
As you'd expect, trying to build muscle and strength on a chronic low-carb diet was tough. Still, it beat being fat. Then one day Tim Patterson, head honcho of Biotest, tossed me an unmarked bottle of inky, blue-black capsules.
He told me that this stuff – cyanidin 3-glucoside or C3G – controls carbs so that what you eat is preferentially used to help build muscle instead of just getting stored as fat. Cool, I thought. Then Tim dropped a bomb on me: "You need to eat carbs to get the full effect."
Now, keep in mind where I was at the time: I'd gone "full paleo" and was scared of oatmeal. I knew how carbs affected me, and I didn't want to get fat again. But I trusted Tim and gradually boosted the carbs. I didn't get fat, the muscle gains kicked in again, and my workouts were awesome. So I bumped up the carbs again... and then again.
Fast forward a few years. Today I can eat all the carbs I want. I don't even bother counting. My previously "sick" fat cells have been healed. I'm leaner now than when I was low-carbing, and I have more muscle today in my 40's than I ever have before.
So, you can have my Indigo-3G® when you pry it out of my cold, dead fingers. And I still may fight you for it. (More info on Indigo-3G®.)
TC Luoma – T Nation Editor
I refuse to name only one.
Sorry, but I have to reject the limitations imposed by this question. You have to understand, I've been in the delivery room for the birth of every Biotest product and you're asking me to make some sort of Sophie's choice regarding our supplements. Hell, it'd be easier to make a real Sophie's choice and give up one of my kids to the Nazis, but I'll do the best I can.
For everyday bodybuilding nutrition, I depend heavily on Metabolic Drive® Protein. It tastes fantastic, it mixes great, and it's got the perfect blend of fast-acting whey isolates and more slowly-digesting, highly evolved micellar caseins. I throw a scoop or two into most things I eat. There's no way I can get enough protein without it.
And since I'm talking about protein, I also use Mag-10® intensive recovery formula for peri-workout purposes. It's a blend of unique di- and tri-peptides that are transported – unaltered, requiring no further breakdown – directly into the bloodstream. As such, taking a relatively small amount of just 10 or 20 grams has pretty profound effects on muscle, far beyond what consuming a truckload of conventional protein would have.
In addition to these peptides, Mag-10® also contains a special carbohydrate that both increases metabolic rate and drives the peptides and other nutrients into the muscle cell, so it'd be hard for me to get by without it, either.
And when I use Mag-10®, I use it with Plazma™ workout formula. Plazma™ preloads growth-promoting nutrients into muscle and creates a huge pump that stimulates muscle responsiveness. The net effect is that I can recover much faster, train harder and more often, and build muscle faster.
Then there's Micro-PA®, muscle growth activator, which is made up of phosphatidic acid, a compound that activates mTOR, which is a protein that regulates the growth of muscle. One study showed that lifters gained twice as much muscle using it in an 8-week period than a bunch of lifters on placebo. It hasn't doubled my growth, but it sure helped.
And I have to include Indigo-3G®, the nutrient-partitioning agent, which is one of those rare supps that plays both offense and defense. In other words, it's a bodybuilding supplement, but it's also a phenomenal "health" supplement. It makes you more insulin sensitive, which is great for health and longevity, but it also causes nutrients to be ferried into muscle instead of fat storage.
Add to that the fact that the product is comprised of anthocyanins, which are plant flavonoids that, in addition to giving color to fruits and vegetables, have been shown to be highly effective in fighting various types of cancer. It also has profound effects on night blindness.
Lastly, there's Curcumin, which is named for the yellow pigment associated with the spice, turmeric. Since it plays so many roles in overall health and not just weight training, it may literally be the one supplement I can't live without.
It's shown beneficial effects in a wide variety of diseases, including skin problems, breathing problems, gastrointestinal diseases or conditions, liver problems, and aches, pains, wounds, and sprains. It's anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antifungal, antibacterial, and anticancer. It even intensifies erections.
So yeah, I took liberties with the question, but there's just no way my brain could wrap around living with just one supplement. Cut me a little bit of slack, though, because I left out a lot of other supplements I value, Biotest and non-Biotest alike. (More info on these supplements.)
Mark Dugdale – IFBB Pro
The one supplement I can't go without is Plazma™.
Let's face it, most supplements simply augment a quality nutrition plan based on whole foods, even though most people pop pills hoping otherwise. That doesn't mean there's no value in supplementing a solid nutrition strategy, but by-in-large you won't see or feel the immediate impact of supplementation. That's not the case with Plazma™.
In a world of workout supplement fluff, Plazma™ delivers immediate results. I've often said it makes you unbreakable, with terminator-like recovery abilities. That's not an exaggeration, but my personal testimony. That's not to say a really hard-training elite athlete can't burn out their CNS and suffer an injury; Plazma™ doesn't prevent the overzealous from being stupid. It does however, exponentially increase your work capacity and recovery ability.
I've always enjoyed brutal workouts. It's what drew me to HIT/Dorian-style training in my early 20s. The intensity of my workouts meant I couldn't sustain a training frequency that exceeded 3-4 days per week. Several years ago when I began using Plazma™, I immediately notice the skin-splitting pumps and crazy vascularity. Within two weeks of regular use I bumped my training from 4 days a week to 6.
At one point I increased training frequency as far as possible to determine my training ceiling and maxed out at 13 training sessions a week! The point is, Plazma™ resurrected me from the dead quicker than anything I've ever taken in my 23 years of working out. Today, at 41, I train 6-7 days a week with all the intensity and more volume than I utilized in my 20s. I have no intention of slowing down. I attribute this to Plazma™. I simply refuse to train without it. (More info on Plazma™.)
