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The Best Supplements For Bodybuilding [Top 8 Explained]

Updated: Aug 8, 2021

Exercising is the best way to gain muscle and get stronger; sometimes you may want that extra push, though.


Supplements are not necessary for bodybuilding or for growing muscle but they can defiantly help you achieve faster muscle growth, better performance and better recovery.


The top 8 supplements for bodybuilding, in order of importance, are creatine, protein powder, beta-alanine, ursolic acid, BCAAs, HMB, quercetin and weight gainers.


Below we will go into more depth and the best ways to take the above supplements.


Table of Contents:


best supplements for bodybuilding
 

Creatine

Creatine is a substance that is naturally occurring in your body's cells and is thus considered a dietary supplement.


In addition to increasing your creatine intake, supplementing with creatine will also boost your phosphocreatine intake.


Phobocreatine is a type of energy that is stored in the body and contributes to the production of ATP, which is the body's primary energy source.


creatine diagram
Diagram illustrating how creatine works.

Creatine's primary function in enhancing exercise performance during high-intensity activity is to enhance phosphocreatine reserves in the muscles.


These extra phosphocreatine reserves may be utilised to generate more energy in the form of ATP, which is the main energy source for high-intensity and high-resistance activities.


Benefits of Creatine

Creatine has multiple effects within the body, specifically for muscle it does the following.


  • Helps increase total energy levels

  • Increases the production of anabolic hormones

  • Improves anabolic cell signalling

  • Increases the amount of water within cells

  • Lowers myostatin levels

  • Reduces the rate of protein breakdown


Creatine can improve recovery, exercise performance, muscle growth and strength. (Source)



Should You Take Creatine?

Creatine has minimal side effects and is very safe.


It is one of the most well researched supplements and has an excellent safety profile.


If you are interested in optimising muscle growth and exercise performance, creatine is a great supplement to begin with, providing it is safe for you to take creatine.


However, it may cause an extra strain on the heart, kidneys and liver due to a slight increase in weight gain and water retention.


As a result, creatine can be a risk factor in those with heart, kidney and liver issues and should be avoided by them individuals.


The usual dosage of creatine is around 2-5 grass per day.


Summary

Overall, for the vast majority of people, creatine is very safe and effective.


It can greatly enhance your workouts and exercise, improving muscle growth, strength, performance and recovery.


You can get creatine here.


 

Protein Powder

Getting enough protein each day is essential for muscle growth.


1.6-2.2 g/kg per day is the recommended intake for protein.


protein usage diagram
An illustration showing how protein is used within the body.

10% of the protein you consume is used for muscular protein synthesis.


This highlights how important protein intake it for muscle growth.


Best Type Of Protein Powder

There are multiple types of protein supplements, such as the following.


  • Whey

  • Casein

  • Egg protein

  • Pea protein

  • Hemp protein

  • Plant protein


There are also other protein powders, such as brown rice protein and protein isolates.


The most common type of protein being whey and casein protein.


The best type of protein is a mixture of casein and whey, at least in terms of muscle growth. (Source)


Casein and whey protein have vastly different rates of absorption, as shown below.


whey vs casein protein
A rough illustration of aminos digested over time for casein and whey.

Casein has an extended absorption time but with elevated levels compared with whey, which has more of a spike followed by a steady decline in absorption.


The combination of casein and whey protein will provide the needed spike in amino acids followed by a more steady release of amino acids, enhancing muscle growth. (Source)


Benefits of Whey

Whey protein features a much faster absorption time than casein, making it ideal for u=consumption straight after a workout.


Consuming whey protein after a workout provides the much needed boost in plasma amino acids, kick-starting the anabolic process. (Source)


Benefits of Casein

Casein protein has an extended and more steady release of amino acids, making it ideal for consumption at nighttime.


It's also useful during a longer stretch of time where food and protein consumption is reduced, such as while you're at work.


Whey protein is likely ineffective for pre-sleep protein intake, casein having an anabolic affect. (Source, Source)



Should You Take Protein Powder?

Protein consumption is required when you're not consuming enough within your diet, which may be due to a busy schedule, appetite issues or something else.


However, whey protein taken after a meal or post-workout can boost daily protein intake, increasing anabolic activity within the body.


The other advantage of taking protein supplements, specifically casein, is that it can be used pre-sleep, enhancing overnight muscle growth and anabolism.


