“Hey man, what’s your stack?”

The term “stack” has its origins in Old Norse as having to do with haystacks. Shortly around this time, men were noted to say, “Aye, that women be stacked to the brim,” since a particularly well endowed female trait made the appearance of two neatly placed haystacks. That last sentence wasn’t actually true. For whatever reason, the term “stack” was associated with a nutritional (natural or otherwise) supplement to one’s training. I don’t know if it originated in bodybuilding, Olympic lifting, or power lifting, and to be honest, I don’t really give a poo. These days it seems to have a bodybuilding connotation, which is usually comically unnecessary. Modern bodybuilding literature (propaganda?) is infamous for its ridiculous products with promised results. Thus, in certain groups, “stack’ may have a negative connotation.

That is, until Brent Kim decided to be a pain in the ass.

Typical waste of money stack

There are some essential items that a lifter should, in essence, stack onto their training. It is important to note that the value of these items is reduced to precisely “dick” if you aren’t eating appropriate amounts of protein and calories in order to recover and improve. But, for the sake of this post, we are going to assume you have this under control (Guideline: 1g of protein per lb of bodyweight, and if you aren’t recovering, then you aren’t getting enough calories).

It wasn’t too long ago that Brent’s training stack was a healthy dose of kimchee and bulgogie (Korean barbecue, which is top notch). Then there came a time when Brent duly noted the fish oil intake that I adhered to. The following conversation ensued:

Brent: How much should I take?
Me: Well, I take about 14g, so you should probably take 8 to 10
Brent: I’m going to take 28 grams because I am twice the man you are.

And thus Brent started thinking about his stack. Thinking led to reading, reading let to more thought, and then, Brent wanted to know what everyone else’s stack was. Relentlessly.

“Hey man, what’s your stack?” was asked both in a serious and comical manner. Serious, for he really did want to know, and comical because the usage of the term “stack” is previously associated with the bodybuilding silliness described above. When Brent first started saying it, it was embarrassing, because anybody who heard might think he was serious about the term. The problem was that he was serious, but now it’s okay because he/we have changed the term into its new accepted usage and meaning (which generally gets out of hand with my group of friends).

In any case, your stack is something that is “stacked onto” your training program and your food intake. If your food intake isn’t appropriate for your goals, then you don’t have any business worrying about your stack. If you don’t even know how you should be eating to accomplish your goals, then you have some research to do, and still don’t need to worry about your stack. Even if you did have all of those things taken care of, a lifter doesn’t need much in his stack to reap the supplemental rewards. Here are some essentials.
Note: As always, consult your physician about any of this stuff. If you take any of this stuff because you read about it here, you do so at your own risk. If you are unsure about any of it, then don’t take it.

Whey Protein
This may not even be considered part of a stack because it might be a staple to your diet. In any case, it’s supplemental to food, so I’ll include it here. If you aren’t getting your allotted protein intake, then nothing else really matters. Sometimes you’re in a pinch and can’t eat all of it in the source of meat, so whey protein is a nice, quick replacement. You don’t need to buy anything expensive, because all the brands will do the same thing anyway. Most brands are outfitted with BCAA’s, and generally the more money you spend, the better it tastes. However, if they make claims on the absorption rate or any of that other bullshit, just ignore it. It’s useless, and we are worried about the chronic intake of protein anyway. My buddy Mike likes the Optimum Nutrition brand because their protein is tasty, and they have lots of flavors. You can also get the EAS brand at Sam’s Club for pretty cheap.

Vitamins and minerals are vital to a healthy, functioning body. Sometimes our diet doesn’t include all of the goodies that we may need. Even if you are eating plenty of Paleo-esque meats, fats, vegetables, and fruits, you may accidentally neglect something. In such a case, having a decent multivitamin can pick up the slack. If you are training hard then you’ll need more vitamins anyway, and if you’re eating to gain mass you’ll be purposely neglecting some healthy foods. Cover your bases with a generic brand multi-vitamin — you don’t have to spend lots of money on it. Bill Starr always recommended the shovel technique to get more than you’ll actually need. This is fine with water soluble vitamins (Vitamins C and B-vitamins) because you’ll just pee the excess out, but keep an eye on some brands that have crazy amounts of fat soluble vitamins like A, K, D, and E. I’m not saying shy away from them (especially because we’ll need more of most stuff when we’re training hard), but you won‘t need ridiculous amounts. Lastly, make sure your multi-vitamin is equipped with magnesium and zinc.

Fish Oil
I haven’t done a literature review on fish oil, but I’ve seen some of the research. In any case, lots of people who are “in the know” regarding nutrition recommend fish oil for its anti-inflammatory properties, it’s improvement on blood lipid profiles, and its apparent ability to lower the chance of certain diseases, conditions, and cancers. As a lifter, you want it for the anti-inflammatory properties, because when you lift hard, you get lots of inflammation. Following that logic, it is something that has the potential to help with recovery, and that’s what we want. To get an idea of how much you should take, here is a fish oil calculator that my friend Melissa Urban created for Robb Wolf’s blog.

