There is no shortage of supplements that claim to boost muscle gains, but truly elite physiques are built by hard training and serious nutrition first and foremost. Supplements are just the icing on the cake.
But when your training and nutrition are locked in, these four science-backed supplements can definitely help you get your new physique a little faster, boost the quality of your workouts, and help you recover. Those three things can definitely help you gain weight—the good kind!
Here’s everything you need to know
No supplement says “I’m a lifter” as much as the post-workout whey protein shake! And with good reason. Whey protein supplies the body with a high amount of protein and amino acids that help to jump-start the anabolic process.
Whey is most often consumed after a workout to increase protein synthesis and to improve muscle recovery and restoration, although as Nick Coker writes in the article “The Case for Pre-Workout Protein,” it can be equally effective when taken before training.
BENEFITS OF WHEY PROTEIN SUPPLEMENTATION
- Fast digesting and more easily absorbed than other protein sources
- Increased muscle mass, especially when taken post-workout
- Improved appetite control, and greater feelings of fullness when dieting
- Contains more leucine than any other protein source
Recommended Dose: 20-30 grams of whey protein at a time, preferably before or after a workout. You can also take it as a meal replacement or to boost your protein intake at other times. Supplemental protein should not be your primary protein source, though. You still need to get the majority of your protein from food.
Another category of muscle-building supplements that lifters and bodybuilders use to improve their results are branched-chained amino acids (BCAAs), or BCAAs. Of the 20 amino acids that make up protein, just three are referred to as BCAAs: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. These are the specific amino acids that have been shown to stimulate protein synthesis and help regulate protein metabolism.
BENEFITS OF BCAA SUPPLEMENTATION
- Increased levels of muscle protein synthesis
- Decreased levels of muscle damage during exercise
- Decreased muscle soreness from exercise
- Improved endurance during exercise
Recommended Dose: 3-6 grams before or during exercise. A ratio of two parts leucine to one part each of isoleucine and valine appears to be most beneficial. As Krissy Kendall, PhD, explains in “The Top 7 Supplements to Boost Endurance Performance,” BCAAs can be just as effective for endurance athletes like runners, rowers, and cyclists as they can be for lifters and bodybuilders.
Beta-alanine is a naturally occurring non-essential amino acid that comes into the body through foods that are rich in protein. The performance-enhancing aspect of beta-alanine (BA) is due to its ability to increase intra-muscular levels of carnosine. Increasing beta-alanine through supplementation may raise carnosine levels by over 60 percent in as quickly as four weeks.
This is significant because during high-intensity exercise, our bodies accumulate a large amount of hydrogen ions, which cause the blood pH to drop. This acidification can cause severe fatigue, decrease muscle performance, and shorten the time to muscular failure. What people chalk up to lactic acid is actually usually happening from hydrogen.
Beta-alanine is thought to “buffer” these ions, delaying the buildup in the blood and allowing you to knock out a few more reps, last longer in your workout, and increase your gains over the long term.
BENEFITS OF BETA-ALANINE SUPPLEMENTATION
- Delayed fatigue during intense training
- Increased total training volume
- Improved power production
- Increased muscle building
- Improved endurance during hard training
- Increases effectiveness of creatine, and vice versa
Recommended Dose: 4-6 grams per day. Beta-alanine has to be taken regularly to be effective, so don’t trust your pre-workout to give you everything you need. Consider taking it in smaller doses throughout the day to reduce the harmless skin-tingling sensation that can accompany higher doses
Creatine is a naturally occurring substance within our muscle cells, and it is one of the primary sources of cellular energy. Whenever you blink your eyes, scratch your elbow, chew your food, or perform most other movements, it’s creatine—or rather, the creatine phosphate energy system—that’s powering you through it.
As a supplement, creatine has been popular since the 1990s, and has been the subject of hundreds of studies since then. It comes in numerous forms, but none have been shown conclusively to be as effective as the cheapest and most popular variety, creatine monohydrate.
BENEFITS OF CREATINE SUPPLEMENTATION
- Increased lean muscle mass, particularly with strength training
- Improved muscular strength
- Decreased muscle soreness and lower levels of exercise-induced inflammation
- Improved blood flow during training
- Improved performance during high-intensity training
Many athletes follow a “loading” protocol of around 25 grams a day for five days, but this isn’t essential. But as Ciaran Fairman notes in the article “Do I Need to Load With Creatine,” you can also get the same benefits with around 5 grams a day, potentially with none of the mild side effects of the loading protocol, which include stomach pain and water weight gain. The catch is that you have to take it consistently. Don’t skip it!
Recommended Dose: 5 grams, taken whenever works best for you. If it helps you remember, take half of your daily serving pre-workout, and the second half post-workout.
Pre-workout formulas usually include caffeine to help you perform at full throttle. In addition to getting you stoked to work out, caffeine can lower feelings of exertion, fatigue, and even post-workout soreness.
Pre-workout supplements help you train harder, keeping both your mind and body in the game for just a little longer. The caffeine jolt can make the difference between a workout that maintains muscle and one that builds muscle.
BENEFITS OF CAFFEINE SUPPLEMENTATION
- Improved motivation to work out
- Decrease in perceived exertion
- Delayed muscle fatigue
- Increased endurance
Recommended Dose: In Shannon Clark’s article, “6 Ways To Get More Energized For Your Workouts”, Dr. Chris Lockwood recommends between 1.36 and 2.5 milligrams of caffeine per pound of bodyweight. That would be 200-375 milligrams for a 150-pound person. If that leaves you jittery, try less. Determine your tolerance and find the dose that works best for you.
L-Glutamine is another great bodybuilding supplement which can help you build muscle mass and recover faster. It is essentially an amino acid which is involved in your immune system’s response, which means it plays a vital role in how fast you can recover between your training sessions. The faster your recovery, the more times you can train, and the more muscle mass you can gain.
If your body’s glutamine reserves are running low, this translates into much slower recovery, which as we already mentioned means less frequent training sessions, and less training opportunities where you can set new personal records and ultimately less progress. This is what makes glutamine such an essential supplement. Even though you may ingest some glutamine from the foods comprising your high-protein diet, the amount you consume is very often not enough to meet the requirements of all the intense training sessions you’re doing. This is why supplementing with glutamine can help you tremendously. To get optimal results, you may start with taking 5 grams immediately after your workout and another 5 before you go to bed.
And last but not least, testosterone boosters. You most definitely have heard or read about these in many popular bodybuilding magazines or on the Internet and each one of them claims to have some unique benefits to offer. This is the product with which you need to be most careful as the majority of them are quite simply garbage and totally useless. The ones that are effective, however, can greatly increase your libido and increase overall testosterone levels.
When it comes to having the ability to actually increase total muscle tissue development, they may have some slight effect if they have some key compounds in them, but beyond that, there’s no guarantee that you’ll see a dramatic effect. The key compounds that we mentioned and that you’ll want to look out for are zinc, magnesium and vitamin B6.
It’s suggested that these three work in synergy to help increase testosterone levels. With that being said, you can just buy a ZMA product with the same three ingredients and see very similar results for just a fraction of the cost. Keep these supplements in mind and if you make wise choices you can buy products that will really help you out, but it is essential that you do some research first. There are simply too many companies out there that want to rob you out of your money and make a quick buck and will use any time of marketing to get you to buy their trash.
So, read every review you can find and always use common sense before you buy. This will help you to avoid the ones that will not deliver and buy the ones that will prove to be the best supplements for rapid muscle growth.