No matter what those shouty adverts at the back of fitness magazines might claim, there’s no such thing as a magic tablet that can get you shredded in an instant. If you’re already training hard and eating right, however, taking the right supplements can make the difference between being in good shape and being in ridiculously good shape. We hit up professional six-pack sculptor and co-founder of LDN Muscle, Lloyd Bridger, to get his recommendations. But remember, these supplements won’t do jack (or help you get jacked) by themselves. “Think of this list as the cherry on top of a cake that already consists of smart training, sensible recovery, and good nutrition.”
These drinks contain all sorts (including creatine, beta-alanine and BCAAs, more on which below) to give your training a boost, but the main active ingredient is caffeine. “This allows you to train at a higher intensity, so you can lift more volume and do more reps,” says Bridger. You can take a less day-glo orange route to similar results: a pre-session double espresso will get you nicely wired.
Branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) are a rapidly absorbed protein supplement that contains three essential amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. “During workouts you’re breaking down muscle fibres,” says Bridger. “BCAAs reduce the amount of damage sustained, making you able to train harder and recover faster.” So no shaky legs after squat day. It can also be used to up your protein intake with none of the calories you’d get from a shake.
“Naturally found in muscle tissue, creatine stores ATP (adenosine triphosphate aka energy), which is necessary for explosive movements,” says Bridger. “Taking it supplements your natural stores so you can perform better at short bursts of intense exercise. Some people don’t find it sits that well with their workouts, so experiment taking it before, after or just with meals. It all has the same effect.” Do compound exercises or a plyometric (jumping) workout to really feel the difference it makes.
You know that burning feeling as your muscles get tired? That’s caused by lactic acid build-up, and beta-alanine helps buffer it. “Important for endurance and middle-distance athletes, it could help you squeeze out a few more reps,” says Bridger. But it’s only worth it if you’re putting in some serious work. “It really is the crowning jewel of supplements and there’s no point taking it if you haven’t got every other aspect of your training and nutrition down pat.”
“This is the only vitamin supplement I recommend to my clients,” says Bridger. “Most of us don’t get enough exposure to the UV rays our bodies need to synthesise it. Vitamin D deficiency is linked to a list of health issues as long as my arm and while it won’t help you lift more, it will keep your immune system strong and ensure your body is in the best position possible to build and maintain muscle.” Go for the liquid version in capsules. It’s more easily absorbed by the body, so you get more bang for your buck.