Best Powerlifting Supplements Stacks – Powerlifting Shoes
On Powerlifting Shoes, I’ve covered the often over-complicated Daily Undulating Periodization, Knee Sleeves, and the Importance of Foam Rolling and Proper Powerlifting Shoes, but this is the first article on something everyone loves to talk about — supplements. Rather than pull your leg by fawning over the most expensive and worthless supplements on the market, I am here to tell you about the products that have been proven to work time and time again on the platform and in the scientific literature. From improvements in power output and muscle oxygenation to reductions in fatigue and muscle soreness, these supplements have it all and they’re often cheaper than you might think. Combined together, the compounds discussed in this article creating an intimidating supplement stack for powerlifting that is hard to be beat.
How Creatine Works
Perhaps the most popular and thoroughly researched of all powerlifting supplements, creatine is definitely a heavy hitter with innumerable benefits to powerlifting. Creatine is a molecule that is formed when three different amino acids — glycine, arginine and methionine, bind together. Creatine is naturally produced in our body and also present in high protein foods such as meat, fish and eggs.
Once exogenous creatine enters the body, it is phosphorylated to phosphocreatine (PC). This simply means that the element phosphorous is added to each creatine molecule. Now that creatine carries a phosphate group, it is vital to energy production, particularly with high intensity and low duration exercise.
To release energy that our body can use for exercise, a nucleotide called adenosine triphosphate (ATP), must lose one of its three phopshate groups to become ADP. Once ATP becomes ADP, it can no longer be used to “create” energy unless it gains another phosphate group back. This is where phosphocreatine comes into play. Once ATP becomes ADP, phosphocreatine donates its phosphate group and ADP becomes the energy rich ATP again. Without creatine, our ability to quickly and repeatedly generate energy for mechanical work would be lost. For more information on the ATP-PC system, click here.
Benefits of Creatine Supplementation
The benefits of creatine are remarkable. In peer-reviewed clinical studies, creatine has been shown to increase power output, weight, hydration, lean body mass, bone mineral density, fatigue resistance, muscular endurance, testosterone and subjective well-being. Creatine has also been shown to reduce muscle damage, fatigue, alleviate depression, inhibit myostatin and provide glycemic control for diabetics.
As a powerlifter, you can’t be more worried about your power output. The more power you can generate, the more weight you can lift. The more weight you can lift, the better your total. If you want to increase your total (who doesn’t?), an increase in power output alone should have you salivating over creatine.
Based off creatine’s effects, creatine may be one of the best supplements for weight gain. Proper hydration and increases in both bone mineral density and lean body mass are surefire ways to put on weight fast. Increasing fatigue resistance and muscular endurance will indirectly add to weight gain by allowing us to push harder and longer in our workouts. Longer and harder workouts are going to result in more volume which will cause additional gains in lean body mass over time.
Creatine’s ability to potentially increase testosterone (as supported by this article) is a huge deal. Millions of dollars are wasted every year on expensive testosterone treatments that don’t work. As a matter of fact, you will be hard-pressed to find a legal testosterone supplement that actually increases testosterone to any significant degree. Although there are other studies that support creatine’s effect on testosterone, most don’t report such a drastic change. With that in mind, I wouldn’t rely upon creatine to increase your testosterone levels, but its a nice bonus that may occur for some individuals.
If powerlifting is your passion, an increase in bone density will prove valuable as well. After all, do you really want weak and frail bones when going for a new squat max? I also recommend creatine to the elderly and women because of this effect. Osteoporosis, a medical condition in which the bones become weak in brittle, is so serious in the United States that it has been declared a National Public Health Priority. According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, “In the United States alone, 10 million people have osteoporosis, and 18 million more are at risk of developing the disease. Another 34 million Americans are at risk of osteopenia, or low bone mass, which can lead to fractures and other complications.”. Osteoporosis and osteopenia are more prevalent in women than men, so if you are a woman, I would highly consider taking creatine to avoid becoming a part of this growing statistic.
From a mental and performance standpoint, creatine’s effects on fatigue, fatigue resistance, subjective well-being and depression cannot be understated. Creatine’s capability to reduce fatigue and prevent fatigue in the future will keep you fresh in the workouts and outside of the gym. A better quality of life will go a long way toward success not only in powerlifting, but in everything you do.
In one study, creatine was found to decrease circulating levels of myostatin by 17%. Myostatin is a protein that prevents muscle growth and differentiation. More studies need to be done to replicate creatine’s effect on myostatin, but if myostatin proves to be viable as a myostatin inhibitor, the benefits of creatine for powerlifting and bodybuilding increase even further.
