If you're a beginner in the gym, picking the right supplements can be extremely intimidating.
With thousands of supplements on the market, there's so much to chose from:
Do you buy a protein powder?
Unfortunately, many guys fall victim to false advertising and waste their hard earned money on crap pills that aren't worth a damn.
If you want to save your hard earned money and find the best muscle gain supplements- then keep reading!
In this article you'll learn:
If you stick to the end, I've also got a cool bonus download for you (free of charge).
*Or you can download it right away, by clicking the shiny yellow button below:
15 Popular Muscle Gain Supplements (Ranked Worst To Best)
Testosterone boosters are one of the biggest cons in the supplement industry.
They're sold as a way to raise testosterone and build more muscle mass...however the ingredients aren't backed by research:
- Tribulus terrestris Is a plant that originates from ayurveda (India). The root and fruits are used to enhance male vitality, strength, and sex drive. However, studies have shown that TT has no effect on testosterone levels, body composition, or strength. Although, it does decrease blood pressure and reduce cholesterol.
- ZMA contains zinc, magnesium, and vitamin B6. In men deficient with zinc, ZMA has been shown to increase testosterone. However, further studies have shown that ZMA has no impact on testosterone if you get adequate zinc from your diet.
- D-aspartic acid (D-AA) is produced in the pituitary gland (known as the master gland) for both humans and rats. Interestingly, d-aspartic acid can raise testosterone in the short-term, but this is only a temporary effect.
You also need to consider the fact that small increases in testosterone don't impact muscle growth.
- Testosterone boosters may cause adrenal fatigue.
Testosterone boosters contain two ingredients that have been proven to be ineffective for raising testosterone...
And while d-aspartic acid does raise testosterone, it's short-lived.
My advice is to save your money and follow these tips for increasing testosterone naturally:
- Get enough Zinc in your diet: You can do this by eating foods rich in zinc (whole-grains) or by supplementing directly with zinc pills.
- Eat enough potassium: Potassium is used in testosterone synthesis, therefore eating a diet rich in potassium is essential. Great sources of potassium include spinach and bananas. *Aim for roughly 4,000 mg of potassium per day.
- Sleep 6-8 hours every night
- Exercise every day: Weight training and cardio have been shown to increase testosterone in men.
Carnitine is made in the body, but can also be obtained through diet.
It's used for energy metabolism and is therefore a primary ingredient in some fat burners.
Carnitine is often recommended for muscle building too.
However, l-carnitine isn't all it's cracked up to be:
l-Arginine is one of the 9 essential amino acids which need to be obtained through your diet.
Arginine is used to produce nitric oxide and is important for blood flow levels.
Unfortunately, studies have shown mixed results when it comes to oral arginine supplementation:
But, interestingly there is evidence to suggest that L-arginine improves endurance.
One study in particular, showed a 24.8% increase in time to fatigue for men. Although these results are inconsistent with other findings- which is why you should avoid arginine.
- Arginine can cause mild diarrhoea.
L-Arginine shows promise in some studies, but it's too inconsistent to recommend.
If you're looking for a better alternative, you should try citrulline mallate or beta-alanine.
Nitric Oxide Boosters
The primary ingredient of nitric oxide (NO) boosters is L-arginine.
Nitric oxide acts as a vasodilator in the body by widening the veins and increasing blood flow.
This is beneficial because it increases nutrient uptake into the cells (via insulin), and boosts protein synthesis rates.
Arginine also raises growth hormone production.
As a result, NO boosters are often marketed as a natural alternative to steroids...
But this is a bit of an exaggeration:
So if you plan on staying natural (which you should), then this isn't anything to write home about.
- May cause low blood pressure and stomach discomfort.
Nitric oxide boosters can raise growth hormone, but this has minimal impact on muscle building.
Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA)
CLA is a mixture of fatty acids.
It's mostly used for its 'fat burning' properties, however studies have shown mixed results:
It's also been touted as a potent muscle builder, with studies showing that it can increase muscle mass.
However, these results are unreliable at best.
CLA also has some dangerous side effects...
CLA is potentially dangerous supplement and isn't worth the potential muscle building effects.
Glutamine is a non-essential amino acid, meaning it is produced in the body.
It can also be obtained in high protein sources such as fish and eggs.
Glutamine plays an important role in intestinal health and is especially helpful for those who suffer from conditions like chron's disease.
However, as a muscle builder... it sucks balls (to quote Eric Cartman).
But there is an exception to this:
When you're ill or have suffered an injury, your body needs more glutamine than it can produce naturally therefore you require greater amounts of it through diet.
In this instance, glutamine can actually be quite useful.
Glutamine can be taken for digestive health and in rare cases where you may be protein deficient (e.g. vegans).
However it's not very useful for strength or body composition.
Foods high in glutamine include:
- Whey protein
Branched chain amino acids (BCAA's) are made up of three amino acids:
- Leucine: Plays an important role in protein synthesis.
- Isoleucine: Induces glucose uptake into the cells.
- Valine: More research is needed to determine it's role.
Amino acids are the building blocks used in protein synthesis:
Whereby protein is used to create new muscle tissue.
