Monday, July 31, 2017

Supplements for Muscle Growth

In this article I look at the top supplements to maximize muscle growth. I've researched what most people use and what gives you the best results in the shortest period of time possible. Live Strong, for example, recommends a good combination of pre and post workout supplements to speed up the growth of lean muscle mass

The best supplements that will help your muscles grow as fast as possible

1. Protein powder says that bigger muscles can require twice the amount of daily protein, compared to people who don't work out at all. lists protein powder as the top choice in their article of the best and worst supplements. You can get all of the protein that you need from natural food sources like meat, animal products and nuts. Protein powder, however, is still a great supplement to have for the following reasons:

Benefits of protein powder

  • Protein powder can be cheaper than food sources of protein, gram for gram. You can get the protein equivalent of a large piece of steak from a single protein shake. And a tub of protein powder gives you many shakes. This makes the cost of protein in powder form a fraction of the cost that it would be in food form.
  • Protein powder is convenient. It is a lot easier to throw together a shake with a scoop of powder and a mix of water or milk than to have a cooked and prepared protein source when you need it. You can carry the dry powder in a shaker in your car, bag or locker and simply mix it with water when needed. When it is not mixed with wet ingredients like water, it won't spoil from heat, unlike most food.
  • It doesn't expire as quickly as normal food. Protein powder, if left dry, can keep fresh for years without expiring. It will still be safe for consumption when you need it. You can literally buy a tub and keep it in your cupboard for months on end and only use it when you need to.
  • Shakes are easier to consume. Eating a steak takes more effort than downing a protein shake. This can save time and is a lot less messy. For example, it is more practical to have a shake after your workout than to bring a bunch of eggs into the gym.
  • They are easier to digest. Protein in a powder form is easier for the body to break down into the nutrients that it needs. Your body does not need to break down a full food into tiny pieces before it can enter into the gut for your body to absorb what it needs.
  • Protein powders offer variety. There are a variety of flavors and brands to choose from. There are also different types of protein, ranging from egg and beef to milk and plant sources. You can also choose a protein powder according to the time it takes to reach your muscles after consumption. I have even seen birthday cake, mixed sundae and toffee flavors.

2. Creatine names creatine as the top muscle building supplement of their choice. 
Creatine is a naturally occurring chemical found in your body. It is actually found in almost all animals (all vertebrates). You will find it naturally occurring in meat based foods. It is also made by your body. It is one of the most popular supplements that bodybuilders and weight lifters use, after whey protein (a form of protein powder that comes from milk).

The supplement creatine is most widely available in the following forms:

  • Creatine can be sold on its own. Creatine powder is available as an isolated supplement on its own, which you can add to protein shakes (post workout and meal replacement shakes), smoothies or juices.
  • Creatine can be mixed with other ingredients in pre-workouts. Pre-workouts are supplements taken before your workout to boost energy levels, physical performance, and recovery and muscle growth. See more on pre workouts below.
  • Creatine can already be mixed into meal replacement and post workout supplements. 

It has the following functions within the body:

  • It assists your cells to make energy. Without creatine, your muscles will not be able to generate the energy that they need in order to work.
  • Creatine increases muscle size by increasing the water that a muscle can hold. This increases the amount of nutrients that can enter the muscle. It also elevates the amount of waste products that can exit the muscle in a given period of time.
  • It is involved with the formation of protein nutrients into muscle tissue, by allowing protein synthesis to take place.
  • Creatine signals to the rest of the body where muscle needs to grow and recover.
There are different forms of creatine (like creatine monohydrate, micronized creatine, creatine serum, buffered creatine, ethyl ester, effervescent creatine, creatine nitrate, hydro chloride and more). See the different forms of creatine and how these differences affect your muscle growth here.

3. Branched Chain Amino Acids says that branched chain amino acids (BCAA's) are by the far the most important of all the amino acids for building muscle. It also says that they are important for repairing the muscle after stimulating it to grow bigger. The advantages of taking these amino acids are:
  • They ensure the reduction of muscle breakdown (being in a catabolic state). Your body can break down muscle for energy if it feels the need to do so. This can often happen if training periods are too long, your body feels stressed or threatened, you are sick (flu or colds, for example) or if you don't have enough nutrients for it to get the energy it needs. When you take branched chain amino acids, your body can break them down instead of muscle for energy and leave your precious muscle mass alone. They are good to take during times when you risk muscle loss, like when you are sick or need to go a long time without eating.
  • They increase protein synthesis. Protein synthesis is the process where protein is converted into muscle. BCAA's increase the rate of protein synthesis because they are crucial elements needed to make protein. They are important building blocks of protein. Taking them allows your body to create and maintain muscle more easily.
  • They increase energy levels. These amino acids increase physical energy and physical performance. They also decrease the rate at which muscles start to fatigue. They are therefore also great to use during workouts to maximize performance and decrease muscle damage.
  • They help to improve the time that your body takes to recover from exercise and other activities that impact your muscles. These other activities can be long periods of standing for work, for example.

