Supplements will never replace good nutrition and max-effort training. However, they are important for anyone who wants to get bigger and stronger, faster. Most college students are on a fixed or tight budget, so supplement selection becomes even more critical. I'll help you pick the best supplements for building muscle, without breaking the bank.
Big Man On Campus: Supplementation Overview
Watch The Video - 08:25
Let's face it: Supplements can get expensive. I'm going to give you a variety of supplement options, starting with a foundational stack. These are the supplements I recommend to anyone. In terms of good health and great results, these are the most important: whey protein, a multivitamin, and fish oil. You will get these nutrients from your diet, but not necessarily in the quantities you need to build maximum mass. Supplements can be a more effective and convenient way to ingest these muscle-building essentials.
After you've covered your bases, you can add certain "performance" supplements to your lineup. I prefer tried-and-true sports nutrition supplements like creatine monohydrate, a natural energy booster, and slow-digesting casein protein. I'll cover these products after reviewing the foundational supps.
Protein is essential for tissue growth and repair. More than any other macronutrient, it helps build muscle. I recommend one gram of protein per pound of body weight, each day. Whey protein powder is an easy way to hit this number. Because it digests quickly, whey protein is the perfect post-workout recovery protein. Take a serving of whey after every resistance workout to help kickstart repair, recovery, and growth.
Dosage: Take your whey protein within 15-to-30 minutes after your workouts. You can use whey protein any other time during the day to help hit your daily protein goals. Remember, you want at least one gram of protein per pound.
A good performance multivitamin combines vitamins, minerals, and additional workout-support nutrients. Your body needs more than proteins, carbs and fats. You need micronutrients in vital amounts to cover gaps in your diet. Iron, zinc, vitamin C, vitamin B and others are all important to good health. Vitamins and minerals play critical roles in a variety of biological functions. Athletes and active individuals typically need more vitamins and minerals than sedentary individuals. It can be especially hard to eat perfectly in college, so let a multivitamin take stress away from you.
Dosage: Take your multivitamin with a meal. I take mine with breakfast every day, just to keep it simple. Remember to check the label, since certain multivitamins are taken at multiple meals.
If you can afford them, there are a few key performance supplements I recommend for maximum muscle-building results. These are: creatine, casein, and a natural energy supplement.
If your budget allows, add creatine first. Creatine is one of the most-well-studied supplements on the market. Not only can it help you increase muscle size, but it will also help you build more strength and provide additional training energy. By helping you hit more reps than you'd be able to otherwise, creatine will also help you get the most from every workout. Creatine monohydrate is the most studied, tried-and-true creatine available.
Creatine Load Dosage: First, power up your post-workout protein shakes with a scoop of creatine. If you haven't used creatine before and want the fastest results, you'll go through a quick period of creatine loading. During your loading phase, take up to 30 grams of creatine monohydrate for 5 days. Take one serving of creatine monohydrate with morning, afternoon, and evening meals, plus one additional serving before going to bed. Do this for 4-to-5 days to help saturate your muscles with creatine.
Creatine Maintenance Dosage: After loading, take one serving of creatine per day. Take it with your post-workout protein shake on training days, and any time on your non-workout days.
Unlike whey, which digests quickly, casein is a slow-digesting protein. It's perfect before bed. It can feed your muscles up to 8 hours! Casein is great for overnight repair and recovery, or any time you might go without food for more than a few hours. Casein doesn't hit your system as quickly as whey, but it does provide a steady, slow release of muscle-building amino acids.
Dosage: I always recommend taking a casein shake roughly 30 minutes before bed. Casein will promote recovery when you'd otherwise be fasting.
I'm not a huge fan of supplements loaded with artificial energy sources. Instead, I choose energy supplements powered by green tea extract, coffee extract, and caffeine pulled from natural sources. Always check labels to review a supplement's stimulant sources. A good natural energy supplement may also include amino acids and other muscle-building nutrients.
Dosage: Most energy supplements can be taken any time you need a boost—in the morning, before a workout, or during an afternoon slump. Of course, you should always check and follow the label.
My supplement suggestions will help you get the most from the gym and the classroom. When buying these or additional supplements, consider these tips:
Bodybuilding.com often offers buy-2-get-1-free sales, as well as other discounts and promotions. If you can afford the upfront cost, these promotions are a great way to stockpile essential supplements. Most supplements are easy to store and won't expire for two-or-more years.
Ten pounds of whey protein will ultimately be cheaper per serving than five pounds. If you can afford the initial cost, always buy bulk.
If you absolutely have to, stretch your supplements by taking half-servings. I don't typically recommend this, since you won't get the intended benefits of a full dose, but it can be a good way to make certain supplements last longer on a tight budget.
Bodybuilding.com typically offers exclusive supplement stacks, which are combinations of synergistic products, at great prices. Stacks are generally cheaper than the sum of their products, so they're a perfect way to get more bang for your buck.
Always remember to keep things balanced. Never depend on a supplement to go work out. Supplements are important for recovery, growth, and more, but they'll never replace hard work, motivation, and good nutrition.