18+ Best Supplements for Building Muscle: The Complete Guide

James Cunningham, BSc, CPT
Published by James Cunningham, BSc, CPT | Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Last updated: December 14, 2023
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Whether you are a regular gymgoer or someone dedicated to a healthier lifestyle, you are probably familiar with various supplements like multivitamins and whey protein powder.

Having been a fitness trainer for years, I've tested numerous supplements and discovered that the key to making informed choices is understanding the specific functions of each, allowing you to choose the most effective option for your desired benefits.

Continue reading because this article will delve into the best supplements for muscle building, weight loss, and overall health.

Quick Summary

  • The best supplements for building muscle include whey protein, creatine, and branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs).
  • Whey protein provides essential amino acids for muscle growth, creatine enhances strength during workouts, and BCAAs support muscle recovery.
  • Statistically, the body can absorb a maximum of 30 grams of protein in one sitting.
  • For me, incorporating these supplements into your regimen alongside a balanced diet and consistent training will optimize your muscle-building potential.

Best Supplements for Muscle Gain

1. Protein Powders

Transparent Labs Whey Protein

To build muscle effectively, aim for 0.7-1 gram of protein per pound of body weight. For example, if you weigh 220 pounds, target 220 g of protein.

Meeting this requirement through whole foods can be challenging; powdered protein supplements offer a convenient solution. My preferred choice is whey protein (isolate).

Here's why:

  • Versatility: With a wide range of flavors, it's popular for cooking, mixing with other foods, and adding to dishes.
  • Effectiveness: High bioavailability ensures rapid digestion, making it an easy way to meet your protein needs.
  • Price: Cost-effective when compared to the protein in meat.

Though I prefer whey, it's not a one size fits all product as we all have different dietary requirements (e.g., vegan).

Here are some other types of protein powders:

2. Creatine

transparent labs creatine hmb

Creatine is widely popular among gym-goers for enhancing strength and muscle mass. Naturally present in muscle cells, creatine powers intense resistance exercises.

Creatine supplementation theoretically increases creatine stores, improving performance in reps and potentially allowing for lifting heavier loads.

Various creatine options include:

  • Monohydrate: Cost-effective and well-known, it serves the needs of most gym-goers.
  • Kre-alkalyn: Considered the most potent form, delivering creatine directly into muscles with minimal wastage.
  • Ethyl ester: Also potent, with a slightly higher risk of creatine entering the system not being converted into a usable fuel source for the muscles.

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3. Amino Acids and BCAAs

Transparent-Labs-BCCA-Gulatmine

Protein supplements contain amino acids, and during periods of calorie restriction like "cutting" or weight loss, the risk of muscle loss increases.

Branched-chain amino acids become crucial in safeguarding against this by providing essential building blocks for growth and cell repair in the absence of sufficient nutrients.

Highlights include:

  • Easily digestible.
  • Protect the muscles against being broken down and consumed for energy.
  • Fairly cheap when compared to other supplements on the market.

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4. Glutamine

Optimum Nutrition L-Glutamine

Glutamine is a key component of skeletal muscle, constituting 61%, and plays a role in transporting nitrogen for sustained activity.

After intense training, glutamine levels deplete, leading to fatigue and impaired recovery. Supplementing with glutamine helps restore normal levels, proving effective in aiding recovery for many.

Key benefits include:

  • Can elevate growth hormone levels, subsequently aiding in reducing body fat and promoting the growth of lean muscle mass.
  • Protects muscles from catabolism during low-calorie periods.
  • Bolsters the immune system, guarding against illness by preventing low glutamine levels from weakening immunity.

5. Weight Gainers

OPTIMUM NUTRITION serious mass

Gaining muscle mass depends on the individual's calorie surplus, ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand calories.

Mass gainers, or weight gainers, are valuable supplements known for their efficient delivery of well-balanced calories and nutrients

Other benefits associated with mass gainers include:

  • Frequently superior taste compared to other protein products.
  • Suitable as a meal replacement in most cases.
  • Highly versatile, serving as an anytime drink, including post-workout.

>>> See Related post on How to use Mass gainers correctly <<<

6. Testosterone Boosters

testofuel product

Natural testosterone boosters serve various purposes, impacting energy, muscle development, and mental well-being.

It's crucial to note that until your early 30s, your body produces the maximum testosterone it can process.

For individuals aged 40 and above, these supplements could provide a beneficial boost, positively affecting training sessions, energy levels, and overall quality of life.

Some of the most common testosterone boosters include:

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Best Weight Loss Supplements

In this section, we will explore natural products available for purchase that can assist with your weight loss goals.

Since these products are natural, there is a low risk of adverse side effects if taken according to the recommended dosage on the packaging.

1. Fat Burners

Fat burners like PhenQ are among the most popular weight loss supplements. They aim to burn excess body fat or use it as an energy source.

