When building muscle, we tend to place our bodies under stress so its understandable that adding some supplements to our diet could help muscle growth. With so many muscle building supplements out there on the market, what are the best muscle building supplements?
What are supplements?
Supplements are chemicals that add vital nutrients, vitamins and minerals to our diet to help us achieve goals. However, you need to understand that, as the name suggests, these are supplements. Supplements alone CANNOT and WILL NOT build muscle for you. Supplements should work as part of a balanced diet to help you maintain or get the extra nutrients to help you gain weight.
Do I need supplements to gain muscle?
The short answer is no, unless you have any medical conditions or unable to keep up with a balanced diet or your daily calories. Through a balanced diet you will be able to gain muscle just as effectively as with supplements. Some supplements are great to help you build muscle, we are not trying to discourage you but if you are wondering if supplements are worth it? You could save your pennies by investing into a balanced diet.
Supplements are very highly concentrated, so if you are consuming a balanced diet and supplements, it is likely that you may overdose on certain vitamins and minerals. Plus, your body may struggle to digest it so you may experience some digestion issues like stomach cramps, constipation or diarrhoea.
The best muscle building supplements
Whey protein is found to be superior to every other protein sources due to its high bioavailability, high PDCAAs (digestibility and amino acid profile) and most importantly high leucine content. Leucine is a branched chain amino acid responsible for triggering protein synthesis in muscle (MPS). This is the most important factor in protein sources when it comes to muscle sparing or muscle building.
Other protein sources like animal sources, rice, soy, pea protein contain an average of 8% of leucine compared to whey protein containing 11%. Some whey proteins may contain 10% and others 13%, you can check this on the label of the product (Norton and Baker, 2019).
Benefits of Whey protein
- Limits muscle loss during a caloric deficit (during a diet).
- Limits fat gain during a caloric surplus (a bulking diet)
- Best for triggering MPS (Muscle growth)
- An amazing profile of amino acids for muscle growth
- Great source of quality protein
Regarding our second last point ‘an amazing profile of amino acids for muscle growth’, we would like to add that not all 20 amino acids contribute to building muscle, some help with hair and nails whereas, some assist in muscle building and recovery. Therefore, a great combination of the right amino acids is essential. This is why we so highly recommend whey protein.
The three types of whey protein.
- Wheyprotein concentrate is less refined since it is formed by centrifuging milk to separate the fat content from protein then an acid is added to separate casein from the protein. Once the whey is separated it becomes concentrated and that’s how you get your whey protein concentrate.
- The second one is Whey protein Isolate, and it is even more concentrated, it is created from whey protein concentrate being filtered to remove a great amount of variables such as lactose, extra fat and carbohydrate. Whey Protein Isolate tends to be higher in protein and lower in carbohydrate and fat compared to whey protein concentrate. This product may be easier for some people to digest due to its lack of some variables mention previously.
- Whey protein hydrolyzateis formed through enzymatic hydrolysis, this is a process which breaks down protein into smaller amino acid chains known as peptides which enables people to digest the protein easier.
So, which is the best whey protein for muscle growth?
All these whey protein types are just more filtered for easier digestion but the original whey protein has the best profile of all variables thanks to its amino acid profile.
Whey protein case studies
One study conducted by Sports Medicine (2011) examined the effects of high protein intake during energy restriction (caloric deficit). The purpose of this study was to compare the effectiveness of higher protein and moderate carbohydrate intake during weight loss dieting in older women. The study reported:
- The group with high protein intake lost 4.2% muscle;10.9% body fat and 8.2% more intermuscular body fat (fat within muscles) than high carbohydrate group.
- But They did also build 5.8% more muscle, lost 3.8% more body fat than the group with high carbohydrates
This shows that during low calories or a caloric restriction, a high protein diet maintains more muscles relative to weight loss which enhances overall physical health.
A study conducted by the Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Centre (2011) investigated whey protein supplementation in 73 participants over 23 weeks. The study reported a reduction of body fat by 2.8kg compared to the group who consumed soy protein. That group merely managed to lose any weight or any major differences in muscle mass.
With both studies and the content of whey protein in mind, whey protein is the best protein shake for muscle building.
How much whey protein should I take?
Consuming approximately 20-30grams of whey protein per meal will increase muscle protein synthesis in most people, wouldn’t recommend more than 40grams as your body is limited to consuming 40grams of protein per couple of hours.
How much protein should I eat per day?
