NATHAN CHAN/THE VARSITY

Even for the lucky few who can achieve intense gains in a mere three-week training session, building muscle is a difficult task.

Hard work is more than necessary, as producing clean muscle requires effort, interest, commitment, and — above-all else — time. Add academics on top of all that, and student-athletes can have difficulty getting the most out of their training.

Since the use of steroids would require both a prescription and a rewrite of regulations relating to the use of performance enhancing drugs, supplements have surged to the forefront of athletics as the mechanism for progression.

As advertisements for drugs and supplements can confuse even the most intelligent among us, a clear distinction must be made between the two.

Drugs, including steroids, alter the body’s chemistry in a manner that increases testosterone and muscle growth. This amounts to great results from seemingly little effort — and is why they are often banned from the world of professional athletics.

Supplements, on the other hand, are designed to replace or ‘supplement’ the minerals, vitamins, and amino acids that are present in certain foods or add nutrients to an already stable diet.

There are questions, however, about the efficacy of the products, especially with respect to building muscle. Scientific studies on the efficiency of the products often conflict and offer little in the way of assistance.

Creatine is the most popular supplement among academic athletes. According to the WebMD site,“An estimated 40% of college athletes and up to half of professional athletes say they use creatine supplements.”

Some studies show evidence that creatine supplements improve performance during short periods of athletic activity, so it comes as no surprise that it is utilized when lifting.

Protein powders are another common supplement that have become a staple of many athletes’ diets. 

Protein is required for muscle growth, and the human body relies on a stable source of nutrients, so the practice of maintaining a healthy diet while also consuming extra protein will promote growth, both on and off the field.

Protein is best absorbed through an aqueous solution, though, contrary to what the typical high school football star might assume, drinking protein all day is not the most efficient way of acheiving muscle growth.

For the leanest and cleanest muscle building results, a person should drink protein directly after a workout as their muscles are repaired. This, as well as a stable diet, is sure to produce clean muscle without many side effects.

Supplements like protein powder, however, should never fully replace certain foods, like amino acid rich meats.

Careful consideration must be taken to ensure a healthy-diet, which, after all is most important — not just making gains.

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