If you're looking to enhance and optimise muscle growth, taking whey and casein protein powder can increase muscle growth.


The typical dosage of protein powder is between 15 and 50 grams, 1-2 times per day.


Summary

Consuming an adequate amount of protein is crucial for muscle growth.


Taking a protein supplement, on the other hand, is not required if you are receiving enough protein via your diet.


This does not mean protein supplements are useless, they can be used to optimise muscle growth even further when used correctly.


You can see different protein powders for sale here.


 

Beta-Alanine

Beta-alanine is an amino acid that has been changed from the amino acid alanine.


It has been proven to be beneficial and efficient as a pre-workout supplement because, when consumed, it transforms into a molecule known as carnosine, which serves as an acidity buffer inside the body.


Carnosine is a substance that is held inside cells and is released when the pH of the body lowers.


In addition to protecting against diet-induced pH dips, such as those that occur during ketosis, increased carnosine reserves may also help to protect against exercise-induced lactic acid generation.


Lactic acid build up is what causes that burning sensation you experience throughout a set.


beta alanine infographic

Benefits of Beta-Alanine

Beta-alanine has been shown to modestly increase muscle endurance and possibly enhance muscle growth.


A meta-analysis was conducted in order to evaluate this, and the results showed a 2.85% median improvement in performance!


It is possible that it will be helpful in decreasing tiredness and increasing time till exhaustion. (Source)


Beta-alanine may also lower fat mass and has a hypertrophic impact; however, it is unclear whether this is related to the increased work volume or something else. (Source)


Should You Take It?

Beta-alanine seems to possess almost no side-effects, other than the harmless effect known as paresthesia.


It can enhance exercise performance and possibly increase muscle growth; therefore, it is a useful supplement to take pre-workout.


You can get beta-alanine in tablets, capsule or powder form so it is very easy ands convenient to take.


The typical dosage of beta-alanine is 1-5 grams per day.


Summary

Beta-alanine has proved to be one of the most effective pre-workout supplements.


It enhances physical endurance by decreasing lactic acid, it helps to boost muscle growth while also enhancing body composition.


You can view various beta-alanine supplements here.


 

Ursolic Acid

Ursolic acid is a compound that may be found in many plants, fruits, herbs, and spices.


It can also be consumed in its extracted supplement form.


Ursolic acid has many effects within the body, such as following.


  • Increases irisin, growth hormone and IGF-1.

  • Increases brown ("good") fat and reduces white ("bad") fat

  • Improves muscle mass and strength


ursolic acid diagram
Illustration showing ursolic acids effects within the body.

Benefits of Ursolic Acid

As mentioned above, ursolic acid can increase muscle mass and brown fat. (Source)


Brown fat contains much more mitochondria than white fat, increasing your body's metabolic rate, helping to burn off calories and fat mass.


Ursolic acid also increases growth hormone, IGF-1 and a hormone called irisin. (Source)


GH and IGF-1 have some evidence supporting their role in muscle growth.


In addition to improving skeletal muscle glucose absorption, irisin has been shown to enhance hepatic glucose, lipid metabolism and also activates muscle growth related genes.


These combined effects of ursolic acid make it a great supplement for bodybuilding, it reduces fat and increases muscle mass.


Should You Take This Supplement?

Ursolic acid has a relatively small number of studies, and therefore has little research on its long-term effects and safety.


We don't recommend ursolic acid due to this little information on safety; though, it is likely safe and has minimal side effects.


One side effect that may be possible with ursolic acid supplementation is a reduction in fertility, the information is still unclear at this time.


The most commonly used dosage is 150mg three times day with meals.


Summary

Ursolic acid is a novel supplement with little research, yet it has promising results and research behind its usage.


You should be wary of this supplement until further research arises.


However, if you do with to try ursolic acid, you can purchase it here.


 

BCAAs (Branched-Chain Amino Acids)

A group of amino acids known as branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are made up of three distinct amino acids:

  1. Leucine

  2. Isoleucine

  3. Valine


They may be found in a wide variety of protein sources, especially those derived from animals such as meat, poultry, eggs, dairy, and fish.


It is estimated that BCAAs account for about 14% of the amino acids in your muscles, making them essential for muscular development.


Almost everyone receives BCAAs via their diet on a daily basis, but it is also extremely common to take BCAAs as a dietary supplement.


