If you're hunting for some serious muscle gains, your diet and training program will give you a nice boost, but getting a supplement regime in order may take you to the finish line.
Some people are in the camp of supplementing pre-workout only, while others fall into the post-workout camp. We think both are necessary.
But don't get confused. Supplements won’t sub in for the hard work, dedication, and clean eating it takes to get the body of your dreams.
They're merely there to help you along that path.
What Are Pre and Post-workout Supplements?
Pre-workout and post-workout supplements are the most commonly consumed products people take before and after hitting the gym.
Pre-workouts are any single ingredient or blend of ingredients taken before training with the single goal of enhancing your workout performance and increasing muscle mass; they are designed to optimize and maximize both your body and mind during your workout.
Post-workout supplements, on the other hand, are those taken after a training session to boost muscle protein synthesis, replenish glycogen stores, speed up recovery, and reduce muscle soreness.
Why should I take pre and post-workout supplements?
Pre and post-workout supplements aren't mandatory if you're looking to boost muscle building, but they do help.
Not everything your body needs to enhance muscle gain and recover faster is supplied through diet - even if your nutrition is 100% clean.
So, giving your body that extra kick with something like a pre-workout or a workout recovery formula means your benefits and results will be that much better.
Most pre-workout supplements are designed specifically to:
- Increase blood flow to muscles and other tissues
- Reduce muscle protein degradation
- Boost energy and physical performance
- Increase muscle strength and power
If you're looking to improve muscle protein synthesis after a workout, adding in some supplements post-workout is probably a good idea.
Following resistance training, muscle protein synthesis increases slightly, but muscle protein catabolism increases rather substantially; the rate of the build-up to breakdown isn't equal, so there's a lot more breaking down happening than we want.
For muscle hypertrophy to occur, you need to have enough raw material available to promote muscle protein synthesis.
When you consume the right combination of nutrients after a workout, you can tip the scale toward muscle protein synthesis and prevent muscle protein breakdown.
Best pre-workout supplements
If you're looking to maximize your performance and gains during a workout, a good pre-workout supplement stack is essential.
Here are your top pre-workout options:
HMB, also known as beta-hydroxy-beta-methyl-butyrate, is the by-product of the breakdown of the amino acid leucine and has become a popular pre-workout supplement.
It's been explicitly praised for its anti-catabolic and anti-proteolytic effect, helping to reduce muscle protein breakdown after exercise and stimulate myogenic (muscle) cell proliferation and protein synthesis 1, 2.
It's also been shown to 3, 4:
- Boosts energy levels by enhancing fat oxidation for energy in the absence of insulin
- Blunt the effects of cortisol release during fasting
- Attenuate markers of muscle damage
- Improves markers of aerobic fitness
- Enhances training-induced increases in muscle mass and muscle strength
Burn Lab Pro uniquely combines five potent ingredients—Forskolin, HMB, capsaicin, chromium, and black pepper—designed to enhance fat burning, preserve lean muscle mass, and boost muscle gain.
The branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are a group of 3 essential amino acids—leucine, isoleucine, and valine—that play a significant role in muscle recovery and growth and are a staple in any good pre-workout supplement.
In order for protein synthesis to occur, all essential amino acids must be present.
Leucine, specifically, is not only a precursor for muscle protein synthesis, but it may also help to regulate signalling pathways involved in protein synthesis 5.
And if you've ever been through a grueling workout that keeps you sore for six days following, amino acid supplements may help diminish the effects of DOMS and the extent of muscle damage.
It does so by lowering levels of circulating creatine kinase (CK) and lactate dehydrogenase (LDH)--two markers of muscle damage 6, 7.
Performance Lab SPORT BCAA supplies the optimal research-backed 2:1:1 ratio of BCAAs made with Ferment-A-Pure technology, all delivered in vegan-friendly NutriCaps®–a clean, convenient alternative to artificial flavors, sweeteners, and synthetics found in most other BCAA supplements.
