You’re ready to put in the hard work it takes to build muscle and get that well-defined look you want, but it doesn’t hurt to enjoy a little assistance in the form of supplements, right? The proper workout supplements can give you more energy during your workouts, provide your muscles with the building blocks they need to grow, and help you recover more quickly so that you feel fresher at the gym. Sounds good? The only problem is that it can be confusing and difficult to identify the best workout supplements.
Visit any health store, and you’ll find rows of powders, pills, and drinks, all claiming to be the best pre-workout supplements, the best post-workout supplements, the best workout supplements for women, etc. How can you cut through all the noise and choose the right supplements that can help you build muscle?
This article gets down to the basics, identifying supplements that have actually been scientifically shown to support better energy, muscle growth, and recovery. Here’s what you need to know about the best workout supplements.
Before diving into the list of workout supplements, you need to understand exactly what supplements can and can’t do, as well as their place in your overall fitness strategy. Despite what some supplement marketing may imply, supplements are not a magical shortcut to six-pack abs, bulging biceps, and shredded legs. Supplements are – get this – supplements. As in, they are designed to supplement your workout and nutrition.
If you want to build muscle, you still need to put in the work. That means putting yourself through challenging resistance workouts on a consistent basis. You also need to make sure you are eating healthy, clean food filled with complex carbs, lean protein, and lots of vitamins and minerals. Those two things – exercise and diet – will play the biggest role in how much muscle you develop and how your body looks.
Only after you’ve dialed in your fitness routine and nutrition should you consider adding in supplements to refine your results.
If you only take one workout supplement for muscle growth, start with creatine. This supplement has the most scientific research behind it that points to a clear and quantifiable benefit related to muscle growth. Creatine is a high-energy phosphate that helps muscles make a molecule called adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which provides your body with energy.
Your body naturally produces creatine, but supplemental creatine can increase the amount of creatine in your muscles. Studies have shown that creatine can improve muscle strength, which allows you to lift more and build more muscle mass.
Protein contains amino acids, which are the building blocks of your muscles. When you begin serious resistance training, you’ll need to increase your protein consumption so that you have enough amino acids to repair and grow your muscles. In fact, in order to build muscle, you’ll need to put in more protein than your body breaks down. You can do this just by adding more protein to your diet, such as chicken, beef, fish, eggs, almonds, oats, quinoa, lentils, and more. (Or try these 10 high-protein smoothie recipes to build muscle.)
However, if you have trouble getting enough protein in your diet, you can use protein supplements. The most popular protein supplements are whey, casein, and soy. Casein and whey are both proteins derived from milk, and both contain all nine essential amino acids that your body cannot make on its own. Your body absorbs whey much more quickly than casein, making it one of the best post-workout supplements to drink right after a workout. Casein takes a long time to absorb, which is why many consider taking it before bed to allow the body to digest it while you sleep.
Protein supplements have been shown in studies to be associated with gains of muscle mass, though they may offer the best results to individuals who aren’t able to consume enough protein through their diet. Many protein supplements come in powders and can easily be mixed with water or added to a tasty post-workout smoothie.
BCAAs (Branch-Chain Amino Acids)
Branch-chain amino acids are composed of three crucial amino acids called leucine, isoleucine, and valine. BCAAs are considered by many to be one of the best post-workout supplements available. They are believed to help your muscles recover after a tough workout, assisting in the repair process and even cutting down on soreness. When you feel less sore, you can return to the gym more quickly to continue your training, which will lead to better results. A randomized, double-blind study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition put participants on an eight-week resistance-training program while giving them BCCAs, whey protein, or carbohydrates. The BCAA group enjoyed greater muscular growth while also losing more body fat than the other two groups.
You can get BCAAs naturally in the food you eat, but if you are struggling to recover from challenging weightlifting sessions, a BCAA supplement might be worth trying.
One often overlooked supplement is beta-alanine, an amino acid that is thought to help combat muscle fatigue. It’s believed to work by helping your body produce more carnosine. Carnosine is a special molecule that can help prevent the buildup of acids in your muscles that can lead to muscle strain and fatigue. The more beta-alanine in your system, the more carnosine you get, too. Some research has suggested that beta-alanine can increase muscle mass, including this study, which found that college wrestlers and football players who took beta-alanine gained more lean muscle mass compared to a placebo group.
Yes, you read this correctly. Carbs can actually help you build muscle. Carbohydrates are often considered public enemy number one when it comes to losing weight. Not only is this a big over-simplification (since complex carbs should be part of a healthy, well-balanced diet), but those looking to build muscle ultimately want to gain weight in the form of muscle. Performing a tough resistance workout will drain your muscles of glycogen and glucose. The best way to refuel your muscles is by consuming carbs. In fact, carbs may be one of the best pre-workout supplements around. (Check out these other fitness tips for pre-workout nutrition.) Several hours before your workout, you may want to take carbohydrate supplements to fuel your muscles. Carbs can also be considered a good post-workout recovery supplement. Taking another helping of the supplement after your workout can help to replenish your muscles and start your recovery process.
As with many of the supplements listed in this article, you can consume carbs as part of your diet. Adding beans, brown rice, oatmeal, quinoa, lentils, chickpeas, and other complex carbs to your diet can help you keep your muscles fueled naturally. However, if you struggle to eat enough carbs to balance out your training, supplements could be the answer.
How to Find the Right Supplements
Now that you have an idea of some of the best workout supplements, how do you actually find the right products for you? You can always purchase single supplements, but you may notice different products marketed as pre-workout supplements, post-workout recovery supplements, or supplements specifically for muscle growth and bodybuilding. Many of these products include multiple ingredients. For example, a pre-workout supplement may contain carbs, caffeine, and beetroot juice, just to name a few.
Be careful about which supplements you ultimately put into your body. While supplements are widely used in the United States, that doesn’t mean they aren’t without risk. The Food and Drug Administration doesn’t regulate supplements as strictly as they do pharmaceuticals, and certain unscrupulous supplement manufacturers may lie about their ingredients or make misleading claims about the benefits of their products.
When choosing a supplement, do your research. Look for legitimate reviews or products sold by brands you trust. The Nutrition 2 Go® line of supplements was developed by a PHD Scientists & Industry leading manufacture and delivers the highest quality ingredients. You can also ask fitness professionals, like personal trainers, about the supplements they use and would recommend. EōS Fitness offers this selection of high-quality supplements, including BCAAs, whey protein, and plant protein. The fitness chain also offers pre-workout supplement blends. These powders can be mixed with water or added to a shake for a tasty and muscle-building treat.