WHEY/PLANT PROTEIN POWDER
Without a doubt, this is the most useful supplement for athletes involved in any kind of strength related exercise. Supplementing with a good quality protein powder helps you hit your protein target for the day, helps to control hunger pangs if you’re in a calorie controlled diet, can aid exercise recovery times and of course, they increase the available amino acid pool for muscular repair and adaptation following intense exercise.
Just make sure you buy from an established, reputable, brand and check the label to make sure you’re getting the full spectrum of amino acids. (See our Protein blog post for more information about the benefits of protein)
Oh and if you’re worried/hoping that protein drinks will make you big and muscular – they won’t. It takes a whole lot more than just protein to build muscle.
Creatine is one of the most well studied sports supplements, widely used by professional athletes involved in sports that require bursts of high intensity movement (sprinting, weightlifting etc). It’s a naturally occurring substance that is needed to replenish the fuel reserves our muscles use in the first few seconds of exertion. Your body will make about half your daily requirement of creatine itself, the rest has to come from your diet.
Sadly, for those following a plant-based diet, there are no natural plant sources for creatine. We get it in our diet via red meat, oily fish (salmon, tuna etc). However – the good news is that creatine supplements are synthetically made and as such, 100% vegan (obviously, if it’s in capsule form you may want to check the label to make sure there’s no gelatine in there). The (possibly) better news is that vegan and vegetarian climbers are more likely to benefit from using creatine supplements due to the likelihood of having low levels to start with.
In some people it can cause digestive issues and/or water retention and in rare cases it is believed to cause muscle cramps. Like all supplements, take too much and it’s more likely to have an adverse effect. However, it’s generally considered a safe supplement in typical doses. If you do find you’re having issues, try spreading your dose out throughout the day.
You’ll see there’s a whole host of different types of creatine available; pretty much all of them are marketing hype and wholly unnecessary. Plain creatine monohydrate, by far the cheapest and most widely available form, should be just fine.
As for how much to take, some people suggest a “loading phase” of 10-20g per day for 5 days, before reducing to a maintenance dose of 5g per day. The evidence behind the idea of a loading phase is fairly limited and to be honest most people won’t notice any difference. Three to five grams per day should be enough for most people to notice the difference…assuming you respond to it at all of course. Some people just don’t see any difference because they already have enough naturally.
This is a similar supplement to creatine in many ways and there is some evidence that they work well together. The primary difference between them is that, whilst creatine helps fuel short-burst, high energy muscular output; beta alanine helps to buffer fatigue in longer term muscular output. Essentially; beta-alanine helps to raise levels of muscle carnosine, which in turns helps buffer the onset of muscular fatigue. Or to put it another way…if you’re training for power endurance – this could help.
This is obviously an interesting supplement for climbers, but whether it works for you is something you would need to explore – not everyone responds to it. But like creatine there is a wealth of study evidence around the use of beta-alanine and certainly enough to consider trying it if you’re looking to really push those performance gains or training quite hard.
To date there are no known harmful side-effects, however some people notice a tingling feeling when taking it (known as parethesia). This is completely harmless but if it bothers you, simply spread your dose out in to smaller amounts during the day.
Aim for around 2-5g per day to get the best results (if you respond to it), but you can probably go up to 8g per day if you’re training super hard. Just be aware that, like creatine, it can take a week or so before you really notice anything.
This one is a bit of an outlier; there is no research around HMB in climbers or gymnasts to speak of, but there is a wealth of research around the use of HMB by those doing high intensity strength training. Essentially; HMB appears to reduce recovery times from exercise, improve adaptation to high intensity strength exercise (ie more muscle or getting stronger, depending on your training programme) and appears to help promote lean body mass generally.
It would appear that the effects are at the best when taken for two weeks at around 3g per day, prior to the training starting – obviously that won’t apply to those of you already training hard, but you should still notice benefits if it is going to work for you.
Around 1-2g per day, ideally 60 minutes prior to a training session, should show some effect within the first 2-3 weeks.
There are other supplements that could be of interest to climbers, but truth be told, almost none of them have enough solid evidence behind them to recommend. The marketing hype is generally just that…hype. If your diet is good enough then you really shouldn’t need supplements for the most part. But for those of you training quite hard, you may find the above supplements useful to help push you through any plateau.