If you're looking for supplements for muscle growth, you've probably already noticed that it's a pretty crowded field. Different proteins and combinations and timing strategies get discussed, and before you know it you feel like you need about half a degree in chemistry just to build muscle at the gym! We're streamlining the relevant information on muscle-building supplements, their pros and cons, so you can decide on the best supplements for your own fitness goals. If you're in a rush, skip to the end, because there's a new supplemental option that combines the best muscle growth nutrients you've ever known, all in one complete, balanced formula that will best all the rest. Read through to learn about the ideal muscle-building combo, a powerful protein trinity.
The First Steps Towards Muscle Building
Getting the most out of your workout involves taking a few first steps before you can start targeting muscle gain specifically. The first steps after taking up regular exercise are:
- Consuming more calories than you burn
- Eating more protein than you break down
- Increasing the challenge of your exercise routine
While supplements are not mandatory to reach these goals, they can be excellent aids to quicken your progress and maximize your protein intake without bringing unpredictable calories to your diet. Next up we'll discuss the top supplements for muscle growth that you can choose from when attempting to gain muscle mass, and reveal a cutting-edge, scientifically-backed newcomer to the muscle-building supplement world.
Traditional Top Supplements for Muscle Growth
Over and above eating well and lifting weights, here are some protein and muscle-building supplements you can use to augment your workout goals, some of them more effective than others.
Carnitine is the general term for a group of amino acid compounds that include L-carnitine, acetyl-L-carnitine, and propionyl-L-carnitine. Carnitine is a transporter that moves long-chain fatty acids into mitochondria, where they're oxidized or burned for energy.
A popular supplement for fat-loss, carnitine can also aid muscle growth by increasing blood flow to muscles, lessening muscle soreness, and increasing nitric oxide production, all of which improve your post-workout recovery. The combination of these benefits makes carnitine a strong asset for energy-boosting while you're building muscles through exercise, especially when utilized in pre-workout and post-workout shakes. Though it doesn't directly contribute to muscle building, it does provide valuable energy assistance, and improves performance during endurance athletics.
- Aids athletic endurance by providing energy transport.
- Helps ease muscle soreness and improve post-workout recovery.
- Does not directly increase muscle, but instead aids in workout energy.
- Carnitine is only a peripheral aid to individuals working to build muscle via exercise.
- Carnitine would need to be taken alongside direct protein or amino acid supplements to be most effective.
Whey Protein Powder
A milk protein derived from whey, which is the watery part of milk that separates from the curd, whey protein is an excellent supplement affecting protein synthesis. With a high level of branched-chain amino acids or BCAAs, and including some amount of all nine essential amino acids (EAAs), this protein supplement digests relatively quickly and can help with rapid muscle building.
Whey protein can help increase blood flow due to its content of peptides, and is regularly consumed by bodybuilders immediately after their training sessions (within the hour). When choosing a whey protein, it's recommended that you find a powder containing whey protein hydrolysates, which are proteins broken down for faster digestion.
- Whey protein is a complete protein, containing all nine essential amino acids.
- Whey protein is high in the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs).
- While whey protein is a fast-absorbing whole protein, free-form amino acids can be absorbed much more quickly.
- Whey protein's amino acid content is not optimally balanced, and a properly formulated essential amino acid supplement can have 3 times the effectiveness rate as a whey protein powder supplement alone.
Glutamine is an amino acid that not only helps build muscles by increasing the levels of the essential amino acid leucine in muscle fibers, but it also helps fight against muscle breakdown, and has been shown to play a significant role in protein synthesis.
Incidentally, glutamine can also be recommended for those with digestion issues (diarrhea or constipation), anxiety, cravings for sugar and/or alcohol, and those with poor wound healing.
- Valuable as a precursor to the essential amino acid leucine.
- Glutamine aids only one of the nine essential amino acids needed for muscle building, and so is far from being the most effective muscle-building supplement.
- Glutamine is unnecessary if you're taking a complete blend of essential amino acids.
Casein Protein Powder
Casein is the other milk protein that is derived from the curd of the milk and not the whey. Casein has a slower digestion rate than whey protein does, which makes it an excellent protein to take before bed, as it digests while you sleep and helps to prevent catabolism (which is to say destructive metabolism, a kind of self-cannibalism the body sometimes resorts to for energy).
Because increased calorie intake is also needed to build muscle, casein can help by being less filling than whey, allowing you to consume more alongside it. However, it's also suggested that taking a combination of whey (or better yet free-form essential amino acids...read on!) and casein after a workout can help with muscle protein synthesis better than taking either one of them alone. Be advised that a casein protein product with micellar casein is the slowest-digesting form of casein readily available, and is your best bet when buying it as a supplement.
