Unlike physique sports that rely on subjectivity & aesthetics, powerlifting is an objective sport based on how much weight you can move from point A to point B. Many people are drawn to powerlifting because it doesn’t matter how you look from an aesthetic standpoint; what truly matters is your performance on the platform.
With that said, you may have to gain (bulk) or lose weight (cut) at times, depending on what weight class you compete in. Bodybuilders and powerlifters have a few similarities: they follow a training program, manipulate their nutrition throughout the year, and utilize supplements to reach their goals.
Since powerlifters train for optimal performance rather than aesthetics, their training style varies drastically. Typically, powerlifters lift heavier, perform fewer reps, do more compound lifts, and have longer rest periods. Therefore, a powerlifting workout usually takes longer than a bodybuilding workout due to more warm-up sets and longer rest periods.
Since the two styles of training are quite different, the best supplements for bodybuilders are not always what’s optimal for powerlifters and vice versa.
The supplement industry often uses marketing tactics that convince you that their products are the key to your next PR, becoming a professional bodybuilder, or just losing that last 5 lbs.
Before you know it, you’ve wasted your money on an abundance of supplements that don’t live up to their claims. Lucky for you, we’ll cover the 5 best supplements for powerlifters. Keep in mind that these are performance-based supplements. There are some other health-focused supplements that may be a good idea to consider, but that’s a topic for another article!
Without further ado, here’s our definitive list of the 5 best supplements for powerlifters!
If you’re in a hurry, here are our recommended products for each supplement category:
Table of Contents
- 1 The 5 Best Powerlifting Supplements
- 2 Creatine
- 3 Caffeine
- 4 Carbohydrate Powders
- 5 Protein Powders
- 6 Betaine Anhydrous
- 7 Honorable Mentions
- 8 Summary
- 9 References
The 5 Best Powerlifting Supplements
- Carbohydrate Powder
- Protein Powder
- Betaine Anhydrous
What is creatine?
Besides caffeine, creatine is the most well-researched dietary supplement on the market. Creatine is an organic molecule that’s made up of three amino acids – glycine, arginine, and methionine. Creatine is produced by the body and found in various foods, including red meat and seafood.
However, consuming enough creatine to top off your creatine stores from diet alone is challenging. Since creatine supplements are easily accessible and inexpensive, supplementing with creatine is common in strength and physique sports. The potential benefits of taking creatine are worth the extra cost to most athletes.
What does creatine do, and what are its benefits?
Creatine is known for increasing power, strength, and muscle mass when combined with resistance training. Within the body, creatine is primarily stored in skeletal muscle as creatine phosphate. Creatine phosphate helps the body regenerate energy from ATP (adenosine triphosphate) by donating a phosphate group to ADP (adenosine diphosphate).
Since your body has more ATP readily available during intense exercise, you may experience increased strength and power, which leads to greater muscle mass over time from supplementing with creatine.
Furthermore, creatine is an osmolyte that draws water into the muscle cell, further increasing cellular hydration. Some evidence suggests that creatine supplementation also improves brain health and cognitive function.
The best way to take creatine
Despite all of the misconceptions surrounding creatine supplementation, the best form of creatine to this day is creatine monohydrate. Based on the research, taking anywhere from 3-5 grams of creatine monohydrate per day will provide you with all of the benefits creatine offers. A creatine loading phase is unnecessary and may lead to side effects, such as gastrointestinal distress.
The time of day when you take creatine doesn’t matter, as long as you remember to take it daily. However, there’s some evidence that suggests taking creatine post-workout is ideal.[3[ So, on the days you train, make it a ritual to take your daily dose of creatine after training. On non-training days, take it whenever it’s most convenient for you.
What is caffeine?
Caffeine, also known as trimethylxanthine, is a chemical compound that acts as a central nervous system stimulant. Caffeine is normally found in pre-workout supplements since it quickly raises perceived energy levels, alertness, mood, and motivation. Beyond pre-workouts, caffeine can also be found in energy drinks, caffeine pills, and coffee.
