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Background: I am 33 y.o. about 1.77 (which is like 5'10in) around 200-205 lbs. According to BMI measurements I am overweight but in reality I have a big frame, broad shoulders and compact built, fairly athletic but perhaps not fully fit. According to my impedance scale (which are not entirely reliable by default) body fat index around 20-21%.

I am at the gym 3-5 times a week, combined with basketball, soccer and squash depending on scheduling. I bike to work and back 30-45 mins every day. What I am trying to get to is that I do have a fairly active lifestyle, despite being in front of a computer all day.

I have started noticing that while I notice improvements on the appearance (bigger arms etc) I am not really getting stronger, in the sense that I can't really do more pull-ups than before, just to give an example. I haven't been able to make much progress in terms of weights in bench press, squats etc.

My main goal for the workout (besides being healthier) is to shed the extra weight, to get better into better shape so that I strain my joints less when I do ball sports. I don't really need to bulk up as I am fairly heavy-set by default, but I don't want to lose any strength by focusing solely on cardio training.

Given the goal of shedding the weight without losing any muscle strength, and the fact that I am not making much quantitative progress, do I need to take supplements like BCAA or creatine etc to make sure I am not burning through the muscles throughout the workouts? I see people taking pre-work out shakes or some suspiciously colorful stuff during the workouts. What is that about?

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In general I think all the colorful drinks are about marketing. The supplement industry has done a good job of convincing people that products are required pretty much 24/7. A pre-workout before you hit the gym, an intra-workout tagging along with you in the gym, a post-workout so you don't miss out on this mad gainz, supplements throughout the day to the tune of BCAA's and L-glutamine, and then of course casein while you sleep or you again miss out on the previously mentioned gainz.

The science to back most of that up is generally disproven but somethings are actually studied and real.

In broad strokes, I would prioritize in this way:

  • Follow an effective strength training program. This is the 800lb gorilla in the discussion and if you don't do this one everything else is moot. They are designed to do exactly what you're talking about: progressively increase your strength.

  • Stick with a high-ish protein diet. I wrote up an answer a couple of weeks ago that can address your protein needs in particular.

  • Consider creatine. Most people respond very well. It's cheap, extensively studied, and regarded as safe. It's not magic beans but in general you can expect to get maybe an extra 5%-10% of your lifting capacity. Put in context, that's a 210lb-220lb vs 200lb squat. Over months and years that can really add up.

For my own health and what I'd recommend to others is to consume a balanced diet high in lean proteins, high in good-quality fats (think olive oil, not bacon), lower in carbohydrates, and near zero in refined flours/sugars. Go heavy on veggies in particular. Protein supplementation will probably need to occur, so consider whey minus the artificial sweeteners.

The value of a comprehensive diet and effective strength program will be orders of magnitude more than what you can buy in a jug. Eventually you'll be smiling (on the inside, only) at the colorful blender bottles as you absolutely crush your target lift numbers.

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    Also, I linked to it but I find examine.com to be a fairly accurate and transparent view of what supplements are effective and which are not. Head on there and compare creatine, BCAA's, and L-glutamine as an example. You'll see some of the weak/contradicted studies that sadly end up being the cornerstone of marketing pushes. – Eric Jan 18 '18 at 17:22
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BMI is not well applicable to athletes. impedance scales are close to useless, except maybe if you take samples over a long period and then use averages.


the effects of creatine are described here: https://examine.com/supplements/creatine/ - on the same site you can also find information about BCAAs.

that said, creatine is cheap, safe and effective: you'll see increased strength. the water retention will lead to minor water weight gain though (which would vanish a few days after discontinuing creatine).

The water retention usually seen with higher loading doses can exceed five pounds (more than two kilograms). Lower doses may cause less water retention. While water mass is not muscle mass (though both count as lean mass), prolonged creatine supplementation results in an increased rate of muscle growth.

in my experience the additional water will make your muscles look slightly bigger and fuller.


for getting stronger: as you're plateauing it may be time to change your lifting program. you didn't mention which one you're on and i suspect you don't have one and just lift whatever catches your eye.

in that case chose a program, stick to it and strength will come.

DO NOT DESIGN YOUR OWN PROGRAM!

if you do follow a program aimed at beginners (i.e. a linear progression without periodization) you might want to switch to an intermediate program.


for shedding weight look at your dietary habits. ideally you'd reduce your daily calorie intake to a level slightly below your TDEE (total daily energy expenditure) while keeping up training as much as possible. if you're not a beginner a caloric deficit usually leads to strength loss which you want to minimize, but in certain cases you can retain or even gain muscle mass on careful cuts.

there are TDEE calculators online that might give you a rough idea about what your caloric requirement could be.

also try to sleep enough. sleep deprivation blocks leptin production, a hormone that inhibits the feeling of hunger.

personal anecdote

an easy weight loss shortcuts for a strength athlete like would be:

  • cut out all calorie containing drinks for your diet. drink water, black coffee (no sugar), tea, end of discussion. even "healthy" fruit juices or sport drinks often contain a ton of calories, mostly in the form of sugar. if you're drinking lots of sugary sodas this alone could bring you under your TDEE.

  • if you cook your own meals, don't add sugar (fresh fruits are okay though, but no smoothies/blended).

adhering to those two principles it's almost impossible for me to gain weight, even though i eat cheat meals once or twice a week.


as for the colourful drinks: creatine works and you might want to add protein from protein powder in the form of shakes if you don't get enough from your diet.

while it can't be ruled out that other workout drinks might have beneficial effects, they're usually not worth the price and might contain enough sugar to sabotage weight loss efforts.

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