Creatine Side Effects
Side effects of creatine are largely overblown. Kidney damage is not a concern in healthy individuals and may even be questionable for those with kidney issues. Despite this, you should consult with a doctor before taking creatine if you have kidney problems. Creatine can cause gastrointestinal distress, resulting in either cramping or diarrhea depending upon water intake. If this happens to you, I suggest splitting your creatine dose throughout the day.
While it isn’t necessarily a bad thing, creatine will put weight on quick because of its impact on water retention. It is fairly common for people to put on a few pounds of water in the first week week alone. For those who are struggling to make a weight class, this is worth considering. If this is the case, you can still use creatine, albeit at a lower dose. Two to three grams a day will improve performance without additional bloat.
How to Take Creatine
Creatine is easy to take. For optimum creatine supplementation, begin with a week-long loading phase. During this phase, take twenty to thirty grams of creatine per day. You could take it all at once, but I would break it up throughout the day to avoid the aforementioned gastrointestinal distress. You don’t want to be on the toilet all day! After a week of loading, drop down to five grams a day. This can be taken indefinitely, as exogenous creatine does not shut down natural creatine production or creatine gained from the consumption of food. You could skip the loading phase if you want, but this would mean it would take longer to reach the point of saturation for your muscles. If you miss a dose of creatine, it is not a big deal as it won’t affect your performance. You can simply skip that day or take double the dose the next day if you’re overly paranoid about losing your gains.
The market is saturated with creatine supplements, but there really isn’t any best creatine on the market nor can I recommend the best creatine to buy. There are creatine pills and creatine tablets, but I personally find creatine powder to be the best creatine product on the market due to its ease of use. I find it much easier to mix in my dose with juice or protein powder than trying to remember to take a bunch of pills.
There are all sorts of gimmicks out there such as creatine nitrate, creatine hydrochloride, kre allkalyn creatine and creatine ethyl ester. I would avoid all of these and buy creatine monohydrate instead. Creatine monohydrate is much cheaper and arguably just as effective. I would consider getting your creatine monohydrate in micronized creatine powder form because it mixes easier and seems to carry less of a risk of gastrointestinal distress.
If you’re looking to buy creatine online, I would check out Amazon or Bodybuilding.com. Out of all the performance enhancing supplements out there, creatine is one of the cheapest, most effective and easiest to use. If you aren’t supplementing with creatine, you are losing out on gains.
Final Thoughts on Creatine
Creatine comes first on this list because of how effective and versatile of a performance enhancing supplement it is. If you are looking for the best bang for your buck, look no further than micronized creatine monohydrate. Not only is it ridiculously cheap, but it has the studies and real life results to back up its efficacy. If you aren’t using creatine and you are serious about lifting, you owe it to yourself to add it to your regimen. For more information on creatine or any other supplement to be reviewed, I cannot recommend Examine.com highly enough.
How Caffeine Works
Everyone knows that caffeine is a powerful stimulant. Many of us turn to caffeine to get us through our days. For me, it is staple for late night study sessions and heavy days in the gym. Caffeine’s stimulatory effect is due to its ability to inhibit adenosine, a molecule that induces sedation and relaxation, from binding to receptors. By inhibiting adenosine, caffeine may also stimulate dopamine, acetylcholine, serotonin and adrenaline. Dopamine and serotonin are “feel good” and “reward” neurotransmitters and caffeine can be addictive because of its effect on them. Increases in adrenaline and acetylcholine binding can result in improved athletic performance. Adrenaline, also known as epinephrine, causes our body to go into flight or fight mode. In this mode, cardiac output and blood flow to the muscles are increased. Acetylcholine is released by motor neurons in the nervous system to activate muscles. By increasing bound acetylcholine, we could potentially tap into more muscle fibers for recruitment during exercise. The more muscle fibers we recruit, the stronger we will become.
