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Nutrition

The Best 6 Supplements For Muscle Gain

Building muscle can often be hard. Everybody knows somebody who just has to look at the weight rack to get big, but for those not as genetically gifted, getting your supplement strategy right can really help.

If you want to make the most of your training sessions, then knowing how your body builds muscle and which supplements can support your specific goals will be very helpful. Our list of the 6 best supplements for muscle gain, below, will help you to select the perfect choice for you.

 

Best Supplements for Muscle Gain

1. Whey Protein

Whey protein has a particularly fast digestion rate, which means the amino acids contained in a whey protein shake will be available to build muscle shortly after you have consumed it.10When you consume a protein source, the protein is digested and the amino acids enter the blood stream. The faster the protein is digested, the faster the amino acids are available to use to build new muscle.10

Whey also has a high leucine content, which is needed to switch on your body’s muscle protein synthesis processes.11

Due to its fast digestion rate and amino acid content, consuming a whey protein shake following resistance exercise further enhances the effect on muscle gain in comparison to resistance training without whey protein.12

 

2. Casein Protein

Casein is a protein found in milk and other dairy. Due to its slow digestion rate, it’s been shown to prolong increased muscle protein synthesis (MPS) than whey protein.10

Casein has also been shown to reduce muscle protein breakdown which is when muscle protein is broken down to be used for energy.13 This is important as it’ll help your body to preserve the positive muscle protein turnover required for muscle gain.

Due to this, casein’s been touted as a beneficial protein to have prior to bed, as it’ll maintain elevated protein synthesis rates during an overnight fast.14

 

3. Protein Blends

Protein blends are shakes that include both whey and casein that will, in theory, give you the best of both worlds. Whey protein will provide the initial high spike in MPS and the casein will help to prolong this increased rate of muscle protein synthesis.15

In a study that looked at 10 weeks of resistance training, those that used a protein blend of casein and whey built more muscle than those only using whey protein.16

 

4. Creatine

Creatine is considered one of the best supplements available when it comes to building muscle.1 The evidence suggests that those supplementing creatine can gain nearly twice as much muscle mass as those who aren’t.17

The exact mechanisms for the increase in muscle mass are unclear, however, it’s speculated that these gains may be due to an increased capacity to perform a larger amount of high quality training.17

Here’s a little more information on what exactly creatine is and its benefits.

With full creatine stores, you will be able to push out extra reps and improve recovery between sets. In time, this will amount to more muscle gain. 17

 

5. BCAA

Branch-chained amino acids contain leucine, which acts as a ‘trigger’ to enhance muscle protein synthesis rate.11

They have also been shown to ‘rescue’ a meal low in protein and provide a similar increase in MPS rates if taken alongside a meal low in protein.18

This makes BCAAs a great option for those looking to gain muscle whilst following a vegetarian or vegan diet.

 

6. HMB

HMB is naturally produced in the body following leucine consumption. Supplementing HMB alongside resistance training has been shown to increase muscle between 0.5kg and 1kg during 3-6 weeks of training.2

The current view is that HMB speeds up the muscle regeneration process following high intensity and long duration training and, like casein, helps to reduce muscle protein breakdown.2

The effects appear to be more pronounced in those with less training experience. This is due to it taking less training to damage the muscle tissue in a way that will be noticeable with HMB supplementation.2

The most optimal way to take HMB would be a dosage of 1.5-3g daily.2

 

How do you build muscle?

In order to build muscle, you need to be in a positive protein balance. In your body, there’s a continuous muscle protein turnover, with periods of increased muscle protein synthesis (MPS) where muscle is built and periods of muscle protein breakdown (MPB) where muscle is broken down for energy.

If your total muscle protein synthesis exceeds muscle protein breakdown, then you’ll gain muscle mass. On the flip side, if MPB exceeds MPS, the overall result will be a loss of muscle.

You can easily increase your MPS rates if you eat protein, or perform resistance training, with a combination of both being the most effective.1

Summary:

To build muscle, you need to make sure that you’re consuming enough protein and calories. This will ensure that muscle protein synthesis exceeds muscle protein breakdown.