Key features include:

  • Caffeine to elevate heart rate and burn excess calories.
  • Ingredients to suppress appetite.
  • Promotes fat as the primary energy source.
  • Energy release vitamins to raise serotonin levels and improve mood.

2. Fat Controllers

Fat controllers, commonly known as fat blockers, prevent the body from absorbing excess fat by inhibiting its fat uptake capacity. They often feature various proposed ingredients to achieve this effect.

Less invasive than fat burners, they are usually non-stimulant based, reducing the risk of adverse side effects. Key highlights include their ability to:

  • Reduce fat uptake from the diet, minimizing the risk of excess fat storage.
  • Not typically interfere with heart rate, preventing crashes.
  • Enhance fat loss by up to a third during dieting.

3. Carbohydrate Blockers

Carbohydrate blockers, similar to fat blockers, prevent carbohydrate uptake from your diet. They work by halting the breakdown of carbohydrates into sugars, preventing excess energy from being stored as body fat.

Excessive carbohydrate consumption is a primary contributor to weight gain, as our bodies take in more energy than needed, converting the surplus into fat.

Key features of carb blockers include:

  • Lowers the risk of diabetes and diseases linked to excess body fat.
  • Potential damage reduction on days with unhealthy food choices.
  • Non-stimulant based supplement.

4. Appetite Suppressants

Appetite suppressants promote weight loss by increasing serotonin levels, reducing hunger urges.

Cravings often stem from stress or overthinking, but serotonin fosters a contented internal state, minimizing cravings. Key benefits of appetite suppressants include:

  • Decreased likelihood of negative food choices.
  • Potential reduction in calorie intake due to less binge eating.
  • Enhanced energy and mental alertness.

 

5. L-Carnitine

MuscleTech Platinum 100% Carnitine Formula

L-carnitine is popular for weight loss among gym goers and fitness enthusiasts due to its ability to transport fatty acids into mitochondria, converting fat into a usable fuel source. Enhanced carnitine levels may increase fat utilization for energy.

Other alleged benefits include:

  • Enhanced male fertility.
  • Assistance with kidney problems when carnitine production is reduced.
  • Potential increase in glucose oxidation, stabilizing sugar levels for issues like diabetes.
  • Linked with antioxidant properties, potentially combating disease and illness.

Check out our article on the best l-carnitine supplements.

6. Herbal Weight Loss Remedies

NatureWise Raspberry Ketones Plus+

Herbal weight loss remedies, consumed for years, include green tea, a valuable resource for weight loss and overall health.

Other choices comprise:

  • Green coffee bean extract
  • Raspberry ketones
  • Ginseng
  • Caffeine
  • Hydroxycut (a combination of several herbal products)
  • Glucomannan

Pre and Post Workout Supplements

While all health supplements can enhance training effects or improve overall training, some are specifically designed for direct impact during specific workout phases:

  • Pre-workout
  • Intra-workout
  • Post-workout

1. Pre Workouts

4 Gauge Pre Workout Supplement

A pre workout is simply an advanced energy drink, often higher in caffeine content that will deliver a high state of mental and physical readiness.

Usually, there are a plethora of B vitamins included, as well as elements like creatine and several amino acids designed to promote improved blood flow and allow the muscles to function to their maximal capacity.

Some of the main benefits include:

2. Intra Workouts

Performance Lab thumb

Intra workout supplements, used during workouts, prevent catabolism. They are advanced versions of branched chain amino acids with added benefits, available in various flavors.

Some may include compounds like Tribulus to boost growth hormone and testosterone production, relying on an amino acid mix for muscular sustenance.

Some of these benefits can include:

  • B vitamin blends to help with mental energy.
  • Added glutamine to help protect the muscles against breakdown.
  • Added vitamin C to help protect the immune system.
  • Peace of mind whilst following a low calorie nutrition plan.

3. Post Workouts

Post workout supplements are crucial for successful workouts. Without proper post workout nutrition, training benefits diminish. It's essential to consume fast-acting protein and carbohydrates within an hour after a session.

Check out our article on the best post workout drinks.

Post workout supplements play key roles:

  • "Locking in" training results.
  • Replenishing glycogen stores for stability.
  • Sometimes containing compounds to promote growth hormone release.

Supplements for Energy

Anything designed to boost energy falls under energy-enhancing supplements, including drinks like Monster, Red Bull, and Relentless.

The extensive variety of energy drinks on the market today highlights the widespread use of the supplements.

1. Caffeine

Girl holding orange cup of coffee

Caffeine, found in products like coffee, tea, and most energy drinks, enhances mental acuity by preventing adenosine from binding with receptors that signal our brain to rest or sleep, reducing the urge to rest. This is according to research from the National Institute of Health [1].

Benefits include:

  • Enhanced energy
  • Better mood
  • Relaxed muscles
  • Greater blood flow
  • Enhanced calorie burning

Side effects from overuse may include migraines, stomach irritation, skin irritation, and sleeplessness. Use caffeine judiciously to avoid addiction and related issues.

