The 3 most important things you need to have dialed-in when it comes to building muscle is eating right, lifting heavy weights, and getting enough sleep. If you’re currently neglecting one of these 3 key areas, then it’s likely that you are leaving massive gains on the table. And would benefit greatly by disciplining yourself to be more consistent in all of these 3 areas.
But, if you’re someone who is eating well, lifting heavy weights 3-5x a week, and getting 7-8 hours of sleep a night, then supplements can be a great way to ‘go that extra mile’ and pile on a few extra pounds of muscle mass. These supplements will be listed in order from the most important, foundational supplements to the less crucial but still worth-the-money supplements.
Note: If you’re someone who is currently working under a tight budget, you’ll want to make sure that the supplement purchases you make are closer to the beginning of the list as opposed to the end. But if money is no object, then by all means, load your pantry up with some of the best supplements the industry has to offer.
Supplement #1: Whey Protein Powder
If you want to build muscle, you’re going to want to maximize protein synthesis within your body and increase the amount of protein you consume on a daily basis. One of the best ways to push protein synthesis within your body is by supplementing with whey protein powder. The reason whey protein powder is so effective is because it digests quickly and begins repairing damaged muscles quicker than other forms of protein like meat or casein powder. On top of that, it also contains high levels of branched-chain amino acids (also knows as BCAA’s) as well as peptides that increase blood flow to the muscles and drive muscle growth. If you haven’t yet began taking supplements and aren’t sure what type of supplement to go with first, you can’t go wrong with whey protein (unless you have a dairy allergy).
Additionally, many people with smaller appetites use whey protein supplements to get in their required amount of protein without needing to eat copious amounts of meat. Overall, whey protein is a foundational supplement that many bodybuilders credit as key to their success.
How to use it: Depending on your body size, take 20-60 grams of whey protein powder immediately after working out. To maximize it’s effects, also consider taking 20-60 grams of protein powder upon waking up to ensure that your body will have all the protein it needs to continue the muscle building process. If you’re someone who has a hard time hitting their daily caloric requirement, then you may need to consume more than the average amount of protein powder, but it would be best to first consult a healthcare professional.
Pro Tip: if you’re someone who hates inefficiency, consider using The Scoopie to make scooping the correct amount of protein powder (and getting it into your shaker bottle) quicker and easier than ever before.
Supplement #2: CASEIN PROTEIN POWDER
Casein is another milk protein that ranks just under whey because of its slower digestion rate. But a slower digestion rate doesn’t necessarily mean it’s worse.
Because of its slower digestion rate, many bodybuilders use casein as a slow-releasing, pre-bedtime snack that helps avoid any type of catabolism while sleeping. And although it doesn’t get absorbed as quickly as whey does, casein is still a great supplement for putting inside of a post-workout shake or eating right before bed. Additionally, some studies have shown that protein shakes using both whey and casein – as opposed to whey or casein alone – have been more effective for athletes than any other previously used combination.
How to use it: It is recommended that you choose a casein protein that contains what is known as micellar casein, which is the slowest-digesting version of casein available on the market. Taking 10-50 grams of casein protein after a workout or as a pre-bedtime snack can be a great way to utilize its slower absorption tendencies.
Supplement #3: CREATINE
In order to move, you need to first create energy in the form of ATP. Creatine makes more ATP available for your muscles, allowing you to lift a little more and get in a few extra reps during each set. Over the course of a year, these extra reps will have added up to a few solid pounds of muscle mass gained. Creatine also draws water into your muscle cells and places a stretch on the cell that encourages long-term growth and adaptation. Many people who begin using creatine for the first time in combination with drinking copious amounts of water realize that they begin to appear more “bulky” because of the increased water retention, which leads to a bigger pump in the gym. Which then leads to better selfies. Some studies have also shown that creatine increases levels of insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-) which is crucial for the muscle-building process and looking like the Hulk.
How to use it: The recommended type of creatine to take would be creatine monohydrate. Place 2-5 grams of creatine monohydrate into your protein shake before your workouts. Taking the creatine beforehand will keep the creatine flowing inside of your body for the remainder of your workout, ensuring that you will stay high on energy endurance. The 2-5g serving should be taken every single day, whether you work out or not. And no, there is no need to go through a creatine “loading” phase.
Supplement #4: BRANCHED-CHAIN AMINO ACIDS (BCAAS)
Branched-chain amino acids are essential for repairing and rebuilding muscle tissue. In most BCAA supplements you’ll find some type of proprietary blend of leucine, valine, and isoleucine because these are the 3 most important amino acids when it comes to building muscle. Leucine is thought by the scientific community to be the most important of the 3 because it has been shown to have the capabilities to stimulate protein synthesis independently. Along with aiding the processes of protein synthesis, BCAA supplements also blunt cortisol (the catabolic hormone that promotes muscle breakdown) and boot energy during tough workouts. BCAA’s can be a great little kicker when you’ve been going HAM for weeks on end.
How to use it: Take 5-10 grams of BCAA’s with breakfast or in one of your protein shakes. We recommend mixing it into a protein shake because BCAA’s usually taste terrible on their own. The best BCAA’s have double the amount of leucine as they do isoleucine or valine. This means that if you’re taking 5g’s of BCAA’s, 2.5g of that scoop should be leucine.