 

Should I Just Eat Protein for Building Muscle?

Whilst protein can assist muscle growth, there are other supplements and nutrients, which can also aid this process. Macro-nutrients are especially important:

 

Protein

Eating a protein source that’s rich in amino acids will increase your body’s rate of muscle protein synthesis both at rest and after exercise.1

The evidence shows that, when combined with resistance training, a daily intake of 1.4g of protein per kilogram of bodyweight per day to 1.8g/kg/d will be enough to build muscle.2

If you’re looking to lose body fat and build muscle, then that intake may need to be increased. Recent studies have shown that you can still build muscle even in a negative energy balance, providing your protein intake is high enough.3

In a recent study comparing 1.2g/kg/d to 2.4g/kg/d, the higher intake was more successful at building muscle mass than the lower intake.3

So really you should aim to get in 2.4g/kg/d in order to enhance the likelihood of muscle gain in an energy deficit.

Summary:

Protein is needed to build muscle, however, the amount you need will depend upon your goals. For example, you may need it to make up a higher percentage of your daily food intake if you’re in a calorie deficit and want to continue to build muscle.

 

Carbohydrates

Evidence shows that combining protein with carbohydrates can accelerate muscle protein synthesis rates more than protein alone.4

Carbohydrate intake will also increase your glycogen storage. Carbohydrates are stored in the body as glycogen to be used for energy. This is important as any workout requires glycogen as fuel.5 Studies show that, during resistance training, glycogen can be depleted by as much as 40%.5

So, it can be beneficial to include carbohydrates in your diet to aid in recovery and boost muscle protein synthesis rates.

For those training with high volume, such as body builders, an intake as high as 5-6g/kg/d of carbohydrates has been recommended.7

Summary:

Carbohydrates are stored in the body as glycogen to be used for energy during exercise and throughout the day. You need to replenish these energy stores after a workout, so it’s important that you include carbohydrates in what you eat after a workout.

 

Fat

When it comes to fat intake and muscle gain, the data is inconclusive.7 However, low fat diets have been shown to reduce testosterone levels which may affect the amount of muscle gained.8

There’s also some evidence to suggest that omega-3 supplementation can help boost muscle protein synthesis as it makes muscle cells more sensitive to amino acids. However, the evidence is a little contradictory. The present view is that, when you’ve consumed enough protein, the effects of omega-3 supplementation on MPS is negligible. However, if you can’t get enough protein in, then omega-3 supplementation may help.9

Summary:

While there’s limited evidence on whether fats are beneficial for muscle gain, consuming omega-3 c could potentially help to increase muscle protein synthesis if you are consuming low quantities of protein.

 

Take home message

The best way to build muscle is with a combination of resistance training and an adequate daily protein intake.

Getting carbohydrates and healthy fats on board will also aid recovery and help you to keep training at the required intensity to build muscle.

By including the supplements listed in this article, you can increase likelihood of building muscle and ensure all the hard work in the gym pays off.

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Our articles should be used for informational and educational purposes only and are not intended to be taken as medical advice. If you’re concerned, consult a health professional before taking dietary supplements or introducing any major changes to your diet.


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2. Kerksick, C., Wilborn, C., Roberts, M., Smith-Ryan, A., Kleiner, S., Jäger, R., Collins, R., Cooke, M., Davis, J., Galvan, E., Greenwood, M., Lowery, L., Wildman, R., Antonio, J. and Kreider, R. (2018). ISSN exercise & sports nutrition review update: research & recommendations. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 15(1).

3. Longland, T., Oikawa, S., Mitchell, C., Devries, M. and Phillips, S. (2016). Higher compared with lower dietary protein during an energy deficit combined with intense exercise promotes greater lean mass gain and fat mass loss: a randomized trial. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 103(3), pp.738-746.

4. Berardi JM, Price TB, Noreen EE, Lemon PW: Postexercise muscle glycogen recovery enhanced with a carbohydrate-protein supplement. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2006, 38(6):1106–13.