- Casein protein has a slower digestion rate than whey, which can help prevent catabolism during sleep.
- Works best when combined with stronger protein supplements like whey protein or free-form essential amino acids.
Beta-alanine, an amino acid and key component of the dipeptide carnosine, aids in increasing carnosine levels and thus heightening muscle strength and muscle endurance. Higher levels of carnosine also increase the force of muscle contractions, and combining it with creatine (next on the list) has the greatest effect on losing body fat and gaining lean tissue, as was seen when the two were studied during a 10-week resistance training program conducted with collegiate football players.
- Carnosine contributes to muscle endurance, leading to more powerful workouts, which can then translate to increased muscle.
- Carnosine does not directly build muscle, but instead helps aid in workout endurance.
- Carnosine is most effective in combination with proteins like creatine or free-form amino acids, and so is best as peripheral support for muscle building.
Popularized as a workout supplement in the 1970s, creatine is made up of three amino acids—glycine, arginine, and methionine—and is vital for supplying the energy for muscular contraction. Creatine can be found in the forms reatine alpha-ketoglutarate (AKG), creatine monohydrate, and creatine malate. Creatine has been shown to increase the levels of insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) in resistance-exercise training, which is essential for stimulating muscle growth.
Creatine is converted to phosphocreatine (CP) in the body, which then provides energy for explosive exertions like heavy weight lifting or sprinting. The creatine-phosphocreatine system provides an increase in energy supplied to muscle cells when your body is using more ATP (adenosine triphosphate) than is being regenerated in the cells' mitochondria. This increases your athletic endurance.
- Provides energy for increased exercise performance, especially when you're using more ATP than the mitochondria of your muscle cells can regenerate.
- Creatine helps stimulate muscle growth.
- Creatine is not most effective when taken alone, but is instead at its best when paired with an essential amino acid (EAA) supplement, where it will help provide the energy needed for increased muscle protein synthesis.
Nitric Oxide Boosters (Arginine)
Nitric oxide (NO) in the body serves to dilate blood vessels, thus allowing better blood flow to muscles, providing them with energy, nutrients, water, anabolic hormones, and oxygen—everything your muscles need to function, grow, and thrive. Nitric oxide boosters do not contain nitric oxide, but instead provide it via the amino acid arginine, which the body converts into nitric oxide.
Arginine supplements are often marketed based on their association with muscle growth, increased muscle strength, and loss of bodyweight. However, we recommend supplementing with citrulline to increase arginine, as arginine supplements don’t produce significant increases in blood arginine concentrations due to the liver's effectiveness at clearing absorbed arginine. Citrulline, on the other hand, is converted into arginine by the kidneys, and the arginine is then released into the bloodstream; this more effectively increases your arginine levels. Additionally, there are no adverse effects associated with citrulline supplementation, while arginine consumption can sometimes lead to gastrointestinal discomfort.
- Arginine in the bloodstream leads to more readily available amounts of nitric oxide, essential for muscle functioning.
- Counterintuitively, arginine supplements are often ineffective at supplying useable arginine to the bloodstream.
- Instead citrulline is recommended to supplement for an effective increase in arginine, and can be taken alongside or included in EAA and protein supplements for optimal muscle performance.
ZMA (Zinc, Magnesium Aspartate, Vitamin B6)
Supplementing the minerals zinc and magnesium aspartate along with vitamin B6 is sometimes important to bodybuilders because they become depleted during intense training and need to be specifically replaced. These nutrients are necessary for maintaining proper sleep and hormone levels, as testosterone particularly can be compromised by intensive training.
Athletes who take ZMA have been shown to have increased levels of IGF-1 and testosterone, both of which have an influence on muscle gains. ZMA is recommended to be taken before bed on an empty stomach, to allow for better uptake and to help improve sleep quality and the muscle recovery that sleep provides.
- Can help correct vitamin and mineral deficiency caused by intensive weight training.
- ZMA supplementation does not lead to direct muscle growth, but can be taken as needed alongside free-form amino acids or traditional protein contributions like whey or creatine, depending on your workout style and your body's needs.
- Not everyone will need the extra supplementation of ZMA.
HMB (Beta-hydroxy beta-methylbutyrate)
Beta-hydroxy beta-methylbutyrate or HMB is a molecule derived from the processing of the essential amino acid leucine, and helps protect against muscle protein breakdown. HMB is often recommended only for those who are beginning weight-training exercises, as the scientific results seen in those who are more experienced with muscle training are less significant. This is due to the fact that HMB is heavily reliant on a steady and abundant supply of EAAs to be effective. When the EAA supply dips down, so does the effectiveness of HMB; it cannot work alone.
