This is an ongoing series of articles from guest blogger and Strength & Conditioning coach William Wayland of Powering Through. If you have any questions about this post or S & C in general as it relates to MMA and BJJ then please leave a comment below!
Supplements are a potential minefield, seriously! Step into any supplement store and you will be under visual and sometimes olfactory assault from all directions. You’re effectively wading through a stream of information, claims and advice. Let me put it bluntly: you are being lied to! There are however a few supplements through both research and trial by fire used by my athletic clients and myself that I can recommend. I’m going to leave joint supplements for a future post as this comes with its own set of junk supplements and supplements which actually work. Here are four supplements that I stand by for regular use.
Creatine easily the most popular supplement aside from whey protein for grapplers, MMA fighters, athletes and bodybuilders. Despite its proven benefits and vast amount of freely available information available on it, it is still quite widely misunderstood. I hope to outline what it basically does, what you can expect and what creatine is not.
Simply put creatine is an organic acid that occurs naturally in skeletal muscles. If we go back to the energy system write up I did you can see that creatine plays a key role in the phosphocreatine energy system.
We need ATP for muscular contractions. The enzyme (creatine kinase) breaks down creatine phosphate so that the phosphate group can be used to resynthesize ATP. This all happens very rapidly, creatine is stored and recycled in the cells. The more creatine we can store in our cells the greater rapid ATP production we can generate.
What does it do?
- There is scientific evidence that short term creatine use can increase maximum power and performance in high-intensity anaerobic repetitive work (periods of work and rest) by 5 to 15%.
- This is mainly bouts of running/cycling sprints and multiple sets of low RM weightlifting. Single effort work shows an increase of 1 to 5%.
- Creatine has been shown to give mass gains of 1kg a week, this may be due to water retention. Usually peaking at around 2-3kg gain.
- Recent evidence suggesting that creatine can increase growth potential of muscle fibres
Obviously if you’re involved in MMA or grappling that improvement to high-intensity anaerobic work of 5-15% could make a huge difference. In a study of Judo athletes (Radovanovic et al 2008) results showed that the two-week creatine monohydrate supplementation and specially designed training program, have a significant effect on anaerobic power and body composition (a difference of 90W power output).
There is another study: “Effects of creatine supplementation during recovery from rapid body mass reduction on metabolism and muscle performance capacity in well-trained wrestlers.” The purpose of this study conducted by Oopik et al, was to determine if creatine monohydrate supplementation with carbohydrate ingestion during recovery period after rapid body mass reduction would accelerate the restoration of body mass and physical performance in well-trained wrestlers.
The results of this study indicated that creatine supplementation with glucose ingestion during the 17 hour recovery period from rapid body mass loss did not accelerate the restoration of body mass. However, the creatine supplementation did stimulate the regain of physical performance in maximal intensity efforts in well-trained wrestlers in this one day test period.
So for fighters who have had to cut alot of weight for competition creatine taken with glucose post weigh-in can help keep max efforts high in the upcoming fight; some fighters complain that their power leaves them after a drastic weight cut. Selective creatine use could mitigate that.
There are two scientifically proven ways to supplement with creatine. The first is through a loading phase, in which 20 grams (usually split into 5g servings) is taken every day for 5 days, followed by a maintenance phase of 3-5 grams a day for periods of 2–3 months at a time. The second consists of taking 3-10 grams of creatine per day for a period of 2–3 months with no loading phase. It is generally recommended to take at least 1–2 weeks off from creatine supplementation in order to maintain a proper response mechanism in the body. Additionally it can taken with simple sugars to increase uptake, you will quite often see creatine mixes with large amounts of sugar. People with low dietary creatine tend to super respond to creatine, so this supplement can be useful for vegetarians. Just a note, creatine is not a steroid or a stimulant despite many lay people believing this, heck even today I had someone tell me it gives them headaches, in the past people have told me it gets them spotty/angry/incontinent/wired etc, not all at the same time however. The placebo effect is a powerful thing!
Beta alanine or β-Alanine a naturally occurring amino acid, and functions as a precursor to Carnosine. This is where it gets real interesting, when we exercise, especially when it’s very high intensity exercise, our bodies accumulate a large amount of hydrogen ions (H+), causing our muscles’ pH to drop (become more acidic). You’ll know this as that burning sensation. This increase in H+ ions causes the pH in your muscles to drop and this interferes with your ability to perform powerful muscular contractions.
