Posts Tagged ‘recovery’

It is in vogue to simply recommend products to people.  However, this is inherently biased for a number of reasons and to begin with, I’m going to avoid it.  It is also time sensitive and I don’t wish to have this entire concept become outdated in short order.   So for Part 1, I’m going to equip you with the tools to evaluate products yourself.  If you want to try your mettle, you can argue with my product recommendations in Part 2.

There are several ingredients that may appear in pre-workouts you’ll first want to consider that I don’t categorize as “pre-workout ingredients” since they do not need to be dosed pre-workout.   The ones that I expect you to see that I have already covered in my Your Guide to Supplements – Part 2 article are:

Creatine and Beta-Alanine

With no further ado, ingredient recommendations along with dosage suggestions:

Nitrates:  These are surprisingly well-studied and have benefits for just about any kind of athlete.  This is the one ingredient that is actually an exogenous source of nitric oxide.  Yeah, that buzzword from the 1990s…finally, nitrates are the ingredient that deliver it.  Benefits include maximal strength gain, endurance increase, and sometimes intense pumps.  Depending on what kind of workout you follow, you should notice at least one if not all of these effects.  Too high of a dose Word to the wise: you cannot buy something that is simply nitrates.  It is not stable in powder form, so it is typically bonded with an amino acid or creatine.  1 gram of creatine nitrate yields a roughly ideal dose of nitrates (be aware that it does not yield enough creatine, so you will need to purchase extra creatine from somewhere).   There are also a few products that bind it to leucine, beta-alanine and others.  Look for something ending in nitrate.  Finally, don’t buy a product that has a plant extract for nitrates.  The most popular extract is beet root and it takes 100s of grams of beet root to yield an effective nitrate dose.   Nobody can possibly dose it properly in a preworkout powder.

Citrulline Malate (or just L-Citrulline) : Citrulline malate is not abundantly researched in humans but does have one study in particular that showed very nice results and there is enough animal study, common sense, and anecdote to recommend it.  This works through nitric oxide as well, though it is endogenous and therefore has a theoretical limitation compared to nitrates.  Using them both in conjunction seems ideal.  Malic acid (the malate) has its own endurance benefits as well.  The sourcing of this is more straightforward than nitrates, but the ratio of citrulline to malic acid is a worthy question to ask.  What we’re beginning to see is companies selling citrulline malate products that are almost all malate, the cheaper ingredient.  You want a 1:1 ratio preferably.  If you’re looking to buy in bulk, buy from SNS and no one else. Dosing: 2-8 grams of 1:1 citrulline malate

L-Carnitine-L-Tartate (LCLT): This is a form of the famed carnitine that actually works.  L-carnitine in its normal form doesn’t do much of anything, but some of its altered forms like LCLT do in fact do something.  LCLT, when taken pre-workout (preferably hours pre-workout, but normal timing is okay) can increase both intra-workout and post workout recovery.  I don’t think these benefits need any extra explanation, you want those benefits if you can get them. Dosing: 1-2 grams 

Creatinol-O-Phosphate:  First of all, no, this is not a form of creatine.  The naming similarity is just coincidence.  Not all of the methods of action are currently known, but there is good research backing this supplement.  This shares some similarities in effect to nitric oxide supplements like the aforementioned, but has a different method of action.  It increases the amount of ATP (the basic unit of cellular energy) in the muscles which allows for greater strength, greater endurance, and even better intra-workout recovery.  Sounds great, right?  Well, to date there is no pre-workout product that doses it effectively.  Why?  Well, it is fairly expensive.  If you see it near the end of a proprietary blend, you can rest assured it is underdosed and just there to catch your eye.  Moreover, Patrick Arnold has tested almost every mainstream supplier and found that most are selling a bunk product.  If yours reacts with baking soda by fizzing, it is okay.  If not, you have a problem.  The only legitimate brand I know of is SNS at this point.  Dosing: 2-3 grams