Benefits of Caffeine Supplementation
Some of the benefits of caffeine have already been covered, but there are plenty more. Caffeine’s benefits include increases in anaerobic capacity, training volume, power output, fat oxidation, alertness, thermogenesis, metabolic rate and oxygen uptake. Caffeine also decreases fatigue and rate of perceived exertion. Anaerobic capacity is defined as the rate at which our body can turn ADP back into ATP through phosphocreatine. Because caffeine speeds up the rate at which this is done, there is synergy between caffeine in creatine. They work well together. Through improvements in anaerobic capacity, oxygen pupate, power output and alertness and decreases in fatigue and rate of perceived exertion, caffeine supports longer, heavier and more challenging workouts. The additional volume accumulated from this will result in slabs of hard-earned muscle over time. For those who are worried about their physique, caffeine is a winner here too. Although it doesn’t carry quite the muscle-building qualities of creatine, caffeine makes up for that through its effects on body composition. A higher metabolic rate, or faster metabolism, means it will be easier to strip off fat with caffeine. Additionally, caffeine magnifies fat oxidation, causing our body to favor body fat and the breakdown of it as an energy source.
Caffeine Side Effects
Despite its availability, caffeine is not a supplement to casually play around with. Caffeine overdose is a real thing and there have been cases of individuals dying because of miscalculations in dosage when using powders. Even though it’s not severe, caffeine addiction can occur. Common signs of caffeine withdrawal include headaches, sleepiness, irritability and lethargy. A tolerance to caffeine can be built up over time from consistent use. Because of this, I recommend a limit on the number of days per week caffeine is included on your pre-workout. This may seem like heresy to those who love their caffeine, but if you are tolerant to your current dose, you aren’t really gaining much benefit anyway. It would be better to reduce your intake and increase your caffeine sensitivity so you get the maximum benefits from caffeine when you truly need it. Since caffeine is a stimulant, insomnia can manifest. To prevent this, limit caffeine intake for several hours before you go to bed. If you still have issues sleeping, cut off caffeine earlier, reduce the dose or stop taking it entirely, because it can be in your system for up to fourteen hours. Caffeine increases blood pressure, so I would be careful of caffeine supplementation if I were hypertensive. Because caffeine increases cardiac output, it should not be taken by individuals with heart complications.
How to Take Caffeine
Caffeine dosages vary depending upon goals and body weight. Doses should start low, typically around 100 mg, to assess tolerance. For weight loss, 200 mg seems to be the sweet spot, but changes in power output aren’t seen until 400-600 mg or about 4-6 mg/kg of body weight. As a pre-workout, caffeine should be taken thirty minutes to an hour before lifting. I like to take it right before I start my general warm-up at the gym. For fat loss, timing doesn’t matter as much, so I would still take it pre-workout or early in the morning on non-lifting days.
Caffeine is the primary ingredient in almost every single pre-workout supplement on the market. Caffeine can also be found in tea and coffee, although the caffeine content in these is relatively low. There may be hundreds of pre-workout products out there, but I recommend caffeine pills. Caffeine pills may be more expensive than caffeine powder; however, its much easier to dose and still a fraction of the cost of a fancy pre-workout. They may be very popular, but most pre-workouts are garbage. Pre-workouts rarely contain useful ingredients, and when they do, they are almost always at such a low dose to be worthwhile. Instead of shelling out $50 for a pre-workout that will last you a month, take a look at the caffeine pills which shouldn’t cost you more than $10 each month. I do enjoy the occasional energy drink, but I tend to take a caffeine pill on top of that because the caffeine content in energy drinks is not high enough for powerlifting purposes.
Final Thoughts on Caffeine
Just like creatine, caffeine is a versatile supplement. It’s effects on power output, mental fortitude and body composition are profound. Caffeine is also cheap and doesn’t require any crazy dosing protocol. If you need energy to get through your workouts and want to move big weights, the addition of caffeine to your workouts is an easy choice. Just be sure to save it for the days you need it, otherwise you risk tolerance and/or addiction.
How Beta-Alanine Works
Beta-alanine is a modification of the amino acid alanine. Beta-alanine is a precursor to the molecule carnosine, which acts as a buffer in our body against drops in pH. When blood levels become acidic, such as through increased lactic acid production while working out (which is what gives exercise that burning feeling), carnosine is released to restore levels back to normal. This allows us to get a few extra reps in at lower intensities before we fatigue.
Benefits of Beta-Alanine Supplementation
The primary benefit of beta-alanine is its effect on muscular endurance and fatigue. By reducing fatigue and enhancing muscular endurance, it becomes easier to add volume to our workouts. As a result, muscular hypertrophy occurs and fat mass is lost if calories aren’t changed. With beta-alanine, you will be able to bang out a few more reps on your long duration sets; however, you will not see a direct increase in your one rep max. Power output is not influenced by beta-alanine. Beta-alanine is still a noteworthy supplement as it helps to add quality muscle which will eventually lead to a higher total and beta-alanine may enhance creatine’s effect on power output.