Ever get the tingles after downing a scoop of pre-workout? You can thank beta-alanine for that.
Beta-alanine is a non-essential amino acid that can be synthesized in the body, but unlike most other amino acids, it's not used to synthesize proteins.
Instead, it combines with histidine to produce carnosine, which functions to reduce lactic acid accumulation in your muscles during exercise.
Oral supplementation with beta-alanine has been shown to increase muscle levels with carnosine, which may attenuate the onset of muscular fatigue 8.
Beta-alanine supplementation may also be beneficial for 9, 10:
- Improving body composition
- Increasing time to exhaustion
- Improving markers of anaerobic exercise
- Increase training volume for resistance exercises
If you've ever dived into the bodybuilding world, you'll see that creatine monohydrate is a staple.
But for those of you that haven't, let us give you a little rundown on why creatine has become so popularized.
Without getting too nerdy, creatine is needed during exercise to supply ATP, the body's primary form of energy.
The energy supplied to rephosphorylate ADP into ATP during intense exercise primarily depends on levels of muscle phosphocreatine (PCr).
As these stores become depleted during intense exercise, energy availability declines because of the inability to resynthesize ATP at the level required to sustain levels of high-intensity activity 11.
What happens then? You can't maintain maximal effort.
If you're looking to avoid this, creatine supplementation is a must.
Increasing muscle creatine content via supplementation may increase available PCr for ATP resynthesis during short-duration, high-intensity exercise 9.
This may also lead to increased training adaptations and improved work quality—both of which have positive effects on muscle growth 11.
What's more, of 250 studied supplements, creatine combined with HMB were the only two to augment lean muscle mass and strength gains with resistance training 12.
How's that for a power couple?
Performance Lab Pre
Want to take the work out of pre-workout supplements? You're in luck - Performance Lab has done it for you.
We've developed one of the most effective vegan pre-workout supplements on the market, specifically designed to supercharge your athletic performance.
Best Supplements For Post-workout
If you're looking to maximize muscle growth, that post-workout window is where the gold is.
Your muscles are tired, your insulin sensitivity is high, more blood is circulating to deliver nutrients, and your body is primed to absorb everything you give it to build and repair.
Here are the best supplements that need to be in your post-workout supplement stack to maximize gains:
This should be one of the most obvious ones. During intense hypertrophy workouts, your muscles develop micro-tears that need to be repaired during rest and recovery.
But for those tears to repair, you need amino acids.
Amino acids are what fuel muscle protein synthesis, i.e. muscle growth.
Interestingly, though, the anabolic state where muscle protein synthesis occurs has a window of about three hours, peaking around 45-90 minutes after protein consumption.
What does this mean?
You have roughly a three-hour window following your training to get your protein in.
And research suggests a minimum of 3–4 g of leucine per serving of protein is necessary to promote muscle growth 13.
Several studies have concluded that protein supplementation after your workout helps to improve physical performance, enhance recovery, and increase lean body mass, muscle hypertrophy, and strength 13.
And if you want to maximize muscle gain, combine it with a carb.
Performance Lab has designed one of the cleanest, most effective vegan protein powders you can find.
Performance Lab SPORT Protein is an organic brown rice protein made with natural enzymes that use low heat to avoid protein denaturing.
It is the only rice protein shown to build muscle as effectively as whey, with leucine that absorbs 30% faster.
Flavored and sweetened with organic cocoa, vanilla bean, cinnamon, yacon root, monk fruit, and stevia, SPORT Protein is the cleanest, most delicious protein powder on the market.
To eat carbs or not to eat carbs after training has been a hot topic for ages. Some people say you can achieve substantial muscle gain with a low-carb diet, while others agree that if you want serious gains, carbs are the way to go.
We're going to agree with the latter and recommend that maximal muscle growth can be achieved with a post-workout carb supplement.
Whether that's in the form of a supplement like Performance Lab Carb, or a whole food source, you're still supplying your body with the glucose it needs to enhance the role of insulin.
Why is this?