4. Glutamine

Glutamine stimulates the growth of your muscle, according to
It is also an amino acid and therefore one of the building blocks of the protein nutrient. It is a fantastic supplement that speeds up all round recovery. Patients on hospital recover faster from surgery when they consumed extra glutamine.

Exercise greatly depletes your glutamine stores, and therefore supplementing with it after exercise will speed up the recovery process. It helps with recovery on almost all aspects of your body. For example, it speeds up recovery from illnesses like flu and colds, shortens the amount of time that wounds take to heal, supports a strong central nervous system and even protects the immune system from vulnerability.

Similar to BCAA's, it prevents muscle from breaking down. While BCAA's will give you the energy to exercise while assisting muscle growth, glutamine will protect you from damage and speed up all-round healing and recovery while assisting with muscle growth. It also helps to increase human growth hormone (HGH) levels. This growth hormone is one of the most important muscle building hormones, along with testosterone.

Glutamine is very active in maintaining digestive and gut health. Glutamine supplementation is an effective treatment for leaky gut syndrome. It has a vital role in other bodily functions, like maintaining liver and kidney health.

5. Beta-alanine

Beta-alanine supplementation can combat muscle fatigue and therefore increases the amount of work that a muscle can do before tiring out. This is according Michael Matthews from

When your muscles perform at high intensities like lifting weights, they produce an acid called lactic acid. This lactic acid is responsible for the burning sensation you feel in your muscles when you work them hard enough. It is a by-product of what happens in muscle fiber when it exerts itself to contract or expand against a heavy force. This lactic acid was primarily responsible for our survival, because it stops us from working a muscle so hard that it causes more damage than what the muscle can recover from. It is also responsible for the soreness and stiffness that you can feel for days after a good workout.

The primary survival reason for this response was to prevent you from over working a muscle that hasn't healed sufficiently yet. Beta-alanine supplementation decreases the release of lactic acid, allowing muscles to perform for a longer period of time. This increases the total time under tension that stimulates a muscle before it tires out.

Some people are more sensitive to this supplement than others. The beta-alanine content of pre-workout supplements is what causes the tingling sensation that some people feel on their skin. It can also cause some users to itch. Others don't have any negative side effects from it at all. If you feel a tingly, itchy side effect from a pre-workout; it is probably the beta alanine that your body does not have a good reaction to. Others do feel the tingly sensation, but like the feeling. They say that it makes them feel like the supplement is working all over their bodies.

6. ZMA says that ZMA boosts muscle building hormones. ZMA is made up of zinc, magnesium and vitamin B-6. My Protein mentions studies where people with zinc and magnesium deficiencies had increases in testosterone and insulin-like growth factor when they took ZMA. Insulin-like growth factors (or IF-1 for short) are proteins which are extremely similar to insulin. It is commonly known and used for its ability to enhance muscle growth. To find out more about the benefits, sources and deficiency effects of zinc and magnesium, click here. ZMA is typically sold at supplement, health and vitamin stores as a natural testosterone booster. 

As a combination of zinc, magnesium and vitamin B-6, ZMA aids muscle recovery by assisting the body to rebuild itself after exercise. This can increase the speed at which muscle grows, as well as the amount of growth that it undergoes following stimulus. This works to improve muscle size and physical ability in a shorter period of time. It enhances quality of sleep and allows the body to turn fat into energy more efficiently.

Your body cannot store zinc, so it is important to get enough of it regularly. Your body naturally needs zinc for healing (from exercise, wounds or other damage), growth (creating new tissue), turning food into nutrients that the body needs and maintaining proper immune function.

Magnesium is important for the optimal maintenance of muscular, skeletal and nervous systems. It is also heavily involved with many biochemical functions within the body. Magnesium supplementation can ease muscle pain, decrease fatigue and improve performance. Many runners use it during big races for this reason. 

Vitamin B-6 is needed for energy production from the food we eat and transporting oxygen throughout the body. It is also important for keeping neurotransmitters healthy and active.

A combination of the above benefits gives ZMA its muscle-building benefits.