More often than not, powerlifters will get their caffeine from pre-workouts. If that is the case, make sure you use a pre-workout supplement with a fully transparent label to know exactly how much of each ingredient is in a serving.
It’s important to note that caffeine is the only supplement on this list that you build a tolerance to. In other words, if you keep taking the same dose of caffeine consistently, you’ll stop feeling its effects over time. Inevitably, that leads to you taking even more, which can have several side effects, such as anxiety, restlessness, headaches, insomnia, rapid heart rate, and dependency.
If you want a performance boost from caffeine, use it sparingly rather than every workout. You can consider using a non-stimulant pre-workout most of the time and save the caffeine for the days when you need it, such as going for a new personal record.
What does caffeine do, and what are its benefits?
Caffeine has mechanisms of action, and researchers are still trying to figure out exactly how caffeine works. However, one of the most accepted ways caffeine carries out its effects is by blocking adenosine from binding to its receptor in the brain.
Adenosine is a nucleoside that slows down neural activity, leading to fatigue and sleepiness. Since caffeine inhibits adenosine’s ability to bind to its receptors in the brain, you feel more awake and alert. Caffeine also increases lipolysis and calcium release.
Lipolysis is the breakdown of fat for energy and is glycogen-sparing, making it advantageous for performance and body composition. The increase in calcium release is also beneficial for performance since calcium is required for muscle contraction. Caffeine will help increase energy, focus, alertness, power, and strength. Since powerlifting is a central nervous system-dominant sport, activating your central nervous system before a big lift is a good idea.
The best way to take caffeine
According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition, caffeine has consistently boosted exercise performance when consumed in doses of 3 milligrams – 6 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. For example, if you weigh 150lbs (~68 kilograms), consuming anywhere from 200 milligrams to 400 milligrams of caffeine 20-30 minutes before training is ideal.
The research team also found that consuming more than 9 milligrams per kilogram of body weight doesn’t provide additional benefits and increases the risk for side effects.
The Food and Drug Administration recommends keeping your total daily caffeine intake under 400 milligrams. Keep in mind that you will slowly develop a tolerance to caffeine, so avoid taking high doses all of the time. Lastly, avoid taking caffeine within 5-6 hours before bed to avoid sleep disruptions.
What are carbohydrate powders?
If you lead a somewhat active lifestyle, chances are you have probably consumed a sports drink such as Gatorade® or Powerade®. A sports drink typically contains a combination of carbohydrates and electrolytes and is consumed before and throughout a game, practice, or training session.
Since glucose is your body’s primary fuel source during high-intensity activity, consuming carbs during training may be beneficial to keep performance levels high, kickstart recovery, and replenish your glycogen stores. Instead of spending an absurd amount of money on pre-mixed sports drinks, you can utilize carbohydrates powder instead!
As the name suggests, carbohydrate powders provide the body with a convenient and easy-to-digest fuel source. Most carbohydrate powders contain fast-digesting carbohydrates, such as dextrose, maltodextrin, highly branched cyclic dextrin (Cluster Dextrin®), fructose, sucrose, and Carb10™. Some even contain a blend of carbs, so you have sustained energy levels throughout training.
What do carbohydrate powders do, and what are their benefits?
Consuming carbohydrates during training provides the body with glucose, which generates energy in the form of ATP. Glucose is the body’s main fuel source during high-intensity training, such as powerlifting.
It’s quite common to see gym-goers consume Rice Krispie treats, gummy bears, or even Sour Patch Kids in the middle of their workout. However, those carbohydrates take more time for the body to break down, absorb, and utilize, so there’s a higher chance of gastrointestinal distress. On the other hand, carbohydrate powders are easier to consume, digest, and put to use!
The main benefits of using carbohydrate powders are increased performance, pumps, recovery, and reduced fatigue. Studies have shown that consuming carbohydrate supplements during exercise helps maintain blood glucose levels and improves exercise performance compared to water alone. In other words, you will be able to finish your session as strongly as you started it!
The best way to take carbohydrate powder
Since powerlifting workouts tend to be quite long, consuming carbs intra-workout is a good idea. Your consumption depends on various factors, such as training intensity, training duration, body weight, carbohydrate source, and caloric intake.