BCAA's are sold as the ultimate way to maximise recovery and protein synthesis.
After all, a steady supply of amino acids= more muscle growth...right?
However, this effect seems to gradually decline with training experinece.
If you've been training for 6+ months and eat a sufficiently high protein intake (0.75 g per pound of bodyweight) then you won't see any benefit to supplementing with BCAA's.
BCAA's can be beneficial for novice lifters- by maximising recovery and reducing muscle soreness.
They also might be worth taking in a calorie deficit, where protein is more essential.
However, you can get all your essential amino acids through a high protein diet.
Eggs, chicken, and nuts are all great sources of amino acids.
HMB (β-Hydroxy β-Methylbutyrate)
HMB is a metabolite of the amino acid leucine, which is used in protein synthesis.
Research has shown that HMB is more effective than leucine as an anti-catabolic agent.
This makes it perfect for fasted training.
It's also useful for reducing exercise-induced muscle damage.
HMB is great for fasted training, but it shouldn't be used for muscle building.
Weight gainers are meal replacement shakes, that contain roughly 500-1000 calories per serving.
They're typically high in carbohydrates, moderate protein, and low fat.
My take on weight gainers is mixed:
One the one hand, they're a convenient way to gain weight fast.
But in my opinion, most guys don't need them.
You see, many people delude themselves into thinking they have a 'high metabolism'...
When in reality, they have a small appetite.
To add to this, weight gainers are bloody expensive and contain a crap ton of simple sugars.
...Not exactly a nutritious meal eh?
Fortunately, there is an easy solution:
You can make your own!
All you need is a blender and some high calorie ingredients to create your very own delicious liquid meal.
Here is a simple recipe to get you started:
- Peanut butter (2 tbsp)
- Quaker instant oats (2 sachets)
- Semi-skimmed milk (400 ml)
- Greek yogurt (1 quart)
- Honey (1 tbsp)
- Prepare a blender.
- Add the ingredients to the blender and mix until you get a smooth consistency.
Weight gainers are loaded with sugar and are expensive.
You can easily make your own liquid meals with a blender and a few simple ingredients.
Vitamin D is one of the 24 micronutrients needed for optimal health.
Our main source of vitamin D is UV sunlight exposure, however it can also be obtained through diet.
Whilst the majority of people aren't deficient in Vitamin D, they're still not getting optimal levels (for health).
Individuals in colder climates without regular exposure to the sun are more prone to having inadequate vitamin D in their diet.
This can cause numerous health risks:
Studies have shown that if you're deficient in vitamin D, supplementing with it can increase testosterone significantly and reduce the risk of heart disease.
Thankfully, vitamin D3 is dirt cheap and won't break your wallet!
So you have everything to gain by supplementing with it.
You should supplement with 10,000 IU's of vitamin D3 per day. *Important: DON'T go above this, as it can have serious negative effects on blood toxicity levels.
Whey protein and casein are both found in milk, with whey taking up 80% of the contents.
It's renowned for being the 'gold standard' due to its fast absorption and high amino acid profile.
Whilst this is true, whey protein isn't all that amazing for muscle growth.
It's also important to note, that the recommended daily intake for protein intake is considerably lower than most people think:
- 0.35 grams per pound for optimal health
- 0.75 grams per pound for muscle building and strength gains.
Studies have shown that there is no real benefit to going above this.
In one study, supplementing with 1.1g per pound of bodyweight produced the same effects on body composition as 0.75 g per pound of bodyweight.
Most guys will eat plenty of protein in their regular diet, provided they're eating high amounts of:
- Lean meat
However, vegetarians may find it more difficult to get the same amount of protein in their diet (although it's not impossible).
In that case, whey protein is a great source of complete protein.
- Should be avoided if you're lactose intolerant.
1 Scoop of whey contains roughly 24 grams of protein.
Citrulline is a non-essential amino acid in the body, which can also be obtained through diet.
When it enters the body, citrulline produces arginine- which is a precursor for nitric oxide (see above).
Research has shown that citrulline malate (a type of citrulline), can be beneficial for muscle building in three ways:
- It increases work capacity: Nitric oxide increases blood flow in the body, which can boost time to exhaustion during work sets. In particular, studies have shown that CM is effective for high rep sets with low rest intervals and can boost repetitions performed by up to 53% compared to placebo.
- Slightly improves recovery: One study showed that citrulline malate reduced muscle soreness by 40% following a workout.
- Provides a small increase in growth hormone during exercise: CM has an acute effect on growth hormone production during exercise. However, this is unlikely to have any impact on muscle building.
Citrulline malate can help you boost training volume by 53% and reduce DOMS by 40%! Click the link to learn more…
- You may experience stomach discomfort.
8g has been shown to be effective for weight training.
Caffeine is found in coffee beans, but can also be made synthetically (in pills, tea etc).
Most people use coffee to kick-start their day (and get rid of nasty hangovers *cough)
But, coffee has some surprisingly awesome benefits:
- It promotes wakefulness: Caffeine increases adrenaline in the body and makes you more alert because of its nootropic effects. This makes it a badass (and cheap) pre-workout.