5. Robergs RA, Pearson DR, Costill DL, et al. Muscle glycogenolysis during different 
intensities of weight-resistance exercise. J App! Physio! 1991;70:1700-1706.

6. O’Reilly KP, Warhol MJ, Fielding RA, et al. Eccentric exer- cise-induced muscle damage impairs muscle glycogen reple- tion. J Appl Physiol 1987; 63 (1): 252-6

7. Lambert, C., Frank, L. and Evans, W. (2004). Macronutrient Considerations for the Sport of Bodybuilding. Sports Medicine, 34(5), pp.317-327.

8. Hamalainen EK, Adlercreutz H, Puska P, et al. Decrease of serum total and free testosterone during a low-fat high-fibre diet. J Steroid Biochem 1983; 18 (3): 369-70

9. Rossato, L., Schoenfeld, B. and de Oliveira, E. (2019). Is there sufficient evidence to supplement omega-3 fatty acids to increase muscle mass and strength in young and older adults?. Clinical Nutrition. In Press.

10. Boirie Y, Dangin M, Gachon P, Vasson MP, Maubois JL, Beaufre`re B (1997). Slow and fast dietary proteins differently modulate postprandial protein accretion. Proc Natl Acad Sci 94:14930–14935, 1997.

11. Wilkinson DJHossain THill DSPhillips BECrossland HWilliams J,… Atherton PJ. (2013). Effects of leucine and its metabolite B-hydroxy-β-methylbutyrate on human skeletal muscle protein metabolism. J Physiol 2013. 1;591(11):2911-23

12. Cintineo, H., Arent, M., Antonio, J. and Arent, S. (2018). Effects of Protein Supplementation on Performance and Recovery in Resistance and Endurance Training. Frontiers in Nutrition, 5.

13. Tang JE, Moore DR, Kujbida GW, Tarnopolsky MA, Phillips SM. (2009). Ingestion of whey hydrolysate, casein, or soy protein isolate: effects on mixed muscle protein synthesis at rest and following resistance exercise in young men. J Appl Physiol Sep;107(3):987-92.

14. Trommelen, J. and van Loon, L. (2016). Pre-Sleep Protein Ingestion to Improve the Skeletal Muscle Adaptive Response to Exercise Training. Nutrients, 8(12), p.763.

15. Paul LG. (2009). The Rationale for Consuming Protein Blends in Sports Nutrition. The Journal of the American College of Nutrition. 28:sup4 464S-472S.

16. Kerksick CM, Rasmussen CJ, Lancaster SL, Magu B, Smith P, Melton C,… Kreider RB. (2006). The effects of protein and amino acid supplementation on performance and training adaptations during ten weeks of resistance training. J Strength Cond Res. Aug;20(3):643-53.

17. Buford TW, Kreider RB, Stout JR, Greenwood M, Campbell B, Spano M… Antonio J (2007). International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: creatine supplementation and exercise. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 4:6.

18. Churchward-Venne TA1Breen LDi Donato DMHector AJMitchell CJMoore DRStellingwerff TPhillips SM. (2013) Leucine supplementation of a low-protein mixed macronutrient beverage enhances myofibrillar protein synthesis in young men: a double blind, randomized trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2014 99(2):276-86

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Liam Agnew

Liam Agnew

Sports Nutritionist and Personal Trainer

Liam is a certified sport nutritionist with the International Society of Sport Nutrition and is enrolled on the British Dietetics Association’s Sport and Exercise Nutrition register. He has a Bachelor’s of Science in Sport and Exercise Science and is graduate of the ISSN Diploma in Applied Sport and Exercise Nutrition.

Liam is an experienced personal trainer, helping clients reach their health and fitness goals with practical, evidence informed exercise and nutrition advice.

In his spare time Liam has competed in numerous powerlifting competitions and enjoys hill walking, football and expanding his recipe repertoire in the kitchen. Find out more about Liam's experience here.


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