In case you haven’t heard, a “supplement stack” is simply 2 or more supplement taken in combination with one another to collectively achieve a single healthy goal.
For example, when bulking, a bodybuilder may add a creatine supplement and a mass gainer supplement to their “stack” to support their efforts in gaining mass. If cutting other things like BCAA’s and fat burning metabolism stimulants may be added. You can customize your stack to help you achieve your specific goals.
A Stack Specifically for Ectomorphs
Today however we’re talking about my specific stack I’ve been taking for years as the Editor of Skinny Yoked. The following stack is used pretty much year round and thus could be called a “maintenance stack” however I use it during lean bulking as well, so it’s pretty flexible.
The combination of the following supplements has resulted in a physique better than what is published on the SY About Page. I’ll be taking photos to update soon.
***Quick disclaimer: SY has always advocated for whole food diets. If you have a limited amount of money and live at home, then focus on eating all of mom’s pantry shelf first.
If you do have money and are short on time though, supplements can be very beneficial in helping you achieve your goals. SY has always recommended a balance between whole foods and supplements.
What Makes a Good Supplement Stack?
There are a few key components that go into a good supplement stack. Given the thousands of different types of supps out there, it can be a bit confusing for a beginner bodybuilder. However, with enough patience and research you can craft a stack just like you craft a complete workout routine in the gym.
Step 1: Develop Workout Routine First, Then Choose Your Stack
What came first, the chicken or the egg? In the world of gains you should ask yourself what came first, the exercises in the gym or the supplements? Aside from pre-workout, the answer is simple; exercise first, then supplements.
Just having mommy buy you all the latest natty gear from GNC while you go play Candy Crush whilst half-heartedly doing leg extensions will never result in gains. First you need to develop an understanding of anatomy and exercises and how combining various exercises will help you build the physique you desire.
Ask a trainer at your school or ask some of the biggest guys in your gym for some pointers (they’re usually very open to helping and sharing), and scour the web and Youtube for exercises, supersets, proper form tutorials, workout planning etc so that you are 100% confident in your plan of action.
Once you know the physical side of your plan, THEN you can start planning the supplementation side. The supplements you buy will compliment the type of workouts you are doing and the goals you’re looking to achieve.
Your stack is also a mater of convenience. You can supplement your nutrition on the go, at the office or at home. You can’t always cook a balanced meal wherever you are. Yeah, take that all you whole-food preachers!
Step 2: Focus on the Long Term Gains
There are two aspects of a good stack. One is focusing on the short-medium term goals. Things like pre-workout and creatine fall into this category.
These supplements are designed to have an immediate-medium term impact, the pre-workout to provide energy and shit and creatine to help with ATP production and in-gym performance.
There is another aspect to your stack you should take into consideration though and that is longevity. Any serious bodybuilder can tell you what they fear most is getting sick.
Getting sick takes you out of the gym and/or drastically reduces workout quality. It also weakens the body’s ability to rebuild itself at a fast pace.
Staying healthy is key to being able to workout and thus make gains. Therefore, every good stack should contain elements designed to keep you healthy day in and day out so you can squeeze as many gym sessions out of a 364 day year as possible. This means things like multivitamins, minerals, glutamine, fish oil, glucosamine and MSM etc. (FYI, Optimum Nutrition makes all these and they are the most reputable supplement company out there)
These are the “maintenance” or “essentials” aspect of your stack, the very basic building blocks required before adding other nutrients and external stimuli to promote muscle growth.
Step 3: Buy Cheap when it Makes Sense
Sometimes brand name quality matters, and some times it doesn’t. If you have the cash, I’d buy everything from reputable brand names just to ensure quality and consistency. However, if you’re on a budget, hit up Costco or Wal-Mart to get some of the daily essentials for cheaper.
For example, I usually get my fish oil from Costco in massive bottles. They’re strong (1200mg with 360mg of OMEGA-3 and purified to remove mercury) and cheaper than buying name brand online usually. I also get my glucosamine from Costco and anti-acids as well, unless Optimum Nutrition has a sale going on, then I go for them.