When compared to a placebo, some research has indicated that BCAAs may help you prevent muscle loss or even gain muscle during a caloric deficit. (Source)


Interestingly, other studies suggest that BCAAs may not be associated with increased muscle growth in individuals who follow an exercise regimen. (Source)


BCAA supplements may only help you if your diet is lacking in high-quality protein, during a caloric deficit and you are taking them on a regular basis.


More research is required before BCAAs can be suggested as a go-to supplement for muscle growth, despite the fact that they may be helpful if your diet is insufficient.


However, they can't do any harm and the research either shows no results or improved muscle growth.



Leucine

Leucine is one of nine necessary amino acids in humans, it must be obtained from the diet.


It is required for protein synthesis as well as a variety of metabolic activities.


Leucine is involved in the control of blood sugar levels, the development and repair of muscle and bone tissue, the generation of growth hormone, and the healing of wounds.


Protein synthesis is increased with the supplementation of leucine. (Source)


Isoleucine

Humans require nine essential amino acids, isoleucine is one of them.


Isoleucine performs a variety of physiological functions, including assisting wound healing, detoxification of nitrogenous wastes, stimulation of immune function, and stimulation of the secretion of several hormones, among other things.


Isoleucine helps to increase muscle mass by increasing myogenesis and intramyocellular fat deposition. (Source)


Valine

Valine is an amino acid that is essential in the production of proteins and other biomolecules.


It is also utilised as a source of energy.


When it comes to muscle growth, valine doesn't necessarily increase muscle growth, rather it helps muscles use energy effectively.


Should You Take Them?

BCAAs are essential to the body, they also have none or very minimal side effects and they are widely available and inexpensive.


Despite the lack of convincing research that BCAAs can enhance muscle growth, for their cost it is worth taking them anyway.


Summary

BCAAs have little research proving their muscle growth effects, but the theory states that they can help improve muscle growth.


Either way, they are inexpensive, widely available, have minimal side effects and are essential for the body.


You can shop for various BCAAs here.


 

HMB (Hydroxymethylbutyrate)

HMB (also known as hydroxymethylbutyrate) is a naturally occurring molecule that is produced by your body as a byproduct of the breakdown of leucine.


Among athletes, bodybuilders, and other fitness enthusiasts, it is most often taken as a supplement to enhance muscle growth or to prevent muscle loss.


It seems to have the ability to strongly reduce muscle protein breakdown, greater than that of leucine or other amino acids. (Source)


Benefits of HMB

In terms of muscle growth and exercise performance, HMB has the following effects.


  • It activates mTOR

  • It down-regulates the ubiquitin-proteasome pathway

  • It increases GH and IGF-1

  • It increases the proliferation of satellite cells

  • It increases mitochondrial biogenesis


mechanisms of HMB
Possible mechanisms of HMB.

The result of all of this is increased muscle growth, reduced muscle protein breakdown and enhanced endurance performance.


mTOR is the major anabolic pathway within most cells, in muscle cells the activation of mTOR increased protein synthesis and muscle growth.


HMB has the ability to activate mTOR, though less so than leucine, one of the BCAAs. (Source)


The ubiquitin-proteasome pathway is the major catabolic pathway within muscle cells, HMB has the ability to down-regulate and reduce the activity of the ubiquitin-proteasome pathway. (Source)


This reduces muscle protein breakdown, having an anti-catabolic effect on muscles.


HMB also enhances muscle growth by increasing GH and IGF-1, it also increases the proliferation of satellite cells. (Source, Source)


Endurance performance is also increased by supplementing with HMB, this is due to enhanced mitochondrial function and biogenesis. (Source)


hmb

Should You Take HMB?

HMB is a safe and effective supplement with minimal side effects.


It is a useful addition to your bodybuilding supplement stack.


The usual dosage of HMB is around 1-5 grams per day.


Summary

HMB can enhance muscle growth via multiple mechanisms, notable decreasing muscle protein breakdown and enhancing protein synthesis.


It is safe, effective and widely available.


You can get HMB here.


 

Quercetin

Quercetin is a flavonol (a flavonoid, bioflavonoid, or pigment).


It is a kind of polyphenol that is a member of the flavonoid group of polyphenols.


Quercetin is found in a variety of plants, including the following.


