The real drivers of quality weight gain are food and strength training. But adding some of these simple supplements to your diet can make gaining weight a little easier. Some of them boost recovery or help you bring more intensity to workouts, while others simply help you get enough calories to keep growing!
If you’re planning to gain muscular weight on a diet plan that doesn’t include an occasional shake, well, good luck. Time and time again, protein supplements have been shown in research to combine with strength training and produce increases in lean mass—i.e., muscle. You can definitely reach the science-backed benchmark of between 0.8 and 1 gram per pound of body weight per day with food alone, but you can reach it more easily with a scoop or two to help you along the way.
"Consider powders and drinks to be supplements of convenience—and use them that way," Douglas Kalman, Ph.D., recommends. "If a shake after training is the only way you're going to get protein at that time, have the shake. If you're trying to gain weight and you're in a position where you'd either have a shake or miss a meal entirely, have the shake."
To learn more about what protein does for your body and how it can make training more effective, read "The Complete Guide to Protein."
Weight-gainer supplements often come loaded with protein, carbs, and even fats, so you can quickly increase your calories. Some products enable you to consume more than 1,000 calories in a single serving! They're also called mass gainers, gainer shakes, or weight-gain proteins. To learn more about how protein-rich supplements like this help translate to results, check out "The Complete Guide to Protein."
Creatine helps increase your performance in the gym, and over time has been shown again and again in research to lead to increases in strength and muscle. Creatine also draws water into your cells to make your muscles a little bigger and heavier. Aim for 5-10 grams per day, taken anytime during the day. To learn more about this bona fide muscle-builder, read "Your Complete Guide to Creatine Monohydrate."
The more calories you can get into your diet right now, the better. If you're already drinking a pre- and post-workout shake, or drinking BCAAs during your workouts, add some fast-digesting carbs like dextrose to the mix. This can actually help you train harder, since your body preferentially uses carbs as fuel during intense workouts, as registered dietician Paul Salter explains in the article "Your Guide to Intra-Workout Carbs."
If you want your muscles to grow, you need to give them time to recover from workouts. ZMA is one of the leading supplements for overnight muscle repair and recovery. A combination of zinc, magnesium, and vitamin B-6, ZMA is best taken before you go to bed to enhance muscle recovery.[7,8]
Testosterone boosters aren't the same thing as testosterone replacement therapy. Instead, they're usually blends of ingredients that athletes are often deficient in—like zinc—or that have been connected in research to higher testosterone levels. They can run the gamut in both ingredients and dosages, though. For a deep dive, check out "The Complete Guide to Testosterone Boosters."
Pre-workout supplements are good for one thing: helping you get the most out of your training sessions. They usually contain ingredients like vasodilators, which can help you maximize muscular pump—which, let's remember, is one of the primary drivers of muscle growth—and also help you maintain energy and intensity during training. For more information, read "The Complete Guide to Pre-Workout Supplements."