If you’re like most people hitting the gym, you’ve had your sights set on improving your physique. You’d like to drop a few pounds, but more than anything, you want to add some real muscle mass to your frame.
As you probably quickly realized, building muscle isn’t the easiest thing to accomplish. It can take months, and even years, of hard work in the gym (and the kitchen!) to get the body you’ve always wanted, and even after you’ve put in the work, there’s no guarantee you’ll achieve the results you’re hoping for.
That’s where supplements come into play.
With the right supplement stack, your journey to build muscle and improve body composition can become dramatically easier, and that brings us to the point of today’s article -- the best supplements for building muscle.
Ahead we’ve got three of the best ingredients (as proven in human research) to aid you in your quest to build the ultimate physique.
Before we get to the top 3 supplements you need to maximize muscle growth, we need to get talk fundamentals of muscle growth. To make gains and build size, you must:
Consume a surplus of calories
No amount of supplement or training is going to help you put on weight if you’re not consuming more calories that you require.
Train consistently using the principle of progressive overload
Muscle will only grow if they are challenged to perform more work than they previously have, meaning that if you’re not constantly striving for more reps, more weight, or more sets with each subsequent workout, you can forget about muscle growth.
Get adequate rest and recovery
Your body will never have the opportunity to get bigger and stronger if you never give your muscles time to recover, repair, and grow following training. That means that you need to take your rest days as seriously as you do your lifting days.
Now that the basics are out of the way, we can get onto what you’re really interested in...the best supplements for building muscle!
Must-Have Muscle Building Supplements
To build muscle you not only need to consume ample calories, but you also need to get a sufficient amount of protein. Your muscle are made of protein, so it only makes sense that in order to get them to grow, you need to consume more of it. Plus, intense training breaks down muscle tissue, which increases your requirement for dietary protein, so as to support repair, recovery, and growth.
Now, you could easily fulfill all of your protein needs from whole foods such as beef, pork, chicken, or fish, but there comes a point in every athlete’s life when they can’t stand the thought of choking down another grilled piece of meat. On top of that, some larger athletes have such high protein requirements that it becomes cost-prohibitive to continue buying meat.
In these instances, whey protein can be a real saving grace. Derived from cow milk, whey protein is rich in branched-chain amino acids (BCAA), highly bioavailable, affordable, convenient, and downright delicious.
It’s the perfect anytime option for a quick, high protein meal or snack and helps you hit your protein macros for the day without all the prep, cooking, and cleaning of other protein sources.
Research has shown that whey protein (such as Cellucor Cor-Whey) in combination with resistance training enhances muscle growth as well as strength, performance, and overall body composition.[1,2,3] Depending on your weight and amount of muscle mass, you can use anywhere between 1-3 whey protein shakes per day.
No supplement is more studied, well-researched, or proven effective than creatine monohydrate. It’s been used for decades by athletes looking to build muscle and increase strength, and if there’s one supplement every athlete should use, it’s creatine.
Creatine serves a number of roles in the body, including
- Enhanced energy production
- Improved cellular hydration
- Influences several factors impacting muscle growth, including nitrogen balance and the expression of certain genes (mRNA in particular).
Exerts anti-catabolic effects
Basically, creatine helps you build muscle faster, get stronger, and perform better all around, which is why it easily qualifies as a “must-have” supplement for building muscle.
A staple of top pre-workouts (including Cellucor C4), beta-alanine is a nonessential amino well-known for the “tingles” (paresthesia) it delivers when consumed in high doses. But, beta-alanine isn't just about delivering tingles, it’s also a valuable performance enhancer that helps build muscle.
When ingested, beta-alanine binds with the essential amino acid L-histidine to form carnosine, a powerful intracellular buffer that shuttles away hydrogen ions (H+) that accumulate during exercise.
During exercise, the more muscle contracts, the more acidic it becomes, which subsequently reduces its ability to continue contracting. You experience this as the “burning” sensation that hits your muscles the deeper you get into a set, which ultimately causes you to tire, fatigue and stop the set.
By increasing the amount of carnosine in your muscles, you’re able to remove (“buffer”) more of these H+ ions, offsetting the eventual fatigue and enabling you to grind out more reps before stopping. Ultimately, beta-alanine allows you to perform more work than you would without it, and as we stated up top, performing more work each time you train is a key concept of building muscle.
Building muscle takes dedication, grit, and a lot of hard work. It’s not the easiest thing to do, but with proper diet, training, and the right supplements, you can achieve the results you want.
- Nicholas A. Burd, Daniel W. D. West, Daniel R. Moore, Philip J. Atherton, Aaron W. Staples, Todd Prior, Jason E. Tang, Michael J. Rennie, Steven K. Baker, Stuart M. Phillips; Enhanced Amino Acid Sensitivity of Myofibrillar Protein Synthesis Persists for up to 24 h after Resistance Exercise in Young Men, The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 141, Issue 4, 1 April 2011, Pages 568–573, https://doi.org/10.3945/jn.110.135038
- Miller PE, Alexander DD, Perez V. Effects of whey protein and resistance exercise on body composition: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. J Am Coll Nutr. 2014;33(2):163-175. doi:10.1080/07315724.2013.875365.
- Bell KE, Snijders T, Zulyniak M, et al. A whey protein-based multi-ingredient nutritional supplement stimulates gains in lean body mass and strength in healthy older men: A randomized controlled trial. Fisher G, ed. PLoS ONE. 2017;12(7):e0181387. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0181387.
- Parise G, Mihic S, MacLennan D, Yarasheski KE, Tarnopolsky MA. Effects of acute creatine monohydrate supplementation on leucine kinetics and mixed-muscle protein synthesis. J Appl Physiol. 2001;91(3):1041-1047. doi:10.1152/jappl.2001.91.3.1041
- Safdar A, Yardley NJ, Snow R, Melov S, Tarnopolsky MA. Global and targeted gene expression and protein content in skeletal muscle of young men following short-term creatine monohydrate supplementation. Physiol Genomics. 2008;32(2):219-228. doi:10.1152/physiolgenomics.00157.2007
- Hoffman JR, Landau G, Stout JR, et al. β-Alanine ingestion increases muscle carnosine content and combat specific performance in soldiers. Amino Acids. 2015;47(3):627-636. doi:10.1007/s00726-014-1896-7.