- HMB supplementation can be good for resisting extreme catabolic states, such as in individuals with critical wasting illnesses.
- HMB without an excess supply of EAAs is only marginally effective.
- EAA supplementation is also needed to derive maximum benefits from HMB supplementation.
Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)
The branched-chain amino acids are a subcategory of essential amino acids, and are designated by the molecular structure of leucine, isoleucine, and valine. BCAAs make up 14% of the amino acids that reside in your muscles, and it's been shown that taking a supplement of BCAAs during resistance-training exercise increases muscle strength, fat loss, and lean mass.
However, while research shows that leucine in particular stimulates muscle protein synthesis, and that together these three amino acids diminish cortisol (a catabolic hormone), increase energy, and reduce delayed-onset muscle soreness, BCAAs when consumed alone are not fully effective. All nine essential amino acids are needed to make new muscle, and in fact, the the rate of muscle protein synthesis is directly affected by the availability of all your essential amino acids—the more you have, the faster your rate of muscle synthesis, and the fewer you have, the slower the rate. Because of this, research actually shows that BCAAs when taken alone have little to no effect on the rate of muscle protein synthesis in humans.
- BCAAs are valuable amino acids that can be taken to help some aspects of muscle building.
- BCAAs are only three of the nine essential amino acids, and all essentials are needed to create new muscle.
- BCAAs have little to no effect on muscle protein synthesis when taken alone.
An Essential Amino Acid (EAA) Blend: The New Top Muscle Growth Supplement
If BCAAs ever sounded good, you'll probably be more interested in a complete EAA supplement. Our unique EAA supplement is an ideally proportioned blend that combines the strengths of whey protein, creatine, and the eight essential amino acids that contribute directly to muscle growth. With our EAA blend, you'll not only get the BCAAs mentioned above, but also a full cocktail essential amino acid supplement. It contains the key factors that make whey protein and creatine effective too, giving you the best of every top effective traditional supplement on the market.
EAAs and Muscle Protein Synthesis
The human body is made up of about 20% protein, and amino acids are used to form our muscles, tissues, and organs (not to mention the hormones needed for cognitive and physiological function). The key to our muscle-building product that helps make it more effective than other supplements, and even some dietary sources of essential amino acids, is its absorption rate and digestibility.
The EAAs derived from dietary proteins have to be digested first and then absorbed, while free-form amino acids are absorbed more quickly and completely. With eight of the nine essential amino acids (minus tryptophan which is not necessary to supplement for muscle protein synthesis), the amounts of EAAs are maximized more than any naturally occurring protein can deliver.
EAAs with Whey Protein's Support
While free-form EAAs provide faster absorption, an intact protein like whey provides for a longer absorption period, sustaining the supply of EAAs after the rapid absorption of the free-form EAAs. Designed to work in concert with one another, our muscle-growth supplement combines its EAA profile with a balanced inclusion of whey protein for steady, ongoing support of muscle protein synthesis.
EAAs and Creatine's Energy
Because creatine-phosphate provides the energy for sudden bursts of physical activity like lifting heavy weights or sprinting, it's included in the Amino Co.'s technology to provide the energy needed to convert EAAs into muscle via muscle protein synthesis. Instead of waiting for the mitochondria of muscle cells to metabolize ATP for energy, creatine covers the time gap when needed, completing the full circle required for ideal muscle building: the rapid essential ingredients, the long-haul supply, and the energy to put them to use.
The Amino Company Advantage
Our product is a unique, patent-pending blend of essential amino acids and creatine that outperforms all other supplements in increasing muscle mass. Good for increasing strength in the elderly and easy to include in drinks or smoothies, Amino Co supplements are scientifically proven to be effective in muscle protein synthesis over any other supplement, food, or protein choice currently available.
The ABCs of Muscle Growth
On a first glance at muscle growth supplements, it looks like an alphabet soup of vitamins and molecules and chemistry notes, but the more knowledgeable you become about your own body's strengths and needs, the closer you'll approach a PhD's level of understanding when it comes to which supplements best support your goals. Effectiveness is key, bolstered by practical results that can be not only felt, but also scientifically proven. In the end, you can see which supplement brings you the greatest value.
The strongest performers from the traditional list of muscle growth supplements have been brought forward to the new frontier: an EAA blend that brings the best of everything essential to building and maintaining new muscle. The Amino Company provides the full circle of quick, long-lasting, and energized EAAs for muscle building. When you take our unique blend, you're guaranteed to have an optimally balanced formula designed specifically for human muscle growth (and not lab animals). With the Amino Co. on your team, you can reach higher heights of strength faster and more effectively than ever before!