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Powerlifting is a very unique sport in its own right. You only concentrate on the 3 major compound lifts of the squat, bench press, and deadlift.
Now, just because we’re only concentrating on these 3 lifts doesn’t mean that it’s easy. No, far from it.
This sport requires maximal exertion. It requires intense effort. This is not to say that sports in a similar realm such as bodybuilding and recreational weightlifting are easy. It’s just that these sports require a moderate amount of intensity, while powerlifting always requires a very high amount of intensity.
Not only do you need to exert maximal force on each lift, you have to do it 3 times (called trials) for each lift! And we’re only talking about the competitions themselves.
The training involved for the sport requires low volume but high intensity in order to see the most rapid increases in strength.
For example, you’ll commonly see powerlifters performing repetition schemes such as 6 sets of 3 repetitions or 5 sets of 5 repetitions.
Now, this is very heavy weight we’re talking about here. Because of this, our diet and training can only take us so far. In order to optimize our training, which is how to be the best of the best, we can do things like adding particular supplements to our stack.
However, we can’t just add any plain old supplement. In this article, I’ll tell you about 9 supplements in particular that will help you take your strength gains to the next level and recover faster so that you begin your next training session faster!
9 Most Useful Supplements for Powerlifting
If you take only one thing away from this article, I hope it’s that you MUST take creatine!
This is literally a godsend (okay, maybe not literally). It’s cheap, easy to take, and it’s drastically effective. Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look at the data to show you what I’m talking about.
One study from the Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise journal conducted a study on 25 NCAA Division I football players. Keep in mind; these are highly trained strength athletes we’re talking about. Not exactly powerlifters, but pretty close!
They were split into both a control group and a creatine group. After only 28 days, the creatine group witnessed significant increases in their bench press, squat, and power clean volume.
Because of this, they were able to do more work in a less amount of time compared to the control group.
As a bonus benefit, the creatine group also increased lean body mass (1).
Although aesthetics aren’t as important for powerlifters as they are for physique athletes such as bodybuilders, it does assist in helping powerlifters make the proper weight class for their competitions.
One side note for this study is that the creatine dosage used was upwards of 15 grams per day, which is 3x as much as you’ll commonly see for a standard dosage. Don’t worry, this much creatine isn’t necessary to take per day, as 5 grams per day has been used as the standardized dose in most scientific studies.
No need to “load” either, which is basically mega-dosing creatine for the first week of supplementation in order to saturate the muscles faster. As long as you’re taking 5 grams every single day, the muscle will saturate over time and you’ll still receive all its benefits. Plus you won’t waste any either!
Creatine is a very well-studied supplement. It wouldn’t even be a stretch to say that it is probably the most well-studied sports supplement on the market today.
Because of this, we have the privilege of being able to look at what’s called a meta-analysis; where multiple studies are equalized and condensed in order to provide us with a general consensus of how that particular supplement performs in a particular area.
A great example of one of these meta-analysis’ is one that reviewed 22 different studies on resistance training and weightlifting performance. In this analysis, the researchers concluded that there was an average of 8% greater increase in strength compared to the placebo groups (20% vs. 12% respectively). This is very significant for the addition of a dietary supplement alone (2).
One final thing to note about creatine is the various types that are available on the market.
You’ll commonly see creatine monohydrate, creatine hydrochloride (HCL), and creatine ethyl ester, just to name a few. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter all too much. A large majority of studies out there on creatine use the monohydrate form due to its higher availability to the general population as well as its cost-effectiveness.
So I say stick with the monohydrate version; you’ll save a lot of money in the long run and still receive fantastic results.
How Much to Take
Stick with 5 grams (1 teaspoon) every day and you’ll be golden, even on non-training days. Take it about 20-30 minutes before your training session to optimize your results with it.
Related: Top 10 Creatine Supplements
Glutamine is an amino acid that is classified as “conditionally essential”. Let me explain what this means.
You have two different types of amino acids; essential and non-essential. Your body makes non-essential amino acids within the body without assistance, while the body needs to obtain essential amino acids through either food or supplementation. In other words, it can’t produce it on its own.
Pretty simple, right?
Now, conditionally essential means that this amino acid could become an essential amino acid if it is depleted too quickly. This is commonly seen in strength and power athletes such as powerlifters. Because of this, supplementation with this amino acid is beneficial.
In another study involving American football players, glutamine supplementation was shown to significantly reduce ammonia in the blood only after 5 days of use (3). Ammonia is basically related to protein metabolism. When protein is converted into amino acids, it becomes ammonia (which is toxic to the body) until it is converted to urea, when it can then be excreted.
