If you are looking to transform your body, build your strength and define your muscles, then you are probably researching supplements. One of the things that you have probably learned is that there are scores of different supplements on the market, and different people are recommending them for different things.
You could spend a small fortune on supplements, and then need to organize your entire day around taking the various magic potions. But do you really need to take all of them?
While all the various supplements offer different benefits that you may want, when it comes to body sculpting, some are more important than others.
In today’s article, we are going to go through the three most important supplements for building and defining muscle and explain why you should be taking them. We’ll also share our top picks for the best brands that you can buy today.
We’ll also share a list of other supplements that you should consider taking in different situations.
The Fundamental Process for Building Muscle
Whether you are trying to slim down or bulk up, the key is to develop your muscles.
If you are slimming down, building up your muscles will significantly boost your metabolism, and toning up will improve your overall physique.
If you are trying to bulk up, well, it is no secret that big, strong muscles are what you want. But how do you develop muscle?
It’s not rocket science, there are pretty much three simple steps to building muscle.
1. Weight Training
Lifting heavy things (including your own body with bodyweight training such as calisthenics) pushes your body into an adaptive state where it is forced to strengthen existing muscle tissue or create new muscles.
When you eat and drink, including nutritional supplements, give your body the fuel that it needs to create muscle and recover from the strenuous training process.
Your body can’t repair itself if it is in a constant adaptive state. Rest periods are essential to let your body focus on repairing itself and build the muscle it was stimulated to start to create during training.
Supplements relate to the diet element of this equation, as a convenient and cost-effective way of getting the nutrition that your body needs.
Cost-effective? Haven’t we already said that supplements are expensive? While that is true, it is much cheaper and easier than getting what you need from a traditional diet alone.
Taking protein as the simplest example, while the average person only needs about 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day, if you want to transform your body, you will need more than twice that, at around 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of lean body fat (don’t feed the fat that you are trying to lose).
That means that a 60kg woman probably needs around 100 grams of protein per day, while an 80kg man will need a whopping 140 grams of protein per day. For our man, that is 10 eggs or 400 grams of chicken breast per day.
Your average protein powder contains about 25 grams of protein per serving, so it can make a big dent in your protein needs.
The same is true of the other supplements that we are going to look at. While they are present in the foods that we eat, you need quite a lot of them to transform your body, so it is very hard to get the amount that you need without the help of supplements.
The Essential Supplements
So, of all the supplements on the market, what are the essential ones that you need to develop muscle?
Protein is the principal building block of all the cells in your body, including muscles. You can’t grow or repair muscles without protein.
Everybody needs a moderate amount of protein to maintain themselves, but if you want to build new muscles, you need quite a lot more. As we said further up, around 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of lean body weight.
So, that is your body weight minus any at that you would prefer to shed. So, if you weigh 100kg and have 25% body fat, you need to be eating protein for the remaining 75kg of your body.
Protein powders are a concentrated source of protein made from high protein goods, usually dairy (whey and casein), eggs, soy, or high protein vegetables such as peas. Concentrated protein is extracted from whole foods resulting in a concentrated powder that is between 80-95% protein.
A single serving contains between 20-30% protein depending on what you go for, and it is recommended that you drink a maximum of two per day to boost your protein intake. Get the rest of the protein that you need from whole foods such as eggs and lean meat.
You can have any type of protein powder depending on your dietary preferences, though it can be a good idea to use more than one type of powder in order to add a bit of variety to your diet.
You can take protein pre or post-workout. Though if you are taking it pre-workout, it is better to take a fast-absorbing protein, of which whey protein is the most popular variety.
See our top picks for the best Whey proteins below. You’ll find further recommendations for other proteins powders by following the link above.
Creatine is a substance found in your muscle cells that the muscles use for energy when lifting heavy objects or completing explosive movements.
When your muscles have the optimum amount of creatine you will find that you are able to train harder and lift heavier weights. The substance also stimulates your body to start to produce muscle under less strain and boosts the speed and efficiency of muscle repair and growth.
Sufficient creatine levels also discourage your body from breaking down muscle for fuel when other sources of energy aren’t available, so you can protect your gains during fasting periods (such as overnight when you are sleeping or if you follow an intermittent fasting diet).
With creatine supplements, it is all about sustaining the optimal level of creatine in your muscles. When using a supplement this generally means starting with a loading period where you consume 50 grams of creatine per day for about a week. This brings you up to the maximum benefit level of creatine in your body. After this, you can take just 5 grams of creatine per day to maintain this level.
You can find our complete guide to creatine here, and our recommendation for the best creatine supplements below.
One of the many benefits of a high protein diet is that protein is full of essential amino acids that your body needs to build and maintain muscles.
But, as surprising as it might sound, even if you are eating 100-150 grams of protein per day, you are still probably missing out on some of the essential amino acids that you need. Specifically branched-chain amino acids, BCAAs.
BCAAs include the three amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and valine, which make up 35-40% of all the amino acids in the human body, and which are the most important amino acids for muscle performance.
Researchers believe that you need between 10-20 grams of BCAAs per day if you want to transform your body. Your standard Whey protein shake will only provide you with about 5 grams.
BCAAs increase muscle endurance, which allows you to work harder at the training stages of the process. They also stimulate muscle production, so you might find your body starting to produce new muscle at a lower stress threshold.
