The 3 Best Supplements to Take for Natural Bodybuilding
Natural bodybuilding is a heavily debated topic in the wellness industry. Some athletes claim using supplements — even natural supplements — isn't truly "natural." Others argue that taking natural supplements, like creatine, whey protein, and amino acids, should be classified as natural bodybuilding.
Whether you're a competitive bodybuilder hoping to enter a natural bodybuilding competition or simply a fan of the sport, keep reading. Below, we share what natural bodybuilding is, which supplements are banned, and which supplements are safe to take as a natural bodybuilder.
What Is Natural Bodybuilding?
At one point, natural bodybuilding meant training without supplementation. From a scientific standpoint, it doesn’t make much sense to call certain sports supplements, like creatine and glutamine, “unnatural." They are a major component of the human diet and even created endogenously as part of our innate biology.
It’s tough to argue that taking something you readily consume through food or that your body produces naturally does not qualify as “natural.” If that was the case, you could also argue that eating food containing creatine and glutamine (e.g., red meat) disqualifies you from natural bodybuilding. Pretty silly, right?
Nevertheless, some natural bodybuilders (nicknamed "natty" bodybuilders within the industry) claim taking creatine supplements or pre-workout shakes isn't natural. However, the more appropriate definition of “natural bodybuilding” is refraining from the use of any substance banned by a bodybuilding sanctioning organization.
While the topic is heavily debated, most bodybuilders agree that natural bodybuilding means avoiding performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs), notably anabolic steroids, growth hormone, peptides, SARMS, and any controlled substance that is known to augment muscle growth and/or fat loss.
Therefore, natural bodybuilders rely exclusively on their diet, training, and supplements approved by the world anti-doping agency (WADA) to achieve peak physical condition. Natural bodybuilders should always consult with the organization they plan to compete about which supplements are okay to use, as they may differ slightly from the WADA banned supplement list.
How Do You Compete as a Natural Bodybuilder?
Natural bodybuilding is different from other types of bodybuilding competitions. The list of banned substances is much more stringent, and you'll often be subject to both urine and polygraph tests (especially if you place high in a competition).
Like all bodybuilding competitions, how you prepare depends on the show you enter.
For example, the World Natural Bodybuilding Federation (WNBF or INBF) requires athletes to undergo polygraph testing, urine drug testing, and a contingent follow-up urine drug test immediately after the competition if they win an award.
On the contrary, the International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness (IFBB) and the prized Mr. Olympia competition is quite permissive about what the athletes can take in terms of supplements.
In addition, the WNBF requires athletes to be drug-free for 10 years prior to a competition. In other words, former steroid users would need to wait a decade before being eligible to compete in a WNBF competition.
Banned Substances in Natural Bodybuilding Competitions
We cannot stress this enough: The list of banned substances will vary depending upon the competition you enter.
For simplicity purposes, we will focus on the banned substances list within the WNBF, as it’s often recognized as the strictest natural bodybuilding organization in the industry. Therefore, if you adhere to their guidelines, it is highly likely you will be within the limits set forth by other natural bodybuilding competitions.
There are roughly 200 substances currently banned from WNBF competitions, including:
- All anabolic steroids: Notable examples are androstenediol, trenbolone, nandrolone (deca-durabolin), mesterolone, boldenone, drostanolone, and stanozolol (Winstrol).
- Testosterone: Testosterone is banned In almost all forms, including creams, gels, patches, and injections. The testosterone/epitestosterone (T/E) ratio is used to measure excess testosterone in the body. If your ratio is higher than six to one (the same ratio used by the NCAA), it's listed as a failed drug test.
- Growth hormone/Growth Factors/Peptides: Human growth hormone (HGH), , insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1), erythropoietin (EPO), and human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) are banned, as well as most “designer” peptides.
- All steroid hormone precursors/prohormones: Hormone precursors and prohormones, including DHEA, a hormone that converts to testosterone in the body, are completely banned.
- All prescription diuretics: Diuretics help rid the body of salt and water weight. Even if they're doctor-prescribed, they're still banned.
- Muscle implants: These are all banned.
- Ephedrine, ephedra, and most stimulants: Caffeine and its derivatives (e.g. theobromine) are fine, but many other stimulants like amphetamine and methylphenidate are banned. Be sure to check your pre-workout powder label so you don’t incidentally consume a banned stimulant.
- Cannabinoids (including CBD), hallucinogens, and opioids: Even legal (CBD) substances are banned, so be careful if you’ve been taking CBD oil.
The 3 Best Supplements for Natural Bodybuilding
As a competitive natural bodybuilder, your goal is to increase lean muscle size and cut body fat through primarily diet and training. Natural supplements can help as an adjunct to get you in tip-top shape for your bodybuilding shows.
In fact, competitive lifters and bodybuilders agree it's nearly impossible to win first place at a natural bodybuilding competition without using supplements. Whether you're competing for Mr. Natural Olympia or at a regional WNBF contest, you'll be happy to know the following supplements are allowed (and effective):
Creatine is a substance found naturally in many cells (especially skeletal muscle cells), and it happens to be the top supplement for muscle growth and athletic performance. It's been scientifically proven to help improve exercise performance, build muscle mass, and reduce signs of fatigue during training.
Creatine is also considered one of the safest sports supplements on the market. According to a recent research review by the International Society of Sports Nutrition, creatine is not only safe, but it can prevent exercise-related injuries. In addition, there is no scientific evidence that short or long-term use of creatine causes negative side effects in active adults. You might urinate a bit more, but that just means the creatine is working since it helps pull water into muscle tissue.
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2. Whey Protein
Whey is a complete protein, meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids (those your body can't produce on its own).
Whey is easily digestible and provides readily-absorbable amino acids to support muscle protein synthesis. It is one of the most proven supplements out there, being highly effective at building muscle and preserving lean mass during fat loss phases.
In addition, whey protein has been scientifically shown to stimulate muscle growth more effectively than other types of protein powders, such as soy.
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3. Branched Chain Amino Acids
Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are a group of three essential amino acids, including leucine, isoleucine, and valine. BCAAs are found in some protein-rich foods such as meat, dairy, and eggs, but you can also take them in supplement form.
Research suggests that BCAAs can help build muscle mass by promoting muscle protein synthesis (i.e., creating new muscle tissue). They have also been shown to reduce muscle soreness after intense training, which can help athletes and bodybuilders stay on-track with their workout routine.
Get More BCAAs in Your Diet
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You Can Still Use Supplements in Natural Bodybuilding
Natural bodybuilding remains a contentious topic amongst bodybuilders, personal trainers, and other fitness professionals.
While some argue natural bodybuilding shouldn't include any supplements, most competitive athletes and bodybuilders will (rightfully) argue that taking supplements is essential for achieving optimal results and reaching your genetic potential.
Recognized bodybuilding associations, including the World Natural Bodybuilding Federation and the International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness, make it clear that natural bodybuilding means avoiding performance-enhancing drugs and artificial implants. This may include legal and illegal substances, anabolic steroids, growth hormone, and muscle implants.
However, if you’re keen to compete in a natural bodybuilding competition, know there are plenty of safe, effective, and natural supplements you can take. In fact, BCAAs, creatine, and whey protein are naturally occurring nutrients and arguably the most effective supplements for natural bodybuilders.
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