While there are many muscle-growth supplements on the market, almost all of them do nothing besides separating you from your hard-earned money.
The good news?
Some supplements are scientifically proven to speed up your gains. And in this article, you’ll discover the eight best and scientifically proven supplements for muscle growth that are actually worth taking.
So let’s dive in.
When it comes to natural muscle-building supplements, creatine is as good as it gets. That’s what a meta-analysis published in the Journal of Physiology noted.
For the analysis, researchers from Iowa State University examined research on 250 different supplements and found that creatine had the most beneficial effect on muscle growth.
What’s more, another meta-analysis of ninety-six published investigations found that, on average, creatine supplementation increased lean body mass by 2.2%.
Plus, a twelve-week study in resistance-trained men found that creatine supplementation increased muscle growth by two to three times more than training alone.
But why is creatine so effective supplement at stimulating muscle growth? One of the primary reasons is that creatine increases the water content found in your muscle cells, which leads to an expansion in size.
Owing to this water retention, you can expect to gain between 1.5 and 3.5 pounds (0.7 to 1.6 kg) in the first week of creatine loading − the phase during which you take between 20 and 25 grams of creatine monohydrate per day.
Contrary to what some people think, this water retention is a good thing. That’s because it will occur in your muscles and not under your skin, which results in your muscles appearing fuller and bigger.
But that’s not all. There are other reasons creatine improves your figure. For example:
- Creatine supports energy production during high-intensity exercise, which helps you perform better in the gym, meaning that you can introduce a more potent muscle-building stimuli to your muscles. One review study, for instance, found that creatine supplementation increased the number of reps lifters could do with a sub-maximal load by 14%.
- Creatine helps you recover from intense training. That’s beneficial because it means that you’ll be able to train more often and do more training volume.
- Creatine supplementation increases levels of testosterone, a hormone with potent muscle-building benefits.
So, go ahead and enhance your gains with creatine. It’s a cheap, effective, and safe way to improve your figure and your gym performance.
What I recommend that you do is first to start with a five-day loading phase. During these five days, consume 20 to 25 grams of creatine monohydrate per day.
That’s a large dose, which causes the phosphocreatine storage in your muscles to increase rapidly, leading to a rapid increase in body weight and gym performance.
Then, once you’ve completed the five-day loading phase, continue to take five grams of creatine monohydrate per day. That’s all you need to keep your muscle phosphocreatine stores full and maintain the benefits.
2. Casein Protein Powder
To build muscle, it’s essential that you consume enough protein.
That means getting at least 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day (0.73 grams per pound), the amount that provides you with all the muscle-building benefits of protein, as shown by a 2018 meta-analysis.
If you consume that amount daily, there’s no need to take a protein supplement on top of that. But if you have problems getting in enough protein, such a product can boost muscle growth.
While whey is the most popular protein powder variation, it’s not the most effective one. Long-term research shows that casein supplement is more effective at enhancing strength development and muscle growth.(11)
That goes against the common belief that fast-digesting proteins such as whey are superior for your gains compared to slower-digesting ones like casein.
The three main reasons slower-digesting proteins are superior are that they:
- result in lower amounts of protein oxidation, which is favorable.
- stimulate muscle protein synthesis for longer
- are more effective at reducing muscle protein breakdown.
That’s why it’s better to opt for a casein supplements rather than ones made up of whey. One exception, however, is if you train fasted. Then, a post-workout whey supplement can be better owing to the faster absorption rate.
Oh, and by the way, if casein doesn’t fit your diet because you’re a vegan lifter, an excellent alternative is to supplement with a powder that contains a mixture of rice and pea protein.
Vegans should go for a ratio of 80% rice protein and 20% pea protein − that provides you with the ideal amino acid profile, which makes this blend an excellent protein source for vegans.
This combination provides particularly high levels of lysine, the amino acid that’s most often under-consumed on a vegan diet.
3. Fish Oil
Omega-3 fatty acids, like the ones found in fish and fish oil, are essential for your health and linked to countless benefits. For instance, meta-analyses show that they decrease:
Plus, omega-3s also support cognitive function, battle metabolic syndrome, fight inflammation, reduce the risk of cancer, improve bone and joint health, and more.
In other words, to optimize your health and well-being, make sure that you get enough omega-3s in your diet.
There are various reasons omega-3s can help you gain mass. These include that they:
- improve nutrient partitioning (source)
- reduce chronic inflammation levels (source)
- increase testosterone levels and reduce cortisol (source)
- enhance muscle anabolic signaling (source)
- protect against excessive exercise-induced muscle damage (source)
- increase post-workout muscle protein synthesis.(source)
So, go ahead and load up on omega-3s. The best way to do this is by consuming fatty fish. That’s because the omega-3s in fish have a higher bioavailability than those found in fish oil.
