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darksidefitness 03-14-2012 11:46 AM

Supplement Synergy P.II
Strength & Endurance Stack: Creatine Monohydrate, Beta-Alanine, Arginine Alpha-Ketoglutarate (AAKG)

The majority of supplement companies sell preworkout formulas aimed at increasing strength/power/endurance on a workout-by-workout basis. Achieving this goal is beneficial, as the more weight you can push in an exercise bout determines the degree of muscle overload and the subsequent anabolic response. Several supplements have been scientifically proven to support increased strength and power; in fact, the data is quite convincing in its suggestion that taking them together provides an additional boost to your workouts.

Beta-alanine works by increasing carnosine levels in skeletal muscle. Having high muscle carnosine levels aids in muscle function and performance because carnosine works as a potent buffer of skeletal muscle pH (acidity) during high-intensity/fatiguing exercise. Since high acidity in muscle can hamper strength and power, increased muscle carnosine levels are extremely beneficial to bodybuilders. Research shows beta-alanine ingestion increases strength and training volume during high-intensity anaerobic workouts.

As we’ve stated, creatine is one of the most scientifically supported supplements. Studies investigating the interaction between creatine and beta-alanine during exercise indicate this combination enhances muscular endurance and improves strength during anaerobic performances. Unfortunately, because of the specific designs of these research studies, it’s difficult to assess the degree of synergy. The data does show, however, that this combination has measurable benefits when taken before training.

AAKG is a supplement that contains a blend of L-arginine (A) and alpha-ketoglutarate (AKG). L-arginine is a conditionally essential amino acid used by every cell in the body. As well as its involvement in a plethora of other processes, L-arginine is essential to the production of nitric oxide (NO), which leads to vasodilation (expanding of blood vessels) and increases in muscle blood flow. Interestingly though, there are recent conflicting reports on the efficacy of L-arginine to increase NO levels and/or blood flow during exercise. Regardless, functional data substantively support L-arginine as an enhancer of workout strength and power. A study published in Nutrition reported that AAKG taken during eight weeks of resistance training significantly boosted blood arginine levels and resulted in substantial improvements in bench-press strength and anaerobic power. Another study published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism noted taking creatine stacked with AAKG resulted in increased bench-press exercise endurance and greater power output during repeated anaerobic exercise (Wingate) tests.


Make a cocktail of 3–5 grams creatine, 5 grams beta-alanine and 5 grams AAKG in a sugar-based drink (e.g., Gatorade). On training days, drink one dose 30 minutes preworkout and one immediately post-workout. On rest days, drink one dose in the morning and one dose before bed.

Energy / Mental Focus Stack: Caffeine, Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs), Taurine

This simple stack is the backbone of most energy drinks on the market. The blend of these supplements increases energy levels, mental focus and alertness through three distinct mechanisms. Caffeine is a CNS stimulant and produces its energizing effects by essentially “waking up” the brain.

During exercise BCAAs are metabolized and plasma levels decrease in the body. As exercise progresses, plasma free-fatty acids become elevated, which in turn promotes an increase in free tryptophan. Tryptophan is an amino acid scientifically proven to induce sleepiness, because of its impact on serotonin production. Scientists hypothesize that ingestion of BCAAs balances the increased levels of tryptophan and decreases its transport across the blood-brain barrier, subsequently decreasing serotonin synthesis, which leads to delayed fatigue. This theory is supported by a study in which BCAA supplementation was given during 60 minutes of exhaustive exercise. Subjects exhibited a 7% lower rating of perceived exertion and a 15% lower rating of mental fatigue at a given work rate, compared to a placebo.

Taurine is the second-most abundant amino acid in the brain and, as such, exists in very high concentration. Taurine supplementation may modify the actions of inhibitory neurotransmitters in the CNS (e.g., GABA, gamma-Aminobutyric acid, the chief inhibitory neurotransmitter that helps regulate neuronal excitability and is directly responsible for the regulation of muscle tone), and thus has been studied and used as a non-stimulant supplement to increase focus. Of importance to bodybuilders, taurine-containing beverages help increase brain performance, focus and time on task.

Based on the available study data, it’s difficult to assess the synergistic effect of this stack. However, the pathways by which it operates and the evidence for its energy-inducing efficacy definitely make this combination worth trying.


Take 200–400 milligrams caffeine, 5–10 grams BCAAs and 1–3 grams taurine 30 minutes before training.

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