The Ultimate Anabolic Supplement Stack
Things I prefer to buy brand name include pre-workouts of course, protein powders and muscle-building supplements like HMB-FA, creatine, beta-alanine etc. These should be bought from bodybuilding brands as they are bodybuilding specific. Skip the “Natures Valley pea-protein” found at your local grocery store. Go with the pros instead here.
Step 4: Follow a Strict Regimen
Many supplements only work when they’ve saturated your system. This is why people sometimes used to “load” things like creatine in the past, to make sure their system was saturated and thus the supplement could do its job.
Today, for example with creatine, because it comes in so many different types and can be instantly processed, there really isn’t as much of a need for loading. Still, for supplements to work, you have to take them consistently over a period of time. The goal is to produce a positive net effect.. not just take them whenever we happen to.
Read all your labels closely and follow the dosing requirements. A lot of the daily maintenance supplements like multi-vitamins and fish oil require use 2-3 times a day. Hell, Clear Muscle (a powerful HMB-FA supplement) requires 2 pills to be taken 3 times a day.
When your stack grows you may want to invest in a good pill organizer to keep track of what you need to take on which day. There are also shaker bottles with built-in pill organizers too if you want something to hold your supps while going to the gym.
The Skinny Yoked Lean Mass Stack
The Skinny Yoked stack was developed over about 4 years of training and contains supplements with research to support their efficacy. Some are bought cheaply from Costco while others are ordered online. The stack contains immune system support, join support, brain support, energy support and muscle support.
Let’s break this beautiful stack down a little bit now. First we’ll cover the “essentials” elements. These are supplements selected not for their bodybuilding-specific benefits but their overall health support benefits.
The Daily Essentials: Support Overall Health
First we have a solid multi-vitamin. We’re looking for something with not just vitamins A-Z but also essential minerals including metals and other muscle supporting ingredients. In the above picture stack you see the Platinum Multi-Vitamin from Muscletech. We love this one.
We also love Opti-Men by Optimum Nutrition. They are our two favorite multi-vitamins. Why? Let’s break down the ingredient labels a little bit.
First is the Muscletech Platinum Multi-Vitamin. It’s absolutely stacked full of good shit to help not only support the bodies essential functions but also support an anabolic environment.
Muscletech’s multivitamin has the full 20 vitamins and mineral spectrum, to make sure you aren’t deficient in any category, especially under taxing workout regimens. They also include 865mg of amino acid support and added vitamin C and E to help keep you healthy and going at 100%.Optimum Nutritions Opti-Men is also a solid choice. We switch between Muscletech’s and O.N’s, buying whichever is on sale at the time.
If we had to choose between the two we’d go with the Opti-Men because A. we’re total O,N fanboys, they always make good shit and B. Opti-men has over 75 compounds in each pill, including 22 vitamins and minerals in addition to a full 1,000 mg of amino acids.
They also put in a bunch of vitamin D, botanical extracts, and a ton of B vitamins to keep your immune system happy as you beat the shit out of it in the gym.
A solid multi-vitamin is a bedrock staple of any good supplement stack. Sure, you can get all the vitamins you need from whole foods, but then you’d be spending a fortune and eating fruit all day long, which isn’t always feasible and can be expensive. On the other hand, pop a couple pills and you never have to worry about being short in any category.
A good multivitamin is worth investing in and not something we buy generic at Costco, mostly because the generic multivitamins like Men’s One-a-day lack all the extra ingredients to support muscle growth, like excess B vitamins, proper dosages of zinc, magnesium and iron not to mention amino acids. For vitamins, it pays to go for a bodybuilding brand.
You are what you eat right?
Essentials Part II: Maintenance Supplements
Fish Oil for Pumps, Bones and Happy Feelings
Fish oil may be one of the most widely praised supplements amongst the mainstream ever. Benefits range from healthier blood vessels, lower lipid counts, and reduced risk for plaque build up. If you chase the pump in the gym, you’ll understand how keeping your cardiovascular system in tip-top shape is critical to continued long-term gains.