To reap all the benefits of omega-3s, consume at least 700 grams of fatty fish per week. Excellent sources are salmon, herring, anchovies, mackerel, and sardines.
Now, if you don’t consume fatty fish in such volumes, fish oil offers the solution. Depending on your fatty fish intake, supplement with between one and three grams of combined DHA and EPA per day.
The less fatty fish you eat, the higher you want to get on that spectrum. And it’s advised that you take the supplements during a meal to minimize the “fish burp” taste.
4. Caffeine + L-Theanine
While there are hundreds of pre-workout supplements on the market, caffeine is the workhorse that provides almost all the acute effects most of these products provide.
That’s why, instead of paying top dollar for a pre-workout supplement, I’d advise you to take caffeine instead. It’s much cheaper and will help you kick ass in the gym just as much.
Now, while caffeine by itself is potent, if you want to upgrade your results even further, combine it with L-theanine.
L-theanine is a compound found in tea and it mitigates the negative aspects of caffeine, such as increased blood pressure, jitteriness, and anxiety. Plus, L-theanine enhances the positive effects of caffeine.
To use L-theanine and caffeine as a pre-workout stack, take 100 mg of L-theanine, combine that with three to six milligrams of caffeine per kilogram of bodyweight, and consume the mixture thirty minutes before your workout.
That means an 80 kg lifter should go for 100 mg of L-theanine in combination with 240 to 480 mg of caffeine.
Now, it’s important to note that habitual caffeine consumption diminishes its performance-enhancing benefits. So, to use the stack above effectively, it’s best to limit caffeine consumption to twice per week at most.
If you have already developed a tolerance to the effects of caffeine, abstaining from the stimulant for two weeks should be enough to reset the adaptations.
For some, it may be surprising to see a multivitamin on a list of muscle-building supplements. But if you want to maximize your gains, you may want to take one such pill a day.
Because all vitamins and minerals are, in some shape or form, involved in processes related to muscle growth, such as in aiding hormone and energy production, insulin sensitivity, sleep quality, or protein synthesis.
For example, consider the following:
- Getting enough magnesium increases testosterone levels, strength, and endurance while decreasing stress levels. Plus, magnesium also aids sleep quality. The problem, however, is that many of us are deficient in magnesium. It’s estimated that only 15% to 50% of Americans consume enough magnesium.
- Iron is essential for energy production. That’s why an adequate intake of this mineral increases endurance capacity, resistance to fatigue, and strength levels. Unfortunately, many people are iron deficient.
Research indicates that 43% of elite male athletes don’t get enough iron and that 53% of female athletes are deficient in this nutrient.
- Zinc is crucial for protein synthesis and the production of testosterone. That’s why getting enough of this mineral benefits muscle mass and testosterone. As an athlete, however, you’re at an increased risk of zinc deficiency because our zinc needs are about 20% higher than those of sedentary individuals.
- Your Vitamin D levels influence strength development and injury resistance. But the problem is that most of us have an inadequate level, primarily owing to our indoor lifestyles.
- Independent of calorie intake, athletes who consume more calcium gain less fat than those who consume only small amounts of calcium. But unless you consume dairy, you’re at serious risk of calcium deficiency.
These are just five examples. Other vitamins and mineral such as potassium, iodine, and Vitamin K also influence your gains. So, it’s vital that you cover your nutritional needs.
The problem? Even if you follow a nutritious diet, it’s still likely that you’re deficient in one or more micronutrients. That can be due to factors such as soil depletion, absorption rates, an indoor lifestyle, and high stress levels.
Now, it would be ideal to get blood work done so that you can test for which nutrients you show a deficiency. Then, you can customize your micronutrient supplementation to your needs.
But if you don’t want to go that route, taking a multivitamin offers a solution. Doing so provides you with a “safety net” to ensure that you’ll get enough of each vitamin and mineral each day.
What’s important, though, is to select the right multivitamin. You see, most multivitamins use cheap manufacturing that results in nutrients that are not bioavailable.
For example, most multivitamins contain a worthless form of magnesium called magnesium oxide. Your body absorbs almost none of this magnesium form. Plus, it can irritate your digestive tract.
Additionally, most multivitamins underdose the micronutrients in which people are actually deficient, such as Vitamin D, Vitamin K, calcium, magnesium, iodine, and iron.
That’s why it’s important to invest in quality by selecting a multivitamin that contains the nutrients in a bioavailable form and in the right dosage.
Citrulline-malate is a supplement that contains citrulline, a non-essential amino acid that’s found particularly in watermelon; and malate, a Krebs cycle intermediate.
Taking such a citrulline-malate supplement before your workouts enhances blood flow to your muscles, which then gives you a more severe muscle pump while you lift weights.
