It’s common knowledge in the fitness world that you can add muscle mass simply by eating right and lifting weights. However, if you want to truly maximize your muscle growth potential, supplements will most certainly help.
Supplements range in price and quality a great deal, but if you stick with the basics (what we would say are the most effective ones), then using supplements to enhance your working out success is a fantastic idea. Ask a pharmacist or doctor if they have brand recommendations, but it’s really up to you.
To make all of this supplements knowledge easier to digest, we are breaking it up into two days, covering five supplements each day in depth. These are your top 5 supplements to help you gain muscle mass:
1) Whey protein powder: Whey tops the list of mass-gain supplements because it’s the most crucial for pushing protein synthesis. Whey is a milk protein that has a high level of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs, No. 4 on our list). Bottom line: Whey takes the crown because it digests fast and gets to your muscles rapidly to start building muscle. Whey also contains peptides (small proteins) that increase blood flow to the muscles. This is why we always recommend consuming whey protein immediately after training
- How to maximize its effects: Take 20 grams of whey protein powder in the 30 minutes before working out, and take 40 grams within 60 minutes after training. Also consider taking 20 to 40 grams of whey immediately upon waking every morning to kick-start muscle growth. Your best bet is to choose a whey powder that contains whey protein hydrolysates (whey protein broken down into smaller fragments for faster digestion) or whey protein isolate
2) Casein protein powder: Casein (the other milk protein) has always played second fiddle due to its very slow digestion rate, yet this makes it ideal as a pre-bedtime snack because it prevents catabolism while you sleep by emptying slowly and steadily. Casein also makes you feel less full, which makes it a great snack for those who want to pack on muscle mass. And new research finds that casein gives whey a run for its money… when it’s taken post-workout, casein boosts muscle protein synthesis much like whey does. It’s even suggested that a whey and casein protein shake taken after training increases muscle growth better than either protein taken alone
- How to maximize its effects: Choose a casein protein that contains micellar casein (the slowest-digesting casein you can buy) and take 20 to 40 grams right before going to bed. After workouts, add 10 to 20 grams of casein to your whey protein. Also, use 20 to 40 grams of casein in your protein shakes between meals
3) Creatine: Creatine is made from three amino acids: arginine, glycine and methionine. Anecdotal reports and scientific studies alike find that guys who take creatine gain a good 10 pounds or more of bodyweight and increase strength dramatically. Creatine works in a number of ways. For one, it increases the amount of fast energy in your muscles needed to perform reps in the gym. The more of this fast energy that’s available, the more reps you can do with a given weight, allowing you to get bigger and stronger in the long run. Creatine also draws more water into your muscle cells, placing a stretch on the cell that increases long-term growth. Most recently, creatine has been found to increase levels of insulin like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) in muscles, which is critical for stimulating growth
- How to maximize its effects: Take 2 to 5 grams of creatine in the form of creatine monohydrate, creatine malate, creatine ethyl ester or creatine alpha-ketoglutarate with your protein shake immediately before workouts. This will help keep your muscles saturated with creatine, producing the rapid energy they need to perform more reps. Then consume another 2 to 5 grams with your post workout shake (in addition to 40 to 100 grams of fast-digesting carbs), a time when creatine will be rapidly taken up by muscle cells and the boost in IGF-1 levels will help prompt further growth. On days when you don’t train, take 2 to 5 grams of creatine with a breakfast that contains carbohydrates
4) Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs): The term branched-chain amino acids refers to leucine, isoleucine and valine, the absolute most important amino acids for repairing and building muscle tissue. Leucine is the most critical of the three, as research shows that it can stimulate muscle protein synthesis on its own. Yet it’s still best to take all three together, since they work in synergy to provide a multitude of benefits, including muscle growth, increased energy during workouts, the blunting of cortisol (a catabolic hormone that inhibits testosterone and increases muscle breakdown) and decreased delayed-onset muscle soreness
1. How to maximize their effects: Take 5 to 10 grams of BCAAs with breakfast, as well as in your pre- and post-workout shakes. Look for BCAA products that provide leucine at a ratio of 2:1 per dose of isoleucine and valine. For example, if you take a 5 gram dose of BCAAs, about 2.5 grams should be from leucine, 1.25 grams from isoleucine and 1.25 grams from valine
5) Beta-Alanine/Carnosine: In the body, the amino acid beta-alanine is combined with another amino, histidine, to form carnosine. Research shows that when muscles have higher levels of carnosine, they have more strength and endurance. Carnosine appears to increase the muscle fibers’ ability to contract with more force, and to do so longer without fatiguing. Several studies reported increases in muscle strength and power in athletes who took beta-alanine. One recent study found that subjects who took beta-alanine along with creatine gained more muscle mass and lost more body fat than subjects who took only creatine
1. How to maximize their effects: Take 1 to 2 grams of beta-alanine or carnosine immediately before and after every workout in addition to your shakes and creatine. On non-workout days, take 2 grams with breakfast, along with creatine