7. HMB lists HMB as one of the top muscle building supplements. HMB stands for Beta-hydroxy beta-methylbutyrate. It is made when your body breaks down leucine, and it is essential for proper protein synthesis and muscle growth. It is naturally made within the body (by breaking down the amino acid leucine) and therefore supplementation is not necessary. Taking it as a supplement to increase the amount of HMB in your body, however, can benefit muscle creation. Authority nutrition cites studies that show that new athletes who take this supplement (at 3 - 6 grams a day) benefited with increases in muscles mass, compared to people who didn't.

Other studies show that trained athletes with more muscle mass than the beginners did not benefit significantly from HMB supplementation. Therefore, this supplement is a great option for people who are just starting out and need an extra boost to help them along their new journey. The benefits of HMS supplementation seem to diminish after the bodies of these athletes become better at turning protein into muscle. 

Beginners respond differently to exercise, compared to those who have trained for longer. For example, this workout plan is great for beginners who are new to weight training. It will help them to get their bodies into the routine of breaking down and building muscle without the amounts of physical stress that could hurt their bodies more than build them up. On the other hand, experienced bodybuilders will benefit from this workout routine more, since their bodies have adapted to weight training and need a newer, heavier stimulus to increase muscle growth.

Art of manliness says that HMB is not likely to be effective in increasing muscle mass. It discusses a study where people who took the supplement had great muscular gains from weight lifting. These people were consuming more calories than what their bodies were burning, though, which is also highly conducive to muscle growth. When these people used HMB while restricting their caloric consumption, they did not have the same benefits. This could mean that the reason why the people who used it initially gained muscle was because of diet and not because of the supplement itself.

My Take

It is fine to use HMB and the other supplements on this page, but diet must come first. Supplements cannot undo a bad diet. You should first focus on making sure that your diet is as conducive to muscle growth as possible before adding supplements into the mix. Supplements make a great bonus after your eating plan is properly implemented. Use these tips to create a diet that builds the most muscle.

8. Caffeine

The energy that caffeine gives you can benefit muscle development. Caffeine is found in most pre workout supplements for this reason. It gives you energy by breaking down fat stores. This is why it is also found in most weight loss supplements. Since your body has more energy from caffeine, it won't resort to breaking down muscle tissue for the immediate nutrients that it needs to cope with the physical stress during exercise. Studies have shown that subjects who work out in a fasted state retained more muscle mass when they had caffeine before their workouts. The extra energy that caffeine gives your body will allow your muscles to do more before tiring out. This increases the amount of stimulus that you can apply to muscle mass with every workout that you do.

The decreasing effect of caffeine

As great as the above information is, caffeine does have a diminishing effect. This is because the more caffeine you take the less sensitive to caffeine your body becomes. Since it increases energy levels by metabolizing fat, your body will try to counter this by decreasing natural fat metabolism. The process by which your body counteracts an action in order to restore balance is called homeostasis. The more caffeine you use (and the longer the period that you use it for); the more your body builds up a resistance in this way. For best results, I recommend using caffeine only in times where you need an extra boost, fear muscles loss due to diet change or need to jump start a new fat loss routine. By using it sparingly, you can get the benefits of this stimulant without minimizing its potential value for helping you to reach your goals.

9. Pre-workouts

The Athletic Build recommends using pre workouts to maximize strength and size gains. Pre workouts are supplements that are taken before exercise to increase energy and physical performance, decrease fatigue and rate of failure, increase recovery and growth, and boost motivation during exercise. Pre workouts are a mixture of different ingredients that bring about these benefits. Creatine, caffeine, testosterone boosters, amino acids and simple (fast acting) carbohydrates are common ingredients in pre workouts.

Pre workouts are usually very potent. For this reason, if you are using a pre workout for the first time; you should only use half of the dosage and increase or decrease it the next time that you work out, instead of taking a full dosage in the first go. For example, the first time I took a pre workout I felt very nauseous and felt like I was going to puke throughout my entire workout. 

It should also not be taken by people under the age of 18, or by people who are sensitive to stimulants. Since a lot of pre-workout supplements contain creatine and sugars which can increase water weight, many pre workout products are not recommended for people who are trying to lose weight or are preparing to compete. There are many variations without creatine and sugar for these people, though.

Pre-workouts give you an insane amount of energy. This massive amount of energy helps you to complete your workouts with the most stimuli that you can. The high energy effects also help to get your head in the game. I often compare taking a pre workout to drinking 10 cups of coffee in one go. 