Studies have also found fish oil to stimulate activity in the brain for the positive, increasing overall feeling. This is because fish oil can impact the levels of serotonin in your body, which are literally the feel-good hormone. Supplementing with fish oil on top of a solid workout routine should keep your serotonin levels at all time highs.
Additionally, this supplement is a MUST have if you live in a land-locked location and aren’t eating fresh seafood every day. Ignore the whole food nazi’s here.. this is one supplement that a majority of people not living on coasts need.
Look for as powerful as a capsule you can find. We regularly pick up Nature Made and Spring Value cheap brands at Costco. We like the Nature Made with EPA 366mg and DHA 135. For the Spring Valley we like the 1000mg capsules with 300mg Omega-3s.
Also, look for brands that remove mercury, as fish are known to accumulate deposits in their flesh and thus consuming too much could actually have a negative impact if not filtered out.
Glucosamine for Joint Preservation
Glucosamine is also a daily maintenance supplement for us. If you are a tall lifter with an ectomorphic type body chances are you have long limbs. Chances might also be that you have sensitive joints. Glucosamine has been shown to help protect joint tissue over the long run.
Made from shellfish, this is a pretty obvious supplement to take since your natural diet probably doesn’t contain any shellfish.
Glucosamine is often prescribed to older people with osteoarthritis. However, if you’re putting a lot of stress on your joints via squatting, jumping, lunging, should pressing etc, then supplementing with glucosamine may be a good way to pre-empt any sort of future joint issues caused by joint degradation.
We look for as potent of a pill as possible, and whenever possible we try to find glucosamine PLUS MSM. Studies have shown that these two supplements work synergistically in supporting joint health.
We usually get theSchiff Glucosamine plus MSM. It has 1500mg of glucosamine and a full 1,500 mg of MSM as well. It’s cheap and powerful, exactly what you need in a day-to-day supplement. Kirkland also makes a 1500/1500 tablet as well you can pick up at Costco, although the pill size is a little bit bigger than the Schiff brand.
The Muscle Building Essentials: How to Support Gains
The above supplements are pills we’d take day in and day out, regardless of whether we had a massive leg day at the gym or just took it easy shopping around town. The above supplements are designed to help maintain an overall healthy body so that we can use that body to move heavy things in the gym and stimulate extra muscle growth, i.e gains.
Gains are muscle that is for all intensive purposes “extra”. You’re body doesn’t make it if you don’t push yourself hard in the gym. It’s this extra, unusual external stress factor that stimulates growth. So, in pushing your body beyond it’s daily comfort zone, you should also take care to nourish it with all the support it needs to recover from said stresses.
Two major elements to recovery and muscle growth are ample sleep and consumption of whole foods. It’s true, you only grow in your sleep, so make sure you’re getting at least 8 hours, but we prefer 9-10, to let your body full recover over night and replenish its reserves. Only in doing so can you be prepared to hit it 110% the next day.
On top of steak, chicken breast, whole grain pasta and tons of sleep, we add a few supplements to support the anabolic environment in which gains are created. Let’s dive in shall we?
Whey Protein You Can Drink Daily
Protein powder is the most critical muscle building supplement in this section of the stack. It is what the multi-vitamin is to the daily-stack to the muscle-building stack.
Protein offers affordable and convenient alternatives to choking down chicken breast all day long. Here are a few things to look for when selecting your protein:
1. Brand Name Matters with Protein Powders
Sometimes brand names don’t really matter. For example fish oil is pretty much all the same and so is glucosamine. Protein powders however can differ highly in the amount of actual protein they contain. This is because A. the industry isn’t regulated because it’s a “supplement” and B. the industry is full of slimy businessmen.
For example some companies add filler shit like cartilage and tendons and gelatin, all derived from worthless nasty bits of cows, to their protein powders in an effort to artificially inflate the total protein count. This is known as “amino spking” or “nitrogen spiking”.
