5 Supplements To Build Muscle Mass

5 Supplements To Build Muscle Mass
What are the best supplements for muscle growth? Fitness expert Alex Stewart looks at five of the most popular supplement categories for muscle building.

It's important to keep in mind that exercise and and a nutrient-rich diet are paramount when training to build and maintain muscle mass, but focusing on specific supplements may also help to reach goals. Supplementation has become increasingly popular among athletes and bodybuilders due to the thousands of supplements that make targeting specific needs easier. With all of the supplements that are currently available on the market, it can be overwhelming when trying to choose what type of product will work best for you. Here are 5 of the best supplements to aid in increasing muscle mass:

1. Creatine

Naturally found within the body, creatine essentially acts an ATP reserve for your muscles. When there's a greater pool of creatine in your cells from supplementation, there's more phosphate that's readily available to donate. This process turns ADP (Adenosine Diphosphate), into the key energy source ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate, notice the extra phosphate). ATP is broken down to produce contractions in the muscle, so when creatine replenishes ATP you're able to push the muscles much harder.

One study focused on creatine's influence on muscle and strength loss after immobilization. Subjects were between the ages of 18-25 and had never used creatine before. The subjects were assessed in terms of their lean tissue mass, their muscle strength, and their muscle endurance. Once these baseline measures were recorded, subjects were randomly assigned. They then had their dominant or non-dominant arm immobilized (plaster casts were administered).

During days 1-7, subjects received a placebo, then creatine during days 15-21. During days 8-14 and 22-29, the subjects' casts were removed. Their lean tissue mass, endurance, and strength were tested at baseline (as mentioned), during, and after the study. The results showed that creatine supplementation did in fact slow down loss in strength and muscle mass during arm immobilization. This clearly shows how effective creatine is in terms of one's muscle mass and the ability to increase overall strength.1

Another key benefit of creatine is protein synthesis, which also stimulates muscle growth. While creatine can be found in red meats and certain types of fish, it would be very challenging to naturally consume enough creatine within your diet since the compound is reduced greatly when cooked. Due to this effect, powdered creatine is ideal to fill this deficiency in your diet.

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2. Whey Protein

Protein plays a substantial role in building muscle. Considered a "complete" protein, whey contains all the amino acids our body needs without getting all the saturated fat and cholesterol found in meat. Whey protein in particular is fast-digesting and absorbs quickly into the bloodstream. Many athletes therefore consume whey protein before working out so that as blood flow increases, those nutrients are driven to the muscles, making them readily available for use.

Although many individuals take whey protein before they work out, it has also been shown to be effective post-workout. Substantial evidence has been collecting showing the positive effects of post-workout protein synthesis; at a study concted at McMaster University, researchers were interested in the effects of one large whey protein dose versus 10 smaller doses administered over an extended period of time. It was found that when athletes took one large dose, it increased protein production more than the smaller doses.

In a second study, military personnel were examined after consuming a high-protein beverage where one group received a beverage with 1.87 grams of the amino acid leucine, while the other consumed a beverage that contained 3.5 grams. It was concluded that when consuming the beverage with a higher dose of leucine, inindividuals experienced 33% more muscle protein synthesis.2

3. Glutamine

Glutamine it the most plentiful amino acid found in the body, with the majority of it stored within our muscles and lungs. Since it helps carry nitrogen and is a vital source of energy, glutamine levels must be kept high in order to prevent muscle from breaking down. Glutamine levels deplete as you workout, so supplementing with glutamine post-workout is highly beneficial since nutrients are low.

To show the powerful effects of glutamine, a study analyzed individuals that were undergoing surgery where patients either received glutamine or a placebo, then their glutathione levels were analyzed (glutamine is a precursor to glutathion). Muscle and blood tests were administered before surgery, as well as 24-hours and 72-hours after surgery.

Individuals that did not receive supplementation of glutamine, showed glutathione depletion up to 63%. Those that were given glutamine on the other hand, showed no significant decrease in glutathione levels, concluding that supplementing with glutamine helps reduce the depletion of skeletal muscle in humans.3

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4. Beef Protein

Within the bodybuilding world, beef has been a staple source of nutrients for many years and since it now comes in powdered form, you can gain beef protein benefits through supplementation. It's considered one of the best sources of protein since it's packed with creatine, essential amino acids, zinc, and B-vitamin that are quickly and easily absorbed by the body to be utilized to increase muscle development while improving recovery and growth. When purchasing beef supplements its ideal to invest in a product that has undergone a hydrolysis process since this process actively breaks down aminos into small peptide chains.

5. Branched-Chain Amino Acids

Branched-chained amino acids (BCAAs), are the essential amino acids leucine, valine, and isoleucine.  Numerous studies have shown that BCAAS help repair damaged muscles, decrease muscle soreness, and increase muscle function, during and after training.

One study focused on BCAAs and their effect on protein degradation within human skeletal muscle. This double-blind study had male subjects perform one session of quadriceps muscle resistance training, on two occasions. Each subject consumed either a placebo or BCAAs during and after exercise.

It was found that those individuals who ingested BCAA had an overall increase of leucine, isoleucine, and valine concentrations during their exercise, as well as 2 hours post-exercise. Individuals who took the placebo, showed no changes. When BCAAs were consumed, it enhanced phosphorylation 3.5 fold, meaning that after resistance training, BCAA brought about signal transduction within skeletal muscle (increasing protein synthesis).4

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If you have any more questions about supplements and muscle building head over to the Muscle & Strength Forum and ask an experienced lifter!


  1. Johnston, AP. Burke, DG., MacNeil, LG., Candow, DG. (2009). Effect of Creatine Supplementation During Cast-Induced Immobilization on the Preservation of Muscle Mass, Strength, and Endurance. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 23, 116-120.
  2. American Society for Nutrition. (2011). Muscle-building effect of protein beverages for athletes investigated. ScienceDaily. Retrieved on December 9th, 2014, from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/08/110818132225.htm
  3. Flaring, U.B., Rooyackers, O.E, Wernerman, J., Hammarqvist, F. (2003). Glutamine Attenuates Post-Traumatic Glutathione Depletion in Human Muscle. Clinical Science, 104, 275-282.
  4. Karlsson, H., Nilsson, P., Nilsson, J., Chibalin, A. (2004). Branched-Chain Amino Acids Increase Phosphorylation In Human Skeletal Muscle After Resistance Exercise. American Journal os Physiology, 287, E1-E7.