Beta-Alanine Side Effects
Beta-alanine doesn’t carry many side effects. The primary side effect of beta-alanine is parathesia, a tingling sensation that seems to be most concentrated on the face. Some lifters actually enjoy this feeling while lifting and beta-alanine is a common staple in pre-workout formulas. If parathesia bothers you, it can be overcome by taking less beta-alanine or splitting up the dose throughout the day, so long as they are taken three or more hours apart.
How to Take Beta-Alanine
Beta-alanine can be taken any time of the day to increase carnosine stores. A large number of lifters prefer to supplement beta-alanine pre-workout because of the aforementioned stimulatory effect from parathesia. Beta-alanine doses vary widely, ranging from 500 milligrams to upwards of 3 grams. For those who are new to beta-alanine, I suggest starting low to assess tolerance. You don’t want to start high and feel sick or alarmed from the parathesia. To get the full benefit of beta-alanine, it’s best to take it on an empty stomach, but it isn’t going to be a deal breaker if you don’t adhere to this guideline.
As previously stated, beta-alanine is found in most pre-workouts. If you can’t tell yet though, I am not a big fan of them. I would rather buy beta-alanine separately. Doing so is much more cost-effective and I know what I am getting for my money. A lot of supplement companies like to hide the nutritional details behind “blends” so you don’t really know how much you are getting of the ingredients that actually work. Beta-alanine is sold in both pill and powder form, but I almost always prefer the powder form of everything because of cost. I like to save my money whenever possible. If you prefer pills, that’s fine too.
Final Thoughts on Beta-Alanine
Beta-alanine may not have as many uses as creatine or caffeine, but it’s impact on mid to high rep work (8+) is undeniable. The price of beta-alanine is hard to beat too. For $20, you can buy 500 grams of this stuff. Even at two grams a day, a single purchase would last you more than two-thirds of the year. That’s only $2 a month, and that’s at the high-end of the dosing protocol! A lot of money can be saved by purchasing bulk creatine, caffeine and beta-alanine over your typical pre-workout. Just add Crystal Light or buy flavored powder and you’re set!
How Citrulline Works
L-citrulline, often abbreviated citrulline, is one of the three amino acids responsible for the urea cycle. Citrulline that is supplemented will convert in the kidneys to L-arginine — another amino acid of the urea cycle that boosts nitric oxide levels and blood flow, which is critical when trying to deliver nutrients to the muscles. One may ask, “Why not just supplement with L-arginine?”. While this would seem like the easier option, citrulline supplementation raises arginine levels more than arginine itself! If you want better circulation, nitric oxide and arginine levels, supplementing with citrulline is your best bet.
Benefits of citrulline include increases in nitric oxide and arginine levels, blood flow, immunity, training volume and possibly growth hormone. citrulline also reduces fatigue, muscle soreness and blood pressure in those who are pre-hypertensive or hypertensive. This is most commonly known as high blood pressure. As a powerlifter, the pros of citrulline supplementation for powerlifting should be evident. Through a decrease in fatigue, particularly later in workouts, citrulline helps us achieve greater amounts of volume from our training. I cannot stress the importance of volume for hypertrophy and strength training enough. Only one study has been done on citrulline supplementation and muscle soreness, but the results were staggering. In this study, two groups 41 men performed two bench press sessions of eight sets per day. On one day, the men were randomly given citrulline, on the other, they were given a placebo. On the day with citrulline supplementation, the participants achieved more repetitions per set than the control workout from the third set onward and on the last set, the subjects performed 53% more repetitions on average than the last set of their control day! Despite the extra work, the subjects reported being 40% less sore the following 24 to 48 hours from this day. As we can see, citrulline’s influence on training volume, fatigue and muscle soreness are nothing to scoff at! I am a little skeptical about the correlation between citrulline supplementation and growth hormone levels. Citrulline has been shown to spike growth hormone levels after exercise, but levels quickly return to baseline. It is doubtful that these short spikes of growth hormone result in any tangible improvements in strength or size. I wouldn’t let my skepticism deter you from a supplement that is great otherwise. Citrulline’s impact on arginine levels also make it a powerful pro-erectile agent and it may even relieve erectile dysfunction.
Citrulline Side Effects
Reports of side effects from citrulline are fairly low. Like creatine, some individuals may be susceptible to gastrointestinal discomfort. If this is you, cut back on the dose or spread your dose throughout the day.