If we are able to reduce ammonia with a simple dose of supplementation, then the excretion of waste products from protein metabolism can be expedited. Because of this, we can essentially recover faster and get more from the protein that we eat!
How Much to Take
Taking 5 grams (1 teaspoon) should be sufficient. When you take it during the day doesn’t matter, so take it when it’s most convenient for you!
Related: Top 10 Glutamine Supplements
Whey Protein Powder
I bet you knew this one was coming! This is an obvious one but still one that needs to be stated. Just like with any athlete, we need more protein.
More often than not, athletes are undereating protein due to the complications of getting in enough protein-rich meals. This is why protein supplementation was created. It makes it so much easier to get in the protein you need to grow, recover, and build up that strength week after week.
In order to fully optimize your results, you not only need to take in enough protein for your body weight, but also consume the best type after your training session.
I’m sure you’ve heard of whey protein before. This is often the most popular choice due to its easy digestibility and vast array of amino acids.
Specifically, whey isolate, which is a version of whey protein that has less lactose (milk sugar) and fat in it, has been shown to increase strength at a greater rate than other proteins such as casein post-workout (4).
But what if you can’t consume whey protein powder because of a dairy allergy or you’re vegan?
Not to worry. This may optimize your results after training, but consuming a protein with a similar digestion speed such as brown rice and pea protein will produce very similar results hypothetically.
Yes, they digest slower than whey, but not nearly as slow as a protein such as casein, which is a very slow digesting protein; delaying recovery post-workout.
How Much to Take
20-25 grams post-workout is what’s used most often in the scientific literature, so I’d stick with that. Use additional supplementation throughout the day if you feel like your protein intake is lower than it should be.
Related: Top 10 Whey Protein Powders
This is a supplement that actually comes from shellfish. It is actually a commonly used anti-inflammatory, usually for those with osteoarthritis. You’ll often see it in the joint health section of health food stores, as it has been shown to slow down the rate of collagen degradation (5).
Even though it’s most commonly used for osteoarthritis patients, powerlifters can most certainly benefit from this supplement as well.
When you really think about it, powerlifters place a lot of strain not only on their muscles, but also on their joints and tendons. Because of this, they are much higher risk of injury the longer they let this inflammation continue for.
In a study of athletes suffering from various acute knee injuries, glucosamine was given at 1,500 milligrams (mg) per day for 28 straight days. The supplementation of glucosamine was able to increase the range of motion of the athlete’s injured joints, in other words, they were able to move their joints further than they could before supplementation.
However, an interesting thing to note here is that there was no significant effect observed after 21 days. This suggests that this supplement needs to be taken over the long term in order to witness any sort of rehabilitative effect (6).
This was a very well-conducted study, as it had 102 subjects, more than many of the supplement studies in the scientific literature.
How Much to Take
At least 1,500 milligrams is suggested, although 3,000 milligrams has been shown to give an even greater benefit relating to maintaining collagen health. I would suggest taking this with all of your other general health supplements. It is available in powder, capsule, and liquid form.
Related: Top 10 Glucosamine Supplements
Methylsulfonylmethane (that’s a mouthful, no wonder why it’s commonly marketed as MSM) is a molecule that is very similar to glucosamine. It is also used for its anti-inflammatory properties.
MSM has been shown to significantly reduce muscle damage and soreness from training. One pilot study (a small study to influence companies to give grants for larger, more significant studies) utilized 3 grams of daily MSM supplementation for 1 month. A reduction in muscle soreness was seen as soon as 2 days later! (7).
Unfortunately, not as much research is available on MSM than there is for glucosamine, so it’s uncertain if it shares as much of the same benefits. However, this doesn’t mean you should put this supplement on the back burner. It still shows great promise. After additional and larger studies are conducted, I’m sure this will be proven.
How Much to Take
Due to a lack of literature on this supplement, it is somewhat unclear how much you should take for optimal results. However, most studies seem to utilize an amount near 3,000 milligrams per day, so I’d not reinvent the wheel here and stick with that until further data is released.
Related: Top 10 MSM Supplements
Omega 3 Fatty Acids (Fish Oil)
If you read my previous article Best Supplements That Can Help You Build Muscle, then you know how important this supplement is not only for your performance, but also for your overall health in general.
I won’t bore you with all of the details of the vast array of benefits that it carries; we’ll only concentrate on the ones that relate specifically to powerlifting. And that of course is going to be its anti-inflammatory benefits.
In a 2018 study involving patients with shoulder pain at the rotator cuff, supplementation with about 1.5 grams of EPA and 1 gram of DHA was shown to reduce pain in the Oxford Shoulder Score, which is a standardized measure of pain in the shoulder in rehabilitative studies. The difference took place over the course of about 2 months (8).
