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Do Muscle Building Supplements Work? Here Are The Six You Ought To Try

A-white-tub-of-orange-coloured-supplement-pills-spilling-onto-a-black-surfaceThere are plenty of sports supplements on the market today, all promising to help you build muscle, lose fat, get jacked, improve your performance in the gym…the list goes on!

But the question on everybody’s mind when reading the latest marketing slogan for these products is do they actually make a difference to your progress? I’ve covered this off already in my article on fat burning supplements, but when it comes to packing on size and strength, do muscle-building supplements work?

First Off, We Should Be Clear On Something

It’s critically important to state right here and now that there is no substitute for hard work – be it exercise, what you eat – including the amount of protein you consume – the quality of your sleep, and solid dedication and consistency – you need to combine all of these elements in order for you to see any kind of result from your efforts.

These are the foundation and the building blocks, as it were, to your success and it’s important to remember this when you’re browsing your local health store or a fitness website with giant bottles of powders and pots of pills laid out in front of you, all adorned with images of ripped men and women promising to delivery your dream physique. Saying that however, there’s nothing wrong with a little helping hand to help accelerate your efforts a little and, when used properly and in conjunction with all of these things, that’s where these supplements can, and do, play a successful role.

There are some that are more effective than others however, so read on to find out which ones have been shown to work, and that I personally use and recommend, and which ones can be left firmly on the shelf.

A Quick Look At How Muscle Building Supplements Help

You may already know that muscle is created by ‘hypertrophy’ which happens when you overload your muscles through strength training (lifting weights) causing them to tear and then rebuild bigger and stronger than before. Repeating this process over and over will eventually lead to noticeable size gains.

The majority of muscle building supplements fall into two categories:

  • Allow a greater weight to be placed on the muscle by increasing its ability to produce a force; or,
  • Increase the muscle’s ability to recover and rebuild bigger and stronger.

So What Actually Works?

A lot of the time this comes down to personal preference. Some people swear by certain supplements claiming they help them to improve their performance in the gym or they help with rest and recovery afterwards – the truth is everyone is different and will react to supplements in varying ways.

There are some tried, tested and science-backed muscle building supplements however that you may want to invest more of your time (and money) in. Below are some of the main muscle-building supplements that I recommend to help you along the way and a couple that work better when slightly modified, or used in conjunction with other supplements, to achieve the results you desire, and I’ve included these at the end.

My Top Six Recommendations For Muscle Building

Protein

A-bag-of-protein-powder-and-a-protein-shakeThe most common, and possibly the most easy to obtain there is in terms of muscle-building supplements. After consuming protein, your body breaks it down into amino acids which it then uses to repair damaged muscle fibres, helping them grow bigger. Protein, in the right amount, also helps balance nitrogen in your body which sends a message to your brain to put your body into an anabolic (muscle-building) state.

When it comes to nutrition and growing muscle, protein really is the key ingredient to help ensure your muscles get the fuel they need to grow bigger and stronger. Without it you’ll make little to no progress and can even experience muscle atrophy (where your muscles waste away) in extreme cases.

Creatine

White-creatine-powder-and-a-grey-scoopAs well as protein, creatine is another very popular muscle building supplement. It’s estimated that last year, in America alone, over $14 million was spent on creatine. This natural amino acid can be found in red meat including beef and pork, and some fish such as tuna, salmon and cod. It’s also made in small amounts by the liver in your body and is stored as creatine phosphate in the muscles where it is then converted into energy for intense activity for short periods (30 seconds or less). Because if this, is may actually help build muscle by increasing your performance in the gym, helping you to lift heavier weights and hitting more reps, thus putting more stress on the muscles and helping them to break down and grow back bigger.

Studies have shown that creatine can effect different people in different ways and, like all supplements, may not work with the same effectiveness on everyone. In particular those who already have naturally high stores of creatine in their muscles may not get the energy-boosting effect from taking it. As long as it is taken in the recommended amounts creatine is safe to consume.

Beta Alanine

A-tub-of-Beta-Alanine-PowderBeta Alanine is generally considered to be less effective than creatine, but it’s still worth a try if you really want to try and maximise your efforts.

