If you go to the gym regularly, you want every workout to count right? You don’t spend all that time exercising to just waste your time and energy! So, to get the most out of your workouts and maximize your muscle growth, we’ve compiled a list of 8 supplements that can help boost the results you’re looking for.
Supplementation is found in chapter 13 of the NASM Nutrition Coach Course. Sign up today if you're interested in learning more about nutrition.
The 8 Best Supplements for Muscle Growth
- Whey Protein Powder
- Amino Acids
- Carb Supplements
1 - Whey Protein Powder
Whey is the liquid remaining after milk has been curdled and strained. It is very fast absorbing and is generally the type of protein that is recommended after exercise. There are 2 primary types of protein: concentrate and isolate.
Concentrate will generally contain less protein by weight and have more carbohydrates and fat. An isolate indicates the protein powder went through further processing to increase protein content and eliminate any carbohydrate or fat sources. Ideally, an isolate will digest and absorb faster than a concentrate, but both are equal in terms of protein quality.
Since whey is a by-product of milk, you can source it naturally from dairy products.
Consuming whey protein is extremely beneficial because whey is a complete protein — meaning it contains all the amino acids necessary for muscle growth. In fact, in terms of protein quality, milk proteins have the highest digestibility score. However, whey protein contains a myriad of additional benefits aside from enhancing muscle growth. Studies have shown that consumption of whey can also improve sleep quality and enhance immune system responses.
Several studies have evaluated the effects of whey protein on training and performance and have found that consumption of whey in doses of 20-40g/day or more over 8-12 weeks showed increases in lean body mass, strength, and decreases in fat mass.
So, what does this mean if you’re trying to build muscle? Whey is a great, complete source of protein that will offer the most benefit if consumed every 3-4 hours (if not consuming additional sources of protein via food), or within 2 hours after exercise in doses of 20-40g.
2 - Creatine
Creatine is a non-essential amino acid that is mainly stored in our muscles with a small amount stored in the brain as well. It’s naturally found in foods such as red meats and fish. In a normal diet that contains about 1-2 grams of creatine per day, muscle stores are only about 60-80% saturated. Vegans/vegetarians will likely have lower stores since natural sources mainly exist in animal meats.
Creatine is one of the most widely studied supplements — namely for its ability to increase muscle mass! Research has shown that increases in muscle mass can occur in as little as 4 weeks by supplementing with creatine in the diet.
To see the fastest results, a loading protocol for creatine is often recommended. For most individuals, supplementing 5 grams of creatine per day (or about 0.3g/kg) four times daily for 5-7 days can fully saturate stores. After a loading protocol, stores can be maintained by ingesting about 5 grams per day (for larger individuals, doses of 10g per day may be needed).
In regard to timing, creatine offers the most benefit when consumed after exercise since it can help facilitate water and carbohydrates back into the muscles more quickly (aka faster recovery).
3 - Essential Amino Acids
Essential amino is nine amino acids that must be consumed via diet because the body cannot produce them on its own. Therefore, you can obtain essential amino acids naturally from any animal-based product!
Essential amino is used in the process of muscle/protein metabolism and has been postulated to help promote increases in lean body mass. In fasted states or very-low-calorie diets, supplementing with essential amino acids can preserve lean tissue and stimulate muscle protein synthesis.
There is no limit on the number of essential amino acids you can consume per day. In regards to frequency, doses of 5-9g of essential amino are recommended before and/or following resistance exercise to stimulate muscle protein synthesis.
However, all essential and non-essential amino acids are needed to stimulate muscle protein synthesis. This would make high-quality protein sources superior in the ability to promote muscle growth over essential amino alone. Additionally, supplementing with essential amino in conjunction with a high protein diet will not offer additional benefits to increasing muscle mass.
See also: Branched-Chain Amino Acids
4 - Carbohydrate Supplements (Vitargo, Karbolyn)
Carbohydrate supplements such as Vitargo and Karbolyn are specifically processed to yield a high molecular weight, which allows them to be digested and absorbed almost twice as rapidly compared to other “natural” carbohydrate sources.
They are sourced from various plants such as potato, rice, corn, and barley. While dosing and frequency largely depend on individual needs, they are extremely beneficial when it comes to building muscle because when carbohydrates are combined with protein after exercise, it creates a much larger stimulus for muscle protein synthesis compared to carbohydrates or protein alone.
5 - HMB
Beta-hydroxy beta-methyl-butyrate (HMB) is a metabolic byproduct of leucine degradation. Leucine is the main amino acid responsible for stimulating muscle protein synthesis. By increasing the availability of HMB, leucine degradation would be prevented which would minimize muscle protein degradation.
HMB is naturally produced in the body, but to obtain doses needed to incur performance benefits about 600g of high-quality protein would need to be consumed per day. Therefore, supplementation is more practical to increase stores.
Many studies have shown that supplementation with HMB in both trained and untrained individuals increased strength and muscle mass when compared to controls. Currently, two forms of HMB exist: Calcium HMB and free form HMB. It is speculated that free form HMB may absorb more efficiently, however, research regarding the benefits of this supplement is still in its infancy.
However, it is currently recommended to take this supplement in doses of 1-2g, 30-60 minutes before exercise. Supplementation of 1.5-3g/day is recommended for at least 3-12 weeks to see increases in muscle mass.
6 - Glutamine
Glutamine is one of the most abundant non-essential amino acids in the body and plays a significant role in various physiological functions such as immunity, gut health, and protein and glycogen synthesis.
However, no compelling evidence exists to show that glutamine supplementation leads to increases in muscle mass. Studies have shown that subjects who included 5g of glutamine along with 3g of BCAA and 40g of whey protein had no increases in strength or muscle mass after a 10-week strength training program.
7 - Carnitine
L-Carnitine is naturally produced by the liver and kidneys and plays a major role in lipid metabolism. Namely, it helps facilitates fatty acids into the mitochondria of the cell so they can be metabolized. However, it also plays minor roles in pathways that regulate muscle protein metabolism and can act as an antioxidant.
In some animal models, supplementation with L-carnitine increased insulin, a major hormone that stimulates muscle growth. However, in human models, 8-24 weeks of supplementation showed no increases in insulin levels or increases in muscle mass.
While this supplement still warrants further research, it is recommended that it should be taken with carbohydrates to increase bioavailability and that ingesting 2-3g/day for at least 3 months can prevent exercise-induced muscle damage.
8 - L-arginine
Arginine is one of the non-essential amino acids (conditionally essential in circumstances of extreme illness or injury), which means you can obtain it naturally from animal meats.
Arginine plays roles in protein and glucose metabolism, influences growth hormone, and is involved in creatine synthesis but is specifically involved in the synthesis and bioavailability of nitric oxide (NO), a very potent vasodilator. Vasodilators expand the diameter of blood vessels to allow for greater blood flow.
As a supplement to aid in muscle growth, L-arginine does not show promising results in healthy individuals. However, dosing with 1.5-3g/day for long periods (at least 4 weeks) or acute ingestion (6-10g/day for 7 days) can increase exercise capacity in aerobic and strength-based events.
Essentials of exercise & sports nutrition - Richard B Kreider