Everyone knows that guy at the gym or the clerk at the local supplement shop who forces a particular supplement down your throat because it is the newest and best thing on the market. They claim it will help you gain 16.3 pounds of muscle in 12-weeks and all you have to do is lift heavy and eat. Although, among the supplements in this industry, there are only a handful that support the claims they make. In this article I am going to tell you the 3 best supplements for muscle growth. These supplements have been validated again and again for ability to make you grow.
Creatine is singularly the most researched human performance supplement, ever. Period. There are approximately 729 different studies review the efficacy of creatine with most of which in exercise models. What you may not know is that creatine also has cognitive, hormone, and antioxidant properties among many others. Creatine can increase strength and power output; increase muscle size and volume, as well improve sprinting ability1,2,3. The muscle growth benefits of creatine can also be more pronounced when it is consumed with carbohydrates3.
What makes creatine have such a positive impact on building muscle is the fact that it is found in muscle and provides a very fast energy source for muscle to contract4. Creatine contains a phosphate group, which contributes to the body’s adenosine triphosphate (ATP) stores. All nutrients can and are converted into ATP. When ATP is broken down, a phosphate group is released powering muscle contraction. Therefore, supplementing with creatine will provide more of the body’s primary energy source. This is why we see creatines benefits in strength and power sports because creatine takes approximately 2-3 minutes after you finish a set to “regenerate” or replenish, but it is used within the first six seconds of exercise.
There are many forms of creatine on the market including creatine monohydrate, creatine hydrochloride, creatine citrate, creatine malate, creatine ethyl ester, creatine nitrate, and creatine magnesium chelate. However, none of them have been shown to outperform the gold standard creatine monohydrate. To use creatine effectively, consume 20 grams a day spread between four doses for five to seven days, then cruise at five grams per day. Or you can consume 10 grams per day for a month and then cruise at give grams.
The second best muscle building supplement on this list is whey protein. Similarly to creatine, whey protein has been shown time and time again to increase muscle mass. The timing, type, and quantity of protein are all relevant factors to increasing muscle mass. These factors are accentuated when you’re are exercising and physically active. Maintaining protein balance (muscle growth – muscle breakdown = protein balance) is an important factor when your goal is muscle growth. Being in a greater anabolic muscle growth state will obviously lead to a positive protein balance and greater muscle growth. Although, there are various types of whey protein on the market.
Whey protein concentrate is one of the commonly used in protein supplements ranging from 25-89% actual protein. To put this in context, a low quality whey protein concentrate supplement will be 25-32% actual protein with the rest being lactose (milk sugar) and other fillers. Whey protein isolate on the other hand ranges from 90-95% protein with a relatively low lactose content. Lastly, hydrolyzed whey protein, which was originally designed for hospital purposes, ranges from 80-90% protein in the total protein formula5.
Most supplement companies will not disclose the concentration or distribution of protein in their formula. As you can see, if a protein uses whey protein concentrate, it can range from 25-89% actual protein. This is why some will amino spike their products, which means they will mix cheaper amino acids (glycine and lysine) or creatine into the formula. These proteins have no true benefit besides increasing the protein concentration (nitrogen) in the blend.
However, whey protein is a tried and true supplement in terms of building muscle and recovering from your workout. Interestingly, it does not matter when whey protein is consumed. When comparing 20 grams of whey protein consumption before or after training, there was no difference in the increase in amino acid uptake6. Another interesting fact is that hydrolyzed whey protein ingestion after exercise increase muscle building signaling and decreases genes that turn off the muscle building process7. In conclusion, drink whey protein sometime around your workout because it will help you build muscle.
Another effective supplement for improving muscle growth is caffeine. Although caffeine does not directly build muscle, it indirectly helps the muscle building process. Caffeine has been shown to delay exercise fatigue, increase strength & power output, and burn fat8,9,10. With all of these things considered, caffeine can give you the performance boosts necessary to maximize your results in the gym and push through your workouts.
Delaying fatigue during training is necessary to achieving total training volume and intensity. Training volume is one of the key factors in building muscle. Therefore, the more sets, reps, and weight you can move during your training session, the more volume you will have. I’m not saying that having extremely high training volume of all of the time will build muscle, but what I am saying is that if caffeine can help you increase your training volume by delaying your fatigue, it is a great supplement to have in your arsenal. As with training volume, strength is also another important factor in building muscle. There is an intensity threshold one must meet to consistently gain muscle. By intensity I mean the percentage of your one rep max. Therefore, if you can bench press 100 pounds, you should work at or above 65% (65 pounds) to continually build muscle.
There are an overwhelming amount of supplements and ingredients on the market. Although some may help to build muscle, none are as effective as creatine, whey protein, and caffeine. These are staple supplements to have in your stack. Caffeine should be cycled meaning 2-3 weeks on and 3-4 weeks off to continue to be effective, but if you have these supplements in your training and nutrition regimen, you are sure to have the best supplements for muscle growth.
- Havenetidis, K., & Bourdas, D. (2003). Creatine supplementation: effects on urinary excretion and anaerobic performance. Journal of sports medicine and physical fitness, 43(3), 347.
- Dempsey, R. L., Mazzone, M. F., & Meurer, L. N. (2002). Does oral creatine supplementation improve strength? A meta-analysis.
- Safdar, A., Yardley, N. J., Snow, R., Melov, S., & Tarnopolsky, M. A. (2008). Global and targeted gene expression and protein content in skeletal muscle of young men following short-term creatine monohydrate supplementation. Physiological genomics, 32(2), 219-228.
- Mujika, I., & Padilla, S. (1997). Creatine supplementation as an ergogenic aid for sports performance in highly trained athletes: a critical review. International journal of sports medicine, 18(07), 491-496.
- Whey Protein Institute. (2018). Whey Protein Types. Retrieved from http://wheyproteininstitute.org/facts/wheyproteintypes
- Tipton, K. D., Elliott, T. A., Cree, M. G., Aarsland, A. A., Sanford, A. P., & Wolfe, R. R. (2007). Stimulation of net muscle protein synthesis by whey protein ingestion before and after exercise. American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism, 292(1), E71-E76.
- Hulmi, J. J., Tannerstedt, J., Selanne, H., Kainulainen, H., Kovanen, V., & Mero, A. A. (2009). Resistance exercise with whey protein ingestion affects mTOR signaling pathway and myostatin in men. Journal of applied physiology, 106(5), 1720-1729.
- Davis, J. M., Zhao, Z., Stock, H. S., Mehl, K. A., Buggy, J., & Hand, G. A. (2003). Central nervous system effects of caffeine and adenosine on fatigue. American Journal of Physiology-Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology, 284(2), R399-R404.
- Warren, G. L., Park, N. D., Maresca, R. D., Mckibans, K. I., & Millard-Stafford, M. L. (2010). Effect of caffeine ingestion on muscular strength and endurance: a meta-analysis. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 42(7), 1375-1387.
- Maki, K. C., Reeves, M. S., Farmer, M., Yasunaga, K., Matsuo, N., Katsuragi, Y., … & Blumberg, J. B. (2008). Green tea catechin consumption enhances exercise-induced abdominal fat loss in overweight and obese adults. The Journal of nutrition, 139(2), 264-270.