Anabolic or Not?

Original article: Muscle & Fitness

Our picks for the best - and worst - muscle-building supplements

By Brian Rowley, MS

With hundreds of supplements available, how's a bodybuilder to choose which ones are most likely to help him or her build muscle? We came up with a short list based on the latest well-designed research. Keep in mind, as Joe Weider always points out; proper nutrition and resistance training are the foundation of muscle growth, the prerequisites before supplements can exert their full effects. We didn't forget the protein powders (which are more food-based) or dozens of other supplements for health, energy fat-burning and recovery; here we're looking just at top supplements for muscle growth.

Besides training and dieting, boosting your body's anabolic hormone levels is the fastest way to increase muscle mass. Unfortunately, doing so by taking these hormones as drugs increases risk of cancer, heart disease and other ailments, so improving levels of these hormones by correcting common mineral deficiencies is being explored by scientists as a healthier alternative. By taking blood tests of top competitive athletes, Victor Conte of Balco Laboratories in Burlingame, California, found that a surprising number had below-optimal levels of magnesium and zinc - minerals that are essential for performance and anabolic hormone production.

As a result, he developed a rather superior zinc and magnesium supplement called ZMA (containing zinc monomethionine and magnesium aspartate) and tested it in NCAA football players in collaboration with Western Washington University's Lori Brilla, PhD. The supplement increased both anabolic hormone levels (testosterone and IGF-1) and performance of bodybuilding exercises (leg curls and leg extensions). ZMA is almost certainly advisable for bodybuilders, male and female, owing to their active lifestyle and similar dietary requirements for these essential minerals.

That's why we've included ZMA in our list of top anabolic supplements, even though it has never been directly tested for muscle-building effects per se, only for improvements in anabolic hormone levels and strength. Either of these benefits could lead to muscular gains over time, and achieving both in advanced athletes whose potential for improvement has mostly already been realized is particularly impressive.

Dose: Take three capsules of ZMA at bedtime with plenty of water. The supplement should help you sleep while boosting nighttime release of anabolic hormones, including growth hormone. Interestingly, a relaxing chemical from green tea called theanine is often added to ZMA to boost its ability to help you sleep for better muscle recovery.