- It increases strength: Studies have shown that 5mg of caffeine per kg can boost strength by 5-8% in men.
- It increases training volume: The results of this study suggest that caffeine can increase reps performed at lighter weights.
- It increases testosterone: Caffeine can increase testosterone production by up to 12% in men.
- It raises energy expenditure: Caffeine has a thermogenic effect in the body and this results in a higher energy expenditure over a 24 hour period. Studies have shown that 300-500mg of caffeine burned an extra 80-100 calories.
Caffeine can increase strength by 5-8%! It’s also a great pre-workout because of its nootropic effects… Read more here…
However, there is one major downfall of caffeine:
It's effects ware off after extended exposure to it.
This study showed that after 6 weeks of habitual caffeine consumption, the epinephrine response to coffee was greatly reduced.
So essentially, you go from this:
Thankfully, you don't have to give up your precious coffee...
All you need to do is cycle your intake:
- High caffeine days (4x week): You should be consuming roughly 300 mg of caffeine on these days, which equals 3-4 cups of coffee. Try to reserve these high caffeine days for training sessions.
- Low caffeine days (2x week): Your caffeine intake should be around half your usual intake on these days (150 mg).
- Zero caffeine days (1x week): You need to consume less than <50 mg per day of caffeine on these days. Most teas have 25-50mg of caffeine, so you can have one or two cups as a substitute to coffee.
This prevents the body from acclimating to the effects of caffeine.
When beta-alanine is ingested in the body, it converts to the molecule carnosine.
Carnosine is an acid buffer, which protects the body from exercise-induced lactic acid...
This is the burning sensation you get in your muscles after a high rep set.
So how does this benefit you exactly?
Well, research has shown that beta-alanine increases muscle endurance by 2.85% in the 60-240 second range.
Beta-alanine increases muscular endurance by 2.85% (in the 60-240 second range). This will result in more reps during high volume sets (and more muscle growth).
This translates to a few extra reps...
For example, if you can bench press 60kg for 12 reps- then you might be able to get 14-15 with beta-alanine supplementation.
Beta-alanine also increases muscle mass, which is likely a byproduct of the increased training volume.
- Beta-alanine is known for producing a tingly sensation (paresthesia), although it is generally harmless.
2-5 grams per day.
Creatine converts into a substance known as creatine phosphate inside the body.
Creatine phosphate is used to produce ATP (adenosine triphosphate)- which is essentially the 'energy molecule' driving all physical actions (e.g. muscle contractions).
But Because ATP is stored energy, it needs to be broken down to a usable form.
So during exercise it is converted to ADP (adenosine diphosphate).
After a heavy set of squats, your body needs to quickly replenish the energy (ATP) from creaitne stores.
This is known as ATP- re-synthesis.
Think of it like a car:
It begins with a full tank of gas, but after a long trip it needs refilling...
By increasing your stored creatine inside the muscles, you can increase your energy reserves for heavy sets.
This isn't just theory either:
Creatine monohydrate is the most extensively researched supplement in the world- with over 300 studies conducted on it....
And 70% of those returning positive results.
It's unanimously agreed that creatine is an effective supplement for muscle growth:
- It Increases power & strength: Studies have shown that creatine can increase strength by 5-15%. So if your bench is 90kg, you can add up to 12.5kg just through supplementation alone.
- It Increase muscle building: Studies have proven that creatine can build more muscle than with training alone (approx 0.36% per week more muscle growth). This translates to an extra pound of muscle per year if you're a novice-intermediate lifter.
- It Makes you look bigger: Creatine increases cell volumization and therefore makes your muscles appear larger.
If you were to buy any supplement on this list, then creatine would be your best bet.
It has the most scientific backing and produces the greatest return on investment.
It's also incredibly cheap!
- May cause stomach cramping and water retention.
Before you can reap the benefits of creatine, you need a transition period (to saturate the muscles with creatine).
The standard way of doing this is to take 5-10 grams per day for 3-4 weeks and maintain.
But you can speed this up by doing a 'creatine loading phase'.
This involves taking upwards of 20-25 grams of creatine for 5-7 days, then maintaining with 5g per day.
- The first method is slower, but you'll save creatine and reduce the risk of stomach cramping.
- The second method is faster, however it can cause stomach problems and doesn't produce any real benefits apart from speed.
The choice is yours.
BONUS: FREE Muscle Building Supplement Guide
As you can see, most supplements simply aren't worth your money...
- They're ineffective
- Only give you a 1% boost at best
However, there are generally 3 supplements that I recommend for muscle building:
- Caffeine: Can increase strength by 5-8%! It’s also a great pre-workout because of its nootropic effects.
- Beta-alanine: Increases muscular endurance by 2.85% (in the 60-240 second range). This will result in more reps during high volume sets (and more muscle growth).
- Creatine: With over 300 studies conducted on it, creatine is the most scientifically backed supplement on the market- It increases strength, power, and muscle gains.
The great thing about these supplements, is that they're incredibly cheap and have extensive research behind them...
Now it's over to you.
What is your favourite muscle gain supplement...and why? Let me know in the comments below.