Bodybuilders will often use a range of supplements and pills in conjunction and will call this list of pharmaceuticals their ‘stack.’ A common question you’ll see on bodybuilding forums and in chat rooms then is ‘what’s your stack?’ and this will then usually be answered with a laundry list of scary-sounding products. But what does it all mean? Which of these supplements are actually necessary? Which are healthy even? Here we will look at the basic bodybuilding supplements, what they do, and which ones if any you should include in your own ‘stack’.
Protein Shakes: The protein shake is the Daddy of bodybuilding supplements and is the most useful, practical, affordable of them all. All you’re doing here is getting a lot of protein in a powdered form that’s convenient to use and that you can carry around with you. Usually, this will be in the form of ‘whey,’ which is a milk extract that is one of the by-products in the cheese-making process. This is highly bio-available and very lean and tastes great mixed with milk or water. You can also get soy protein, which is not as effective but suitable for vegans, egg protein, which is very bio-available but also quite expensive, and casein which releases more slowly and is thus useful for taking just before bed.
Testosterone Boosters: Sometimes, just called ‘T-boosters,’ these are supplements that boost the amount of available testosterone in your body to encourage you to build more muscle and to build more fat. Most of these use a range of herbs such as Tribulus Terrestris and only work moderately – particularly for young people who already produce a lot of testosterone. They’re not cheap either, so generally, I would say avoid unless you have a diagnosed low testosterone problem.
Creatine: Creatine is a supplement that is supposed to boost your energy levels and endurance by recycling some of the ATP that your body for energy. This is used by many athletes suggesting that there is at least some truth behind the way it is purported to work, but having used it myself on and off, I can’t say it’s particularly noticeable. It’s cheap-ish though, so give it a go, and you might find it works better for you.
Growth Hormone: Growth hormone or HGH is a hormone produced in the body that encourages the creation of muscle and the burning of fat. Taking HGH is illegal in many countries, but other supplements aim to ‘boost’ your natural production of growth hormone in a similar manner to t-boosters. These include supplements like GABA, which unfortunately have different side effects such as tiredness and mood changes – so it’s safer to avoid.
Thermogenics: Thermogenics are stimulants like souped-up caffeine, which can help you to feel more active and alert and increase your metabolism to burn more fat. Some bodybuilders use them when they are going through their ‘cutting stage,’ and they’re popular among dieters, but unfortunately, they have been linked to addiction and known to cause heart attacks, so again, this is one to steer clear of.
Nitric Oxide: This is a vasodilator meaning it dilates your blood vessels allowing more blood, oxygen, and nutrients to get to your muscles. It works instantly and makes your veins bulge like the Incredible Hulk, which is cool and is one of the few supplements that makes a noticeable difference to your workouts. The only thing I’d say is that it’s costly, and as it’s not essential most people won’t have the privilege of enjoying this one.