To protect yourself, go with age-old reputable brands such as Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard, which is perhaps the most trusted whey protein on market. Equally reputable are BSN, who make the delicious Syntha-6 blend. Cellucor and Muscletech each also make a pretty solid product.
We liked Musclepharm, however they were caught up in an amino-spiking scandal with their Arnold branded supplement line last year and have lost a lot of credibility because of it.
Personally, we prefer to mix multi-source proteins, some fast digesting and some slow digesting for optimal muscle trickle-feeding. While BSN Syntha-6 is a famously multi-source derived protein (casein, whey concentrate, whey isolate, egg whites etc) it’s also higher in fat and calories.
For lean gains we prefer mixing Betancourt Beef Standard (which is 100% beef protein powder) with Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard Whey (which is a whey isolate based protein) for a one-two punch.
Outside of buying from a trusted brand name, just keep in mind the following when you’re doing your protein shopping:
- You will use it for months on end, so buy bulk whenever possible
- Dont’ buy bulk unless you’ve tried the flavor first, some are horrid
- Only buy flavors you know you can choke down twice a day for months on end
- Look the highest protein (grams) per serving for maximum value. O.N Whey is 24g per serving and thus the “gold standard”
Pre-Workouts With Proper Dosages
Pre-workouts are controversial. Some hate them, some love them. Either way, we admit, they are not a necessity. Then again, straps aren’t a necessity but they can help you squeeze in a few more reps on back/pulling days. Cardio shoes aren’t a necessity but they’re a lot easier to run in than weightlifting shoes. Protein powder isn’t necessary if you carry 5 pounds of chicken breast everywhere you go. See our point?
So, now that we know it’s not necessary, let’s talk about why we LOVE pre-workout:
Increased Focus and Determination
First, it puts you in the mood to do serious work. Sure, it’s awesome if you can do that without stimulants, but if you’re an adult working a 9-5 or a college student you’ve probably long ago realized the benefits of stimulants like caffeine and how they can increase your productivity. Pre-workouts are the same thing, especially if you work out in the morning.
Imagine you work out in the morning, because of your schedule, but you’re sleepy and only operate at let’s say 70% of what you could because you’re just not in the zone. Add that missed 30% up over a year of lifting, and you’ve missed out on some substantial gains. Pre-workouts can get those gains back. We mixed a solid pre-workout, Optimum Nutrition Amino Energy with orange juice for 6 months and crushed our 7AM workouts.
Ensure the Body has the Correct Building Blocks
Secondly, “good” pre-workouts contain ingredients that help you achieve your aesthetic goals by including essential muscle-building blocks such as amino acids. If working out without a huge protein-rich meal beforehand, then you risk falling into a catabolic state. By supplementing with amino acids, found in pretty much every good pre-workout, you can maintain an anabolic state.
Additionally, supplements with citrulline malate and/or beta-alanine, as well as creatine can help optimize your muscle output to help you push more weight for longer periods of time, creating more micro-damage int he muscle fibers and more gains in the long run.
Skinny Yoked’s Favorite Pre-Workouts
We like Optimum Nutrition’s Amino Energy because it’s reliable, from a reputable brand, provides full amino support (5 grams) and includes beta-alanine and citrulline. We also like the energy is a controlled boost, probably because it’s derived from green tea and green coffee beans. It’s also only dosed at 160mg, so it’s enough to pick us up without getting jittery.
For power days, we prefer Optimum Nutritions Gold Pre-Workout. Just like their whey protein, this pre-workout has been around forever and is trusted around the fitness world. We alternate this and Amino Energy because this contains 3g of creatine, which is one of the best ingredients ever put in a pre-workout.
O.N Gold Pre-Workout also contains Acetcyl-L-Carnitine HCI (ALCAR HCI), and tyrosine, both beastly stimulants. We consider the Gold Pre as the heavy hitter and Amino Energy as the maintenance blend.
We also like alternating between the two to keep things fresh and work to prevent tolerance build-up.
