5 Must-Have Muscle-Building Supplements
Muscle-building starts with eating right and lifting. Millions of satisfied lifters swear these 5 research-backed supplements have helped them pack on the pounds!
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Combined with a well-designed training program and smart nutrition plan, a simple supplement stack aimed at building mass can complement your efforts in and out of the gym. What are the must-haves that will help propel you toward maximum gains? Here's what you need.
For anyone looking to build muscle, whey protein should be considered a required supplement. Whey, unlike casein or soy, is an extremely fast-digesting protein; the body can quickly absorb and utilize its amino acids to rebuild and repair your muscles. A majority of the research has shown whey to be the superior protein when it comes to stimulating muscle protein synthesis, the process that allows your muscles to grow bigger and stronger.
Sure, you could get the same amount of protein from a chicken breast post-workout, but whey protein powder offers up a convenient and easy way to reach your protein macro goals. Providing a fast stream of amino acids after resistance training will help to promote maximal muscle growth and jump-start the repair process. And, of course, a protein shake is a lot easier to take on the go than tilapia or ground beef.
Aim for about 20-40 grams of whey protein post-workout, or use it as a snack between meals to keep your rate of muscle protein synthesis elevated. No, you don't have to sweat the anabolic window, but get it in fairly quickly. That way, you can eat soon after!
Serious lifters know that if they want to take their training—and muscle gains—to the next level, they need to include creatine in their supplement stack. I've actually argued that it should also be a daily staple for endurance athletes and, well, everyone.
Creatine supplementation works by increasing the availability of creatine and phosphocreatine (PCr) within the muscle, helping to maintain energy during high-intensity exercise such as weightlifting. The more energy available, the more reps and sets you can do. Over time, this increase in training volume can lead to noticeable changes in your physique.
Furthermore, increasing the availability of PCr may help speed up recovery between sets. To optimize the benefits of creatine, take 5 grams of creatine on a daily basis. Yes, creatine nonresponders have been known to exist, but they're rare. If you think creatine isn't working for you, make sure you're taking it right.
Timing isn't so important when it comes to creatine—and no, you don't need to cycle it. So whether you add it to your pre-workout drink or your post-workout shake, the important thing is to remember to take it every day!
If you're a strength athlete or bodybuilder, I can't think of a single reason not to take BCAAs during your workout.
It's well-known that BCAAs, especially leucine, help to regulate protein metabolism by promoting protein synthesis and suppressing protein breakdown. This can help to speed up the recovery process of muscles damaged during resistance training.
BCAAs may also improve workout intensity by serving as an immediate energy source to help reduce feelings of fatigue. Supplementing with BCAAs can reduce the amount of tryptophan that crosses the blood-brain barrier, therefore reducing the amount of serotonin produced. This can help you work out with greater intensity and for a longer period of time.
Take 6-10 grams of BCAAs before your workout to help reduce protein breakdown and muscle soreness, or sip them while you train to boost energy levels and fight off fatigue.
Caffeine does more than just boost energy levels in the gym; it can actually reduce feelings of fatigue by blocking specific receptors located throughout the body. What does this mean for your gains? Lower levels of fatigue translate into more reps performed, more sets completed, and an overall greater training volume.
Caffeine taken before a workout has also been shown to increase the number of reps completed in the bench press, deadlift, squat, and row. It's also been shown to improve maximal lower-body strength.
Don't make the mistake of taking your caffeine supplement or pre-workout drink as you walk into the gym. To take full advantage of the powers of caffeine, try to have it about 30-45 minutes before your workout. Caffeine newbies will likely see a benefit using a dose around 150-200 milligrams. If you're a chronic caffeine user, you may need to go up a bit in dosage, closer to the 300-milligram mark.
If you think the only thing this supplement is good for is giving you a pre-workout "tingle" to let you know your pre-workout is taking effect, you're greatly underestimating the benefits of beta-alanine.
During highly intense training sessions, your body accumulates hydrogen ions. These hydrogen ions contribute to lowering pH, which ultimately results in fatigue. Beta-alanine has been shown to increase intramuscular carnosine content, which can increase the body's ability to buffer hydrogen ions. This can potentially delay fatigue and improve exercise performance, increase training volume, and reduce perceptions of fatigue.
Whether you're increasing your sets, reps, or weight, progressively increasing volume over time is one of the most important stimuli for adding both strength and size. There is even some research to suggest that the combination of beta-alanine and creatine can lead to greater gains in muscle mass than either of those supplements alone.
Similar to creatine, beta-alanine is not time-dependent, meaning you can take it at any point during the day. If you're not a fan of the tingling sensation, take smaller 800-milligram doses four times a day. Otherwise, aim to get in between 3.2-6.4 grams per day. Most pre-workouts these days have that much, but to see the benefits of beta-alanine, I recommend taking it on its own as well, especially on days where you don't take a pre-workout.