If you are looking to gain muscle, you should consume 1g of protein per 1lbs of your bodyweight. For example, if you weight 117 pounds, you should consume 117g of protein. If you’d like to know how many calories that is, multiply you protein grams by 4. In this example, 117 (grams of protein) x 4 = 468 calories.
How much protein should I eat to tone up?
To tone up, it is recommended to consume 1.6g of protein per 1kg of body weight. For example, if you weigh 53kg, you would multiply your KGs by 1.6.
53 x 1.6= 84.8grams
Then to get the calories, we would multiply the grams by 4. The reason behind this is because there are 4 calories in 1 gram of protein.
84.8 x 4 = 339 calories
When to take whey protein and how to use it?
For best results, it is recommended to take whey protein within 45 minutes post workout. Please follow instructions on how to use it, the packaging of your whey protein shake should give you clear guidelines. All protein shakes are different.
Whey protein side effects
Whey protein is quite safe to consume in moderation, 1-2 protein shakes a day should do no harm. However, some people may be more sensitive than others. Therefore, if there are any side effects to be experienced, these would include: nausea, stomach cramps, constipation, diarrhoea and bloating.
What is Creatine Monohydrate and what does it do?
Creatine Monohydrate is a supplement which improves gym performance. Creatine is one that has been sufficiently researched with reliable results proving a variety of benefits.
Benefits of Creatine Monohydrate
Creatine increases muscle concentrations of creatine phosphate which means it improves your ability to lift heavier weights or exercise harder, increases lean body mass during a caloric deficit, improves strength and power, and reduces fatigue (Norton and Baker, 2019).
Other benefits observed from creatine monohydrate supplementation is cognitive performance, this includes;
- reduction in mental fatigue
- sleep deprivation
- improves working memory (Patel, 2019).
Therefore, creatine monohydrate may be perfect for you if you are a power lifter, bodybuilder or under a strict diet plan.
Creatine side effects
Creatine is safe to take but taking it without sufficient water you may experience:
- stomach cramping
How to take creatine and creatine dosage.
The best way to take creatine by cycling dosage. To start, it’s recommended to take 0.3g per kg of bodyweight per day for approximately 7 days and then 0.03g per kg of bodyweight per day for another 3 weeks. You can have a break for a couple weeks then restart or you can just continue (Patel et al, 2019).
One of the most important things when you are building muscle is consuming enough protein. You need to be eating more calories than what your body requires to maintain your current weight. Check out the picture below to see how to calculate your maintenance calories. Go to our macro-nutrient calculator to calculate your maintenance calories.
What are weight gainers?
Weight gainers are exactly what the name suggests, these are shakes with hundreds of calories in them normally with high amounts of carbohydrates and fat, to provide the extra calories. For example, some of these weight gainer shakes have between 500-1000 calories. Therefore, these would help you to stay on top of your daily calories.
These weight gainers are normally in a form of protein shakes, so if you are considering taking a weight gainer, we would recommend finding a Whey protein weight gainer as it will have plenty of protein, a great amino acid profile and plenty of calories! Check this one out, this is our favorite!
Can weight gainers make you fat?
During you bulking time, it is IMPOSSIBLE to control whether you will gain more muscle or fat, if you increase your calories by too much you are likely to gain more fat than muscle. So it is REALLY important not to increase your calories by too much.
How many more calories should I eat to gain muscle?
The general rule is to consume no more than approximately 15% more than your maintenance calories. For example, if your maintenance calories are 2000 calories per day, you should increase them to 2300 calories per day (2000 x 0.15=2300).
Another thing is to take into account, to gain 1lbs of WEIGHT in 1 week you’d need to consume 500 calories on top of your maintenance calories. Please acknowledge that we have emphasized WEIGHT rather than muscle because this technique is a lot more aggressive than increasing your calories by 15%. So, unless you are exercising 5-7 days a week, we would not recommend this technique as you may gain more fat and less muscle.
What is Beta Alanine?
This is a modified version of the amino acid ‘alanine’ and it is known to improve muscular endurance.
What are the benefits of Beta Alanine?
There have been reports from people saying they were able to perform one to two additional reps in the gym than usual. One study conducted by department of movement and sports science (2010) investigated rowing performance using 19 participants, after 7 weeks of 5g/day supplementation; elite rowers improved their rowing performance on 2km trials.