Dani Shugart – T Nation Editor
I'm a professional sleeper because of Z-12™.
Bad sleep is unacceptable. It makes you depressed, it kills creativity and motivation, it messes with your appetite and metabolism, it lowers your immunity, it can make you a bad driver and decision-maker, and it'll also just make you a turd to be around. So regularly sleeping well is just as important as regularly working out, and Z-12™ is what makes me awesome at it.
You've probably heard all the same sleep advice before: turn off the TV hours before bed, don't check your email at night, avoid bright artificial light in the evening, yadda yadda. But even when I break these rules, I still fall asleep like clockwork and wake up without an alarm.
I'm not bragging on myself, I'm bragging on Z-12™ because it wasn't this way before. I used to sleep like most people: sometimes soundly, other times erratically. And I did what everyone does – tolerated it with caffeine and exercise in the morning, then obeyed the same old sleep rules at night. I even used melatonin. It was effective, but only at first and only when taken sporadically. After a while it would lose its efficacy.
The thing about Z-12™ is that it continuously works. You can take the same dose every night without having to take more or experiencing a loss of the effects. It calms the busy mind so that you can relax in the evening, and it helps you get into those deeper sleep stages once you drift off.
As a point of reference, I take 3 capsules a night an hour before bed. I've done this for about 5 years, and my dreams are practically award-winning.
Another thing: don't just think about sleep duration, the quality matters too. If you get "shallow" sleep and you never dip into the delta waves (the deepest most restful stage of sleep), you'll probably wake up unrefreshed, or at least feel tired and crabby at some point the next day. Your goal should be to sleep so deeply that you're not an asshole when you wake up. That's what Z-12™ will help you do.
Now, obviously the benefits of Z-12™ will be amplified by good sleep habits and diminished by bad ones. So don't blame Z-12™ if you do dumb things before bed.
Don't spend all night cramming for a test and then take Z-12™ at 3 AM when you have a final at 6 AM; that's not enough time for quality sleep. Don't drink a pot of coffee with dinner and then blame Z-12™ for not putting you to sleep quickly. Don't lay in bed and eat 10 burritos from Taco Bell then wonder why you were up all night.
Take Z-12™, do things at bedtime that aren't dumb, and you'll sleep like a dog, (not a baby). (More info on Z-12™.)
Christian Thibaudeau – Strength Coach
Plazma™ is the most important supplement for maximizing growth.
A natural lifter needs to use the actual workout session to initiate protein synthesis (muscle building). This means turning on mTor (imagine that mTor is the light switch and protein synthesis is the light) as much as possible. While the actual act of lifting and lowering weights will activate mTor, there are many things that amplify the mTor response, including these:
1. Insulin: It's anabolic and anti-catabolic. While it does this mostly by increasing nutrient uptake in the muscles, it also does so by increasing mTor activation. So elevating insulin pre-workout will increase the anabolic response to training.
2. Amino acids: Several amino acids can help turn on mTor, most specifically leucine. While every complete protein contains leucine, casein-based proteins normally have a greater proportion of it.
So getting the right carbs and amino acids pre-workout will amplify the anabolic response of your body to training. Plazma™ takes care of this.
Now, there two things that keep muscle growth from happening. If you're a natural lifter here's what you need to reign in if you want maximum growth:
1. Cortisol: This is a mobilization hormone. It's not a "bad" hormone because it's partly responsible for freeing up stored energy for fuel when you train. We also need to produce a certain amount in order to live.
But, consider the glycogen stored in muscles. The more glycogen you need to burn for fuel, the more cortisol you'll release. Too much cortisol can hurt muscle growth by decreasing protein synthesis. It breaks down muscle tissue for fuel if the volume of your workout is high enough, and it increases the expression of the myostatin gene which limits how much muscle you can build. It can also directly inhibit mTor, shutting down protein synthesis and muscle growth.
2. Glycogen depletion: Depleting muscle glycogen can be very catabolic. It increases AMPK which will inhibit mTor. There's also some evidence that depleting muscle glycogen, which decreases intramuscular pressure, is a signal to start protein degradation or muscle loss. Glycogen depletion is also associated with lower IGF-1 levels, one of the most anabolic hormones.
So, you want to maximize mTor activation, minimize cortisol levels, and prevent glycogen depletion. Plazma™ does it all, leading the best workouts and fastest possible natural growth. (More info on Plazma™.)
Bronwen Blunt – Powerlifter, Nutrition and Strength Coach
I can't live without Indigo-3G®!
I discovered it two years ago and it's been a game-changer in my physique and overall performance. I'm able to consume copious amounts of carbs and continue to get leaner. It's amazing for body composition. As a powerlifter I'm always worried about strength loss, but with Indigo-3G® I'm able to eat enough to fuel my performance even during fat loss phases.
It's hard to find a good supplement for fat loss that doesn't have stimulating effects. I'm very sensitive to certain stimulants and Indigo-3G® isn't a thermogenic; it doesn't contain any stimulants, therefore it doesn't cause the jitters or the crash that can come after it. It makes you feel like a machine in the gym. The muscle pumps are unreal and I don't experience any drops in energy during my training sessions.
The most impressive thing about Indigo-3G® is how much my rate of recovery has improved. I'm able to train harder and longer now than ever before. When I'm training for a powerlifting meet and working at high percentages it's crucial for my recovery to be on point. Because of Indigo-3G® I'm able to train more frequently and with more intensity.
Anyone trying to improve his or her body comp without the risk of losing muscle or strength needs to try this. (More info on Indigo-3G®.)