Excellent, right? But that’s not all. Another thing that’s beneficial about citrulline-malate is that it helps to clear ammonia from your muscles.
You see, when you lift weights, the ammonia levels in your blood increase. Aside from the fact that ammonia is toxic, it’s also not a good thing from a performance perspective because it causes fatigue.
That’s because when ammonia levels build up in your bloodstream, this inhibits the conversion of pyruvate to acetyl chloride, which then disrupts energy production and the ability of your muscles to contract.
Fortunately, the substance citrulline helps your body eliminate this performance-impairing ammonia, which is why consuming it before your workouts can help you perform more reps.
Because of this improvement in performance, you may be able to introduce a more potent muscle-building stimulus to your muscles, which means you can trigger more muscle growth.
Now, even though there has been done scientific research one citrulline-malate, the amount of data is still limited, and there are currently no meta-analyses about the supplement yet.
However, if you want to try a citrulline-malate supplement, take it in such a way that you’ll consume 6,000 mg of citrulline around thirty to sixty minutes before you hit the gym.
Since you’ll need about 1.76 grams of citrulline malate to get one gram of citrulline, it means you’ll have to consume roughly ten and a half grams of citrulline-malate.
While creatine boosts exercise performance in a relatively low-rep range (~fewer than fifteen reps), the amino acid beta-alanine enhances your results in higher rep ranges (~more than fifteen reps).
That’s because beta-alanine helps to buffer acidity in your muscles.
You see, when you do higher rep training, the environment of your muscles becomes more acidic owing to the build-up of substances such as lactic acid. (The muscle burn you feel during such type of training is as a result of that.)
This acidity, in turn, impairs the ability of your muscles to contract, leading to a reduction in lifting performance and eventually to the inability to do another rep.
That’s where beta-alanine comes in. Because this compound buffers the acidity within your muscles, it helps you to overcome fatigue and perform better when you train with higher rep ranges (~more than 15 reps).
Therefore, taking some beta-alanine before your workout helps you do a few extra reps when training in a high-rep range, which means you can place a more potent muscle-building stimulus on your muscles.
To use beta-alanine, take three to four milligrams of the substance between 30 to 60 minutes before your workout. And consume it alongside creatine since these compounds enhance each other’s effectiveness.
8. Testosterone Boosters
Testosterone is the most important hormone for muscle growth. That’s because it has significant benefits for protein synthesis (muscle growth) and protein breakdown (muscle loss).
The more testosterone you have floating through your veins, the bigger and stronger you’ll be and can become. That’s why raising your testosterone levels can have huge benefits for your results.
The problem, however, is that the testosterone levels of men are on the decline. Just over the last 20 years, the average T-count has dropped by 17 %.
Such a reduction not only impairs factors such as sperm production, erectile strength, libido, self-esteem, and other physiological and psychological functions, but it also diminishes muscle mass.
Research shows, for instance, that when men take a testosterone-suppressing drug, they automatically lose muscle and gain fat.
Fortunately, testosterone boosters can offer a solution. The right variant of such a product contains compounds that can raise T-levels, which they can do in various ways; for example, by:
- enhancing sleep
- correcting micronutrient deficiencies
- reducing estrogen levels
- lowering cortisol levels
- improving insulin sensitivity
- increasing cAMP (cyclic adenosine monophosphate)
- lowering SHBG (sex-hormone binding globulin)
- reducing inflammation
- and more
That’s why it’s essential that you select the right testosterone booster. Below are some of the ingredients that have been proven to be helpful. When you choose a product, consider one that contains these substances.
- D-aspartic acid
- Nettle leaf extract
- Red ginseng extract
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin K1
Important to note, however, is that you shouldn’t expect miracles from testosterone boosters. They can’t provide you with the same instant muscle-building benefits as testosterone injections do.
That said, they can provide you with that little boost to help you reach your bodybuilding goals in a faster and more efficient manner. So you may want to consider taking one.
The Bottom Line on Best Muscle Growth Supplements?
There are a lot of sham supplements on the market, that’s for sure.
While their names may be attention-grabbing (T-bomb, Clenbutedrol, Beasterex, Somnidrol, Cyclotren, and the list goes on), most of them do nothing besides wasting your money and giving you expensive pee.
The good news?
You just discovered eight scientifically proven supplements that can take your muscle gains to the next level.
While these compounds may not have a sexy ring to their name, they’ll get the job done. So, feel free to add those to your nutrition plan and supplement stack.
Also, do you have any questions about mentioned muscle-building supplements? Or do you have some thoughts to share about the topic? Leave a comment below to let us know.
Eddie Johnson is an ex-bodybuilder, fitness addict, writer, editor and founder of Anabolic Bodies. Also a proud father of two boys and passionate about bodybuilding, nutrition, and the science behind modern-day supplementation.