Carnosine in effect mops up those free H+ ions, but not enough Beta Alanine means not enough carnosine (ingesting carnosine its self is problematic as its damaged via digestion). So by supplementing Beta Alanine we can decrease fatigue and increase total muscular work. Research has shown that beta-alanine increases ventilatory threshold, increases in time to fatigue and increases in time to exhaustion.
Beta Alanine can however cause an itchy, tingly sensation, and in high doses paresthesia (pins and needles) occurs, usually doses over 10mg per kg of bodyweight. Beta Alanine is not banned by WADA or its affiliates. Used in conjunction with creatine they can have a synergistic effect, creatine provides more energy and Beta Alanine buffers the metabolic waste, which ultimately results in enhanced performance.
Caffeine arguably one of the most widely consumed natural drugs in the world, found in tea leaves, cola nuts and cocoa beans. It functions as a stimulant by interfering with the binding of adenosine to adenosine receptors. By interfering with adenosine, caffeine delays the onset of fatigue, increases alertness and concentration. Caffeine doesn’t give you energy as its calorie free (the cream and sugar in your caramel mocha might not be), what it does is mask tiredness extremely well. It is this change in the perception or difficulty of effort that athletes can make use of.
For those of you that train early in the day research has shown that caffeine can increase morning strength levels to that of the afternoon (when physiologically you are strongest), in the Mora-Rodriguez study increases in bench press and squat strength where between 2.5-5.7% versus a placebo in the morning. Additionally doses of 3mg/kg of bodyweight can increase maximal strength versus just 1mg/kg of bodyweight.
Caffeine concentration in the blood stream can peak anything between 20-50 mins after consumption and the resultant effect last for 3-4 hours. If you do choose to supplement caffeine, I would suggest not consuming liquid caffeine and instead make use of tablets as this allows you moderate dosage. Where as drinking it in coffee form means you cannot be sure how much you are getting (a cup of coffee is between 80-120mg). Another issue is tolerance and diminished effect with regular consumption, regular coffee drinkers will need more to obtain the advantages. Scramble sells a Caffeine containing supplement called Metabolic overdive and for those of you who don’t respond well to caffeine can always try launch fuel
Probably the most widely consumed sports supplement in the world. I won’t labour on this supplement because the benefits of increased protein intake are numerous. Ordinarily speaking, whey protein should help the people who are in need of increasing their protein intake. Whey protein has been shown to aid in increasing hypertrophy and strength, but has no adverse effects on testosterone levels (unlike soy protein). It is hard to argue against the superiority of whey protein over most other forms of protein during or in the immediate vicinity of a workout (van Loon, Gibala 2011).
Ricardo Mora-Rodríguez, Jesus García Pallarés, Álvaro López-Samanes, Juan Fernando Ortega, and Valentín E. Fernández-Elías (2012): Caffeine Ingestion Reverses the Circadian Rhythm Effects on Neuromuscular Performance in Highly Resistance-Trained Men.
Sedliak M, Finni T, Cheng S, Haikarainen T, Häkkinen K. Diurnal variation in maximal and submaximal strength, power and neural activation of leg extensors in men: multiple sampling across two consecutive days. Int J Sports Med. 2008;29(3):217–24.
Sokmen B, Armstraon LE, Kraemer WJ, Casa DJ, Dias JC, Judelson DA, Maresh CM. Caffeine use in sports: considerations for the athlete. J Strength Conditioning Res 2008;22:978-986. Desbrow B. Leveritt M. Well-trained endurance athletes’ knowledge.
Radovanovic, Bratic, Milovanovic (2008) Effects of Creatine Monohydrate supplementation and training on anaerobic capacity and body composition in Judo athletes. ACTA FAC MED NAISS 2008; 25 (3): 115-120
Oopik V, Paasuke M, Timpmann S, Medijainen L, Ereline J, Gapejeva J. Effects of creatine supplementation during recovery from rapid body mass reduction on metabolism and muscle performance capacity in well-trained wrestlers. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2002 Sep;42(3):330-9.
Stout, J.R., et al. (2006). Effects of beta-alanine supplementation on the onset of neuromuscular fatigue and ventilatory threshold in women. Amino Acids.
Van Loon LJ, Gibala (2011) Dietary protein to support muscle hypertrophy. Nestle Nutr Inst Workshop Ser. 2011;69:79-89; discussion 89-95. Epub 2012 Jan 18