How to Take Citrulline
For circulatory health and erectile issues, three to five grams of citrulline spread throughout the day seems to do the trick. For performance enhancement, doses around six to eight grams, all taken pre-workout, are most commonly reported.
Citrulline is another frequent ingredient in pre-workout that is criminally under-dosed. For example, the Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard Pre-Workout, which is one of the better pre-workouts out there, only contains 1.5 grams per serving. We need four to five times that if we want to unlock the full potential of citrulline! I implore you to make your own pre-workout with the ingredients covered in this article, but if you swear by your pre-workout, at least buy some more of these things to add to it. Citrulline is a fantastic supplement, but its even better when bonded to malic acid. This formula is sold as citrulline malate. Both citrulline malate and citrulline come in powder or pill form. Citrulline malate is the more expensive of the two, so if money is tight, I would go with plain old citrulline. Regardless of which you choose, citrulline products are a little pricey compared to caffeine, creatine and beta-alanine. It still beats $50 a month for a pre-workout though.
Final Thoughts on Citrulline
Citrulline is practically devoid of side effects and shares many benefits with caffeine and beta-alanine including fatigue reduction and the potential to generate greater volume per session; however, all of these supplements work of different mechanisms to compliment each other. You can mix and match as desired to create the best powerlifting supplements stacks that cater to your needs!
How Baking Soda Works
Sodium bicarbonate, better known as baking soda, may come as a surprise to many of you! Who knew a cooking item in your kitchen shelf could also serve as a performance enhancer? Baking soda is a buffer much like the carnosine that is derived from beta-alanine. Because of this, baking soda works very similarly to and carries the same benefits as beta-alanine. Despite working through the same mechanism as beta-alanine, studies have suggested that there is an additive effect from using the two together — that is that both beta-alanine and baking soda used in conjunction are superior to either alone.
Benefits of Baking Soda Supplementation
Supplementation with baking soda can increase muscle oxygenation, fat oxidation, neuromuscular function, training volume, insulin sensitivity (possibly) and reduce lactate production and blood acidity. The significance of most of these have already been discussed, but an increase in neuromuscular function is extremely significant to powerlifters. In studies, baking soda supplementation has been shown to increase accuracy in sports like boxing and tennis through improvements in neuromuscular function. While we need studies to see how this affects powerlifting, it is possible that better neuromuscular function may help to make us better lifters.
Baking Soda Side Effects
The side effects of baking soda are not to be trifled with. Baking soda should not be supplemented in individuals with kidney problems and a history of panic attacks, as excessive use of baking soda can aggravate these issues. Baking soda may also cause gastrointestinal distress and because it is a salt, should also be avoided by those who are on low sodium diets. Baking soda increases excretion of potassium from the body, so it would be best to follow a potassium rich diet or begin potassium supplementation when using baking soda.
How to Take Baking Soda
Baking soda comes as a powder that should be taken according to body weight unless obese. Performance based doses are seen around 200-300 mg/kg body weight forty-five minutes to an hour and a half prior to exercise. Higher doses, up to 500 mg/kg body weight are effective, but carry an increased chance of side effects. If you want to consume this much baking soda on a daily basis, it would be best to break it up throughout the day. There are baking soda tablets available, but you would need to take a ridiculous number of them to get the baking soda you need. Be careful about drinking your baking soda concoction too quickly, as it can make you sick and you may need a food scale to accurately measure out baking soda. I would recommend you have a food scale anyway for meal prep.
Baking Soda Supplements
Since baking soda is used for all kinds of things, it’s a cheap and easy supplement to purchase. If you don’t already have some, you can buy baking soda in any convenience store or through Amazon if you don’t feel like going out.
Final Thoughts on Baking Soda
Out of all the legal supplements to choose from to include in my best powerlifting supplements stack, I decided to include baking soda. Research shows that baking soda buffers the blood during exercises which leads to better performance on the field, mat and platform. Chances are, every supplement in this article, including baking soda, will perform better than all that gimmicky garbage out there. I could have chosen BCAAs, leucine or HMB, but I went with baking soda. That says a lot about how much I believe in its utility as a powerlifting and weightlifting supplement. It may not be the flashiest or most expensive of products, but it gets the job done and in the end, that’s all that counts.
In this article, creatine, caffeine, beta-alanine, citrulline and baking soda were presented as five heavy hitting performance enhancers that could be combined into a powerful powerlifting supplement stack. These supplements may not come with frills, but they come with results. If you want to get further with less, ditch the pre-workout and make your own with this PR smashing formula.