This shows that even though supplementation with Omega 3s may take a while to show you its effects, it can have a modest to moderate level of positive effects on joint pain. This study is especially significant in powerlifters, as the shoulder joint is often one of the most commonly injured joints due to its great amount of flexibility. The more flexible a joint is the greater chance it has of being injured.
How Much to Take
Commonly, you’ll see the amount of fish oil listed on the front of the package in milligrams (mg). And then on the back you’ll see the amount of total EPA and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid eicosapentaenoic acid respectively).
The total amount of DHA and EPA won’t always add up to the total amount of fish oil listed on the package. You want to make sure that the total amount of EPA and DHA (the actual omega 3s) are at 2-3 grams preferably or more, as these dosages are what is used most commonly in the scientific literature.
Take these whenever you take your other general health supplements.
Related: Top 10 Fish Oil Supplements
Related: Top 10 Krill Oil Supplements
You knew that there had to be some sort of stimulant on this list. And caffeine has got to be the most popular one around the world. There’s a good reason for that too. It works.
But how can it help you gain more strength in powerlifting?
Well, through several ways actually. One 2017 study showed us that ingestion of 6mg/kg of caffeine was able to significantly increase 1RM (1 rep max) on the back squat and reduce the perception of pain during 1RM attempts on both the back squat and bench press (9).
This was seen because caffeine has been shown to decrease a variable called RPE, which is the Rate of Perceived Exertion. This variable is a scale of 1-10 that is used as a standardized measurement in the scientific literature to determine one’s own relative intensity of an exercise.
How Much to Take
This is where it gets a little tricky. Everybody has a different tolerance to caffeine. It’s simply a genetic predisposition. Determining the proper amount for you as an individual is a matter of trial and error.
The literature commonly uses amounts between 3-6mg/kg of body weight (238-477mg for a person of my size at 79.5kg or 175 lbs.
Now, for me personally, 238 mg would be enough for me to perform well but not be too anxious, where as anything above 300 mg would be too much for me personally.
Again, I found this out through trial and error. Always start on the lower end to avoid side effects such as anxiety, nervousness, and nausea and increase from there if you feel comfortable enough to do so.
Related: Top 10 Caffeine Supplements
Classified as a stimulant along with caffeine, they are very similar in chemical structure. However, theacrine doesn’t raise blood pressure and heart rate to the effect that caffeine does.
This supplement is still in its infancy in the scientific literature, but it has early promise of working well when used together with caffeine to provide both a physical and mental boost.
Following the intake of 150 mg of caffeine and 150 mg of theacrine, subjective feeling of energy and mood were seen (10).
Now why is this important for powerlifters?
Because powerlifting in end of itself requires a lot of time. A lot of time between sets, a lot of preparation before the actual lift, etc. Because of this, much focus and most definitely a positive mood will certainly aid in successfully completing these heavy lifts.
Again, although this supplement is still in its early stages, it seems as if it will likely be caffeine’s partner in crime.
How Much to Take
It’s too early to tell what the exact optimal dose is quite yet. However, let’s stick with 150mg of theacrine alongside an equal or slightly greater amount of caffeine to get the physical, mental, and emotional benefits.
Cissus (Cissus quadrangularis)
Cissus quadrangularis, or simply cissus, is a supplement that can be placed in the same class as glucosamine and MSM for its joint and bone health promoting properties.
One pilot study showed that 3,200mg of cissus daily for 8 straight weeks was able to reduce joint pain by a whopping 31% relative to their pain measurements before they took the supplement (11).
This study was conducted on 29 resistance trained men. More studies need to be conducted on cissus in order to make this claim more certain.
How Much to Take
Again, because of the lack of data, it would be safe to say 3,200mg is an optimal dose to use until further research gives us a finite number to work with. I would take this alongside all other general health supplements that you take.
Related: Top 10 Cissus Supplements
Wrapping It All Up
Powerlifting is a very difficult sport to partake in, that’s for sure. Remember, proper diet and training are the most significant factors in ensuring that you recover properly and make consistent gains in strength.
Despite that, we live in a great age of scientific advancement where proper use of effective supplementation can augment our results even further.
Add some or all of these supplements to your stack and I’m sure you’ll witness a substantial improvement in your performance!
ⓘ Any specific supplement products & brands featured on this website are not necessarily endorsed by Zachary.
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About the Author
Zachary MacDonald is a fitness professional with a Master’s Degree from The University of Tampa in Exercise & Nutrition Science. He is a certified personal trainer with the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), as well as an amateur bodybuilder in the National Physique Committee, the world’s largest amateur organization of bodybuilding! Email Zachary.