As a female, I know that bodybuilding presents its own struggles for women and the recommendations we hear about supplementation and routine aren't always fitted to our bodies. So, I thought it would be helpful to share some of the best supplements female bodybuilders should be taking based on their unique needs. Hopefully, this will help you distinguish from the male-centric recommendations we often hear that don't always work the best for us.
#1 Whey Protein
Whey protein is one of two proteins found in milk. The human body is capable of breaking it down very fast and immediately sending the amino acids it contains to our muscle tissue. This is a great replacement or complement to the whole food lead proteins we usually eat, like eggs, chicken breast, and fish, that take too long to digest at those critical times. Namely, that means taking whey protein is the best choice when you first wake up and also before/after your workout.
Plus, whey protein is more than just protein. It also contains protein fragments known as peptides that can help increase our blood flow to the muscle tissues, which is essential before we workout. This helps muscles get more nutrients, hormones, and oxygen exactly when they need those things.
How to take it: It's suggested to take 20 grams mixed into water right when you wake up, another 20 grams within a half-hour before your workout, and yet another 20 grams in the half-hour after you finish training.
#2 Casein Protein
Casein protein is the other protein in milk. However, casein digests extremely slowly, which makes it good for a different purpose. Casein will provide your body with a steady supply of amino acids over many hours. This makes it great to take right before you go to sleep as this is when your body is consuming no food/nutrients and is also going into its repair state.
Research by the Weider Research Group gave participants casein before going to bed and they gained more muscle mass than the group that took casein upon waking. Another study mixed whey and casein as a post-workout shake and the group that took both saw better muscle growth than the one that just took whey.
How to take it: Take 20 grams right before you go to bed. You may also mix 10 grams of casein with 10 grams of whey in your post-workout shake.
#3 Nitric Oxide (N.O.) Boosters
Nitric Oxide boosters aim to increase the amount of Nitric Oxide in the bloodstream. N.O. helps to relax blood vessels and increase their diameter so that blood can flow more easily through them, increasing the amount of blood that reaches our muscle tissues. Since blood carries nutrients and oxygen, this serves an essential purpose. N.O. boosters generally enable a person to go harder and train for longer since their muscles are getting more of what they need.
N.O. boosters can also lead to quicker recovery. Plus, since blood contains a lot of water, these supplements help more of it get into your muscles, which can get you that muscle pump during training. That pump stretches out the muscle cell membranes and can lead to muscles growing larger. It can even help promote fat burning.
How to take it: Search for a product that contains arginine, citrulline, glycine propionyl-L-carnitine (GPLC), or Pycnogenol. Take within an hour before you work out.
Caffeine is the most popular stimulant in the world and, while it often gets a bad rep, taking it correctly can improve your focus and even boost muscle strength. It can also lead to increased fat loss and caffeine works best when consumed alongside a green tea extract. Caffeine promotes fat release from your fat cells while green tea will increase your body's metabolic (fat burning) rate. Together, they can ensure your bloodstream has enough fat in it for energy.
How to take it: I have found recommendations to take 200 to 400 milligrams of caffeine between two and three times each day, dosing throughout the day (like morning and afternoon) and also within an hour before you work out.
#5 Green Tea Extract
Green tea extract takes the active ingredients out of green tea, including polyphenol epigallocatechin gallate. On a molecular level, green tea extract does a lot of good things for your body, including interacting with neurotransmitters and hormones in a way that promotes fat burning and increases your metabolism. It can also enhance your muscle recovery after a hard workout and support healthy joints.
How to take it: Take 500 milligrams of green tea extract three times daily with meals. Take an additional dose within an hour before you work out.
#6 Fish Oil
Fish oil contains two essential Omega-3 fatty acids, those being EPA and DHA. Together, they will help support your wellbeing and can even turn on the gene that helps to stimulate fat burning within the body.
How to take it: Dosage is super simple, just take 2 grams of fish oil with each meal (three times per day total).