BCAAs also boost recovery, allowing your body to recuperate faster, and are another substance that can help prevent your body from burning muscle for energy, so that you never waste your gains.
BCAAs have also been linked to fat burning and better blood sugar management.
You can read our complete guide to BCAAs here, and see our recommendations for the best supplements below.
While the above three are essential for anyone training to transform their bodies, the supplements below are additions that you might want to consider taking depending on your specific goals and challenges.
Beta-Aline is one more amino acid. It is not considered an “essential amino acid”, because the body actually produces it in the liver. Essential amino acids are defined as those that the body cannot produce and which must be obtained from food.
Nevertheless, while your body can produce Beta-Aline, it probably isn’t producing enough of it for optimal performance, and taking a supplement can give you a boost.
Beta-Aline works by maintaining the pH level of our muscles. It is a drop in pH that can cause a burning sensation in our muscles when we push ourselves to our limits. Beta-Aline can help extend your endurance during training.
Studies show that just two grams of Beta-Aline per day can increase time to exhaustion by 20% during intense training.
This is a great supplement for anyone involved in high-intensity training such as HIIT or Cross Fit. It is best taken pre-workout in doses of around 4-6 grams per day.
If you are looking for a Beta-Aline supplement we recommend the following.
Bodybuilding Warehouse Pure Beta-Alanine Supplement
If you prefer to take this supplement in a convenient capsule, then this option will appeal. You will need to take between 5-10 capsules a day, best divided into four doses. The supplement comes in a white gelatin capsule that is easy for the body to process.
Redwells Beta-Aline Powder
If you prefer a powder, this unflavoured powder from Redwells is ideal to mix in with your other supplement powders. It is a completely pure powder with no additives, and you can drop it into your favourite drink 2-3 times a day.
HMB stands for beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate, which has similar advantages of increasing your body’s propensity to create new muscles, and suppress processes that might see your body breakdown muscles for energy. It can be an essential element in helping your body recover quickly end effectively from intensive exercise.
This supplement is recommended for anyone who works out in a fasted state, such as first thing in the morning. It can help your body perform better, and protect your muscles from fasted-exercise-related wastage.
It is recommended to consume 3 grams of HMB per day, but it is most effective if you split it up into three doses. This means that the substance remains active in your system so that it can be constantly at work.
If you are looking for a HMB supplement, we recommend the following.
Olimp HMB Mega Caps
These capsules are perfect for dosing as each contains 1 gram of HMB, so you can simply pop one pill three times a day. This is a higher dose than many of the other capsules on the market, which makes it a very convenient option.
Bulk HMB Powder
If you want a pure and flavourless powder that you can drop into your favourite supplement shakes, then this option from the Bulk brand is one of the best. The powder contains 1 gram of HMB per 1 gram of powder, so a little goes a long way.
This is a supplement that you should add to the mix if your aim is also to lose weight. If you are trying to gain weight, look at mass gainers (read our recommendations here).
Carnitine can boost your metabolism, which allows you to burn fat faster. It can also encourage your body to burn stored fat for energy rather than other sources.
But Carnitine also benefit the muscles by promoting increased blood flow to the muscles, which can enhance both performance and recovery.
This supplement can also increase testosterone levels post-workout and the amount of T receptors inside the muscle cells. This puts your body in a state to stimulate muscle growth post-workout.
You can benefit from about 3 grams of Carnitine per day. Like HMB that dosage is best split up across the day so that the supplement is actively working around your system. Breakfast and pre-workout are both optimal times to take the supplement.
If you are looking for a Carnitine supplement, we recommend the following.
Pure Nutrition USA L-Carnitine
These capsules are some of the strongest on the market, with 1 gram of Carnitine per capsule, so it is simple to just pop one down three times day. The brand offers a very pure form of Carnitine that may be safer and more effective than alternatives.
Bulk Pure Acetyl L-Carnitine Powder
Again, if you prefer a powder to add to your magic shake mixture, look at the Bulk brand. Again, this is a concentrated power, and you only need to add one gram to your powder mix to get 1 gram of the active ingredient.
The fitness industry and the supplement industry are big business, which is why it can feel like you are bombarded with essential supplements that can help you to transform your body. But popping supplements continuously throughout the day won’t get you the results you are looking for. What will? Hard training, good nutrition, and proper rest.
Supplements can play an important role in getting that second one – good nutrition – right. This is because when you want to transform your body (rather than just sustain it) you need certain things, such as protein, in very large quantities. You need amounts that would be difficult to obtain from eating whole foods alone. So, supplements can make a nice complement to a good whole diet that gives you the extra boost that you need.
But that doesn’t mean that you need to take all the supplements. If you want to develop muscle to either bulk up or slim down, prioritise Protein Powders, Creatine, and BCAAs.
You might want to complement these with other options such as Beta-Aline for high performance, HMB if you exercise in a fasted state, and Carnitine if you want to lose weight.
But that is the secret here, aside from the three essentials, consider your specific goals and challenges and then research what supplements, if any, might give you the most additional help in this area.
- The 6 Best Supplements to Gain Muscles – Healthline
- The Best Supplements to take for Muscle Growth – BodyBuilding
- What Supplements Should I Take and Which Ones Should I Avoid? – NerdFitness
Last update on 2021-05-15 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API