Also, if your pre-workout is lacking in proper dosages you can usually buy bulk single ingredients to add to your mix. We have a bottle of NOW beta-alanine that we use to add to our Amino Energy to get it to the finger tingly levels we like.
It seems like there are billions of different types of pre-workouts on the market. There are tons of good ones, but to help choose, keep in mind the following:
- Look for a label that shoes dosages. Avoid “proprietary blends” as it often means “cheap blend”
- Look for something that contains core proven ingredients like amino acids, creatine, beta-alanine and citrulline malate.
- Look at the serving size per container to get a better idea of value. Some scoops are huge, some small.
- If you can’t afford protein powder, then skip the pre-workout. Pre-workout is an nice addition but not nearly as essential as protein powder.
The Anabolic Cherry Supplement on Top
Well, we’ve gone over supplements to support overall bodily health and supplements to help you make the gains in the gym. These are all pretty standard and could be considered “basic” units to any good stack.. vitamins, minerals and protein.. duh.
But what else do we add to our stack to make it special? Well, since we’re 100% natty at Skinny Yoked, they are available over the counter. We’ve added a supplement on top of the above mentioned stack components that has allowed us to be our heaviest yet at lean weight (meaning not counting bulk weights).
HMB-FA: The Main Star in Our Stack
The mystery supplement we’ve been taking for the last few months and are totally in love with is Muscletech’s Clear Muscle. Clear Muscle is simply their branded name for HMB-FA, which is an abbreviation for “beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate free acid”.
What’s the deal? Well, long story short, people freaked out years ago about HMB, the non-free acid form of Clear Muscle because it was shown to support anabolic environments even in caloric deficit diets. It was even hyped as a potential muscle-protector for the elderly. Unfortunately, it seemed the regular HMB, which was calcium bonded, was not really efficiently processed by the body.
Now however, we have the Free Acid form of HMB which is more powerful and more bio-available. This means the body can actually use it. What does that equate to? More strength and bigger gains when training super hardcore.
Muscletech published their own study which showed impressive results from the University of Tampa. These studies were corroborated by other studies as well. Studies aside, speaking from first hand use over the course of 3+ months, we can say that HMB-FA has resulted in more lean gains then we’d previously experienced.
Before, the process went: bulk up huge, cut big to eliminate fat, admire remaining gains that finally became visible once the fat melted away. With HMB-FA however, we’ve been able to make gains AND stay lean on a pretty loose diet. For example, let’s say our cut weight is around 185lbs, that’s at 6’2 and we’re lean enough to look pretty ripped.
To build more mass though we have to bulk, which usually pushes us up to 200lbs or more. With clear muscle we’ve maintained a 190ish pound weight with our usual 185 body fat percentage, making for a more overall impressive physique.
You can read up on our full Clear Muscle review diary here to get caught up on how we used it, what routines we paired it with and our opinions on the pluses and minuses of the supplement.
Bonus Stack: Longevity
If you are reading this and under the age of 30 then you probably aren’t too concerned about longevity and retaining your health, you’re just focused on making new gains!
However, if you are closer to 30 or over the age of 30, then thinking about the future is critical to keep making progress year in and year out. In addition to the above mentioned multi-vitamins (overall health), fish oil (mental/heart health) and glucosamine + MSM (bone/joint health), it’s worth considering adding a mental preservative as well.
Once great option for combating aging, specifically in the brain where it first manifests, is regularly supplementing with something like a pterostilbene supplement. Vitamonk makes a great one. There are dozens of brands online you can compare, just make sure the company lists links to scientific studies that actually support the claims they make, like Vitamonk does.
In conclusion, you must realize supplements are indeed just supplements. They are not “replacements”. Take care of yourself with healthy foods and good sleep, Try to eat organic and all that shit whenever possible. When it’s not possible though, then stock up on supplements and stack them in a way that will allow you to reach your particular goals, whether it be dieting, bulking or maintaining, you can tweak your stack to suit whichever.
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