BCAAs, or Branched Chain Amino Acids, consist of isoleucine, leucine, and valine. Taking them can improve your stamina as your muscle tissues can actually burn BCAAs as fuel. They can also lower your fatigue following a workout. Additionally, they support the growth of new muscle tissue and leucine, specifically, helps to promote protein synthesis. Consuming BCAAs can also increase the amount of growth hormone in your bloodstream, reduce your cortisol levels, and increase your insulin levels.
How to take it: Take 5 to 10 grams of BCAAs with your pre-workout and post-workout shakes.
Creatine is another amino acid that you should be supplementing with. Its primary function is to create energy for muscles while you work out. Supplementing with it will improve your energy, thereby increasing your strength and endurance. It also draws water into muscle cells thus stretching the muscle cell membrane, which can promote further muscle cell growth.
How to take it: Take 2 to 5 grams of creatine before your workout and another 2 to 5 grams after.
This nonessential amino acid works when it comes into contact with histidine, another amino acid. Together, they form a carnosine. Carnosine can improve the size, strength, and endurance of muscle tissue while also promoting fat loss within the body. However, your body can only produce it if you have enough Beta-Alanine, hence supplementation.
How to take it: Take up to 3 grams of beta-alanine right before and right after you work out.
While omega-6 fats are not that healthy and most Americans get far too many based on the standard diet, CLA is not the same as the others. This is a healthy omega-6 fatty acid that you should supplement with as it can reduce fat while also improving strength and muscle growth. It primarily impacts your body by boosting your metabolic rate and it can promote fat burning during sleep as well.
How to take it: Take 2 grams of CLA three times each day, once with each meal.
Calcium is an essential mineral that supports healthy bones, but it's also important for muscle contraction. It can even spur fat loss, based on some research. Taking calcium reduces how much fat your intestines absorb from the foods you eat and it also suppresses calciferol (a hormone that reduces fat burning).
How to take it: Take up to 600 milligrams of calcium twice daily.
#12 Vitamin D
Vitamin D is rightfully called the "sunshine vitamin" and it's associated with improved muscle strength. It also interacts with muscle fiber receptors to activate genes that will improve muscle growth. Plus, Vitamin D promotes fat loss, especially when you take it with calcium.
How to take it: Take 2,000 international units of Vitamin D twice daily alongside calcium.
#13 B Complex 100
A B Complex vitamin will contain a number of different essential vitamins to support your good health. B vitamins play a critical role in helping your body get nutrients out of the food you eat and also get oxygen to your muscle tissues. Fatigue is a common side effect of low B vitamin consumption. Additional benefits associated with B vitamins include better digestion, Nitric Oxide production, and the ability to utilize the proteins you consume.
How to take it: Look for a B Complex 100 vitamin that will provide 100 milligrams of most B vitamins, including B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9, and B12.
#14 Vitamin C
Vitamin C is yet another essential vitamin that you need to ensure you're getting enough of if you are a female bodybuilder. In addition to supporting your immune system, Vitamin C also plays a role in synthesizing hormones, collagen, and amino acids and destroying free radicals that exercise and other sources of stress create. Since free radicals break down nitric oxide and cause a bunch of other problems, Vitamin C is important.
How to take it: Take 1,000 milligrams of Vitamin C twice each day with food.
A multivitamin is the final all-around supplement you should look to add to your routine as a female bodybuilder. A multivitamin is going to contain a blend of many micronutrients that play a major role in your health. It will help "fill in the gaps," so to speak, and help you get all the other vitamins that you may otherwise become deficient in due to reduced caloric intake, limited food variety, or supplementation of other vitamins.
How to take it: Look for a multivitamin that contains at least 100% of the daily value (DV) for most C, D, E, and B-complex vitamins. It should also contain 100% DV for your copper, chromium, and zinc. Take once daily with food, like at breakfast.
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