“Creatine is one of the only supplements that does what it actually says it is going to do.” — paraphrased from conversations with Dr. Kilgore. As a clunky summary, it helps the phosphocreatine system reproduce ATP faster, and this helps in the recovery from short, intense bursts of work (like what happens in lifting). There has been talk on the internet of “non-responders”, but the real problem is getting it to absorb correctly (there are quite a few factors that can limit absorption). Dr. Kilgore once told me that mixing the monohydrate in chocolate milk is a fantastic way to help it absorb (the lipids and sugars each play their part — look up how these things are digested for clarification). The general consensus for ingesting creatine monohydrate is to load for 5 days at 0.3g/kg of bodyweight, and then maintain at .03g/kg bodyweight.
There is a new product called creatine ethyl ester which gets converted into creatine within the body. The draw is that it apparently absorbs better, but it’s more expensive, and I don’t have time for ‘more expensive’.

When eating to increase or maintain mass, vegetables may get ignored. In such a case, you are gonna want to eat some fiber. I’ve written about it before here: http://www.70sbig.com/?p=1041

Intestinal benefits aside, it will make your bathroom time more enjoyable, especially if you’re drinking a gallon of milk.

Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate
This stuff is supposed to help with joint health. Hell, I don’t know if it works. Some people swear by it and some people swear at it. I figured that since I want to lift throughout my entire life, and since I’m doing a lot of jumping around in the Olympic lifts, I my as well try it. I wouldn’t say I had sore knees, but I could feel them after some rough Oly workouts, sometimes the next day. I got a cheap pair of cloth knee sleeves and started taking glucosamine/chondroitin, and I haven’t noticed it anymore. Lots of factors go into this, but if you’re willing to try anything…

Again, I want to reiterate that none of this really matters if you aren’t eating well. Tons of people will have opinions on nutritional supplementation and most will get weirdly complicated. I’m not really into that; I just get a few things to try and maximize my recovery without spending a whole lot of money. I’m sure most of you will have some kind of comment today. Realistically, the only person you should listen to is Gant, because most of you don’t know why the hell you’re taking something.

72 thoughts on ““Hey man, what’s your stack?”

  1. and also what do you think about supplementing with BCAAs

    Some swear by this. Preworkout BCAAs usually have some caffeine or B-vits for a little pick-me-up. I personally have never felt a boost from supping BCAAs (I eat a lot of meat and whey, though). However, most people don’t take a high enough dose of anything to get the benefits (if it says take four, two will not do).

    Consequently I never got much from B, either. I used to have a few pins of this stuff in my drawer. I didn’t feel any different after shots.


  2. Was just wondering if it would be better to supplement with ZMA before going to bed or to just take 50 mg Zinc and 300 mg Magnesium separately? Also, could you explain why taking Zinc and Magnesium are important for 70s Big?

    Zn and Mg are important to life. Simply, both are involved in several hundred enzymatic processes and hormone regulation within the body. It’s like the swingman on a basketball team; it just makes the offense run smoothly. We typically don’t get enough of these minerals from our diet, and training depletes them even more. So, the real answer is that Zn and Mg are vital to a good life, hard training depletes these already sparse minerals, and therefore we need to supp.

    The training specific claims are a bit hazier. Victor Conte (Balco) came out with his original ZMA forumlation and did a study on it. There is a study by Conte and Brilla which lauds the effects of ZMA in terms of strength and performance gains. Some guys swear by this stuff, and some–trusted friends of mine–include it as a foundational supplement. The idea is that it enhances anabolic hormone production, which leads to gains.

    There are other studies that said ZMA produced no significant benefits in terms of strength, body comp, or performance. Some even criticize the absorption of ZMA into the system, which kinda misses the mark.

    If you want ZMA, take Conte’s formula. If you want to supp Mg and Zn, which is probably a better practice, read Charles Poliquin’s stuff (not the biosignature crap, the other stuff).

    Zn and Mg ARE necessary. If you get your levels squared away, your body will operate more efficiently. IMO, that’s what will help you sleep, that’s what aids in the metabolic processes, that’s what helps your stress levels, all of which conspire to create a more optimal environment to thrive (this is where the improved anabolic hormones come in, I suppose).

    The short answer, Zn and Mg help your training by making you live better. If you live better, you train better, sleep better, and grow better.


  3. My exact “stack” is a multi, fish oil (I have been taking 2 capsules at 2 separate times per day, but I’ll up this to 4 capsules at a time), MGN whey protein (cheap as fuck–I paid $28.00 for 5 lbs of the premium blend chocolate, which is really good tasting and is 1 g fat, 1 g carb, 22 g protein / scoop), and creatine (which I just started taking last week).