  • Apples and grapes

  • Citrus fruits

  • Berries and cherries

  • Capers

  • Broccoli and onions

  • Green and black tea

  • Coffee

  • Red wines


quercetin sources

Approximately 10-100mg of quercetin is consumed by the average person each day, which is obtained through a range of foods and drinks.


When it comes to its mechanism of action, quercetin is best known for acting as an antioxidant and an anti-inflammatory.


Benefits of Quercetin

In terms of muscle growth and exercise performance, quercetin mostly improves exercise performance and recovery.


Muscle growth seen as a result of quercetin supplementation is likely due to its effects on exercise performance and recovery.


Because of quercetin's potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant characteristics, it seems to be helpful in enhancing the recovery from eccentric exercise-induced weakness and neuromuscular dysfunction after 14-days of quercetin usage. (Source)


Quercetin has been shown to enhance endurance performance and VO2 max in one trial, according to researchers. (Source)


  • Quercetin increases the time it takes to reach fatigue during activity in untrained people, allowing you to exercise for a longer period of time.

  • Increased VO2 max indicates that your body can utilise more oxygen, which means that your total aerobic fitness performance will be better as a result of the increase in VO2 max.

  • The effects of eccentric exercise-induced weakness are minimised.

  • In addition, neuromuscular dysfunction is decreased.



Should You Take It?

Quercetin seems to be generally safe for most people but there is little research on its short and long-term safety and side-effects.


There are some possible safety issues of quercetin highlighted in animal studies, such as its nephrotoxic effects on pre-damaged kidneys or its promotion of estrogen-dependent cancer. (Source)


Therefore, we don't recommend supplementing with quercetin if you have the health conditions mentioned above until more research has been carried out.


Summary

Quercetin has promising results in terms of exercise performance improvement.


Though, there is little research on its short and long-term safety.


We don't recommend quercetin if you have those health conditions but if you wish to get it you can buy it here.

 

Weight Gainers

Weight gainers are nutritional supplements that are intended to make it easier for you to consume more calories and protein.


Some individuals may find it difficult to build muscle or gain weight, even when they consume significant quantities of calories and exercise using heavy weights.


Individuals who are having difficulty gaining weight and muscle (sometimes referred to as a hardgainer) will usually make use of them.


It is not unusual for a weight gainer to contain more than 1,000 calories in a single serving


These weight gaining supplements typically contain 50-300 grams of carbohydrate and 20-80 grams of protein in each serving.


weigh gainer supplement

Benefits of Weight Gainers

In certain studies of physically sedentary individuals, it has been shown that significantly increasing calorie intake may result in an increase in lean mass, provided that you consume adequate protein.


Usually, weight gainers are merely a way to replace meals with dense, high-calorie sources of nutrition.


They can help pack on weight, sometimes mostly in the form of fat mass, this is why they are called weight gainers and not muscle gainers.


When Should You Use a Weight Gainer?

On the whole, weight gainers are only advised if you are having difficulty eating enough food and find it simpler to drink a weight gainer shake than to get more calories from whole foods.


If you have a hard time eating enough food and gaining weight, due to any reason including the following.


  • Appetite loss

  • Busy schedule

  • Low bodyweight

  • Naturally high metabolism



You may benefit from using a weight gaining supplement alongside meals or in replacement of them if you cannot take meals with you, such as to work.


Weight Gainer vs Meals

Meals contain a larger variety of protein, carbohydrate, fatty acids and mineral and vitamin sources than a weight gaining supplement does.


That means that a weight gainer will be less effective than a whole-food meal would be.


It is also usually healthier as whole-food contains various compounds and chemicals that have their own specific benefits.


Summary

Weight gainers are dense, high-calorie powders that can be added to milk or water.


These weight gaining supplements can be used to pack on weight quickly, though it is usually mostly fat mass gained from these supplements.


However, whole food and meals is the better option if you can do that.


You can browse various weight gainers here.


 

Which Supplement Is Best?

The single best supplement for bodybuilding is protein powder, without protein your muscles simply will not grow.


If you consume adequate amounts of protein from your diet, creatine is the second best supplement.


Some people cannot take creatine though, in that case, beta-alanine or HMB would be the third best choice of supplement.


Choosing the right supplement completely depends upon your goals and individual circumstances, though protein powder, creatine, beta-alanine and HMB are probably the four best supplements for bodybuilding.



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