Nootropics: Some of these work, but they are incredibly user dependent and there are just too many to name.  Some to look for include: glucuronolactone, DMAE, rhodiola rosea, l-theanine, ginkgo biloba, ALCAR, and countless others.   These are different than stimulants and are usually added to a caffeine-based focus blend to help enhance the effects of caffeine, especially to remove the jittery effect of caffeine and oftentimes to add to a more focused and/or euphoric feeling.   It will likely take some experimenting to figure these out if you want to know which you like and which you don’t.   These can be used in non-stimulant formulas, but the chances of a felt effect are drastically reduced. Dosing varies greatly

Ingredients with less clinical backing, but strong user feedback and may reflect well on the formulator of a product

AgmatineThis is an ingredient that is unresearched in humans for exercise but has some intriguing physiological effects that may extend beyond the scope of exercise.  User reports usually note the pump effect along with some other ergogenic benefits and a few users note better overall well-being or nutrient partitioning.  These claims are hard to verify anecdotally.  It is not a terribly expensive ingredient, however, and may be worth a shot to see how it works for you.  Dosing: 500mg-1 gram

L-Leucine: A quick dosing of leucine preworkout while in a fasted state follows the protocol of the studies that led to mass use of BCAA supplements.   I do not suggest BCAA supplements but if you are fasted (like training first thing in the morning), the correct dose of leucine before you work out can trigger MPS (muscle protein synthesis).  You want that.  Dosing: roughly 4 grams

That’s it for now.  I may expand this list at a later time if research and innovative formulations come about.  If you think I can’t possibly have gotten them all, well, I probably haven’t.  However, there really just aren’t many ingredients that work.  Beware of products with a million ingredients.

I am not posting my workout journals this week and I won’t be every fourth week while on 5/3/1.  This is because the fourth week of each 5/3/1 cycle is called the deload.  Put simply, you’re going to move around some light weights as a form active recovery.

What’s the deal?

Deloading is more than just a technique that Jim Wendler mandates in his 5/3/1 program.   Deloading is necessary for weightlifters at all levels, regardless of goals.  You may have gone years without a planned deload and been okay, and that’s great.  There are two things to consider here:

1. Have you gone on a vacation and not worked out?  Perhaps you’ve had a rough week at college or work, and you decided to take some time away from the gym.  Alas, you deloaded.

2. Did you ever plateau? You may have thought you had an off week or something of that sort, but the underlying problem may have been overtraining.

We deload to prevent overtraining related problems.  A big thing to consider here is that it’s best not to wait until signs of overtraining arise before scheduling a deload.  However, if you are getting those signs (sore joints/tendons, plateaus, exhaustion, mental fatigue) you should surely deload.  The big thing to know here, and if you’ve read Wendler’s ebook you’ll remember this, deloading will not cost you strength.  You know what costs you strength?  Overtraining, injuries, loss of desire/intensity, lack of recovery.

While 5/3/1 prescribes a monthly deload, you can spread your deloads out a bit more depending on your immediate goals and how your body reacts to training at your age and experience.  Just work in a week at least every 2-3 months, or as needed.  If you need more than once a month, you need to reevaluate your diet, workout plan, or pain tolerance.  Perhaps see a doctor.


It’s pretty simple.  Do your normal workout for each day, but cut the weight and/or rep and set count by half.  You should feel like you have plenty left in the tank after you are done.  There will be no training to failure or fatigue.  Simply go in and really focus on your form.  This modest workload should stimulate some growth, but not really cause the damage that your typical, intense training does.  You will also be able to keep your routine in place, which I think is very important.  I think staying out of the gym begets more staying out of the gym: it’s best to keep it a habit.

I did mention vacations in which you didn’t work out.  It is true that relative inactivity can count for a deload.  However, don’t make this a habit because for our purposes that is not always as effective.   As a general guideline, don’t be inactive for more than 25% of your deloads.

So save your joints, muscles, and mind: work in a deload.

For more info and discussion:

Buy Jim Wendler’s ebook