Protein, Creatine, and Anabolics — Should I Consider Sports Supplements for Bulking?

While professional athletes and bodybuilders often promote supplements to enhance performance, the industry is unregulated, and young adults may be induced to take substances that are not only unnecessary and expensive but potentially dangerous.

Bulking is a practice done by many bodybuilders or gymgoers who want to increase their muscle size. This practice usually involves consuming excess calories that, according to many bulking supporters, increase your muscle gain. Even though it is practiced often, there is no scientific evidence of it being beneficial over a holistic muscle-building approach.

In this article, we are going to explore the three supplement categories that are most often associated with gaining muscle in regard to available scientific evidence.

Protein supplements and bulking

To build muscle, your body needs access to building block amino acids. Of the 20 amino acids, 11 are synthesized in the body and called 'non-essential,' while nine are considered 'essential,' meaning they are not synthesized in the body and must be acquired from food. To acquire all of the amino acids necessary for muscle growth, a complete protein containing all of the non-essential and essential amino acids is required. Whey protein powder, fish or poultry, and soybeans are all examples of complete protein.

Resistance training plus protein consumption stimulates muscle growth synergistically, meaning you need to have an adequate intake of protein to maximize your gains.

One simple way to increase your protein intake is by taking protein supplements, such as protein powder. It is generally recommended to take 1–2 g of protein per kilogram of body weight to ensure enough amino acids for muscle growth.

However, some people may feel that enough protein could be consumed in their diet without any supplements. Complete proteins found in meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy are sufficient. Plant-based complete proteins include quinoa, buckwheat, hempseed, blue-green algae, and soybeans.

Taking enough protein, from supplements or from a protein-rich diet, may be a key to reaching your bulking goals.

Creatine and bulking

Creatine is an amino acid derivative naturally made in our bodies that is responsible for quick energy supply when we need it. In our organism, creatine is turned into phosphocreatine, also known as creatine phosphate, that provides energy during the moments when muscle cells need it the most — muscle exhaustion. However, creatine phosphate stores in our body are not infinite and can last only a short amount of time. For creatine production, our body needs three amino acids — arginine, glycine, and methionine; however, creatine can be acquired from diet or supplements.

The International Society of Sports Nutrition says that creatine can not only improve exercise performance but can play a role in preventing and/or reducing the severity of the injury, enhancing rehabilitation from injuries, and helping athletes tolerate heavy training loads. A recent randomized controlled trial in a small group of young athletes found that post-workout creatine supplementation at 0.1 grams/kg each day was effective in building muscle strength and endurance compared to placebo.

One important distinction is that creatine can help boost strength, but it does not have a direct effect on muscle mass gain.

Even though creatine directly does not contribute to muscle mass gain, it can be a helpful addition to your bulking journey, potentially providing the energy for your workouts.

Anabolic steroids and bulking

Testosterone (T) is a sex hormone produced within the body by males and females that has an impact on bone density and muscle mass, with peak production late in adolescence (typically 18–19 years). Anabolic steroids are a group of synthetic testosterone analogs that stimulate various processes in our bodies, notably protein synthesis, which is essential for the growth of the muscles.

Even though anabolic steroids are used by some bodybuilders to maximize their gains, their usage comes with detrimental and long-term impacts on health. A review of current research reveals that steroid misuse and abuse is associated with side effects that affect numerous systems in our body. The negative effects on our health include a decrease or loss of function of the reproductive system, cardiac issues (cardiac impairment or sudden cardiac death), neurodegeneration, coronary artery disease (CAD), and a condition called bubble gut.

If you are considering anabolic steroids to reach your fitness goals, it is highly advisable to consult with your healthcare professional, who can further give you advice on the topic.

If I want to increase my performance with an anabolic compound, what side effects might I expect?

In a recent meta-analysis, anabolic steroid use caused reductions in gonadotropin levels, which took 13–24 weeks to return to baseline. Gonadotropins are hormones that regulate testicular and ovarian function. After discontinuing use, testosterone remained lower compared to baseline; a reduction in testicle size, as well as the structure and function of sperm and gynecomastia, were also noted at least four months after discontinuation. Other real-world observations from male bodybuilders include hair loss, fat deposition, irritability, mood swings, and aggressive tendencies.

Best ways to build muscle

The safety profiles of whey protein and creatine are good at the right dose; they are well tolerated and may offer a performance boost, but they can put a load on the kidneys at higher than recommended dosages. Approximately half of college athletes take sports supplements, but they do not have sufficient knowledge about dosing or reputable supply sources.

Furthermore, anabolic steroids may seem a quick and potent way to reach your bulking goals, but they come at a cost for your health, especially in the long run.

Before you hit the gym and after training, eat right to give your body the protein it needs to build muscle and recover: about 1–2 g per kilogram of body weight each day. Instead of going straight to anabolic steroids, improve performance through intentional dietary choices, such as making a post-workout smoothie with complete proteins and getting enough sleep. If your diet is already finely tuned and you still want to optimize performance, consider a stepwise progression starting with the safest option — creatine or whey protein.

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