Your First Supplement Stack

If you don’t know the difference between whey protein and casein protein, you might be a first-time supplement user. If you think NO is an effective way to tell your kid or dog to stop what he’s doing, you might be a first-time supplement user. If you’re reading this article, you might be a first-time supplement user.

Don’t worry - being considered a first-time supplement user isn’t as demeaning as being considered a redneck. In fact, we’re glad you finally recognized the benefits that supplements provide as you pursue your bodybuilding goals. Allow us to walk you through the basics of supplement science to give you the know-how to build your first stack. You’ll be an expert in no time, armed with the knowledge to create more advanced stacks as you progress in ability and experience. The following seven supplements are all you’ll need to add mass, maintain energy and stay healthy.

Arginine is an amino acid that’s readily converted to nitric oxide (NO) in the body. NO is involved in many physical processes, but the most vital to you is vasodilation, which is the process that increases blood flow to muscles, allowing better delivery of nutrients and oxygen. Arginine can boost growth hormone levels as well. Dose: Take 3-5 grams on an empty stomach in the morning, before workouts and before bed.

We’ll keep it short since you can read everything you need to know about creatine on pages 128-129. Creatine is an amino acid-like supplement that provides the quick energy you need for powerful muscle contractions, such as when lifting weights. It also allows your muscles to hold more water, making them fuller and stronger, which ultimately stimulates additional growth.
Dose: Take 3-5 grams before and after workouts.

One of the best supplements for true beginners is beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate (HMB). It’s a metabolite of leucine, the most essential of the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs); however, it’s considered to be a more effective form of leucine. Supplementing with HMB prevents muscle breakdown, encourages muscle growth and aids fat-burning processes in the body. Research shows it’s very effective at increasing muscle mass and strength in beginner-level trainees, but it may be less effective in more experienced lifters.
Dose: Take 1-3 grams with food in the morning, before and after workouts, and before bed.

Whey Protein
If there’s one supplement every bodybuilder needs - regardless of experience - it’s whey protein powder. Taken before and after workouts, this fast-digesting protein provides the amino acids required to build muscle protein at the most critical time for growth. Whey is a good source of the BCAAs leucine, isoleucine and valine. Leucine, a key stimulator of protein synthesis, starts the processes for building muscle protein and uses the other aminos as the building blocks for making more. Dose: Take 20 grams before workouts and another 20-40 grams after workouts.

Glutamine happens to be one of the most plentiful amino acids found in the human body. Not only is it crucial for recovery and muscle growth, but it also buffers the fatigue-inducing chemicals that form during intense exercise. By delaying fatigue, you can bang out more reps. In addition, glutamine is essential for normal digestion and immune function. Supplementing with it protects your muscles from being broken down for fuel by your body to access the stored glutamine.
Dose: Start with 2-3 grams and work up slowly to 5 grams, taken in the morning, before and after workouts and before bed.

Whatever your level of training experience, you must take a multivitamin/mineral supplement. It may not sound sexy, but building muscle requires adequate amounts of vitamins and minerals to do the work. Even if you eat a healthful diet, you still need to take a multi because vitamin and mineral contents of many foods have declined significantly due to modern farming practices. In addition, hard training depletes stores of certain vitamins and minerals. Choose one that contains the full spectrum of vitamins and minerals and provides 100% of the daily value (DV) of most of these.
Dose: Take one dose with food twice a day. You may also want to consider taking some extra B vitamins, such as a B complex, as well as the antioxidant vitamins C and E. The B vitamins are important for proper protein and fat metabolism, while vitamins C and E scavenge free radicals, protecting your muscles and the rest of your body from cellular damage. Try a B complex that provides 50 mg of B1 and B6, and 50 mcg of B12. Take 500-1,000 mg of Vitamin C twice a day, and 400-800 IU of Vitamin E once daily, both with food.

first workout stack

Fish Oil
Fish oil supplements containing the essential omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, prevent muscle breakdown, help regenerate and grow muscle, enhance joint tissue rebuilding and encourage fat loss. Eating fatty fish like salmon several times a week may provide all the omega-3s you need, but concerns about the levels of mercury and PCBs (a mixture of individual chemicals found in the environment that are related to several health problems) in fish have caused many people to cut back on their fish intake. The good news is that a recent study found no traces of either in more than 40 brands of fish oil supplements.
Dose: Each day, take 2-6 grams in two divided doses with food. M&F

Just because you may be a supplement beginner doesn’t mean you’re a beginner in the gym. These two first-time stacks are designed with your lifting experience in mind.

Old-Timer Stack
Why did you wait so long to give supplements a try? Whatever your reason, here you are with significant lifting experience but a lack of supplement savvy. This stack includes whey protein, a multivitamin/mineral, fish oil, creatine, glutamine and arginine. The only thing missing is HMB. Most research supports the effectiveness of HMB in beginning lifters, but the gains seem to be less impressive with experienced trainees. However, some anecdotal evidence suggests that when HMB is taken in higher doses (3-5 grams in the morning, before and after workouts and before bed), it’s very effective even in highly trained lifters. We suggest sticking with this stack for a couple of months before adding HMB so you can better gauge how effective it is for you.

Supplement Dose
Whey Protein 20 g preworkout 20-40 g postworkout
Creatine 3-5 g pre- and postworkout
Arginine 3-5 g morning, preworkout and before bed
Glutamine 2-3 g* in the morning, pre- and postworkout and before bed
Multivitamin/mineral 1 dose with breakfast and dinner
Fish Oil 1-3 g with breakfast and lunch
* Work up to 5 g over several weeks.

The Green Stack
For those of you just beginning a lifting program who want to start stacking supplements right away, this one is for you. It includes HMB, a supplement found to be very effective in beginner lifters, as well as a multivitamin/ mineral, whey protein and arginine.
The most surprising part of this stack may be what’s not included: Creatine isn’t present because you’ll make significant gains in your first six months of training anyway; use it when your gains have slowed and you want a boost in size and strength. You won’t find glutamine, either, because your training intensity likely isn’t high enough to deplete your muscles of this critical amino acid. Nor will you take fish oil at this time: While it protects joints and enhances their healing, as well as prevents muscle breakdown, you’re probably not lifting heavy enough yet to warrant its use.

Supplement Dose
Whey Protein 20 g preworkout 20-40 g postworkout
Arginine 3-5 g morning, preworkout and before bed
HMB 1-3 g with food in the morning, pre- and postworkout and before bed
Multivitamin/ mineral 1 dose with breakfast and dinner