If you are trying to gain weight, you likely allocate some carbs for intra-workout consumption. Conversely, if you are cutting, you may have to limit the amount of intra-workout carbs you consume.
Sipping on 20-25 grams of carbs throughout the training session is a good place to start, and you can always adjust from there. You can also use carbohydrates powders pre-workout if you don’t have time to eat a meal and post-workout, along with protein powder, to kickstart recovery.
What are protein powders?
Despite what the magazines, social media ads, or YouTube videos may lead you to believe, protein powders are not magic. In fact, they aren’t even necessary as long as you are consuming enough protein through whole foods. However, similar to creatine, reaching your daily protein target through diet alone is difficult for most people. Protein powders are a convenient, tasty, and affordable way to increase your daily protein intake.
Nowadays, there’s a wide variety of protein powders that exist. Some of the most popular types include:
- Whey protein isolate
- Whey protein concentrate
- Casein protein
- Pea protein
- Soy protein
- Egg white protein
Many supplement companies offer dairy-based protein powder as well as vegan alternatives. If you are considering using a vegan protein powder, look for a blend of two plant protein sources to create a complete amino acid profile. For instance, a blend of pea and brown rice proteins would be an excellent selection.
It’s important to try a variety of protein powders to see what works best for you. A whey protein isolate is the best option for most people because it’s low in lactose, fast-digesting, and rich in branched-chain amino acids, most notably leucine and other essential amino acids.
What do protein powders do, and what are their benefits?
Protein is an essential macronutrient that must be consumed daily in a sufficient amount to increase strength, muscle mass, and overall health. As mentioned before, protein powders provide your body with a high-quality source of protein that’s convenient and fast-digesting.
After you consume a protein powder, it breaks down into individual amino acids, which get used for building and repairing other tissues in the body, such as skeletal muscle. Protein powders are phenomenal for enhancing muscle protein synthesis, which is crucial for recovery and repair.
The best way to take protein powder
If you’re an active individual who’s relatively lean, aim to consume anywhere from 0.8-1 gram of protein per pound of body weight. It’s also a good idea to evenly divide that amount among how many meals you consume.
For example, if you weigh 200 lbs and typically eat 4 meals a day, you should try to eat 50 grams of protein per meal to reach 200 grams daily. This approach will optimize muscle protein synthesis, which is the process of building muscle tissue.
So, how does protein powder fit into this equation? Protein powders can be used any time of the day, so add a shake or two as needed to hit the protein target you’re aiming for. You can consume protein powder post-workout, but it’s not necessary. You can also get creative with the protein powder by baking with it, making a smoothie, or adding it to your oatmeal. instead of making just a protein shake.
What is betaine anhydrous?
Betaine anhydrous, also known as trimethylglycine, is an amino acid naturally found in various plants, notably beets and spinach. Betaine is also a choline derivative and can be produced in the body.
Betaine is classified as an osmolyte and methyl donor, which means it helps reduce levels of homocysteine. Not only does betaine provide an abundance of performance benefits, but it also has several health benefits. There are several forms of supplemental betaine, but betaine anhydrous is the type you should consider for increased exercise performance.
What does betaine anhydrous do?
As an osmolyte, betaine enhances hydration by drawing water into the muscle cells, which improves the cell’s resilience to outside stressors. As a methyl donor, betaine donates one of its three methyl groups to homocysteine converting it to methionine.
Homocysteine is a non-proteogenic amino acid that’s potentially detrimental to cardiovascular health, since it reduces insulin sensitivity and muscle protein synthesis. Studies show that supplementing with betaine during resistance training improves power, work capacity, and lean body mass and decreases homocysteine levels.
The best way to take betaine anhydrous
Based on the current literature, you should take 2.5 grams of betaine daily. Like creatine, it doesn’t matter when you take it as long as you are consistent. The vast majority of pre-workout supplements contain betaine anhydrous.
If you are taking a pre-workout with an adequate amount of betaine, there’s no need to add more. However, having a separate powder to take on rest days is advised. Betaine is practically flavorless, so it’s easy to add to any drink.