Supplement #5: BETA-ALANINE/CARNOSINE
When beta-alanine enters the body, it pairs up with another one of its amino bros called histidine to form carnosine. There has been research that has shown a correlation between higher levels of carnosine with higher levels of strength and endurance in high-performing athletes. The research has also shown that a group of people who took beta-alanine along with creatine lost more bodyfat and gained more muscle mass than people who took creatine alone. Carnosine appears to increase the muscle’s ability to generate more power for longer periods of time, which is exactly what you want if you’re pumping iron harder than Arnold.
How to use it: Take 1g (or 2 if you’re feeling wild) of beta-alanine immediately before and after your workouts in combination with your creatine and protein shakes. Just like creatine, it is recommended that you keep the dosage the same on both workout and non-workout days.
Supplement #6: NITRIC OXIDE BOOSTERS
Nitric oxide (also referred to as NO) is a compound that is already present in the body in certain amounts and is involved in a variety of different processes. When it comes to supplements, bodybuilders will often use nitric oxide for it’s blood dilating effects, allowing more blood to flow into the muscles hence more oxygen, nutrients, and water. With effects similar to drinking caffeine, NO will give you more energy during your workout and is often used as a pre-workout for people looking for a boost of energy before they hit the gym. On top of the energetic effects, NO will also give you a better muscle pump and speed up the amount of time it takes your muscles to recover from your workout.
How to use it: Take one serving of NO before and after your workout and consider taking it with vitamin C. Vitamin C has been shown to keep levels of NO higher in the body for longer.
Supplement #7: GLUTAMINE
Glutamine is an amino acid that has been a staple in bodybuilder’s diets ever since it began to gain popularity in the days of Arnold. Being one of the most abundant amino acids in the human body, glutamine is essential for proper muscle function and aids in the human immune a system as well, ensuring your missed workouts because of illness are kept to a minimum. Because of it’s importance as an amino acid, glutamine is often sold in isolation (as opposed to other branched-chain amino acids) and is usually taken either before or after a workout in a post-workout shake.
How to use it: Take 5-10 grams of glutamine in the morning with breakfast and in your post-workout shake.
Supplement #8: FISH OIL
Fish oil is a fantastic supplement that supports all-around heart and joint health. One of the nutrients that the average person in the western word lacks is long chain omega 3 fats – the ones that are found naturally in oily fish like krill or salmon. Because we cannot produce these fats in our bodies naturally, it is essential that we receive them through external sources like diet or supplementation. The best fish oils to choose form are the ones with high concentrations of EPA and DHA and ones that have purity and sustainability certifications. Cod liver oil tablets or krill oil tablets are both great options.
How to use it: The best way to consume fish oil is by taking one supplement capsule at the same time every day. Most people prefer to take it in the mornings either before or with their first meal.
Supplement #9: Magnesium
Magnesium is essential in aiding the production and utilization of ATP, which is the primary energy carrier in all organisms on earth. Although usually recommended by physicians to patients experiencing stress or sleep-related issues, many athletes who supplement with magnesium for a 3-month time period report feeling like they have more energy. One of the reasons for this is because magnesium helps the body behave more efficiently, and helps smoothen out the workload that the body routinely goes through. One 3-month study including 10 women concluded that for a given workload, peak oxygen uptake, total net oxygen utilization, and average heart rate all increased significantly during the period in which magnesium was restricted. This means that a magnesium deficiency made the metabolism and heart work harder. Something which someone who trains a lot definitely does not want.
How to use it: Take one capsule of magnesium in the morning with breakfast.
Supplement #10: CARNITINE
Even though carnitine is a popularly used fat loss supplement, that isn’t all it is. Recent clinical research has shown that carnitine has a number of muscle enhancing capabilities that can be leveraged by bodybuilders looking to gain a competitive edge, or just look better in their post-workout selfies. One of these muscle enhancing capabilities is carnitine’s ability to increase blood flow to the muscles, similar to what nitric oxide does. On top of that, carnitine has been shown to actually increase the amount of testosterone following a workout by increasing the amount of T receptor cells in the body. This means that muscle cells are getting more “fire power” when it comes to building the actual muscle tissue inside of the body. This increase in T receptors also leads to increases in IGF-1, which is an essential component in all-around muscle growth.
How to use it: Take 1-3 grams of carnitine with both your pre and post workout meals.
Supplement #11: Vitamin D
In cloudy locations, many people use vitamin D to ward off seasonal depression, also referred to as SAD. But it has many more benefits than just making people feel better during a string of cloudy days. An important vitamin for building strong bones, muscular tissue, and an overall healthy body, vitamin D is a fat soluble nutrient that is one of the 24 micronutrients essential for human survival. Although many people will get all the vitamin D they need from the sun, people living in cloudier locations may want to test out the effects of vitamin D for themselves. Many people also report that their skin pores shrink and their skin complexion increases.
How To Use it: One of the most common ways people consume vitamin D is in capsule form, usually with 5000 IU capsules. Like most other supplements, it is most effective when taken in the morning or night at the same time every day.
Once you’ve disciplined yourself enough to master the 3 most important components of building muscle – diet, working out, and sleeping for 7-8 hours – supplements can be a great way to boost your gains by an additional 10-20%, when used correctly. Although nothing can replace working out, eating right and sleeping well, supplements are great for people that want to take their training to the next level or are having a hard time getting their nutrients from food alone. These people may want to take supplements – especially whey protein - because they have a hard time eating enough protein in the form of meat, while others may want to supplement with micronutrients because they are unable to eat vegetables for a variety of reasons. No matter your situation, using the right supplements at the right time can improve your fitness results while helping you achieve your health and fitness goals quicker than ever before.