For amino acids to enter cells, they need insulin. Leucine cannot modulate protein synthesis effectively without the presence of insulin, and very few foods spike insulin levels like carbs do 13.
When amino acids and other nutrients cannot enter your cells, it impedes on your body's ability to build new muscle and repair the damage caused during your workout.
Get The Most Of Your Supplements
If you're looking to improve your performance in and out of the gym, as well as maximize your muscle gains, a muscle-boosting supplement stack is what you need.
Performance Lab has developed a line of SPORT supplements specifically designed to enhance your performance and maximize muscle growth and recovery.
Performance Lab Pre is a smarter, cleaner, stim-free pre-workout designed to enhance muscle power and strength, extend aerobic and anaerobic endurance, and boost and sustain blood flow to working muscles.
Taken after training, Performance Lab Post is the cleanest muscle-restoring post-workout formula designed to counter the negative effects of exercise, restore depleted nutrients, recharge muscle, and optimize growth and repair.
It efficiently rehydrates your body for healthier gains, a fast recovery, and a strong return to action.
- K Durkalec-Michalski, J Jeszka, T Podgórski. The Effect of a 12-Week Beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate (HMB) Supplementation on Highly-Trained Combat Sports Athletes: A Randomised, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Crossover Study. Nutrients. 2017; 9(7): 753.
- JM Wilson, PJ Fitschen, B Campbell, JG Wilson, N Zanchi, L Taylor, C Wilborn, DS Kalman, JR Stout, JR Hoffman, TN Ziegenfuss, HL Lopez, RB Kreider, AE Smith-Ryan, J Antonio. International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate (HMB). J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2013 Feb 2; 10(1): 6.
- G Tinsley, AH Givan, AJ Graybeal, MI Villarreal, AG Cross. β-Hydroxy β-methylbutyrate free acid alters cortisol responses, but not myofibrillar proteolysis, during a 24-h fast. Br J Nutr. 2018 Mar; 119(5): 517-526.
- VR Silva, FL Belozo, TO Micheletti, M Conrado, JR Stout, GD Pimentel, AM Gonzalez. β-hydroxy-β-methylbutyrate free acid supplementation may improve recovery and muscle adaptations after resistance training: a systematic review. Nutr Res. 2017 Sep; 45: 1-9.
- RR Wolfe. Branched-chain amino acids and muscle protein synthesis in humans: myth or reality? J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2017; 14: 30.
- G Howatson, M Hoad, S Goodall, J Tallent, PG Bell, DN French. Exercise-induced muscle damage is reduced in resistance-trained males by branched chain amino acids: a randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled study. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2012 Jul; 9: 20.
- JS Coombes, LR McNaughton. Effects of branched-chain amino acid supplementation on serum creatine kinase and lactate dehydrogenase after prolonged exercise. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2000 Sep; 40(3): 240-6.
- W Derave, MS Ozdemir, RC Harris, A Pottier, H Reyngoudt, K Koppo, JA Wise, E Achte. beta-Alanine supplementation augments muscle carnosine content and attenuates fatigue during repeated isokinetic contraction bouts in trained sprinters. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2007 Nov; 103(5): 1736-43.
- JY Kresta, JM Oliver, AR Jagim, et al. Effects of 28 days of beta-alanine and creatine supplementation on muscle carnosine, body composition and exercise performance in recreationally active females. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2014; 11(55).
- ET Trexler, AE Smith-Ryan, JR Stout, et al. International society of sports nutrition position stand: Beta-Alanine. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2015; 12: 30.
- TW Buford, RB Kreider, JR Stout, et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: creatine supplementation and exercise. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2007; 4: 6.
- SL Nissen, RL Sharp. Effect of dietary supplements on lean mass and strength gains with resistance exercise: a meta-analysis. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2003 Feb; 94(2): 651-9.
- M Stark, J Lukaszuk, A Prawitz, A Salacinski. Protein timing and its effects on muscular hypertrophy and strength in individuals engaged in weight-training. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2012; 9(1): 54.