Another study conducted by Department of Health and Exercise Science (2008) examined Beta-alanine effects on training volume and fatigue. 20 participants were supplemented with 4.5g/day for 30 days and the results demonstrated a significant improvement to bench press, and feeling of fatigue was also greatly reduced.
When is it best to take Beta Alanine
Standard daily dose of 2-5g should be sufficient to support lengthy exercise regime. It is usually marketed as a pre-workout or is normally included within pre-workout products but the effectiveness is not time-dependent. If you think you could adhere better to taking it in the mornings before work even if you exercise in the evenings this will still be fine.
Beta Alanine sources
You can also find Beta Alanine in beef, pork, poultry, chicken broth and fish (Patel, 2019).
Beta Alanine and creatine
Combining Beta Alanine and Creatine may have some amazing results. Firstly, both Beta Alanine and Creatine enable you to exert more power and lift more weight. If you are able to do that, you are likely to gain more muscle as a result. When you increase muscle mass your metabolism speeds up, meaning that you will also be burning more calories per day (Lindsay, 2019). Although this may not be what you want during bulking season, what we are getting at is that you may be able to increase your muscle mass whilst also decreasing your fat mass! How awesome does that sound?!
How to combine Beta Alanine and Creatine?
Both Beta Alanine and creatine need to be in circulating dosages. This means that you should take them for some time and then stop for 3-4 weeks and restart. This will ensure that your body will not be able to adapt to these supplements. Allowing you to access the benefits for longer.
Recommended dosage for Beta Alanine and creatine
It is recommended to take 0.3g per 1kg of bodyweight of creatine per day for approximately 7 days and then take 0.03g per kg of bodyweight for another 3 weeks. Then have a 3-4 week break. What is the best time to take creatine? Approximately 30-45 minutes before your workout, if you take a pre workout, this may already include creatine.
Taking Beta Alanine can be a little different, it is best to follow the instructions on your product because some products may be different than others and may contain higher doses. It is not recommended consuming any more than 3-5g of Beta Alanine daily but be careful as some products may be more concentrated than others.
What is HMB?
HMB stands for β-Hydroxy β-Methylbutyrate and it is a chemical our body naturally produces when we begin to break down Leucine. Leucine is an amino-acid that supports muscle building so if our body breaks down Leucine, this may have negative effects on your muscle mass.
Can HMB help build muscle?
HMB is not a supplement you take to build muscle but rather to protect them. HMB protects muscle from damage. This can be particularly helpful if you are on a diet or under a caloric restriction.
HMB case study
A study conducted by Gallagher et al (2000) examined whether HMB supplementation increased strength during 8 week resistance training and determined if higher doses provided any extra benefits. With supplementation of 3g of HMB over 1-6 months alongside 8 week resistance training program. The study reported an increase to lean body mass but not increase to strength or muscle mass. Other studies show similar results, the participants were able to maintain lean body mass but no major effects were reported for muscle growth.
When to take HMB?
It is best to take HMB 45 mins- 1 hour prior to your workout to reduce muscle damage.
Please also follow the dosage on your packaging as different products may have different dosage instructions.
How much HMB do I need?
As mentioned earlier, please follow instructions on your packaging to ensure you do not overdose. However, a general rule is to consume 38mg per 1kg of body weight or 17mg per 1 pound of body weight. (nutrabio, 2019)
For example, if you weigh 50kg, you should consume 1.9g of HMB per day. (50 x 38mg = 1900) Then convert 1900mg to grams = 1.9grams of HMB
If you prefer calculations using pounds, if you weigh 117lbs, you should consume 1.9/2.0 grams of HMB (117 x 17=1.989) Then convert to grams = 1.9 or rounded up to 2 grams)
The couple milligrams won’t make a difference.
Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)
BCAAs are known as Branched Chain Amino Acids which come from protein sources like meat, poultry, hemp and many others.
What are BCAAs?
BCAAs refer to three specific amino acids for muscle building; leucine, isoleucine and valine. Many BCAAs products on the market will include 8-20 amino acids instead of these three but the three mentioned first are ones that stimulate muscle protein synthesis (muscle building & maintenance).
What do amino acids do?
If you’d like more information on amino acids, please check out our article ‘Do proteins only grow muscle?’. This article goes into a lot of detail about the function of amino acids.
What do BCAAs do?
BCAAs trigger muscle protein synthesis (MPS), this means that these are structured in a way to support muscle building and recovery. Normally, if you consume protein outside of the 45 minutes window post workout, you would just consume protein and once digested, these could take any form of amino acid that may support something else other than muscle building.
