Most of you going to the gym do so for one primary reason -- to build a lean and muscular physique. And the most important part of this comes down to being able to first build a decent amount of muscle.
Obviously you cannot look muscular if you don't have much muscle tissue. But more than that, having more muscle tissue increases the surface area that your body fat has to cover, making you look more defined.
In short, more muscle means a better physique -- under all circumstances.
But, as you probably know, this can be easier said than done.
Anyone who has been in the gym for more than 12 months will tell you that their first year of training was exceptional. All they had to do was touch a barbell and they seemed to pack on muscle.
And then things started to slow down.
The newbie gains ran out, and this whole “muscle building” thing became a lot more difficult. Training needs to become more precise, and you might want to take some supplements to give you that extra boost.
Enter the most scientifically supported supplements for muscle growth:
1. Protein Powder
When you eat protein, it is broken down in your digestive system into “amino acids” which are then absorbed into your body.
This is integral.
Amino acids are referred to as the building blocks of the human body because they are used to create every single one of your physical cells -- including those that make up your muscle tissue.
Now, every time you lift weights, you place your body under mechanical stress. This stress tells your body to adapt so it can better handle that stress in the future. Over time, this causes your muscle tissue to grow bigger and stronger.
But if you are not consuming enough protein. then this growth cannot occur -- leaving gains on the table With this in mind, protein powders offer the perfect way to increase your daily protein intake and contribute in a meaningful way to muscle growth.
In fact, there is a large body of research demonstrating that undertaking a training program with the addition of a protein supplement will lead to much greater increases in muscle size than performing that same program without protein supplement .
An important thing to note here is that because protein powders increase muscle growth by increasing your daily protein intake, they type is less important than you think -- so whether you want to go with whey, casein, pea, or soy, the choice is yours.
Just make sure you get it in.
Creatine is a compound that is made in your body and stored in your muscle tissue, where it is then broken down and used for energy during intense or explosive exercise (like lifting weights, for example…).
Taking a creatine supplement ultimately increases the amount of creatine stored in your muscle tissue. This extra creatine provides an extra ‘reserve’ of energy that you can draw on your during exercise.
As a result, supplementing with creatine can improve your gym performance in a couple of different ways.
Firstly, it can cause an immediate increase in strength, meaning you can load a little bit extra on the bar. Secondly, it can improve your weight training performance at lower loads by increasing the number of repetitions you can do per set.
For example, without creatine you might be able to bench press 80kg for 8 repetitions. But with creatine, you might be able to bench press the same weight for 10 repetitions, or even 85kg for 8 repetitions.
Both increase the amount of total volume you perform each training session, which can lead to greater improvements in muscle size and strength over the total duration of a training program .
It is honestly one of the most effective muscle boosters on the planet.
Beta-alanine is another compound that is found in your muscle tissue. Functionally, it combines with another specific compound called “histidine” to form something called “carnosine”.
So, how is this relevant to you?
Well, carnosine actually reduces the accumulation of lactic acid in your muscle tissue during exercise, which staves off fatigue. This has obvious implications for your ability to perform strenuous exercise.
Under normal circumstances, the amount of beta-alanine stored in your muscle is much smaller than the amount of histidine. This impairs your ability to make carnosine, limiting your capacity to buffer lactic acid.
As such, supplementing with beta-alanine increases your body's carnosine production, improving your fatigue resistance during exercise.
Much like creatine, this means beta-alanine supplements increase the number of reps you can perform at moderate loads . Over the duration of a training session, this increases training volem, which can again promote long-term improvements in muscle growth .
Importantly, beta-alanine works via a completely different mechanism than creatine, making them the perfect compliment to one another.
4. Carbohydrate Powders
Next up we have carb powders -- which most commonly come in the form of dextrose or maltodextrin.
These types of carb powders are made from simple sugar molecules that are very easily digested. As a result, their consumption causes a rapid increase in blood sugar, which in turn, causes a rapid increase in insulin secretion.
Insulin is the hormone that is almost entirely responsible for shuttling glucose and protein molecules into your muscle cells. And because these compounds are used to repair and grow muscle tissue, this can have a profound impact on muscle growth.
In fact, simply consuming a simple carbohydrate powder after training has been shown to cause a notable increase in muscle protein synthesis (the process of building new muscle tissue) even without protein .
And when it is combined with a fast digesting protein like whey, this effect is magnified significantly .
With this in mind, carb powders are not actually used to create new muscle tissue. But because they facilitate the movement of protein into your muscle cells after exercise, they can increase muscle protein synthesis and enhance muscle growth.
This makes them a great post workout option to go with a high quality protein powder.
Last, but certainly not least, we have caffeine.
Caffeine is a compound found in plants that acts as a stimulant.
After consumption, it quickly enters your gut and digestive tract, before being rapidly absorbed into your bloodstream. From here, it is transported to your liver, before making its way to your brain.
Once in your brain, caffeine interacts with a number of different receptors, which leads to reduced sensations of fatigue and tiredness, combined with increases in mental acuity, alertness, and focus.
And these effects carry over to the gym.
A recent review evaluated the findings of 21 meta-analyses (a study that combines the results of multiple studies) and came to the conclusion that the supplementation of caffeine can cause significant improvements in strength, endurance, and power .
Like creatine and beta-alanine, this improved performance in the gym can create a large increase in training volume -- which further contributes to muscle growth.
So, if you are after a scientifically supported supplement to take immediately before you train, look no further than caffeine.
Maximising muscle growth requires you to have both your training and nutrition on point. And even then, it can be a real challenge. Which is why taking a couple of scientifically backed supplements can provide you with a boost and make the process a little easier.
- Morton, Robert W., et al. "A systematic review, meta-analysis and meta-regression of the effect of protein supplementation on resistance training-induced gains in muscle mass and strength in healthy adults." British journal of sports medicine 52.6 (2018): 376-384.
- Cooper R, Naclerio F, Allgrove J, Jimenez A. Creatine supplementation with specific view to exercise/sports performance: an update. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2012;9(1):33. Published 2012 Jul 20. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-9-33
- Hobson, R. M., Saunders, B., Ball, G., Harris, R. C., & Sale, C. (2012). Effects of ?-alanine supplementation on exercise performance: a meta-analysis. Amino acids, 43(1), 25-37.
- Kern, B. D., & Robinson, T. L. (2011). Effects of ?-alanine supplementation on performance and body composition in collegiate wrestlers and football players. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 25(7), 1804-1815.
- Roy, B. D., et al. "Effect of glucose supplement timing on protein metabolism after resistance training." Journal of applied physiology (1997).
- Tang, Jason E., et al. "Minimal whey protein with carbohydrate stimulates muscle protein synthesis following resistance exercise in trained young men." Applied physiology, nutrition, and metabolism 32.6 (2007): 1132-1138.
- Grgic, Jozo, et al. "Wake up and smell the coffee: caffeine supplementation and exercise performance—an umbrella review of 21 published meta-analyses." British journal of sports medicine 54.11 (2020): 681-688.