Just like caffeine above, pre workout supplements need to be cycled. You should not take these every day of the week. Give your body at least two days of each week to rest from its energy-boosting properties; otherwise your body can burn out quite quickly. Also, allow for training cycles where you don't use a pre workout at all. Using it all the time will incur the same diminishing effect as caffeine. This happens when your body tries to balance out the effects of the pre workout. Since it greatly raises performance levels, it is easy to develop a mental dependence where people struggle to work out and give their muscles the stimulus that they deserve without the pre workout. 

Some people recommend using it for no more than 5 days a week and for no longer than eight weeks in a row before taking a 4 week break. This decreases dependence and counteracts the long term 'balancing out' reaction that your body will likely produce.

I personally only use it to break through a plateau where I haven't seen much progress in a long period of time. I also use it when changing up my program to a new routine that is much more demanding on my body. I also only use it for 5 weeks in a 1/4, 1/2, full, 1/2, 1/4 fashion. In my first week I will use a quarter of the full dose. In the second week I will use a half the normal dose. In the third week I will use a full dose so that I am increasing my dose as my body gets used to it. I then decrease my does to 1/2 and then 1/4 to give my body time to keep the same physical performance level with the decreasing amount of help from the pre-workout.

10. Horny goat weed and catuaba 

According to Men's Health, these two herbs reduce estrogen production and increase muscle growth. Estrogen is the female hormone; the opposite of testosterone. Your body balances these two hormones, which are both present (and made) in male and female bodies. When testosterone levels are high, estrogen levels will usually be lower. Your body uses the one hormone to balance out the other. For example, if your testosterone levels are too high, then your body will create more estrogen to balance out the excess testosterone. Horny goat weed and catuaba are often used to inhibit the production of estrogen.

Estrogen is not the worst thing in the world for muscle growth, says Iron Mag. Too much of it can cause ill effects (like practically every other substance in our bodies), but it is needed in male bodies for the creation of good sperm. Low estrogen levels are linked in infertility in men. Falling estrogen levels in women are linked to decreased bone health. Some studies suggest that the same is true for men. Estrogen is also strongly linked to good cardio vascular health.

Supplement tips

Here are some extra tips to help you decide what will work the best for you.

Choose wisely

Spot me bro recommends choosing the best supplements based on price and effect. If you are buying whatever everybody recommends and taking it without monitoring what works best for your own body, you could end up wasting a lot of money without achieving the best results. On the other hand, if you choose your supplements wisely, by doing a lot of research and trials to find what works best for you, you can achieve more while spending less.

Everybody's needs are different

Your body works different to mine and the next guy's. In the same way, some supplements will benefit you more than me. For example, I have tried a few pre-workouts to find the one that benefits me the most. I know of friends who say that the one that I use is nothing compared to their choices, but those ones don't have as a great an effect on me as the one I choose to use. Is one of us wrong? Not really. I discovered that the pre-workout I like works best for me. My friends have also tried a variety of supplements and found the best ones that work for them. 

Even entire categories of supplements might not benefit you in the same way that it could benefit someone else. Testosterone boosters are a good example. Most people below the age of 25 don't need testosterone boosters because their natural testosterone levels are already at their peak. Using them will be a waste of money that could be spent on other supplements that could make a much bigger difference. This isn't only limited to age or gender. Some people do better without pre workouts at all, for example.

Don't try too many new supplements out at once, so that you can test each one on its own without confusing the results. This way, you can feel which supplements are really helping you and which ones aren't making any difference.

If you have a few friends that are training with you, give the supplements that you don't use to them instead of throwing them away. Supplements are expensive. They might use it and benefit from it more than you did. This encourages them to give you their stuff that they don't use anymore. This becomes a great way for you to try out new stuff without having to commit money to it first.

Choose supplements according to goals

Decide on what your goals are before choosing the best supplements for you. If your goal is to lose weight, the supplements you use will be totally different to someone who is trying to gain weight. The ideal supplements differ greatly even for people who want to build muscle and lose fat, compared to people who want to build muscle and don't mind whether they gain a little fat or not.

If you don't mind gaining fat, for example, you will make sure that the calories that you consume are always more than what your body is burning, so that there are enough calories in your system for your body to turn into new muscle tissue.

If you want to burn fat at the same time, it becomes harder because you need to hold a close-to-perfect balance between eating enough calories to support muscle growth but less than enough for the body to turn into fat.

Different supplements can help you to bulk (or gain mass), lose weight (or cut/ tone/ define/ burn fat), strengthen (enhance performance), or recover. Find out what you want to do the most and buy supplements according to these objectives.

