Sup­ple­ments for Strength

Look­ing to jack your max? Then lift heavy and add th­ese three strength builders to your list of must-have supps.

Muscle & Performance - - Contents - BY DWAYNE JACK­SON, PHD

n the sim­plest sense, phys­i­cal strength is the abil­ity to ex­ert force on phys­i­cal ob­jects us­ing your mus­cles. And be­cause of the body’s re­mark­able abil­ity to adapt, repet­i­tive feats of strength over time re­sult in marked strength in­creases. It goes with­out say­ing that this adap­tive process re­quires com­plex phys­i­o­log­i­cal and bio­chem­i­cal pro­cess­ing, and sup­ple­ment re­search and de­vel­op­ment teams tire­lessly strive to de­velop ef­fec­tive sup­ple­ments to aug­ment the body’s abil­ity to adapt. As a re­sult, sev­eral com­pounds have been dis­cov­ered to in­crease the rate at which we de­velop strength. Yet with the end­less num­ber of prod­ucts avail­able, it can be dif�icult (and ex­pen­sive) to sift through them all to �ind what works. Here we fo­cus on a few musthaves that are sci­enti�ically proven to im­prove strength in a short time.


It should come as no sur­prise that the most widely used strength sup­ple­ment in the world is also one of the best re­searched. There are hun­dreds of stud- ies that sup­port caf­feine as a safe stim­u­lant that can boost cog­ni­tion, re­lease more fat dur­ing ex­er­cise, de­lay time to fa­tigue and blunt pain. In terms of its strength-boost­ing po­ten­tial, caf­feine is a rare sup­ple­ment that can in­crease strength al­most in­stantly.

A re­cent study pub­lished in The Jour­nal of Strength and Con­di­tion­ing Re­search re­ported that ingest­ing a sin­gle dose of caf­feine be­fore train­ing in­creases both up­per- and lower­body max­i­mum vol­un­tary con­trac­tion strength bet­ter than a placebo. No­tably, re­search in­di­cates that caf­feine’s ef­fects on strength are most ap­par­ent in trained in­di­vid­u­als.

Dos­ing: Take 200 to 400 mil­ligrams one hour be­fore train­ing. If you have never con­sumed caf­feine, start with the low­est dose and work up ac­cord­ingly based on tol­er­ance. If you ex­hibit symp­toms such as shak­ing, ner­vous­ness, heart pal­pi­ta­tions or anx­i­ety, then you have taken too much. If you’re a cof­fee or tea drinker, you may want to de­lay this pre­work­out dose to about six hours af­ter your last sip.


Sev­eral decades of peer-re­viewed re­search un­equiv­o­cally sup­port the many per­for­mance-en­hanc­ing bene�its of cre­a­tine. Al­though it’s a very po­tent strength booster, cre­a­tine doesn’t start work­ing no­tice­ably with the �irst dose. How­ever, strength in­creases can be noted within four to six weeks of con­sis­tent sup­ple­men­ta­tion. A re­cent sys­tem­atic re­view and meta-anal­y­sis pub­lished in Sports Medicine con­cluded that cre­a­tine sup­ple­men­ta­tion is ef­fec­tive in lower-limb strength per­for­mance for ex­er­cise of less than three min­utes (like a few sets of squats). In a sim­i­lar re­view pub­lished ear­lier in The Jour­nal of Strength and Con­di­tion­ing Re­search, it was re­ported that cre­a­tine sup­ple­men­ta­tion in­creases one-rep max (1RM) strength and max num­ber of reps com­pleted by an av­er­age of 10 and 15 per­cent, re­spec­tively.

Dos­ing: Al­though there are sev­eral dif­fer­ent forms of cre­a­tine you can choose from, cre­a­tine mono­hy­drate is the most stud­ied form of cre­a­tine on the mar­ket. Take 3 to 5 grams of high­grade cre­a­tine mono­hy­drate two times daily. On train­ing days, take one dose 30 min­utes be­fore train­ing and one dose im­me­di­ately af­ter­ward.


This amino acid is the rate-lim­it­ing sub­strate in the for­ma­tion of carno­sine, so when it’s sup­ple­mented ad­e­quately it el­e­vates the body’s mus­cle carno­sine lev­els. Re­search shows that just four weeks of beta-ala­nine sup­ple­men­ta­tion can in­crease mus­cle carno­sine lev­els by more than 60 per­cent. Why is this im­por­tant for strength? Be­cause el­e­vated mus­cle carno­sine in­creases the body’s abil­ity to buf­fer skele­tal mus­cle ph (acid­ity) dur­ing pro­longed high-in­ten­sity ex­er­cise. Since a pri­mary cause of fa­tigue dur­ing heavy ex­er­cise is metabol­i­cally me­di­ated by de­creases in ph (or aci­do­sis), it makes sense that in­creased in­tra­mus­cu­lar carno­sine lev­els would be bene�icial to body­builders and strength ath­letes.

Dos­ing: Take 2 to 3 grams of beta-ala­nine 30 min­utes be­fore and im­me­di­ately af­ter train­ing. On rest days, take 2 to 3 grams with break­fast and 2 to 3 grams later in the day. 

Day 5

Days 6-7

Heavy, Lower Body


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