Know Your Bodybuilding Supplements

Bodybuilders are notorious for taking all sorts of nutritional supplements as they strive to build muscle, but are they always familiar with what they are putting into their bodies? We look at the potential benefits offered by BCAA, L-Arginine and Tribulus Terrestris.

BCAA

BCAA stands for branched chain amino acids and is increasingly being recognized as an important supplement in the field of sports nutrition. In short the term refers to three essential amino acids - leucine, isoleucine and valine.

Amino acids are widely known as the building blocks of protein. When protein food is eaten it gets digested into individual amino acids and short chains of amino acids that are sufficiently small to be absorbed into the bloodstream. They are then used by the body to build and repair tissues amongst other things.

Amino acids are split between those classed as essential and those labelled non-essential. This simply means that essential amino acids cannot be made by the body, whereas non-essential amino acids can. There are nine essential amino acids and each must be obtained from the diet. The nine essential amino acids are histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine.

Non-essential amino acids are just as important as the essential variety and the term simply means they can be made by the body from vitamins and other amino acids. The non-essential amino acids are alanine, arginine, asparagine, aspartic acid, cysteine, cystine, glutamic acid, glutamine, glycine, proline, serine and tyrosine.

The BCAA's are especially important to athletes because they are metabolized in the muscle rather than the liver. This means that they can be used either to build new proteins or be burned as fuel to create energy. Supplementing with BCAA's has been shown to result in measurable gains in both muscle strength and size. Taken before a workout BCAA's can improve performance and delay the onset of fatigue. They also operate as anabolic agents allowing the body to burn fat and not muscle.

As a supplement that has no reported side effects, branched chain amino acids offer many benefits to the serious bodybuilder.

L-Arginine

Arginine is a semi-essential amino acid that the body cannot make naturally. It is found in nuts, seeds, chocolate and raisins.

Arginine is used by the body in the execution of many important physiological processes including hormone secretion, output of growth hormone, removal of toxins from the body and enhancement of the immune system. It is also a precursor of nitric oxide which vasodiolates vessels in the body. For this reason arginine is often used to treat conditions such as angina, high blood pressure, cardiac disease, sexual dysfunction and infertility. Recent research has also highlighted arginine's ability to scavenge free radicals, remove bad cholesterol, enhance fat metabolism and regulate salt levels.

There are several reasons why arginine appeals to bodybuilders:

1. It prevents the retention of water under the skin thus minimizing bloating and helping to create a ripped appearance.

2. It helps the body to retain nitrogen that is essential to the muscle building process.

3. Its vasodilating abilities support muscle growth.

4. It enhances protein synthesis.

5. It helps to boost the immune system allowing harder training and minimizing the minor illnesses that come from overtraining.

With any amino acid supplement overdosing can lead to weakness and nausea so care should be taken in applying small doses and increasing them gradually until an optimum level is reached. Bear in mind that many protein powders and other supplements are fortified with amino acids so check the labels carefully. The manufacturer's instructions should be followed in all instances.

Tribulus Terrestris

Tribulus terrestris is a herb that comes from a plant found in Asia. It has been used in the past by many cultures for the treatment of liver, kidney and cardiovascular diseases. It has also been used as a diuretic and to treat infertility. In recent years strength athletes in eastern Europe are reputed to have used it to enhance performance.

It is believed to enhance testosterone levels by encouraging the production of lutenizing hormone. Studies have shown that when lutenizing hormone levels are increased, the natural production of testosterone also increases.

It is difficult to assess the validity of tribulus as a muscle growth enhancer because none of the studies carried out have appeared in peer-reviewed scientific journals. Its proponents do suggest that it can prove useful when stacked with 100 mg of DHEA and 100 mg of androstenedione but this takes us into the equally uncertain territory of prohormones which we have covered in a separate article.

If you do wish to experiment with tribulus you can take 750-1250 mg per day divided between meals. Some people experience stomach upsets but this can be minimized by taking it with food. There's no guarantee that tribulus terrestris will help you grow bigger muscles but many users report a much improved sex drive!