Here are some other supplements that may be beneficial for powerlifters!
Essential amino acids & Branched Chain Amino Acids
If you already consume enough protein throughout the day, adding essential amino acids (EAAs) and/or branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) is unnecessary. If you train early in the morning and don’t consume anything before your workout, adding in some EAAs and BCAAs with carbs during training helps to sustain performance.
Furthermore, if you are vegan or vegetarian, consuming additional EAAs and BCAAs may help with recovery and muscle growth. Remember that most protein powders already contain more than enough EAAs and BCAAs, so there’s no need to add more. The most popular time to consume EAAs and BCAAs is during training.
Electrolytes are crucial for proper hydration. If you are very active and tend to sweat a lot, you should consider supplementing with electrolytes. When you sweat, you’re not only losing water but an abundance of essential minerals. Inadequate electrolyte intake can lead to fatigue, headaches, cramping, and poor performance.
A good electrolyte powder will contain all six electrolytes, including sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and chloride. Look for one that doesn’t contain any sugar and is less than 5 calories. You can add this to your pre-workout, intra-workout, and even sip on it throughout the day. Hydration is key for performance and health, regardless of what sport you participate in!
Nitric Oxide Boosters
Nitric oxide boosters, such as citrulline, arginine, and beetroot powder, are usually marketed to bodybuilders because they enhance your ability to get a pump. However, nitric oxide boosters also increase the delivery of oxygen, nutrients, and blood flow to the working muscles.
They have additional benefits besides increasing your pumps and vascularity, such as enhanced performance and recovery. Not to mention, nitric oxide boosters are advantageous if you want to build muscle and gain strength.
Nootropics consist of ingredients that increase your focus, mind-muscle connection, and mental performance. They are often found in pre-workouts and fat burners, so you may already be taking them if you use a well-formulated pre-workout.
Nootropics are especially helpful for those who train in the evening. Unlike stimulants, they don’t negatively impact your sleep and improve your cognitive and physical performance. Some of the most popular nootropics are choline bitartrate, alpha-GPC, NeuroFactor®, Bacopa, Lion’s mane, huperzine A, and tyrosine.
Dietary supplements are not necessary but can be very beneficial for enhancing performance and training adaptations. The top supplements we recommend for powerlifters are creatine, caffeine, carbohydrate powders, protein powders, and betaine anhydrous.
There are several other supplements for powerlifting that we didn’t cover that you may want to consider, such as fish oil, vitamin d, and joint health products. Instead of wasting a ton of money on overhyped supplements, make sure you assess your needs, goals, and budget. For example, some of the most popular dietary supplements, such as BCAAs and EAAs, are only beneficial for a specific population.
Remember that no matter how many supplements you take, if your nutrition, hydration, sleep, and training program are not structured correctly, you will likely not get the results you’re after. Take care of the big rocks first before worrying about the small pebbles.
- Wax B. et al. June 2021. “Creatine for Exercise and Sports Performance, with Recovery Considerations for Healthy Populations.” Nutrients, vol. 13(6):1915. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34199588/
- Avgerinos, K. et al. July 2018. “Effects of creatine supplementation on cognitive function of healthy individuals: A systematic review of randomized controlled trials.” Experimental Gerontology, vol. 108, pp. 166-173. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6093191/
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- Guest, N.S. et al. Jan. 2021. “International society of sports nutrition position stand: caffeine and exercise performance.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, vol. 18, 1. https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12970-020-00383-4
- Campbell C. et al. April 2008. “Carbohydrate-supplement form and exercise performance” International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, vol. 18(2):179-90. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18458361/
- Jäger, R., Kerksick, C.M., Campbell, B.I. et al. June 2017. “International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: protein and exercise.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, vol. 14, 20. https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12970-017-0177-8
- Cholewa JM, Wyszczelska-Rokiel M, Glowacki R, et al. August, 2013. “Effects of betaine on body composition, performance, and homocysteine thiolactone.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, vol.10(1):39. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3844502/