Some amino acids support healthy skin, nails and hair..
So BCAAs are important to ensure that your body gets enough of the amino acids your body requires to build and recover muscles.
Do BCAAs actually work?
One study conducted by School of Physical Education and Sport (2011) examined the effect of BCAAs on exercise capacity and fat burning using 7 average, healthy males aged 18-29 over 24 hours. It was found that they burnt a little more body fat during exercise than placebo and they were able to extend their workout by 17.2% before reaching exhaustion.
On the other hand, another study conducted by Department of Human Biology (1995) examined the effects of BCAAs on prolonged exercise. The trial took place over 24 hours using 10 average male participants aged 18-29. A cycling exercise at 70-75% with 6 or 18g of BCAAs before the exercise failed to provide any difference to placebo. They were simply unable to sustain the exercise for longer. So the results are mixed.
So what does that mean?
Every body is different meaning one person may respond better to BCAAs than another. These studies are limited in respect to the amount of participants that took part. At this point, it is fair to say that more studies need to be done.
BCAAs side effects
Side effects may include nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, and constipation.
As mentioned previously, there are three BCAAs, the standard dosage for three are:
- isoleucine is 48-72mg per kilogram of bodyweight
- leucine dosage is between 2-10g
- No optimum dosage has been set for Valine
BUT, a combined dosage of BCAAs is 20g. (Patel, 2019)
Recommended article: Do proteins only grow muscle?
Freebies, Discounts and Nutrition Tips. Sign-up Now!
Blog.blenderbottle.com. (2019). All About BCAAs | BCAA Benefits, Uses, and Side Effects. [online] Available at: https://blog.blenderbottle.com/all-about-bcaas-bcaa-benefits-uses-and-side-effects [Accessed 12 Nov. 2019].
Frank, K., Patel, K., Lopez, G. and Willis, B. (2019). Valine Research Analysis. [online] Examine.com. Available at: https://examine.com/supplements/valine/ [Accessed 12 Nov. 2019].
Frank, K., Patel, K., Lopez, G. and Willis, B. (2018). Branches Chain Amino Acids [online]. Examine.com Available at: https://examine.com/supplements/branched-chain-amino-acids/ [Accessed 17 March 2019]
Frank, K., Patel, K., Lopez, G. and Willis, B. (2019). HMB Research Analysis. [online] Examine.com. Available at: https://examine.com/supplements/hmb/ [Accessed 18 Jul. 2019].
Frank, K., Patel, K., Lopez, G. and Willis, B. (2019). Creatine Research Analysis. [online] Examine.com. Available at: https://examine.com/supplements/creatine/ [Accessed 23 Oct. 2019].
Gualano AB, Bozza T, Lopes De Campos P, Roschel H, Dos Santos Costa A, Luiz Mrquezi M, Benatti F, Herbert Lancha Junior A (2011). Branched-chain amino acids supplementation enhances exercise capacity and lipid oxidation during endurance exercise after muscle glycogen depletion. [online] Ncbi.blm.nih.gov Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21297567 [Accessed 14 Feb 2019]
Gallagher, P., Carrithers, J., Godard, M., Schulze, K. and Trappe, S. (2000). Beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate ingestion, Part I: effects on strength and fat free mass. 32, [online] 12. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11128859 [Accessed 5 Oct. 2019].
Hoffman JR, e. (2004). Effects of beta-hydroxy beta-methylbutyrate on power performance and indices of muscle damage and stress during high-intensity training. – PubMed – NCBI. [online] Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15574078 [Accessed 18 Jul. 2019].
Lindsay, I. (2019). Combining Creatine And Beta Alanine To Improve Results | The Protein Works. [online] The Locker Room. Available at: https://www.theproteinworks.com/thelockerroom/combining-creatine-and-beta-alanine-to-improve-results/ [Accessed 12 Nov. 2019].
Norton, L. and Baker, P. (2019). Fat loss forever. 1st ed
NutraBio. (2019). HMB (1000mg) – 180 Vegetable Capsules. [online] Available at: https://www.nutrabio.com/Products/hmb.html [Accessed 12 Nov. 2019].
Tinsley, G. (2017). The 6 Best Supplements to Gain Muscle. [online] Healthline. Available at: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/supplements-for-muscle-gain#section6 [Accessed 12 Nov. 2019].