Other recommended sources:

2. Energy Drinks

iced energy drink

Designed for quick energy boosts during high-fatigue periods, energy drinks often rely on caffeine for an instant pick-me-up.

Many also include B vitamins for energy release and serotonin production. Reasons to use energy drinks:

Available in sugar-free or full sugar variants, the former is suitable for calorie-restricted users seeking an energy boost without excess calories.

 

3. Herbal Energy Enhancers

Ginseng roots differently processed

Herbal energy enhancers offer a less manufactured alternative, similar to herbal weight loss remedies. When used responsibly, they typically have no negative side effects.

These products primarily use plant-derived ingredients such as green tea extract, kola nut extract, guarana, and ginseng. Benefits of choosing herbal options:

  • Sustainability: Herbal remedies can be taken indefinitely if no negative side effects occur
  • No crashes: Herbal energy release is slower and sustained, avoiding immediate but short-lived hits
  • Predictability: Unlike some commercial energy drinks, herbal options avoid potentially dangerous proprietary blends

The energy from herbal enhancers is sourced naturally, relying on the body's processes. While lacking the instant "buzz" of some energy drinks, it offers a lasting, more sustainable form of energy throughout the day.

4. Energy Bars

Energy bars on a cutting board

Energy bars typically contain low GI complex carbohydrates for sustained energy during physical activity. Hybrid bars may have fast-acting elements, while some provide immediate energy with higher glucose and fewer complex carbohydrates.

Key features of energy bars include:

  • No crashes with sustained energy release
  • Often non-stimulant based, though some contain caffeine
  • Diverse flavors to suit various sports or situations

Certain energy bars serve as meal replacements, offering vitamins, minerals, healthy carbohydrates, and fats. Others are best consumed shortly before or after exercise.

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As you can see, there are more potential reasons for than against.

Other Supplements To Consider

There are some other products you should consider if you want to really maximize your results and squeeze out the limits of your human physiology. Check out the following:

Is There Any Risk Involved?

Protein supplement, weight, measuring tape on wood surface

Certainly, it depends on whether you adhere to dosage guidelines and use the product as intended. Excessive doses of certain micronutrients can be toxic to the body.

Given that many products are a combination of various ingredients, especially in the case of weight gainers, it's crucial to be sensible about how much you ingest.

Where the biggest risk lies is with:

Weight Loss & Energy Products

Fat burners, especially, are often marketed to individuals in challenging situations with limited supplement and exercise experience. This can lead to excessive dosages, elevating heart rates to abnormal levels and potentially causing harm to internal organs.

Similar concerns apply to pre-workouts and energy drinks, as the body can develop tolerance with repeated use.

Excess Strain On The Liver

According to a research from the University of Nottingham, the liver has a limit in processing protein, extracting amino acids at a rate that varies slightly among individuals.

When there's too much protein, amino acids can convert into fat, stored in fat depots, or if needed, transformed into glucose for energy through gluconeogenesis [2].

It's essential to avoid compromising the liver by adhering to recommended protein intake guidelines.

Dosage

Dosage depends on your body weight; one scoop of any protein supplement typically delivers 20-30 grams of protein.

There's no substantial research supporting extreme protein intakes up to 400 grams per day for effective muscle growth, as the body only requires a marginal increase.

A general rule suggests the body can absorb a maximum of 30 grams of protein in one sitting, a point not contradicted by conclusive evidence to date.

Important Tips to Consider

We've covered a comprehensive range of popular supplements, providing insight into how they work and what qualities to look for.

Additional tips before purchasing any supplements:

  • Read associated health warnings
  • Don't rely on supplements to replace hard training and a balanced diet
  • Stop using a supplement if you experience severe
  • Non-initial side effects
  • Make informed decisions based on user reviews and reputable sources
  • Choose established companies for quality assurance
  • Never exceed recommended dosages

Following these guidelines ensures a positive supplement experience.

FAQs

How Do I Know if a Supplement Will Work?

There is no guarantee of knowing if a supplement will work. While stimulant-based supplements may have a predictable impact, others rely on individual physiology. Evaluate a product's effectiveness by reviewing user feedback. Individual responses vary, so observe your body's reaction to determine efficacy.

How Do I Know if a Supplement Is Working?

You will know if a supplement is working by considering its intended purpose and comparing your results to those of other users. Some products, such as energy boosters, may produce immediate results, whereas others may necessitate a search for common symptoms indicating successful system integration.

References:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4462044/
  2. https://www.nottingham.ac.uk/nmp/sonet/rlos/bioproc/liverphysiology/page_five.html 
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One thought on “Bodybuilding & Workout Supplements 101
Everything You Need to Know

  1. Yo, I was searching for the best workout supplements for muscle gain and I’m glad to have stumbled upon this article. Very good read with lots of information about gaining (or even losing) weight. This is just what I need. Thank you!

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