Another amino acid, Beta Alanine is converted into carnosine in the muscles which protects them from too much acidity during vigorous exercise. This supplement is most effective in athletes, particularly sprinters and those who train for short bursts of performance typically under four minutes. This can help give a small boost in performance (usually around 2-3 percent) which is useful for those trying to shave a few seconds off their time.
It can also be effective for weight lifters who prefer shorter rest periods in between sets as it can increase endurance and lead to more work being achieved in a shorter time frame. This shouldn’t be confused with the effects of creatine on power output though, which is different. This means that Beta Alanine may help to increase muscle size and strength as well as increase endurance.

Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)

Three-white-BCAA-tablets-on-a-yellow-backgroundBCAAs are known for helping to increase protein synthesis in the muscles and are typically found in high protein foods such as meat or whey.

Generally you will get most of the BCAAs you need from high protein foods but they can be beneficial for those who work out whilst fasting – especially if you work out in the morning and then don’t consume food until later on in the day. BCAAs increase muscle protein synthesis. If you opt for the powder form, I recommend getting a flavoured one.

Citrulline

A-bottle-of-citrulline-powderAnother amino acid, citrulline is naturally produced by the body in small amounts and can also be found in foods such as watermelon. Higher levels of citrulline have been shown to produce positive effects on health and performance during exercise and can increase levels of the body’s growth hormone (GH) which helps with muscle hypertrophy.

Other benefits include widening your blood vessels to increase blood flow, therefore improving blood pressure and blood flow to tissues and can even help males with erectile dysfunction problems, most likely due to citrulline’s effect on increasing blood flow.

Citrulline is generally found as an ingredient in performance supplements that also contain creatine such as Nutrigo Lab Regeneration – a post-workout supplement designed to accelerate the process of muscle regeneration as well as replace lost energy. I’ve just written a review on this product so feel free to find out more.

Beta-Hydroxy-Beta-Methylbutyrate (HMB)

A-bottle-of-HMB-tabletsA metabolite, HMB is produced as the body metabolizes leucine (a branch chain amino acid) and is known to help prevent muscle breakdown or ‘catabolism’. It’s not so much a performance enhancer but rather something that helps you to consolidate your efforts in the gym, helping to preserve your muscle mass, especially during times you might be restricting calories for weight loss.

Saying that however, there was a 2014 study that showed using a free-form type of HMB improved muscle and strength when used in intense lifting schedules and consuming adequate calories. The majority of HMB supplements on the market aren’t in free-form so it would be trickier to achieve these benefits.

Other Popular Supplements You Might Come Across

Glutamine

Glutamine is another amino acid which is considered a building block of protein an important for a healthy immune system. It’s vital for the functioning of cells and great for muscle building if you found it in injectable form and put it straight into a muscle. As an oral supplement however, it’s not really as effective.

In terms of overall health and wellbeing, glutamine is important and you’ll usually find it included in performance-based supplements and some protein powders, but as a muscle building supplement on its own, you’d leave that to some of the big players.

Mass gainers

I’ve put this one last for a reason. Mass gainers are pretty much like the unhealthy version of protein powders and generally tend to be full of sugars and fats. They do exactly what the title suggests – help you to gain mass, but the majority of this will come from increase fat storage and water, unless you use them as part of a calorie controlled diet. But if you’re going to do this you may as well consume cleaner protein powders right?

Actually you can achieve your own healthier version of a mass gainer by mixing a protein powder with yogurt, oats and berries, and it’ll taste a lot nicer too! If you do use a mass gainer, be wary of excess fat gain. I’d really only recommend these if you struggle to fit in all your calories across the day and/or you find it difficult gaining weight.

A Way To Help You Reach Your Goals Faster

These are some of the most popular muscle building supplements and even the ones that I don’t recommend taking for muscle building on their own, when combined with some of the more effective supplements, can have really positive effects on your performance in the gym – which indirectly will help build muscle over time. Whatever you decide to try however, remember that there is no substitute for lifting heavy and often, eating well (including getting enough protein) and getting sufficient sleep. Supplements are exactly that – a way to supplement your existing routine – but if you use them as intended, and you put in the work and look after yourself, they’re a great way to help you get the gains you want to see a little faster.

I hope you enjoyed this article. Have you used supplements before – muscle building or otherwise? Have they helped you to achieve your physique goals, or maybe you think they’re a waste of time? Let me know by adding your comments below!

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