You’ve seen them before: outrageous ads for massive gains and pumps when you order the latest bodybuilding supplement on the market.
In fact, it’s almost impossible to walk into a vitamin store without being bombarded with schemes to get you looking chiseled and cut like Mr. Olympia.
Some of the products look pretty convincing, and you may even be tempted to try one or two. Can a powder really pack on pounds of muscle? Can a shake soup up your performance?
They can, if you pick the right ones, of course.
Unfortunately, there are literally thousands of supplements all vying for your attention. How do you know which ones to choose?
We’ve broken down the best supplements for muscle growth so you can get the results you really want.
Power Up with Protein
Protein is about as basic a supplement as you can get, but don’t let its simplicity fool you. Protein is absolutely essential for building muscle, and without it, you can kiss your biceps good bye.
Protein is composed of amino acids, the basic building blocks for pretty much every essential function and process in the body.
Out of the 20 amino acids, the body can produce 11 of them by stringing together various compounds. The remaining 9 have to be consumed through our diet.
“Protein powders are popular with athletes, particularly those during strength training,” say experts at WebMD. “They provide a good source of nutrients and amino acids.”
In order to pick the right protein powder for you, you’ll need to keep in mind your current protein needs as well as what time you’d like to take it as different types of protein have varying digestive rates.
Whey: This milk-based protein is one of the best supplements for muscle growth. “Several studies have found that whey protein, when combined with strength training, might increase strength, muscle size, and lean body mass.”
Whey digests quickly, giving you a fast-release of amino acids for muscle building within 15 minutes of ingestion. Whey protein is best used as a pre or post-workout shake to keep glycogen levels in balance.
Casein: Another milk based protein, Casein offers all the same amino acids as Whey but takes nearly double the amount of time to digest.
Jeff Volek, phD, RD points out “Casein, on the other hand, resulted in a prolonged increase in blood amino acids that resulted in a 34% reduction in protein breakdown. The net protein balance remained more positive after intake of casein protein over a 7- hour period.
The superior long-lasting effect of casein was attributed to a delayed gastric emptying and slower absorption rate from the gastrointestinal tract to the blood.”
Casein is typically taken at night to promote muscle recovery or first thing in the morning to keep you full throughout the day.
Soy: If milk and dairy products are not an option for you, then soy protein may be the answer. Unlike most plant sources of protein, Soy offers all 9 amino acids necessary for muscle growth.
Various studies have found that soy protein can decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease by lowering high cholesterol levels when accompanied with a healthy diet.
Get Creative with Creatine
Where protein sets the foundation for building stronger muscles, Creatine takes the muscle growth one step further by enabling your body to work harder for longer periods of time before giving into fatigue.
Creatine, like protein, can be found naturally in the body and it’s completely safe to use (when used correctly and in moderation).
Creatine increases ATP (the body’s main source for explosive bursts of energy) so you can perform more reps and lift more weight for building muscle tissue. Additionally, creatine attracts water and other nutrients into the muscle cells, which can give your muscles a fuller, more defined look.
Like protein, however, there are lots of different creatine supplements available, so it’s easy to be confused as to which one you need.
Creatine Monohydrate: This form of creatine is the most common, the easiest to produce, the most researched, and the most affordable type of creatine in the industry. Creatine Monohydrate is made of three amino acids: arginine, Glycine, and Methionine.
Molly Kimball, RD states, “Using creatine before your workout will help you increase that intesntity and that power of your workout. If you put creatine after your workout it will actually help you recover quicker from that workout so that your next workout is fresher.”
Micronized Creatine: This form of creatine is essentially the same as Creatine Monohydrate only it’s more refined. The creatine molecule is cut up or divided to reduce the surface area of creatine for faster absorption and the reduced risk of nausea and stomach discomfort.
Creatine Ethyl Ester: Many experts believe that CEE is the next big thing in the bodybuilding industry and some swear it’s one of the best supplements for muscle growth ever developed.
This form of creatine combines creatine monohydrate with an ester molecule attached to the end, which alters the charge and increases absorption. It’s more expensive than regular creatine, but some believe it to be more effective as well.
Arm Yourself with Arginine
Arginine is an amino acid that acts as a precursor to Nitric Oxide as well as various other physiological processes such as hormone secretion and the removal of toxic waste from the body.
With increased levels of Nitric Oxide, the blood vessels in the body relax temporarily, increasing blood flow and improving circulation. This in turn provides more oxygen to the muscles, so you can enjoy longer, harder workouts.
According to the American Council on Exercise, supplementing with Arginine regularly can supply with a quick boost in energy. While the American Dietic Association recommends consuming 15 grams of arginine per day for optimum health.
Don’t Forget Your BCAAs: Arginine isn’t the only amino acid your body needs to build muscles efficiently. BCAAs, or Branched Chained Amino Acids, make up nearly one third of your skeletal muscle tissue and they play a key role in protein synthesis.
There are three branched chain amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, and valine.
The American Society for Nutritional sciences states, “BCAA supplementation before and after exercise has beneficial effects for decreasing exercise-induced muscle damage and promoting muscle-protein synthesis; this suggests the possibility that BCAAs are a useful supplement in relation to exercise and sports.
Although there are numerous other supplements for achieving muscle growth, the ones listed above are a good start for improving your physical performance. They are safe and effective and make a great addition to any workout.
Keep in mind, however, that you should always consult your doctor before making any dramatic changes in your diet or exercise routine.