    My question, to Gant, Justin, or whoever can answer, is as follows:
    I’m really confused as to the whole idea of “loading” with creatine. Everyone gives a different opinion. I never understood how 5 g could be universally accepted as essentially the perfect amount for anyone and EVERYONE to take–since I received my bottle of Creapure on Friday, I’ve just been taking 5 g / day (no loading or anything). Is this foolish? Should I take about 20-25 g for about 5 days, then go back to 5 g to maintain. Also, what is the deal for “cycling off”. I tried to read about it, but all the “broscience” from bodybuilders made me wanna puke–I just planned to keep using it for a while.

    Sorry for the multitude of questions, but any answers would be much appreciated (regarding how much to take, how to load, and how to cycle, if that got lost in translation).

    Pay attention and read the comments. Loading isn’t necessary, and creatine should be taken per body weight. There are recommendations above.


    Next time you want to load, just send me $5 because that’s what you’re basically doing. It’s cool to have that initial strength bump (which is caused by an initial mass bump as your cells swell with water). It’s most pronounced the first time you take creatine, and it doesn’t have much bearing on anything; it just gets you there a week sooner.

    Think about it, if you can get creatine from food sources, why would you have to load it?


  4. AC,
    Do your training partners help ya with taking your stack?

    Eww dude. That’s sick. What’s wrong with you man???

    You got a lot of growing up to do.


    I can’t get that mental picture out of my head.


  5. JVohs – I take 50/300 individually before bed. It’s much cheaper and works just as well, if not better (most “ZMA” supps also have B6 in there, which can give some people an energy boost…making it harder to get to sleep).

    If you’re Zinc deficient, supplementing can (basically) increase testosterone. Magnesium gives you acid-like dreams so you can think you’re Ricky Bruch for 8 hours. It’s a win-win.

    This made me laugh out loud.


  6. I am a big fan of glucosamine and chondroiton. Touring a Broadway show 8-10 shows a week (a lot more chaotic on the joints than a steady, reasonable lifting program) took a bigger toll on my 20 something knees than I expected. Just 2-3 weeks into a G&C regimen I stopped noticing my knees anymore. Sometime after I got off tour I also stopped taking the G&C. A few weeks into Crossfit training I started noticing my knees again. Took the G&C, ache went away. Seems pretty consistent to me.
    Over the years I’ve tried lots of brands, usually what was inexpensive or had the easiest dose to take. Most of them seem pretty reliable. Except that liquid stuff- It tastes so horrible it shouldn’t be used to treat anyone but torture detainees.

    Some respond well. Others don’t respond at all. The clear answer for you is to keep your socks and workout clothes but stop doing crossfit.


  7. My stack:
    Multivitamin for men
    Kirkland G&C
    Costco fish oil – 10 tabs a day
    3,000 IU vitamin D
    creatine tsp/day
    L-Glutamine 3,000 mg
    Arginine/Ornithine 1,000/500 mg
    whey protein

    Also have been using a product from Quest Nutrition called ‘Hard Core Anti-Catabolic’ for recovery. It’s a mix of L-Glutamine, HBM, Magnesium, ZMA and some other stuff. It’s expensive and not sure how much it helps given I’m already taking L-Glutamine.

  8. Even with taking tons of fish oil, my wrist MRI showed massive amount of inflammation 12 weeks after the injury. I did have a major TFCC tear so there may not be any amount of fish oil to keep it down. I don’t know if it would have been worse if I wasn’t taking the fish oil, just saying that it was there.

    I’m late on this convo, but why would you think fish oil would keep inflammation down on a major tear?


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  10. @Justin

    Hope. I didn’t know if it would reduce the inflammation or not. I was taking a lot of it because I was still under the impression that it was a sprain and not a tear. Fish Oil had been touted as a great anti-inflammatory so I was hoping it would help. As I said before, there is probably no amount of anti-inflammatory that would reduce the tear.

  11. I was looking at my run of the mill fish oil (Spring Valley), and noticed that out of each 1,000mg, there is 300mg EPA/DHA (180 and 120, respectively.) So the calculator says I should be taking 56 of these daily.

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  13. Is there any alternative to fish oil? I’ve got a pretty bad/dangerous allergy to fish, which really really sucks. It developed out of nowhere when I was 18 or so. I’ve avoided fish completely ever since (six years) to try to get over the allergy. But in the mean time I’d like some what to get these benefits without taking a fish product. Any ideas?

    Practical Programming mentions cod liver oil…but I’ve read that’s not so good due to the ratio of omegas.

    I know people who use cod liver oild, but that’s still a fish, dude.


  14. My stack now:

    Centrim Silver Multi Vitamin
    –got the silvers one day by mistake. Yes, they’re for the Master’s and I’m only 24, but I figure a little extra can’t hurt.

    B-Complex Vitamin
    –I think it makes me feel good; I know it makes my piss neon. I dim the bathroom lights, crank up the Pink Floyd and watch the lazer light show.

    Vitamin C pill
    –I always take one in the winter. Probably does nothing.

    –I take two pills/day

    Creatine Monohydrate
    –1 teaspoon every morning with breakfast. I just mix it with water.

    Rich Chocolate Ovaltine
    –because it’s damn good.

    –1 cup in the morning. 1 cup before workout.

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