Priority list

Your first priority should be nutrients. Make sure that you get all the right nutrients that your body needs to stay healthy and grow muscle. These nutrients include water, carbohydrates, fats and micro nutrients (vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, trace elements, anti-oxidants etc.)

Build up a good diet that gives you as much of these nutrients as possible. Once that is done, find the best supplements to help you fill the gaps that your new diet cannot fill. For example, your diet might not be able to give you all the protein that you need according to your goals (for appetite, money or time reasons). This is how protein shakes can provide a good benefit.

Once your nutritional aspect is taken care of, you can look into supplements that will boost muscle growth over and above what would normally happen without them. The next best thing is totally up to you. It is a good idea, however, to choose the next supplement according to what you feel like you need the most.

For example, glutamine might be your best option if you feel sore for too long after your workouts or take longer to recover than normal. Caffeine and pre workouts will be better if you feel like you need more energy to give your workouts the kind of intensity that they need. Branched chain amino acids (BCAA's) are great for times when you feel like your body could be breaking down muscle (like going too long without eating or getting sick).

Choosing a supplement based on what you struggle with the most will give you a lot more bang for your buck.

Don't replace food with supplements

You need to eat real food. Do not replace too much real food for supplements.

One of the reasons for this is micro nutrient diversity. You might be getting the same amount of carbohydrates from an apple as you do in a meal replacement shake, but that apple has many naturally occurring micro nutrients which the shake does not have, but that your body needs. Real food has many micro nutrients that your body needs to function properly. Eating a varied diet of real food along with supplements ensures that you get all the micro nutrients that your body needs.

Additionally, studies are repeatedly showing that our bodies absorb micro nutrients a lot more efficiently from real food, compared to supplements. lists the following micro nutrients as absolutely essential for athletes that are creating diets to meet their caloric needs:

  • Vitamin C is important. You can get it from fresh fruit and vegetables. This aids recovery and supports a strong immune system.
  • Fish oil is also needed. You can get it from oily fish like salmon. This balances out negative plant oils (trans fats) that come from fried foods. Fish oil is great for eye, brain, heart, skin and cardiovascular health.
  • Calcium consumption greatly benefits health. It benefits muscle function just as much as it benefits bone health.
  • Magnesium that comes from spinach and legumes supports healthy living. Most people already don't get enough of this mineral. It alleviates muscles cramping and decreases muscle soreness from exercise.
  • B vitamins, which are important for skin and nervous system health, should not be neglected. They are also extremely important for proper metabolism function and energy production.
  •  Vitamin D is needed and is strongly connected to other muscle building hormones like testosterone and growth hormone. Insufficient vitamin D can lead to sleep problems.
  • Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that helps to combat the oxidation that exercise can put on cells. Almonds are a great source of this vitamin.

Another reason why we need real food is digestive health. Supplements are made to be easily digested and used within the body. Real foods are harder to digest into nutrients. If too much of your diet consists of supplements, your digestive system will lose its ability to break down actual food. I know of someone who ate nothing but protein shakes to lose weight for a few months. After that, they struggled to eat normal food and got pains every time they tried to; because their bodies grew too accustomed to easily digestible 'food'.

Stacking supplements

Stacking refers to using different supplements at the same time (throughout the day) to achieve a desired effect. Here are some of my personal stacks, according to my specific goals.

During bulking phases I use a mass gainer, whey hydrolysate, casein and a pre workout.

I mix my mass gainer and whey hydrolysate in the mornings as soon as I wake up and straight after my workout. I use my pre workout half an hour before my weight training session and I use a combination of my mass gainer and casein before sleep.

On days where want to burn fat while retaining muscle I use BCAA's, whey hydrolysate, caffeine and casein.
I take my hydrolysate shake after I wake up, use the caffeine and BAA's before and during my workout and use BCAA's throughout the day. I drink a shake of casein powder before bed.

During maintenance phases, I only use my mass gainer and BCAA's throughout the day.

Please note: This is all in addition to my regular meals (I eat 4 meals of real food every day).

I hope that this article helps you to make the right supplement choices. I hope that it will not only help you to reach your specific physical goals, but also keep you strong and healthy. Health and physical success are closely inter-related. The less time your body needs to spend fighting off illness, the better. It will have more time to build muscle. The healthier you are, the more energy you will have to do the workouts that you need to do to get further. Unfortunately, none of these supplements work over night. You are still going to have to put in all of the time and dedication that it takes to reach the top. STAY STRONG!