Below are eight important bodybuilding nutrients, the best food sources of each, and supplement tips to enhance your recovery and support your quest for greater mass and size.
Your body needs this antioxidant to make collagen, the glue that supports joint health. If you’re sticking to the heavy basics — squats, bent rows, deadlifts and bench presses — you know these exercises can take a toll on your joints. Vitamin C can also help lower cortisol, the stress hormone associated with gut-busting training sessions that can cause the body to enter a catabolic (muscle-burning) state.
Good sources: peppers, broccoli, oranges, tomatoes, cantaloupe, strawberries and cauliflower.
As a supplement: Taking 500-1,000 milligrams (mg) with your postworkout meal can offset cortisol levels.
Vitamin E can decrease the amount of creatine kinase (CK) activity — CK is an enzyme that indicates muscle damage. It’s believed a high intake of E can help reduce damage, leading to better recovery and muscle repair. One study showed that a very high dose (900 international units [IU]) could also potentially help in the storage of glycogen.
Good sources: wheat germ, soybeans, eggs, nuts, sweet potatoes, spinach and molasses.
As a supplement: Take 200-800 IU with your postworkout meal.
Vitamin B6 converts into an enzyme that helps the body use amino acids and harness the power of glycogen — the body’s fuel reserve of carbohydrates. This vitamin can potentially increase growth hormone output associated with hard training.
Good sources: red meat, fish and whole eggs. As a supplement: For growth hormone release, consume 10 mg immediately before training with a small carbohydrate snack.
This rarely talked about mineral helps muscle process glycogen. It’s involved in the activation of protein synthesis and it can even prevent muscle cramps.
Good sources: whole grains, legumes, oats, soybeans, black beans and seafood.
As a supplement: Magnesium is best combined with zinc, as in the supplement ZMA, containing 560 mg magnesium and 30 mg zinc. Take at bedtime.
The most popular bodybuilding supplements are those that contain caffeine, as it jazzes up the nervous system, promoting a more intense training session. The downside is it can suck iron out of the body. Iron helps cells grow and divide — meaning they support protein synthesis.
Good sources: red meat and veggies (preferably in combination).
As a supplement: If you’re gaining mass and eating red meat daily, you can add another 10 mg to your supplement list. Dieters who avoid red meat can add as much as 15 mg daily. You can take iron at any meal of the day.
Miss this important mineral and say good-bye to two of the more important hormones that support gains in size and strength: testosterone and IGF (insulinlike growth factor). Zinc helps the body manufacture testosterone, a key hormone for mass, and a lack of zinc could cause a drop in IGF, another critical hormone that supports size.
Good sources: oysters, red meat and seafood
As a supplement: Magnesium is best combined with zinc, as in the complex ZMA, containing 560 mg magnesium and 30 mg zinc. Take at bedtime.
Another critical mineral for growth, potassium is perhaps best known for maintaining fluid within muscles. The benefit of the greater fluid balance is that muscles remain hydrated, and hydrated muscles are more apt to maintain an anabolic state.
Good sources: lean meat, yogurt, low-fat milk, potatoes and bananas
As a supplement: Potassium supplements come in 99 mg capsules or tablets. Taking two tablets per meal (on a five- or six-meal regimen) to add at least another 1,000 mg daily along with eating potassium-rich foods can support hydration.
Bodybuilders claim carnitine is a good precontest supplement due to its ability to help funnel fatty acids into muscle where it is burned. Newer animal studies confirm it can help produce leaner animals with more muscle and less fat. Carnitine helps produce ketones in carb-controlled diets, and ketones prevent the loss of muscle mass. From a dieting point of view, it remains a viable supplement. For mass building, I speculate it may help encourage gains in mass with less-than-expected gains in bodyfat while following a mass-building diet.
Good sources: organ meat (e.g., beef liver, beef heart), lamb and beef
As a supplement: Take three to six grams daily while dieting, three grams before cardio and another three grams before training. For building mass while trying to stay lean, give three grams a try taken with breakfast.
Nutrients are critical for bodybuilding success, but never forget that there are two sources of these nutrients: whole foods and supplements. Bodybuilders often neglect one in favor of the other. A far better approach is to take both food and supplementation into account when considering micro- and macronutrients.