The Best Supplements for Building Muscle | STACK

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The Best Supplements for Building Muscle

July 16, 2012

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Supplements have the power to fulfill your body's nutritional needs and maximize your workout gains and sports performance. That is why athletes are constantly striving to find the best supplement to give them an edge against their competition.

A variety of supplements on the market claim to help build muscle. Some are effective and others lack sufficient proof to be considered valid. Here's a guide on muscle-building supplements that I recommend. Some of them will directly impact your muscle growth, while others will improve the overall supporting environment in your body to enable higher quality workouts and muscle growth.

Always be savvy when it comes to which supplements you decide to add to your muscle-building arsenal. A well-crafted training regimen gets you to your goals in an efficient manner. Your supplement choice should do the same. Remember that not all supplements are created equal, and the FDA does not regulate them, so find and stick with high-quality brands.

General Health Supplements


Supplementing with a multivitamin gives your body a wide spectrum of nutrients that you may not receive through your diet. Look for a multivitamin made from natural, whole foods (not synthetic sources) that includes a variety of greens and antioxidants (like green tea, ginkgo biloba, or polyphenols from grape seed or red wine).

Fish Oil

Fish oil contains omega-3 fatty acids, which has many health benefits, including lowering LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) and improving mental function. It also fights inflammation, a common issue that arises from weight lifting or competition. When selecting a fish oil supplement, make sure it has a 2:1 EPA to DHA ratio to maximize the anti-inflammatory effect.


Probiotics are bacterial microorganisms that thrive in your intestines. They aid digestion and absorption of food and improve immune function. This is crucial for maintaining regular bowel movements and getting the most of the food you eat. Look for a supplement that has live cultures of lactobacillus, acidophilus and bifidus.

Strength Recovery

Whey Protein

Whey protein is derived from a byproduct of cheese production. Muscles readily absorb and utilize whey during the muscle-building process of protein synthesis, making it a perfect post-workout supplement. The daily protein requirement for athletes and weight lifters is about one gram per pound of bodyweight. It is important to meet this requirement to combat muscle breakdown and support lean muscle gains.

Learn more about using protein for building muscle.

Dextrose and Ribose

Dextrose and Ribose are two sugars that are quickly absorbed. For that reason, they are found in many workout supplements since they can provide the energy needed before a workout or to power muscle growth. If you are making your own post-workout shake, add two grams of these simple sugars for every gram of protein.


Creatine monohydrate is a naturally occurring compound found primarily in skeletal muscle. It aids in energy production, increases muscle contraction strength, stimulates growth hormone release and improves recovery rates. The combination of increased exercise quality and physiological adaptation leads to increased strength and size. It's best to add between two to five grams (can go up to 10) of creatine in your pre-or post-workout shake. Note that many pre-mixed supplements already contain creatine.

Stay up-to-date on creatine news.


Caffeine is a naturally occurring methylxanthine noted for its ability to stimulate the central nervous system. As a supplement, caffeine can be taken as a pre-activity booster to give you energy, elevate your heart rate and even increase your endurance. Consume between 140 to 400 mg of caffeine before a workout in the form of coffee or tea. Use caution based on your own personal experience and how your body responds. Also, make sure to focus on hydration when consuming caffeine.

Helpful or Optional Supplements

Nitric Oxide

Nitric oxide is produced by the amino acid L-arginine. Studies have shown that nitric oxide increases blood flow and even natural growth hormone production. Also, a study in The Journal of Nutrition demonstrated favorable strength gains when combined with L-glutamine and branched-chain amino acids over a 90-day span.


L-glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in the body. Studies have shown that it increases natural growth hormone production, prevents muscle breakdown and reduces soreness. However, there is some disagreement about whether you actually need more glutamine than you already have. If you choose to take glutamine, consume five grams two to three times per day.

Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)

BCAAs are a specific combination of three amino acids—leucine, isoleucine and valine. Scientific research supports both the protective nature of BCAAs against exercise-induced muscle damage and BCAA's ability to boost protein synthesis. An effective protocol for maximizing BCAA use is to have five to 10 grams sipped between your main meals. Please note that most pre-workout or protein shakes already supply varying amounts of BCAAs.

Joint Support

If you are experiencing joint discomfort from the rigors of weight lifting or a specific sport, joint support supplements (in addition to fish oil) can help ease pain. Most joint support supplements include a mixture of glucosamine, chondroitin, MSM and other minerals. Since glucosamine is commonly made from shellfish, it's important to know if you are allergic. The National Institute of Health recommends 1500mg of glucosamine (500mg, three times per day) or 1200mg of chondroitin (400mg, three times per day).



Jeremy Shih
- Jeremy is the co-founder of CampusFit, an organization that builds indestructible college students through legitimate fitness and nutrition. A former fat kid turned lifestyle counseling...
Jeremy Shih
- Jeremy is the co-founder of CampusFit, an organization that builds indestructible college students through legitimate fitness and nutrition. A former fat kid turned lifestyle counseling...
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